Having a chat with friends is something most of us take for granted. Often a conversation starts on one subject and before you know it you are sharing stories and laughing about nothing in particular.

This is the idea behind the Elders Voice online Reading Friends Cafe. We meet every Tuesday morning through Zoom for a good old natter. Each week we have agreed a ‘theme’ to get us started, but as the conversation flows we often end up talking about something completely different. The time flies and we definitely have fun!

Reading Friends is a national programme run by The Reading Agency. The idea has been tested by different charities and groups across the UK. The groups are not like traditional book groups; reading is often the start, but for Reading Friends, the most important thing is the conversation.

When the Covid 19 pandemic meant that people could no longer visit the Centre and Elder Voices started to move existing groups online, we approached the Reading Agency to see if we could start up our Reading Friends Cafe online. We are one of the first Reading Friends groups that started online rather than in a physical space like a library and so we have helped Reading Friends to produce guidance for other groups that would like to do the same.

Anyone who has tried to have a conversation on Zoom will understand some of our challenges. We often talk over each other but everyone is very patient and we hope everyone gets a chance to speak. Some people need help with the IT, and people have joined and left the group but everyone is welcome.

We usually share pictures and quotes on different topics – often about food! Some images bring back memories, others spark different conversations. One week we started off talking about Mark Twain and his links to Kensal Rise Library. The conversation went from the evil of slavery to plastic surgery via Twain’s work on Huckleberry Finn and Twain’s quote, “Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been”.

We often make plans for a huge party at the Elders Voice Centre when we can meet in person for the first time.

This quote from Maya Angelou sums up the group:

“We need joy as we need air

We need love as we need water

We need each other as we need the earth we share”.

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