To the outside world, north London has long had something of a reputation. If you believe everything you read in the national press, all of us in Camden and Islington are comfortable, Guardian-reading liberals, hob-nobbing over long dinners in grand old houses on leafy suburban streets.
Of course, that stereotype is partially based in reality. North London is home to some of the best-connected people in the world: graduates from every corner arrive here to take up high-flying professional jobs in the media or the City, in law or in finance. We’re incredibly fortunate to live at the heart of one of the great modern cities, and to have access to the opportunities it provides.
But those of us who live and work around here know that north London is more complicated than some might have us believe – that this is a place of social extremes. And we know we still have a hell of a lot of challenges to overcome, particularly to do with social dislocation, urban isolation and lasting disadvantage. Some of those challenges are shared across the country and the world; others remain unique to our streets, our neighbourhoods and our time.
Launched amid the rioting last summer, but grounded in the long-held belief that we can do more to connect people and build up our communities, North London Cares aims to make our neighbourhoods in Camden, Islington, Hackney and Haringey more sociable places in which to live and work by recruiting and mobilising young professional volunteers to meaningful tasks. Our aim is to introduce people who might not normally interact, through a developing programme which promotes the value of real human interaction.
Some of those interactions may be short. Our volunteers are just finishing a project to knock on 4,000 doors in Islington during the colder months, to check our elderly and more vulnerable neighbours are keeping warm, and helping them connect to local services. Previously, young Londoners, recruited entirely by email and social media, stood on King’s Cross station collecting unwanted winter coats from commuters, to distribute to local homeless shelters.
But in the longer-term we hope some of the interactions we make possible will be transformational, and develop lasting local support networks for those who need just that little extra help.
After just a few months, North London Cares is already showing some of that impact. Through our Love Your Neighbour campaign, our neighbours have been escorted to the hospital, accompanied to yoga, wheeled to the hairdresser, supported in dealings with the council, and many have just had a little extra companionship.
That’s what North London Cares is all about – recruiting people through existing social networks to harness the power of civic participation, and creating flexible, accessible, social, fun and rewarding volunteering opportunities for people. We hope those interactions will have a real knock-on effect in our neighbours’ lives, and a genuinely positive impact on our communities.
Words: Alex Smith
To volunteer in Camden or Islington through North London Cares, please tweet @NLCares, or email email@example.com.