Mrs Moseley and how I discovered the Art of Connecting
The following blog has been written by William Lilley.
“There is no such thing as strangers, just friends you’ve not met yet!”
To this day I can still remember our neighbour, Mrs Moseley and her ‘lottery tins’ of assorted biscuits. Would she select a lovely, fresh from its packet, custard cream, or would it be ‘the one’? The biscuit time forgot.
Mrs Moseley lived beneath us in a block of flats, opposite Stowe Pool in Lichfield, the year was 1995. Living alone in her exquisitely adorned flat, she would always be scheming with my dad, chatting away, and sailing off to meet friends in the nearby cafes. At ninety she was turbo charged and set out to enjoy every moment life could spare her. As a 11 year old desperate to run around outside in the sunshine, sitting in her living room being fed biscuits was not at the top of my to do list. But it was a duty my dad made clear we would undertake, regardless of my fear of stale biscuits.
She was our neighbour, and I would soon discover, our saviour too.
Later that year, I watched my father from my bedroom window, he was hunched over sitting on a heap of magazines. With his back to me he was carefully stripping each one from their plastic sleeves and dumping them into a skip. Occasionally he would flick through their pages, reminiscing on how he helped to make and produce each one of them, the photos of friends and family who posed for them, the recipes and budget tips he penned himself with our help. My dad was preparing to take thousands of magazines to a nearby recycling centre. The magazine was called Singled Out, the first and I believe last social enterprise magazine specifically designed for and made by single parents.
Founded by my Dad that same year, the Magazine rose to an impressive monthly readership of over 20,000 copies, uniting single parents across the country to challenge the stereotypes of the day and build a community they could be proud of and seek support from.
I couldn’t remember any tears from my dad that day, although he was quiet and thoughtful, he just got on with it. Having published six editions of the magazine over a dizzying and exciting eight months of production, taking his family across the UK and television in the process (in one month we were on the Big Breakfast, Richard and Judy and even Kilroy- good grief), the business began to falter. Having taken the magazine to its limit my dad needed capital to grow it further, and being pre-internet at the time, it depended on expensively communicating via television and radio. Something he just couldn’t afford to do.
So the debts started to accumulate and before long people started to turn up at our door demanding repayments. It was only much later when the words came into fashion, that I realised my Dad was a social entrepreneur and Singled Out was indeed a social enterprise. The repercussions of my Dad’s business dream collapsing, were monumental on the life of him, my sister, my brother and me. He ran the business from our home in Lichfield, in an amazingly spacious three bedroom flat. With little money to pay the rent and huge debts we needed to escape, and fast.
Looking back it was a surreal time to be growing up. A few months before we were Family of the Week on Big Breakfast, one minute sharing gags with the puppeteers of Zig & Zag (pictured above) and the next minute we were being harassed by debt collectors whilst on the set of the programme. I remember there being an angry red faced man remonstrating with my father and him being pulled away by the ex-Neighbours star Mark Little. Weird times.
Back in Lichfield, beneath our flat, Mrs Moseley was no doubt staring out of her window at my dad too. Mrs Moseley was an elite connector. She knew all and sundry, everyone and their fathers’. Our fall from grace was pretty public to our neighbours, and no doubt Mrs Moseley would have cottoned on to our situation. On hearing the news from my dad after inviting him in for tea, Mrs Moseley did what was instinctual; she phoned a friend she knew in a village just outside Lichfield. An old vicarage with two bedrooms was vacant and needed someone to take care of the church and its grounds.
As soon as the call ended, the plan was actioned, we were to move immediately to the cottage and start our life afresh, somewhere new, somewhere curtesy of Mrs Moseley and her endless web of connections. Of course as an eleven year old I was oblivious to this act of kindness. Mrs Moseley was a 90 year old lonely woman that I associated with stale biscuits and moments away from the sun. This was an act I would only learn about in later life, but Mrs Moseley was the chance bridge that helped my dad and us through a troubled and perilous time. She was not passive, vulnerable and isolated. . She was fiery, kind and connected…
My Dad and Mrs Moseley were natural connectors, and made a bond that would prove critical in our times of difficulty. Someone would argue that people like my dad or Mrs Moseley were blessed with the social skills and connections of a more affluent society. I’ve never believed this. The best connectors I know have the fewest material resources to connect with. They connect to survive, and find whatever resource to do so. That’s what my dad did. Mrs Moseley lived in a posh flat, but she honed her connecting skills during a time of war and poverty, when connecting was her only survival skill.
Having joined Bromford 18 months ago I was rekindled with the City of Lichfield and these memories. I hadn’t returned for almost ten years, shunning it for the furthest points in the map I could find. But indeed I returned and on doing so I’ve been able to contribute something back to the City I grew up in.
With the help of a few connections and friends that I have made since joining Bromford plus the support of the Clore Social Fellowship, I have helped to kick start a number of initiatives that hope to mobilise the natural connections that exist in every community, finding the numerous hidden Mrs Moseleys.
In partnership with a host of local organisations, we will be seeking to work with local ‘community connectors’ to grow hospitable and welcoming communities in Lichfield. We will be learning from the likes of the excellent community builderrs Nurture Development, playing close attention to the pioneering work of the Asset Based Community Development Institute in America, three decades of community building from around the world.
As I have discovered in my own life, everyone has a story to tell, everyone has strengths beneath the conceptions that you have of them. But if you’re curious enough, you may just find that the answers you’ve always been looking for are there, often right beside you.