Mirror’s Britain Connects sparks unlikely friendships amid lockdown struggles
The unlikely connections are truly inspiring.
A retired Rabbi met a young Syrian Muslim refugee, two women born 50 years apart found common ground, and a woman who beat Covid-19 clicked with a man who’d run hundreds of miles to raise funds for her.
Working with Citizens UK, we ran an update of our event in May, when thousands met to discuss their pandemic experiences.
Our massive Zoom call; broke into pairs for ten minutes to find a connection.
The results were moving and entertaining.
Marthon man Edd found a shared love of Kenya during our Zoom call, as well as different experiences of Covid.
He met Edel Anabwani, 51, originally of Ngong, Kenya, who is studying in the UK for her Phd on the African nation. She logged on to chat to Rev Stock, 35, of Forest Hill, South East London, with his wife Katie and kids Tabitha, four, and Felicity, seven.
He has visited Nairobi and Isiolo in Kenya and gets his map. Edel loves seeing it and says proudly: “We Kenyans are unique. We have 42 tribes. I come from the Luhya tribe. But this is my home and I love it with all my heart.”
Rev Stock adds: “I loved the tree churches in Kenya. We have decided to have our services outside under the trees because it is safer.”
Edel, who also works as a carer, was seriously ill with Covid in March and struggled to breathe. She says a charity sent food parcels. Edd raised £12,500 to help feed families by running a marathon on his treadmill.
They are worlds apart, but when Muslim student, Falak Batak met Rabbi Mihael Hilton over Zoom, their conversation flowed.
Syrian-born Falak, 22, moved to Wales from Egypt three years ago.
Rabbi Michael, 69, lives in Mill Hill, North London, with his wife and sons. Before semi-retiring, he was a Rabbi for 30 years.
Falak, who speaks fluent Arabic says moving to the UK was tough but she is now studying Fashion and Textiles.
Rabbi Michael, who has studied ancient languages including, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, adds: “I want to learn Arabic because I want to read the Quran. It is fascinating.”
“This has been really nice,” says Michael.
Falak agrees. “It’s nice to know new people,” she says. “I haven’t met a Rabbi before.
“It’s important to meet people of different faiths. You can get to know their religion – this is wonderful!”
He is a rugby fan who loves country living and she’s a city-based student… but Mark Johnson and Elsie Mumah discovered their worlds weren’t so different after all.
Mark, 54, used to work in finance and lives in the New Forest with his wife, daughter and four sons. Elsie Mumah, 32, is based in London with her 18-month-old daughter after moving to England in 2012 and completing a Masters degree.
Elsie tells Mark about her campaign work, including a project to ‘give everyone who calls the UK home, permanent status’.
Mark reveals he’s part of a community sponsorship programme, supporting refugee families.
“I can tell lockdown has hit you hard Elsie,” he says. Elsie, a Christian, agrees and says she admires his work: “You may not be religious, but you are doing activities that are religious. Religion to me is all about your acts.”
Mums Carol Thompson and Farah Khan had lots to say and plenty of laughs.
Carol, a mum of two and support worker and Farah, who lives with her 15-year- old daughter, have been busy helping others through lockdown.
Carol explains she has looked after adults with learning disabilities for the past 14 years.
She’s paid the minimum wage and has been campaigning to get sleep-in pay – money she used to get for staying over with clients – reinstated.
She tells Farah: “It felt an insult when people stood and clapped for the NHS. I would get more money flipping burgers.”
Farah says: “Don’t give up. I was clapping for you!”
Farah is the founder of Sisters of Noor, a project supporting single parents.
She tells Carol: “I received no support when I became a single mum.”
The pair plan to meet in person when they can.
Born more than four decades apart, the paths of Ana Maria Ramirez and Sue Wood might never have crossed if it were not for Britain Connects.
But the pair have become friends, sharing a virtual hug as they say bye.
Retired radiographer and Citizens Advice manager, Sue is Essex born and bred. She loves bowls and The University of the Third Age.
Student and human rights advocate, Ana is from Colombia but moved to London in September.
The pair are soon sharing a mutual love of education and technology.
Sue says: “We read about a group using champions to help each other with technology… we thought we could do that.”
Ana, who runs a group for Latin American parents, said: “We had to find new ways to stay connected too. Technology has been my window to getting to know people.”
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