Elders Voice is an independent charity that has been supporting older people in the London Borough of Brent since 1993. Viveen is a participant at the Elders Voice Reading Friends Online Café – which started in June 2020 as a response to the Covid-19 lockdown. It is an online group through Zoom.
The Café is a place where participants meet to read things and discuss different subjects each session – including poems, recipes or thought-provoking quotes. They share stories and see where the conversation takes them!
Tell me a bit about yourself – where are you from, where do you live now, how old are you?
I was born in Jamaica – but I’ve lived in England longer than I lived in Jamaica. I came here when I was 19 years old. I’m a widow – I have one child. I live in London now.
I came here to go to college. I did accounting, but I didn’t like it, because it takes too much out of me. So later on, I did a degree in housing management.
How did you get involved with Elder’s Voice?
My husband had dementia, and he used to go there. And that’s how I became involved in it. After he passed away, they were kind enough to say I could still continue visiting.
The Reading Friends Café was set up at Elders Voice this summer – did you get involved with it straight away? Can you tell us a bit about the sessions?
Well as the sessions are very short, we would love to have it a bit longer. Now there is a very nice volunteer… she does a lot of research in order to bring something new to us each week. We learn a lot from it. It’s a pity we haven’t got a lot more people involved in it, and a longer time, because the half an hour goes so quickly. She’s very nice – she puts everybody at ease, you’re able to ask questions, and you get answers, you have a laugh. And everybody’s just friendly.
Like, today, we talked about winter food, you know, the various type of food that you have in the winter. It’s very interesting, because a lot of times there are things that you don’t think about, and with somebody bringing it to you, you understand more about it. Because there are certain foods and things that you just take it for granted – you use it, but you don’t understand the tradition of it- and she brings that to light.
Not even so much from different countries and places, but from England here. You know, because if you’re not English – you accept things, you participate in it, but you really don’t know the real tradition for it. And then she brings that to life, because she tells you where it started from, how it came about, and everything like that.
Another subject I enjoy is travel. Talking about various countries that you travel to – you just take one country and we discuss it, the traditions, and so on. We did St. Lucia in depth, because then we had other people – three of us that we’re from St. Lucia. And I have passed through St. Lucia several times. There were a lot of things that I didn’t know about the country that I know about it now.
What is your favourite book?
I like detective and mystery stories. Whodunnits – to see if you can find out who committed the crime. Whether the police got the person that they’re looking for. And is it the right person? The excitement of it all!
What do you think reading can do for people who might feel a bit lonely?
Reading helps people a lot. It’s just you, and the book, and your imagination – but you don’t feel lonely when you read. Because if the subject that you’re reading about is something that you’re interested in, you become consumed in whatever you’re reading, so nothing matters to you. Just what you’re reading is the most important thing at that time, that really matters. So, for someone that is on their own, reading helps them a lot. Because when they’re reading, they’re not feeling lonely. They’re in that place with that person. And they can understand how that person feels, and all the emotions that they’re going through. It’s all there. So, the whole world is being blocked out. And you concentrate on that. So reading is good, because it helps to eliminate loneliness.
What impact has reading had on your life?
It has all different types of effects on me. Because it puts me in a place that I have never been.
I’m reading a book about the slaves and what they went through in Mississippi, it puts you in that place. You can see the people, you can understand how they’re feeling. You can see the wickedness that’s been done, how unfair this world is.
And at the same time, you can see the landscape. The way the country is created – the water ways and everything like that. So, it has all different type of effects on you, it makes you want to visit somewhere, you might have never thought about. But you say, I’ve read about this place. So, I would like to go and see it. It’s like Germany, you read about the war. And the various places in Germany… you want to see, take the Berlin Wall, that divided Germany, East and West – you want to see the wall, you want to be able to go there to understand why it was there. Then when the wall came down, you want to go and see. See when the wall was up, and you see when the wall was down. It’s something that you will always remember. And that is what reading does to you. It takes you to places that you never thought you’d have been.
How has reading with others or chatting about reading made you feel?
Good – because everybody has their own opinion. And what I read and what I get from it, you might read the same thing, and get something different from it. So, you discuss it. And then that’s it – and they encourage everyone to give their opinion.
What do you feel like you have gained from Reading Friends?
Friendship, love. We don’t need to know each other. But you have a comradeship between the people that are there and yourself. I look forward to seeing them the next week. So, you look at them as your friend, although you don’t know them.
The one thing I would say is I hope it continues, And we will all be able to meet up one of these days when the pandemic is over… we have to thank Elders Voice for arranging something for people – although it’s virtual, people can meet and share opinions, share ideas- so it’s very good.
Find out more about Reading Friends at the charity Elders Voice here.
*This interview has been edited for clarity