Novels Project ‘Small Island’

by Andrea Levy

Chat over Chai has been invited by Portsmouth libraries to participate in a very exciting project. Over the last two weeks, we have been reading the book ‘Small Island’. Christine Lawrance has been taking us through our paces.

The first part was to look at our identities, our stories of where we came from and what we call ‘home’. Looking at how our lives have changed as more people have come to live here. What are our hopes and dreams and expectations when coming to a new place to live? 

The second part of our workshop was about exploring the issues of language and prejudices in the novel, how that makes us feel, and how we can make changes for the better.

Reading this novel has certainly challenged some of our preconceptions. It’s an important topic to explore as more and more people settle in the UK. We are really enjoying the discussions and some hilarious stories have emerged.

This is our second project for the year and it’s been great to see how well folks have engaged with the material. We have some very talented writers, I look forward to reading some of the stories.

This has been a year of hope and expectations as more and more people are getting vaccinated. We hope that we can resume our face to face gatherings. We also want to thank Portsmouth libraries for allowing us to participate.

HMS Victory

Thank you to everyone who joined us on zoom last Thursday. Special thanks to our guest speaker Joanna Valentine from the National Museum of The Royal Navy. Jo briefly told us about the history of HMS Victory ‘The Peoples Ship’. Most of us remember HMS Victory for the Battle of Trafalgar and Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson.

We learned that in 1922 The Society for Nautical Research started a public appeal in the United Kingdom to save the Victory as it was in an extremely poor condition since its launch in 1765. As a result of the Save The Victory Fund HMS Victory was moved into dry dock. During the Second World War HMS Victory was bombed causing damage. The Victory has been visited by many visitors including Beatrix Potter and Hugh Jackman during the filming of Les Miserables! Many artist have painted HMS Victory. Artist William Wyllie had a special interest in painting the Battle of Trafalgar.

Nelson’s column at Trafalgar Square was built in 1843 to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
The 5.5m sandstone statue of Nelson stands on top of a 46m solid Dartmoor granite column. Nelson faces south looking towards the Admiralty, with the Mall on his right flank, where Nelson’s ships are represented on the top of each flagpole.

If you have any memories of HMS Victory that you would like to share please email them to

LCT 7074

Last week on our zoom Session Daniel Jessop, Community Participation Officer from the D- Day story shared with us on the exciting journey and restoration of LCT 7074. We were all very surprised that it was used as a nightclub before it was fully restored to it’s former glory. When restrictions are lifted it will be well worth a visit.

LCT 7074 Journey

After it was retired, LCT 7074 was turned into a nightclub but fell into disrepair and sank in Birkenhead docks. Now, following a multi-million pound restoration project by our partner, the National Museum of the Royal Navy  – with backing from the National Lottery Heritage Fund  – LCT 7074 has been restored to its former glory.

It now stands proudly outside The D-Day Story, to further tell the stories of those involved in D-Day, and to keep alive their heroic acts.

Board the LCT using the ramp at the front (bow), which was used to unload the tanks and vehicles it carried. On board you’ll find the Sherman and Churchill tanks which used to stand at the front of the museum. These have been positioned on the tank deck to give you an impression of what an LCT full of vehicles would look like – and show off the vessel’s sheer size. However, on D-Day, LCT 7074 carried 10 tanks!


During the pandemic we have been using Zoom a lot to connect.

Initially we only used it a little as we weren’t very familiar with all this technology! But gradually as lockdowns continued and tiers were introduced we started to become more familiar with it. Summer in 2020 was wonderful as we could get to see each other again and we held some socially distanced meetings in the parks, although we could not use the Havelock Centre due to restrictions.

Towards the end of 2020 new restrictions came into place and we started to use Zoom a lot more! It was fun sometimes just to see other people who we could not meet in public.

For many people not being able to see family and friends was really tough. Particularly when life events or religious festivals and dates came and went it brought home to us all just what lock-down meant to others. Of particular concern were that many suffered during this time and could not attend funerals, or invite dear friends to weddings and other celebrations.

Funding from HiWCF

We were very grateful for a grant from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Funding as part of their NET (National Emergencies Trust) initiative. This was particularly to be used for those impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic and as we had to radically change the way we met and supported each other this was very welcome.

Our initial grant request was for equipment that will help us conduct our meetings at the Havelock Centre, the grant has enabled us to use iPads to connect regularly on a zoom meeting. We have also bought equipment such as a cupboard, a sewing machine, projector and airpots for coffee and tea and PPE equipment. Long term plans for when we are able to have face to face meetings are for training to use IPads and help folk who are struggling with the challenges of internet. Catering equipment for teas and coffee and use of our own projector will help to make our group more efficient and vibrant. We are very grateful for HiWCF and the grant money, which is enabling us to connect during these restricted times when we are unable to meet face to face.

The Wombles of Kingston Cemetery

The Christmas sprout that got away

What started as a bit of exercise back in April 2020 and the start of self-isolation and lockdown has turned into a weekly event. Two friends and members of Chat over Chai decided to get a bit of well needed exercise and what better place to do it than in Kingston cemetery? 

The cemetery dates back to Victorian times. It is vast and has a huge collection of very old trees that stand proudly against the skyline.  It is a beautiful place to walk. 

At first the pair had just gone for a walk, but on noticing how much litter was appearing they decided to make it a regular event of aiming to pick up as much litter as possible. Armed with kitchen tongs and a few bin liners, the walk would not only benefit people visiting the graveyard but the litter pickers, a chance to catch up while living in extraordinary times, especially after self-isolating for so long. A chance to see a friendly face was most welcome.

Every week, mostly Thursdays as this was the regular Chat over Chai day, and they were both missing it so much, it became something to look forward too. They found a part of the cemetery that had so many people from Bangladesh, they saw family names they recognised from their many friends from Chat over Chai. This became a priority every week. Neither of the pair had originated from Portsmouth and didn’t have family members buried in the cemetery, but the friends from Chat over Chai had become like family, so it felt like they were doing it for family members.

Proper litter pickers were invested in and a big roll of bin liners were taken on every visit, and essentially a bag of nuts to give out to the many squirrels they encountered on route, even seeing the white albino squirrel a few times. They would notice the many names on the graves when they would tidy up the flowers that had been blown over as it is a very open space and can be pretty windy at times, they even spotted a name of someone that had been on the Titanic and remembering one in particular that had said on the back of it ‘Put the kettle on mum, I told you I was ill’ 

The pair continue to litter pick while the weather allows and they feel that they are needed. They feel that they have benefited so much from having such a beautiful place pretty much on one of their doorsteps, a place of beauty, a place of calm where they feel they can do ‘their bit’ and take each day as it comes in these very extraordinary times.

Becoming part of the Chat family

The Thursday Chat over Chai group began as a safe place to which the Portsmouth Wellbeing team could refer members of the community who they felt would benefit from an informal and informative friendship group to support their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, whilst reducing their risk of social isolation.

From a handful of people, mostly but not exclusively over 50 and from minority ethnic backgrounds the group has become a wonderfully diverse group of people with very different histories, experiences and needs who come together for an stimulating programme of talks, courses, events, experiences and outings which have enhanced their learning and understanding in many areas thus enriching their lives.

We have had opportunities to learn more about our city and what is available to us, been informed about issues affecting our health and wellbeing; we have made jewellery, sketched, sewed, played musical instruments, played games, cooked, eaten, celebrated cultural events, festivals and birthdays, danced, learned and laughed together in sessions led by professionals, teachers, volunteers, enthusiasts and members. We have drunk tea of course and most importantly, we have made friends.

I joined the group shortly after retiring from a long career in Early Years education, within which, as well as teaching, I had held posts for equalities, inclusion, diversity and English as an additional language at both locally and nationally. I joined Chat over Chai the invitation of Rowshonara Reza, a one-time colleague and long-time friend and founder of the group. Now we have a committee, of which I am a member; I benefit from the group in many ways and am able to contribute to it as well as receive from it, both elements being important.

I was recruited partly as a volunteer but also as someone suffering from a whole lot of ‘loss’; recently widowed, recently retired and having become an ‘empty nester’, often alone. Like so many people of my age, and in my situation, I was, and am as vulnerable to the debilitating loneliness and social isolation which blights our society as anyone else.

One of the things I value most about this group it is that it is not overtly aimed at one specific group or type of person. There is something for everyone here, it is a ‘come as you are’ group, properly inclusive and truly diverse; no one needs a label to attend and there is no one specific thing we all have in common – except perhaps a desire for friendship, companionship, somewhere to be for a little while – the group does what it says on the teapot!

Chat over Chai poem

Chat over Chai, talk over tea,
 History, herstory, mystory, yourstory,
 Who am I? What am I?
 What is the difference?
 Roles and identities, doorways and pathways
 Am I still now, will I be always
 a teacher a mother a learner a lover?
 a wife a widow a body, a shadow ?
 Nest now empty sadly alone
 Ageing perceptibly, invisibility
 Finding new families now mine is gone.
 ‘What’ you are changes ‘Who’ you are stays
 the essence of you ‘til the end of your days.
 With Love’s light inside to inspire and guide,
 We give and receive, hope and believe.
 Chat over Chai, talk over tea,
 this a place for discovery
 History herstory mystory yourstory
 Stories and memories pasts that define
 I’ll learn about yours, you’ll learn about mine
 Friendships developing, laughter and empathy
 Sharing and caring, truth and equality
 Chat over Chai, a nice cup of cha –
 with love in your hearts come just as you are.

International Women’s Day 2020

Our celebration for our International Women’s Day was held at the Oasis Centre in Portsmouth.

Well What an event!

Lots of planning went into making this such a successful day. Despite it being a wet and cold day over 80 people turned up to the event. We had stalls which folks could browse and get information for example cancer research, there was photo booths and Bollywood and Folk dancing..

Special exhibits were put up as we worked on a saree project with the Naval Museum of Portsmouth, Fairtrade, Kings Theatre. Dr Miriam Safdar, Imam from ‘Tell Mama’ were just a few of the speakers. The highlight was letting everyone get on the dance floor with Bollywood and folk dancing.

Fantastic food specially prepared on the day by our wonderful catering team. It was definitely a day to remember. A big thank you to Gilly Reilly and Collette for their help and expertise in getting us set up .

This year we will be running our event on zoom, our theme “Choose to Challenge” will be hosting guests from FiLiA to talk on these themes. If you would like to join us for this event please leave your name in the comment box and one of our team will be able to get back to you.

Macmillian Cancer coffee morning

In Oct 2019

Chat over chai ran a successful coffee morning. Our theme for the morning was ‘Brew chew and donate too’. Coffee mornings are an excellent way to round up a few friends and family and fundraise for this amazing charity. We received a fund raising pack and turned our chat afternoon into a lively event. In a short space of time nearly 300 pounds was raised. This is just one way Chat over Chai was able to get involved in fundraising and supporting this charity.