The Big Lottery Fund has awarded a two-year funding programme of £738,000 to Association of Camerados (AOC) to help them build a movement of “Camerados” and roll out Public Living Rooms across the UK. The project will tackle loneliness, restoring people’s confidence and helping build resilience through the power of “looking out for each other”.
Public Living Rooms look like comfortable living rooms with sofas, bean bags, soft furnishings and usually a piano, which create a sense of community and belonging. The project is part of the Big Lottery Fund’s commitment to grow new approaches to tackle social isolation across the UK by putting people and communities in the lead, and supporting them to shape solutions to issues that are important to them.
The Camerados movement has begun to spread across the UK and USA based on the belief that friends and purpose are the two vital ingredients in overturning tough times and deep social problems. They do this by enabling people to open their own Public Living Rooms in their community, a new kind of public space where people can come and go on good days and bad, where people connect and are alongside one another.
“Sofas, fairy lights, often a piano – these are relaxed places where people can just “be” and connect with others. It’s a place where people have ‘permission’ to talk to strangers,” says Jenny Fox, CEO. “It can be anywhere. In Worthing, it’s in a beach hut, in Blackpool it’s in an empty shop unit and in Northern Ireland it’s going to be up a mountain! In hospitals AOC are being more intentional and the Public Living Room takes the form of a Teepee to create some magic in a building full of stress.”
Whether in a community or a hospital, people in the space are expected to look out for each other, be a Camerado and take some ownership of the space and the culture inside it.
“In many ways, it’s like a self-organised self-help group for the human race!” says founder, Maff Potts. “Here there is no “client group” or specific “issue”, it’s not a “service” and not selling you anything. Often unintentionally the system strips away people’s own agency and makes them “service users”. How about instead we put the kettle on and help each other out?”
Though AOC is staffed by people with a track record in tackling homelessness, addiction and other issues, the Camerados movement is for everybody,wherever they are on the continuum of tough times.
Joe Ferns, UK Funding Director at the Big Lottery Fund, said: “The Camerados movement is characterised by a fundamental belief in the power of community and friendship to create positive change. Public Living Rooms are a brilliant example of a simple concept with the potential to make a huge difference to local spaces and relationships. This is what National Lottery funding is all about – bringing people together to support each other and grow great ideas.”
In the two year period of National Lottery funding, AOC will focus on three activities:
- distributing “Public Living Rooms in a box” to communities across the UK – 11 have arrived in communities as far afield as Glasgow, Bangor (N.I.), Blackpool and Southampton;
- scaling Public Living Rooms in hospitals where a great number of people are going through tough times – Blackpool Victoria hospital will be hosting them in July for the 70thanniversary of the NHS;
- general Camerados movement building activity.
The impact the Big Lottery Fund and AOC are looking for together is to see many thousands of people become agents of change in their community supporting each other through life’s tough challenges, creating a positive effect on public services through a new local culture of mutual support and citizenship.
Find out more about becoming a Camerado here.