If I am completely honest with you, I haven’t made that much of an effort to make friends here locally. It comes with a certain ex-expat weariness that transient friend making brings – mostly because I know that we are not staying in Cambridge for much longer. Plus, there’s always the slightly lazy certainty that having school aged children brings – knowing that you are pretty much guaranteed to meet others anyway. Beyond that, I haven’t really made much of an effort to delve deeper into the Cambridge community. Typically, doing so helps me feel more settled. I usually get involved in some group or another, from book groups, International groups and the obligatory PTA (I have definitely done my time there!!) wherever we happen to live in the world, but here, I have been quite sloth like in my attempts. I can only put it down to adjusting to being back, and conserving my energy for for our new community, when we eventually find the right house.
I haven’t been 100% lazy though, a local friendly person (I am not a complete hermit!) recently introduced me to Foodcycle, and mentioned how they were always on the look out for volunteers (I suggest you pop over to her blog for a read – she describes this wonderful charity’s work much better than I can!)… If you haven’t heard of them, they are an award winning charity whose vision is a society where no-one is lonely or hungry. They aim to strengthen communities by bringing people together around a healthy meal; to encourage friendships by creating spaces for people from all backgrounds to have fun together; to improve nutrition and reduce hunger by cooking healthy meals for those in need, and to change attitudes about food and cooking with surplus ingredients that would otherwise end up in landfill thereby helping the environment at the same time. That all sounds pretty perfect doesn’t it? I couldn’t really dream up an imaginary organisation better suited for the UK… So, spurred on by the sight of many a homeless person on Cambridge’s bitterly cold streets this winter, I plucked up a bit of courage and signed up to help out with Christmas lunch…
And that’s how I ended up reprising the waitressing days of my youth – just without any pay (happily), no grumpy bosses (thankfully!), and no partners in crime encouraging me to eat spoonfuls of cold sticky toffee sauce out of the containers as one of my closest friends used to (kind of sad about that really, but hygiene levels are very strict for obvious reasons!). Instead, I found a bunch of like minded friendly folk who I automatically felt like I had common ground with through our collective act of giving up a chunk of time to help. Add to that the fact that it was a couple of days before Christmas, and we had the start of a pretty lovely atmosphere right there.
Us serving types set up tables for around 60 people in no time (with the option of adding more places should more people turn up) as the kitchen was a hive of activity preparing a gorgeous Christmas themed lunch (menus are drawn up the night before once donations are collected). While they finished cooking, we decided to go and let people know a bit about Foodcycle, whilst finding good homes for part of a mass donation of perfectly good eggs that the kitchen couldn’t make use of in time for the holidays (there are only so many pavlovas you can make!). Definitely one of the more bizarre ways I have initiated chatting to people, but fun all the same. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to invite a few more people to lunch!
Once the doors opened at midday, the hall began to fill up with a cross section of Cambridge folk – from people without homes, to those with lonely homes, to elderly people who might not get the opportunity for a bit of a knees up and Christmas dinner otherwise, to foreign students who weren’t travelling home for Christmas and more besides, all 65 of them… It was probably one of the best Christmas parties I have ever been to, plus we got to have lunch too once we had finished dishing up four courses! I did have one surreal moment when I found myself ushered across to have a chat with an elderly German gentleman, and tried in my best (terrible) German to explain Christmas Crackers to him. I am sure he thought I was exactly that at the end of it!
If I told you that my feet were aching at the end of the day, that would have been an understatement (not helped by the fact that I had accidentally walked several miles before getting to the venue – I had been given a bag full of chocolates to donate by a lovely teacher relative, and had accidentally left them in my early morning coffee cafe and had to trundle back to get them – then back again!!). My calves ached in ways I didn’t think possible, and my back felt like how I imagined it would had I had done a stack of weight lifting… But, albeit in a 100% cheesy sounding way, my heart felt pleasantly full. Plus I had taken that leap in to the community, met a load of people from all walks of life, and to tell you the truth it probably did me as much good as it did the people we all made lunch for that day!
I loved helping out at Foodcycle, and will definitely be looking to volunteer again at some point, if not here then in our new location somewhere down the line.
A slightly different post for me, but if you happen to be relocating back to/inside the UK, or you’re just looking for something worthwhile to volunteer at, it’s a great way of meeting new people, as well as doing something for the greater good! I would really really recommend it…