In June, I spotted a colleague who works in the sector in England issue an open invitation on Twitter for a virtual cup of tea. After six weeks in lockdown I was already starting to miss the office cooler chit chat and the chance encounters over coffee at meetings, so I put out a similar tweet to see if anyone in Scotland was up for it. I was overwhelmed when 35 people said yes – I wondered a bit what I had let myself in for.

Between June and mid August, I met 21 different people – and I loved every single second of it. A mix of familiar faces from social media that I hadn’t met in real life, some brand new contacts and a couple of old friends ensured that for those 10 weeks I had something each week to energise me, and always had something to look forward to.

As I’m quite new to a role that takes in the full breadth of the voluntary sector, I particularly enjoyed getting a tiny glimpse at the diversity of the sector, and the range of organisations that operate within it. I found out more about community based organisations, an areas of the sector that I’ve not worked with before; I learned about the reality of a range of methods of income generation; and I gathered several examples of the diverse ways that our sector interacts with the public sector, locally and nationally.  These conversations encouraged me to think differently about issues I’ve been grappling with for some time, and informed my thinking about SCVO’s role, and ways of working. I look forward to picking up many of the connections I made again soon to think further about the work issues we touched on.

In several conversations we ended up talking about the inclusion of lived experience in policy making and service development, a topic that many voluntary organisations seem to be thinking deeply about. This helped cement for me the importance of the ‘lived experience’ of voluntary organisations being central SCVO’s policy work, and the conversations I had were very valuable in exploring with different parts of the sector what the barriers to that might be, and the different ways that we might try to overcome those.  This has been something I’ve wrestled with in many previous roles, and the conversations I had cemented for me the notion that very few people are getting this perfectly right, and the importance of continuing to talk to and learn from others who are committed to this way of working.

More than that though, I also got to know some really lovely people. I heard about people’s career histories, their plans for the weekend, and on one occasion took part in the servicing of their washing machine! ‘Being’ inside people’s homes the first time you meet them seems to encourage a conversation that’s really person to person, and doesn’t care about job titles or other labels, and knowing that they were only committing to a half hour virtual chat (with no travel time) I’m sure encouraged people to take part – what have you got to lose?  That said, I’m hoping to take some of my remaining cuppas ‘on the road’, if only for the excuse to eat more cake.

Would I recommend this approach? Absolutely! We need other people’s energy to keep us going, and there’s a very particular energy about meeting someone new. Some conversations may ‘click’ easier than others, but every single one for me prompted some sort of reflection that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. If anyone else is up for it, my kettle is always on.