Michele Blatchford is behind the new Lowestoft Time Bank, which aims to strengthen communities one hour at a time, and opens its doors next week. Here, she explains how being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer led her to contemplate community on a whole new level
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Michele Blatchford, I am a mother and grandmother, I have been a businesswoman, and personal development course creator and teacher most of my working life. I love being out walking in nature usually on one of our beautiful beaches.
How have you got involved with Time Banking?
I was hospitalised in 2020 with a ruptured ulcer, which is where they discovered stage 4 cancer. Becoming so vulnerable and having to ask for help was difficult for me as I was previously strong, independent and the one who would help others. I found it hard to burden my loved ones with simple tasks like walking my dogs, getting some shopping for me, all things I couldn’t do myself – I felt they were dealing with enough. It led me to contemplate so many things: community, neighbourliness and the circumstances in which I would be happy asking for help. Coupled with my strong social justice streak I went looking for something that would help others in my position.
I knew the world was changing and that we needed to come together to support each other. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, and our neighbours and community were very important for support in a variety of ways.
I went down a few alleys and then found Time Bank UK. After researching, training etc, I started to develop Lowestoft Time Bank. Setting up Lowestoft Time Bank has taken just over a year and I have had some amazing people helping along the way, including our board of directors, without whom we wouldn’t be launching next month.
Is it a national initiative and how does it change lives and strengthen communities?
Yes, it is. Time Bank UK provides the software to make exchanges, the training and so much advice and guidance – they are absolutely amazing. It was established to promote community engagement and foster a sense of connection among residents of Lowestoft. Our main objective is to create a platform where individuals can exchange skills, services, and time with one another. By participating in the Time Bank, members can offer their expertise and receive assistance in return, creating a mutually beneficial network. This initiative benefits the entire community by promoting inclusivity, encouraging social interaction, and addressing the needs of individuals who may require support or assistance. Through the Time Bank, we aim to build a stronger, more resilient community in Lowestoft. It helps with isolation (which is a big problem in Lowestoft), increasing mental health and wellbeing; participants can gain skills, experience and confidence; it can be a route to work. There is so much it can help with – people helping people.
When does the Lowestoft Time Bank launch and how can people get involved?
We are launching in February. We have just been given a home by the wonderful people at Gunton Estate Community Hall, on Hollingsworth Road in Lowestoft. We are looking for people to be part of our management team and are recruiting for Community Co-ordinators, Admin, Champions, Social Media Managers and Bid Writers. We will also be putting together a Community Council to ensure that all projects and our general direction are coming from the people.
We have two open days/meet and greets, on 30th January and 3rd of February, to learn more, sign up to the Time Bank and apply to be part of the team. We would like to thank Lowestoft Town Council who gave us a startup grant. It’s hard to get funding for a startup and they believe in us.
What are your hopes and dreams for 2024?
That the people of Lowestoft come together and discover their worth and see the value in each other – together we are stronger and it’s time that we moved forward in unity; that we can begin to bring more equity to the lives of Lowestoft people. Personally, I was given a second chance, and a third and fourth. How I am still here is a miracle, so I can’t wait to see what 2024 brings. Who knows what that will be, but I know it’s going to be fabulous.
Lowestoft Time Bank, Gunton Estate Community Centre, Hollingsworth Road, Lowestoft, NR32 4AY. Meet and Greet Open Days will take place on Tuesday January 30 and Saturday February 3, 10am-3pm. Visit @lowestofttimebank on Instagram and lowestofttimebankJ.org.
Featured images – supplied