Evidence has shown that shopping centres are becoming community hubs for people not only to shop but also to socialise and connect.
However, in my local shopping centre, I observed something else being played out.
The centre has a food hall and I noticed several individuals sitting alone and not interacting with anyone – having worked in aged care I was already familiar with loneliness so I wanted to do something about it.
I asked if I could sit and share my coffee with them and started to chat.
Listening was key and I built a picture of what the majority were struggling with:
They usually lived alone, family were scattered, some didn’t see anyone from one week to the next, some didn’t know how to access help or know what was available to them. Most came to the shops once a week to shop, pick up medication, pay bills, collect their pension and mostly just be around people. Most had lost the confidence to talk with others.
After communicating, building relationship and ultimately trust with individuals over many weeks I suggested that others joined us as we shared coffee.
At first, it was two, then four, eventually 12 and I helped them connect and pastorally care for each other.
The outcome couldn’t be better as they often go out on day trips; those still able to drive picking those that can’t up and they meet up more than just once a week. Now their emotional and social needs have been met.
All it took was a little bit of effort to help connect and build community for them, for which I know they are grateful.
Humans were never made to be alone – we all need community.