It’s probably a bit of a cliché to blog about lessons learnt from kindly grandparents, so please forgive me this once. My grandmother, Beatrice Smyth died earlier this summer at the age of 97, so I hope I’m forgiven for recounting one of the ways that she provided an influence of sheer goodness until the very end of her life.
Bea was a lifelong member of the Methodist Church, first in rural Armagh where she was born and raised and then on the Ormeau Road in Belfast after she married my grandfather Jim in 1946. There she joined a network called the Methodist Women’s Department (now Methodist Women in Ireland), which met regularly – and still does – to enable women to meet together and share friendship and faith. It was through the WD in the 1960s that she led a project to create dozens of small cloth pouches from discarded pieces of fabric that would be used to sell at craft fairs to raise money for overseas development projects.
Fast forward more than half a century to 2017 and my father was helping her clear some of the things from her attic when he came across the cloth bags in a drawer, just as intact as the day they were made. When asked, Bea couldn’t remember why there had been a bag surplus but it didn’t matter. It seemed a shame to throw them away so she agreed to donate them to the company of Guides, Brownies and Rainbow Guides affiliated to the church as a gift for a new generation of girls.
Together, they came up with a clever use for the pouches by filling each with a small gift, a positive message painted on a pebble and a request to the recipient to pass the bag on to someone else who needed support and encouragement. The pouches were handed out to the girls’ friends and family at their annual Thinking Day service in February last year and everyone heard the story of how my granny’s generation had created them to support good causes. The girls called them Bags of Kindness.
My wife Hilary and I were there that day and she promptly pinched the idea and took it back to our local church in Gullane. She used it to bring the generations together by asking a group of the Church of Scotland Women’s Guild, most of whom are in their later years but full of energy, to see if they could sew replicas of the bags that Beatrice and her friends had made in the 60s. This they did with gusto, providing dozens of Bags of Kindness for the children and young people of the congregation to hand out to members of their community at a special family service.
Sadly Beatrice wasn’t well by the time these services were happening and couldn’t attend, but it was a joy to be able to tell her about a small legacy which she and her friends had inadvertently created through friendship. You could tell it tickled her imagination because the bags weren’t really the point and she knew that. It was their power as a catalyst to bring younger and older people together in a common project, with each able to use their skills and networks in ways that suited them and which focused on acts of kindness that mattered.
It has occurred to me more than once that Beatrice would have been a great asset to any Public Affairs or social media campaign, especially around community engagement. Some organisations would no doubt pay handsomely for the spark of inspiration she provided in connecting people with one another and encouraging them to engage with kindness. Maybe Twitter and Instagram weren’t her style but connecting with others authentically was.
Again, forgive me for harnessing a bittersweet cliché but she was the most authentic influencer I know and greatly missed by all whose lives she touched.
Deputy MD, Indigo