The Giant Pause Podcast

Could this be one of London's most extraordinary communities?

Episode Summary

Inspiring conversation with Claire Sheppard on surviving cancer, running for MP and setting up the inspiring Nunhead Knocks. True creativity and community in the time of Corona. It took me hours to come down after this conversation - I was so inspired and buzzing with so many other questions. But here we have a group of entrepreneurs and third sector workers drawn together, to work together for an incredible common goal. Having run a charity before - you just need to look at the website and all the systems and safeguarding in place to see that this is one of the most impressive examples of a volunteer-managing community organisation I've seen. The fact that it was put together so swiftly and so well is testament to Claire and her amazing team. City Hall, local government, other community organisations across the UK - take note. 1700 volunteers - all filtered and correctly assessed. Here's a brilliant system. If you've ever tried to set up or run an effective volunteer programme and need some help or a case study that's worth following - Nunhead Knocks is the one you want to speak to!

Episode Notes

To Donate to Nunhead Knocks:

To Volunteer with Nunhead Knocks: fill out the form here:

Other References:

Instagram: @nunheadknocks and @shinyshep   Encouraging women into politics  Women's Institute Nunhead

05.13 reference to "Judean people's front, people's front of Judea" is from Monty Python's "Life of Brian" 

15.22 Southwark Group of Tenants Organisation

Matt Haig author:


Episode Transcription



Catherine: [00:00:00] So what happens six months after you open your first restaurant and you're forced to close due to lockdown? Well, that's exactly the question that we had to ask ourselves. I'm Catherine Solomon's. I'm the host of the Giant Pause Podcast.

Catherine: [00:00:13] Also co-owner of 28 Well Hung, London's first regenerative restaurant in Nunhead. This podcast is a series of interviews with local community leaders and entrepreneurs in the area. The idea is just simply to create a platform for you to get to know the story behind the faces that many of you will know. You'll find ways you can support these businesses during this time in ways that you can volunteer, ways that you can get involved and also some opportunities to support with through fundraising if that's your jam. So I hope you really enjoy it. I would love it if you'd recommend it to all your friends, to like, to comment, share. This is all about creating community and supporting community in what's really an unprecedented and difficult time. But there are things that we can do to make it an awful lot better. My heart and hope is this is one of them.

Catherine: [00:01:23] This is an amazing tale of the inspiration behind going from having cancer and an eleven month old baby to starting what I honestly think is one of the most exciting and inspiring community enterprises, not only since lockdown, but also from what I've witnessed from my own experience and working in community development. Her name is Claire Sheppard. Many of you know her as running for the Green Party during the recent election, that she is the inspiration and the personality behind the amazing Nunhead Knocks.

Catherine: [00:02:01] I hope that you enjoy listening to this interview as much as I did. There is opportunity, if you look at the show notes, to see where you can volunteer, where you can get involved and how, if you feel so inclined, you could support this incredible initiative with your funds. Please have a listen. We're going to join the interview at the point where Claire is just starting to talk about her background and where she grew up and how she enters politics.

Claire: [00:02:31] Why I got politically active was in a way because my eyes were opened up. I mean, I grew up in Norfolk and my dad was an Irish immigrant.

Claire: [00:02:44] And he came over and like dug, he was a navvy you know, my mom was a hospital cleaner. So I've got a very working-class background. And, yeah, I was like one of the last lucky lot to go to university that didn't have to pay for it kind of thing.

Claire: [00:02:59] And it is that I can really see what advantages those things gave me, you know.

Claire: [00:03:07] And then after after my son was born four years ago, it got diagnosed with cancer and not not one of the nice cancers like the booby cancers or anything. It was anal cancer. I called it arse cancer because that just seems nicer somehow And I named the tumour Farage because a friend told me it helped to name it after something.

Claire: [00:03:34] And I regularly tweeted at him that I had named this cancerous arse tumour after him.

Claire: [00:03:44] It was before I signed the compassion in politics thing. As I said at the time, both that they're both dangerous pains in the arse And, you know, at the start of 2016, they really were. But I managed to get rid of my dangerous pain in the arse. Unfortunately, Farage has hung around a bit more. And it walloped me it may I mean, it would wallop anybody, but I can accept that now. But the time I was just like I could believe this is happening because  you can't believe that's happening when you've got newborn baby. And, um. Yeah. So it's like going to St Thomas's every day for radiotherapy for six weeks. And it was bang in the middle of the junior doctors strike. And so I was going in every day and the Houses of Parliament there, the junior doctors there. And when I got diagnosed with cancer, I never want it to be one of those people who said, oh, you know, cancer changed my life.

Claire: [00:04:40] I was like, I'm fine. But actually, it did change my life. In that it made me go, oh, shit, we're here for - sorry, I'm using bad language. 

Catherine: [00:04:50] No it's fine.

Claire: [00:04:51] We're here for a good time, not a long time. And lots of things that I'd meant to do with my life that aged thirty -nine know I was okay - you might not have time unless you get on with it a bit.

Catherine: [00:05:07] We're you involved in politics at that point - what was your entry point in?

Claire: [00:05:13] Well, I did politics for my lovely free state sponsored degree, which I'm sure a few politicians have now. But that's all under the radar. But I did, I literally finished my course. I was at Sunderland, so I was in the Northeast and I graduated in 98. So it was through the whole Labour "things can only get better" ha ha ha, Really Student politics had really turned me off politics. It was, um, it was very much like what you see in the Labour Party now, you know, with a Judean people's front, people's front of Judea and, you know, two elements just tearing themselves apart. And I yeah, I found it difficult to find somewhere that I naturally felt at home.

Catherine: [00:06:04] What did the feeling at home feel like for you in politics, kind of what your access point in politics was. But you have that kind of opposite experience. I'm really interested. 

Claire: [00:06:16] I've been political my whole life. You know, I've marched I've marched for pretty much anything you can, you can of over the years, but I never kind of wanted to be a fully paid up member of a place. About six years ago, I first joined the Green policy, but I wasn't a very active member at all. And then after I had my experience with with cancer, at the same time, it was really a very bad year that year. Why? My dad dropped dead unexpectedly three days before I got the all clear. And we, I'm a leaseholder in a council block and we got a section 20 notice for like 40 grand that like arrived on the first day of my radiotherapy. It was just like, oh, my God. And and like my experience with of like trying to engage, like with the council about the Section 20 thing spurred me. It made me think, I want be a politician because I think people with my experiences, I think those voices should be around the table. And I went to an event put on by an amazing thing called the Parliament Project, which is about empowering women to try and feel like there's a seat for them at the table. It's a partisan organization. So it doesn't matter where you're coming from ideologically that they kind of talk you through how how how do you how do you become an MP? Basically, how do you become a female MP? And they chose me as their Green representative, as someone who'd gone through the system, you know.

Catherine: [00:07:52] So bringing us to lockdown. Nunhead Knocks which is our point of contact. I met one of your wonderful volunteers, Jasmine who at a safe distance, handed me handed me some of your posters to put up on in our restaurant. People have been photographing, so that's working. Tell me the story.

Claire: [00:08:19] It does. It does all tie and like I say, a campfire story. The experience I had four years ago basically informed Nunhead Knocks because around that at that time a newborn baby, I had cancer. I was stuck at home for months on end. I couldn't go where, I couldn't do anything and I had to be organised. I'm self-employed. My husband's self-employed. I knew what it felt like and I knew what you need when you're stuck at home. 

Claire: [00:08:47] And in my case at the time, because we did have a big, lovely chocolate Labrador, it was dog walking, it was food and it was company. It was well, in that case, someone to come round and sit with me and my baby because I needed someone physically with me at all times. And it took a lot of organisation for, to keep one little family on the road for a few months. It took a lot of organisation by by my friends.

Claire: [00:09:16] You know, I had just set up Nunhead Women's Institute,so all the women from there, they were all like doing my cooking and stuff like that. And Nunhead Community Choir guys, you know, they were so lovely. They like to put a whip around for me so we could like go away for for a weekend. I'm really hammered home that experience, how important community is and how important having a safety net is.

Claire: [00:09:43] And I know from my experiences at that time applying for universal credit and the absolute horror show that that system is. I knew that the safety nets are not good. And I thought if if we can try and make sure that we look after, all of us, look after our neighbours, then it's manageable. You know, if this horrible, big, scary thing is manageable, if you break it down to that, what do we need?

Claire: [00:10:11] It is, you know, the very bottom, because I admin on the Nunhead Rocks Facebook group and I've got that profile in the community that people sort of know and trust me. And also, I've been in election mode for the last two years, so I have leafleted the everloving crap out of Nunhead. I've been in all of the blocks. My knees have given way in Rye Hill part because somebody renovated it and put the letterboxes two thirds down. You know, I thought I can reasonably easily get a load of leaflets round here cos I've done it so many times before. So I put in a call to Quick Print in Peckham and just went, Hey, it's me, Claire Shepherd from the Green Party. I've ordered many leaflets from you before. So I got that in place. And then the amazing Charlie sent a message going, Oh, I think my boyfriend can knock together a quick Web site.

Claire: [00:11:05] My day job. What what my business is, is market research. So I'm really cognisant about people's data and stuff like that.

Catherine: [00:11:14] You've such an exciting, incredible skill set. It's so exciting talking to you. The entrepreneurial drive that you have. I mean, I'm really interested in the kind of intersection, I guess, between entrepreneurial thinking and how that shows up in community, because it's kind of the same thing. Like when it's done well, that heart-centred propulsion could go either way, right?

Claire: [00:11:38] And yes, I believe. And it was really lucky that the people who sort of got in touch first and were very keen where people like Amale, who works in the Ivy House, who is an incredible community activist, very active in the Labour Party and very active in unions and things. So he's plugged into loads of networks like that. You've got Charlie, who's run charities before, and Heather who's run charities before. And Clive, he's worked in all sorts of government positions, so knows loads about safeguarding and back-end systems and lots of things that I can't do and don't really understand. It's okay. Well, I know Clive and Andy understand Systems and Paddy. He manages the Blackbird Bakery who's just been doing loads and loads his things.

Claire: [00:12:34] And it's yeah, we've been very lucky because we've put lots of talented people who care about our community and all wanted to pull together. And it is really for the common good. And Charlie and Tom, for example, designed the Web site so it could be copied by other communities. So other community groups have come to us so they can do that. You know, we tried to pass it up the food chain to City Hall and to put to government because they put that call out for for volunteers. But knowing what I know, having worked with government for many years, in my professional life, is that they will have done that without system to filter them and we built a system to usefully filter volunteers, but they didn't take us up on it.

Claire: [00:13:22] This is like the most beautiful and impressive thing I've ever been involved in in my life. It's amazing. And it's so nice just to have so many people pulling around a common goal, really fundamentally decent common goal because, yeah, I think people are good. I think people are good deep down. And I think if you give people the opportunity, then they will do good. Yeah. I trust people. And it's really unusual to see that. And then there's sort of nine of us who who make up like the Committee on Nunhead Knocks we're all different people with different backgrounds and different skill sets. But we've achieved so much all together, you know, with all all the hundreds, you know, I think as 1700 volunteers who sizes this website, you know, it's it's phenomenal.  And we have lots of people.

Catherine: [00:14:28] So you talk a little bit about what what makes up Nunhead Knocks. And you've obviously.. there's a huge number of volunteers and a huge number of recipients. Like what's being offered, what's happening?

Claire: [00:14:41] There's there's a few strands. Sadly, for dog fans, pretty much no one wants their dog walked. It's the sad news. And everyone wants to walk the dogs.  There are a lot of the dogs already being walked.Their poor little legs are done in. 

Catherine: [00:14:55] I don't want to go out again.  They're all exhausted!

Claire: [00:15:09] Yeah. So that's not as much as people would like. But we've we've got funds there where we've got neighbours shopping for neighbors.

Claire: [00:15:22] We've got a payment systems in place for people. So they can do that safely. We've got capacity if people can't afford to pay for their shopping right now, that we can get them tided over. You know, we bought Morrison's boxes, I think at some stages for people if they need them. We're also supporting via organizations like Westminster House Youth Club. So yeah, so we're we're doing hot meals that are going out through them aswell. So I think we're doing 70 odd hot meals a day a couple of days last week.  We've got Anne who's our fantastic food champion and she's getting hot meals out to people. So people can self-refer onto the website and say, I need hot meals, I need shopping. I just need a phone call because I just need somebody to keep in touch. You know. On a practical level, like Andy on the committee is driving to cash and carry. He's got cash and carry card. So he's going there and getting like 70 loaves of bread and a load of tea bags and some fresh stuff. So we're also getting that those supplies through to families by Westminster House. And I spoke to The Peabody Trust today. And hopefully, you know, we can support them in in those ways and hopefully via SGTO more tenants groups will will be getting that offer. But anyone can you know, anyone can request help on our website. And if if they haven't got any food in the cupboard right now, we'll get them some food in the cupboard right now. We're we're also collecting. That's the other thing. We're also collecting. We're opening up the Green between 1 and 3 for people to drop off non-perishable food, we'll use those in food parcels and any excess will go to the food bank. So we've got a relationship with there. It's it's huge. We've got all these little networks out. And if people have complex needs or issues, we've got people to feed that up to, you know, so they can get proper support. And because some people do, you know, some people it's just, um, self isolating needs some Sainsbury's for me. 

Catherine: [00:17:40] Yes.

Claire: [00:17:40] Or we're also delivering pharmacy prescriptions from Crystals and anything like that that we're picking up where it just needs volunteers to to do something like that. I think once we put the pharmacy rota up, it was filled in two minutes. There's loads of people - they just want to help.  That's what I've always found. It helps if you help people because we haven't got any control really over with this situation. But it's like, well, it's like anything when you sort of examine your mental health, it really, isn't it?  I can't control what's happening, but I can control how I react to it. 

Catherine: [00:18:22] And how we feel useful and connected as human beings is really, really important. But to look at the way community is coming together and I'm just kind of I guess I'm wondering what amazing stories are arising out of this.

Claire: [00:18:37] Yeah.

Catherine: [00:18:37] You know what's changing for people like - the pivots that people are on that are fundamentally going to change how they live and their impact and. 

Claire: [00:18:48] The way we've set up Nunhead knocks, is it could exist for as long as it needs to exist. And I really hope that some of the relationships that have been made, you know, because there's been people who helped their neighbours because we've set it up so it's someone within a street or two of you is probably going to be the person helping you. And I'm hoping that those relationships will will stand up. You know, I know in the WhatsApp group for for our couple of streets, we've already started talking about how the houses over the road are going to be 100 in October. And we should really have a street party that our street's a hundred years old in October. You know, there's there's there's so much loveliness coming out there.

Claire: [00:19:35] It's difficult. And I think that there's going to be huge mental health issues that are coming out this the other side, because I know I know after my illness, before or after my isolation, before, it was very difficult for me to get back to anything approaching normal, really, because when your world becomes that small, when it starts opening up again, it can be really intimidating. You know, I had this thing because I love going to festivals and I had this thing all the way through my treatment that I had tickets for Glastonbury and I was like, I'm going, I'm going to Glastonbury and my God. I went to Glastonbury and I got sent vertical free for.

Claire: [00:20:20] I was leaving on Friday morning. So my amazing Glasto fam like packed me up because I was I was just exhausted. It was too much. It was too much. But everybody had enough faith in me, you know. They'd been reading my blog and they were like, we're gonna get it here. And I got there. And it is overwhelming. And it was muddy as hell. And I brought my 11 month old baby because really, you know, I'm prepared for the challenge.

Claire: [00:20:48] And and I I only managed to go back to Glastonbury last year because like that was too much of a you know, mind melter just be around for that many people at once, even though, you know, in a place that I think is the best place on Earth. And it's a very loving place just by virtue of their being that many people there, it freaked me out and people are gonna get freaked out when they start going out again.

Catherine: [00:21:18] So as we wrap up, we don't know, obviously, when things are going to open back up. But what few things that really worked for you to help you find your sense of normality or kind of sense of groundedness or calm after what you experience?

Claire: [00:21:36] Well, I still have really bad, really bad days sometimes. But what I do find is that anything that kind of gets you into sort of stay  of flow. So cooking is a good, good one. You know. Managing technology is a really big one. Literally of an evening, put your phone in a different room and you'll be amazed how much better your mental health is. I know I tried to do that every night. I charge it in the kitchen. So I can't even hear it.I read some Matt Haig books. He's written a couple of really, really good books. One called Reasons to Stay Alive. And the other one  - God I can't remember the name of it. But it's making sense of life in the modern world. There's very calming chapters in there where it just kind of talks about, you know, this pressure that we put on ourselves to be there all the time. And I'm the worst in the world at it. You know, my my big sisters take the mickey out of me and just say, you know, you can't you can't fix everything, Claire. 

Claire: [00:22:39] But you've bloody got a try haven't you? 

Catherine: [00:22:42] Yes you do! And you know, if you keep saying you can't fix everything, then you're right.

Claire: [00:22:49] Yeah. Yeah. It isn't a fulfilling process a thing. It's like we've we've got to try and I really hope that like you say it's pivot and it's a change and people will realize that they don't need to consume as much. Has anyone really noticed that they haven't been able to clothes shop?

Claire: [00:23:09] I think people are noticing in London that the air is cleaner and you can see stars at night and you can hear birds singing and, you know, woken up at 5:00 in the morning from that plane that comes Guam. I've looked it up. And there are, you know, there's pockets of joy to be had and don't feel bad about enjoying the pockets of joy.

Catherine: [00:23:31] You know, that's super important. Thank you for saying that. Thank you for saying that, because again, I've had talks with friends of mine - I've had moments of just feeling very happy, like and there's reasons for that. And I think part of it is being useful. And it's and it's a very different kind of feeling from you where you've got a restaurant. And it's amazing, you know, serving food and getting all that kind of feedback. And, you know, for us, the focus is on the supply chain and thinking about how we can support an agricultural system that regenerates soil and is kind of nature. But, above all of that like there's, it's a very different feeling to say pivoting the restaurant as we are right now. And also I mean, even just this little podcast that I'm starting, just pretty much an excuse to talk to people. And you have a platform that can talk about their businesses and like ..

Claire: [00:24:32] I look at my business because market research, not to put too fine a point on it. It is mostly helping people decide that they want to buy things that they don't necessarily want to buy and don't necessarily, you know, they don't need it and I watch Bill Hicks at an early age and that's never really sat comfortably with me that, you know, I but I I assuage my guilt by I've done a lot of social research now. I've done, like, some some good things. But, at the moment, you know, I don't have any any of my paid work to do. And I am keeping busy with with Nunhead Knocks and with my four year old who's just bouncing off the walls and um. 

Catherine: [00:25:18] Any tips for parents?

Claire: [00:25:22] God, no. Just to look at your co-parent, if you're lucky enough to have a home with you once a day and tell the that they're doing great. Because it is trying. It's. I've got four year old and he's like me, quite loquacious. And he's got a lot of questions, a lot of questions. A lot of them are about Ninjago, which I don't really know that much about if I'm honest. So it's challenging. I keep saying it's a bit like living with a member of the Mighty Boosh who's had too much MDMA or something really. It's just a surrealist stream of consciousness. It's kind of like being stuck in a chill out room. Yeah. No you don't have to keep asking the same question over and over again. I did hear you the first time. I'm just thinking. Yeah, I'm calling on a lot of like, you know, it's fine.

Catherine: [00:26:22] I'm so I'm I'm sure other people, when they listen to this if they haven't connected with you or come across here before. But honestly, you are so inspiring. You're so inspiring to me on so many different levels. What's really interesting to me about how you are is how accessible you are and how accessible you make things that people might not necessarily think are accessible. I think that that's takes a real particular gift. It really does. It might just be you being yourself. But honestly, that's really... I'm feeling quite emotional.

Claire: [00:27:01] Aaaaaah - video hug. 

Catherine: [00:27:12] Video hug?

Claire: [00:27:12] I love video hugs! 

Catherine: [00:27:12] Oh my gosh - it's a new thing. But thank you.  And, you know, we've never spoken before. Such a pleasure to talk to you and. 

Claire: [00:27:20] Pleasure to talk to you too. I can't believe our paths haven't cross before. But that's happening quite a lot.

Claire: [00:27:24] The big thing to get people to do is actually talk to talk to people around them because there's a thing called affective frequency. So people need to hear about something at least three times before it stays. Nothing's as good as word of mouth really. Just let people know that we're here and we you know, we just want to try and make sure that the people can get through it.

Catherine: [00:27:51] And your website is w w w dot Nunhead Knocks. 

Claire: [00:27:57] Yup. 

Catherine: [00:27:58] Dot. 

Claire: [00:27:58] Com.

Catherine: [00:27:59] I'll put that in the show notes anyway. Seems funny saying that, but yeah. Anything - are you on Instagram?

Claire: [00:28:07] Oh yeah. I'm on Instagram myself as Shiny Shepp and on Twitter I tweet more than I Instagram.

Catherine: [00:28:15] Thank you, Claire.

Claire: [00:28:16] No not at all.

Catherine: [00:28:17] Much love.

Claire: [00:28:18] I'm going to come in and eat some cow in your place at the first opportunity I get. I'm going to take my husband out for some cow. 

Catherine: [00:28:26] Climate solutions on a plate.  In the meantime, so much love. So thank you so much for being a guest on The Giant Pause and I look forward to connecting with you soon. 

Claire: [00:28:36] Thanks for having me.

Catherine: [00:28:38] Aaah, thank you for coming.

Claire: [00:28:41] Bye!

Claire: [00:28:41] Amazing. Claire. Thank you.

Catherine: [00:28:47] I don't about you, but I feel so hopeful that women as amazing as Claire are entering politics. I was so inspired by our conversation today and I hope you were too. If you think it's something that your friends were like, please, please share. It would also be really lovely, if you like the conversation to put some likes below or even post a review. That would be amazing. But thank you so much for listening. And I look forward to you joining me on the next episode of The Giant Pause.