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But how many of us managed to meet new people from outside our own bubble? So today, we are relaunching our groundbreaking project Britain Talks for 2021 – connecting people across the UK with different views for a virtual chat. Over the past three years, the Express has helped to connect more than 10,000 people with someone they would not normally meet.
People like student Jovan Nepaul and retired nurse Lynda Felton-Scott, and like lobster fisherman Bob Roberts and Syrian refugee and cheese maker Razan Alsous. And like dairy farmer Abi Reader and vegan campaigner Sarah King, whose stories you can read on the right.
The aim of Britain Talks is to start a conversation in which people explore what they might have in common. It is about having a safe space to chat through controversial or tricky topics and is based on an idea and technology created in Europe – “My Country Talks”.
As in 2020, we are moving the project online in response to the pandemic.To take part, all you need to do is fill in our questionnaire on the Express and Mirror websites. Just go to the link above.
We’ll match you with someone who has different views and help you set up a video meeting on June 19, the weekend of The Great Get Together – Britain Talks’ partners again this year – a community building initiative dedicated to the memory of murdered MP Jo Cox.
Her sister Kim Leadbeater says: “It’s brilliant to see the Daily Express getting Britain talking.The Great GetTogether is our chance to celebrate that.”
The virus may have turned our lives upside down but it has also shown how our country can pull together, and how important our communities and networks are. The point of BritainTalks is for us to remember how to listen to each other and rediscover the art of conversation.
Here are some of the people who have taken part over the last three years…
THE PENSIONER AND THE STUDENT Jovan Nepaul and Lynda Felton-Scott were experiencing very different lockdowns when they met over Zoom.
Lynda, 76, a retired nurse, suffers from lung conditions so was shielding at home in Batley, West Yorkshire, while Jovan, 24, was staying with his parents in Birmingham.
Despite the 50-year age gap, they’ve become good friends.
Looking back, Jovan – now studying for a masters at Cambridge – says: “The things I was worried about were so different from the challenges Lynda was facing. We never would have met in real life, but we got on, the conversation was really easy.
“I learnt a lot from Lynda. We had a lot in common, with our families and some of our ideas and we’ve stayed in touch. I’m hoping we can meet in person.”
Lynda says: “Jovan is a lovely guy, I’ve enjoyed seeing what he’s doing. I’d never really Zoomed before and it was wonderful.
“Like everyone, the last year has had ups and downs –- Christmas Day was a bit of a disaster – but taking part in this was one of the highlights. I’m looking forward to catching up again.”
THE FISHERMAN AND THE CHEESE MAKER
BREXITEER Bob Roberts, 72, had plenty to discuss when he first got together with Syrian cheese maker, Razan Alsous, 37, in 2019.
As Yorkshire food producers – Bob sells crab and lobster he catches near his home in Scarborough and Razan founded a halloumi company in Sowerby Bridge – they bonded over business.
Immigration was a hot topic but Bob was moved to tears when he learnt about Razan’s journey from war-torn Syria. He often thinks back to their conversations.
Bob said: “I hope Razan is doing OK. I’m so glad we met. I really admire what she’s done, we were looking at the immigration issue from a different level.”
Razan has endured a tough year – her business premises flooded, she’s recovering from a broken knee and the family recently had Covid.
“This year has been hard for everyone,” she says. “Business has been tricky. Instead of thinking, ‘what’s next?’ it’s been more about, ‘how do we survive?’ But we are still here, things are getting a little bit better.
“Whenever I see lobsters I think of Bob and I’ve wondered how he has managed. Meeting him was an experience I’ve never had before.”
THE DAIRY FARMER AND THE VEGAN
ABI READER and Sarah King found more middle ground than they imagined when they met on Abi’s South Wales farm and in Bristol, where 28-yearold vegan campaigner Sarah lives.
As Abi, 39, explains: “If you feel there are conversations that you can’t have then it’s probably important you do have them.
“Speaking to Sarah really opened my eyes to be honest – we weren’t setting out to change each other but we both were able to hear a different view. As a farmer that’s not always easy for me to do.
“I’ve only been off the farm 10 times in a year. So, it’s felt isolated.”
Sarah agrees. “It was such a great experience. I often think about things I should or could have said – maybe I’ll get the chance at some point! There is something about meeting one on one that means you can talk and really listen. You can’t always do that on social media.”
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