Toni is a powerhouse - community is at her very core and is doing amazing work with charities and companies. She will explain a little more about her work but since lockdown has been I’ve been blown away by seeing Toni at work. From dashing around Brighton on Easter weekend dropping off lovely chocolate to vulnerable people to working with charities to help people experiencing extreme loneliness feel more connected. She is quite the wonder woman.
I love this interview, particularly Toni’s accessible suggestions on how we can all do a bit for our community. What a blimmin’ superstar. Enjoy.
Hey Toni - first of all, can you tell us a little about you - what your everyday looked like before lockdown, what your work with the Social Society aims to do and a little about your coaching?
I would describe myself as a positivity powerhouse whose mission is to give others a voice, spread love and build community. My best friend says I have batteries up my bottom, I am a coach, charity consultant and founder of The Social Society Brighton. As an organisation, we aim to redefine the way in which charities are supported in this country and tackle loneliness and isolation head on by creating unique events that connect us all.
We connect businesses and people with charities that need support and our members share their time, skills, expertise to ensure they can grow, thrive and be sustainable without the need for limited government grants, resources or support. I also run leadership and confidence workshops for women in business and offer coaching sessions for women across the UK.
Usually, I focus on areas where women feel underrepresented or inadequate in the workplace or life in general. We use confidence, self-esteem and assertiveness tools to help individuals find their voice. I love working with women one to one as the growth that I see for each person is incredible. I love what I do!
How has Covid-19 impacted your business?
I run events both inside the business and from a freelance and consultancy perspective. As a result, my work here vanished almost overnight. I am quite a resilient person and from past experience of managing national contracts that were often in crisis, innovation and the ability to adapt has always been my strong point.
My overwhelming positivity in almost every situation is excruciatingly painful for a lot of people but I genuinely do see this crisis as a positive in many ways. I have taken the time to reflect on my goals for business and life in general. I have created some amazing campaigns that have given hope to the most vulnerable in these times and have huge plans to change the way we support each other with the social society.
Has there been an element of adaptation? If so, can you tell us a little about what platforms or other things you’ve been able to utilise to help continue your businesses?
The Social Society and our model have almost definitely needed to change. Our events were all face to face so some of those are now online. We have created new ways of working with local businesses and charitable groups to reach a far wider set of people and as mentioned earlier, have created some completely new and really exciting campaigns to support those that need it most.
I have used our amazing Brighton community to support me on my mission and have had an overwhelming response with people offering support across the city.
Since lockdown became I’ve witnessed you fire up some beautiful missions for the community. Can you tell us a little more about these?
Absolutely, we have started the Brighton community fund. This is a crowd funder set to fund the food banks directly and feed the vulnerable in Brighton, we will also be putting together essential support packs for those that need it most and delivering these across the city in the coming months.
We ran an Easter weekend door stop chocolate drop for Dr’s, nurses, key workers, elderly and care homes to say thank you and to spread some joy, and we have just launched an amazing campaign called letters with love. People in the city are handwriting letters stamped with our personalised ‘letters with love’ logo and sending them out to our community telling people they are loved, we haven’t forgotten about them and we care. Some people have written poems, others long and beautifully crated verses and some a simple phrase or two.
Our core aim with The Social Society is to connect communities, support charity and reduce isolation and loneliness. These campaigns are a great way to continue our mission throughout this crisis.
Everything you do appears to have a core driving force of human connection - which has never been more important. Do you have any suggestions on how people can feel more connected at this time to their community?
Get involved in any of the above! I’m joking although we are always on the lookout for more supporters. Connection means lots of different things to people. If I were to suggest ways to stay connected I would say
- Call a friend rather than WhatsApp them. Do this with someone different every week and really take the time to listen and hear what they say when you ask ‘How are you?’ Giving them this space and time will mean the world.
- Connect with your community. Smile and wave to a neighbour you’ve never connected with. Send them a letter, drop them some vegetables or simply look out for them, let them know you are there.
- Create a local WhatsApp group for those on your street. Lots of mutual aid groups are already doing this to support vulnerable in the community but if you start a street WhatsApp group you can connect with and support each other in so many ways.
- Organise a social distancing event on your street. My friends street did bingo and everybody came out to play! (Safe distance apart of course)
- Set up a street befriending service. Post a leaflet through every door with your phone number, if people need to talk then let them know how.
- Join positive news, media and community blogs that spread positive news and share with those in your community. It hards to stay connected and positive in these difficult times, share the love.
- Street competitions, (Grow the biggest lockdown cabbage, how many rainbows can you fit inside your front window, learn to sign the words we are here in BSL) there are so many creative ways to stay connected.
- Stop writing about connection …. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t asked to write a book.
If people could do one small thing for their community what would you say that could be?
Look out for each other!
It has never been more important to stay connected and be aware of what is happening around you. There will almost always be people locally that cannot reach out and ask for help for whatever reason. Some people will be scared, some will be unwell, some will simply not know how to ask for help. Keep your eyes and ears open at all times, we all have a duty to look out for each other.
Has there been any clarity moments for you - either on a personal or professional level?
I am a really busy person and I love to simply go go go with everything that I do. This crisis has really opened my eyes to how precious life is, the importance of those around me and how we all need to slow down. I have taken the time to reconnect with myself, with family and have started reading again each morning. Ultimately life is short and so precious it really should be about the here and now, everything else can wait.
On a personal level, what’s getting you through the days of lockdown and uncertainty?
Books, friends, speaking with family and the knowledge that we are in this together. I have an amazing support network and realise I am lucky to have these fantastic people around me. Not everyone is so fortunate so I make sure to never take this for granted.
Finally, if you could see one change come out of this time what would it be?
It would absolutely be that people continue to support their community in a way that means we all stay connected on the other side of this! Talk to your neighbours, help a stranger, be kind to one another and simply be the best you can for you and those around you.