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Britain Talks 2021 saw thousands of you form new connections as we emerge from the Covid pandemic.
Now in its third year, a staggering 9,434 people were brave enough to sign up for this year’s project and meet someone with different political views.
A retired hospital consultant and a senior nurse met to discuss their very contrasting views on a pay rise for NHS staff – only to discover that they had once worked in the same hospital in Germany.
Meanwhile, a carer who worked throughout the pandemic shared her lockdown memories with a business owner, who had enjoyed time in the garden.
What is your view? Have your say in the comment section
Britain Talks brings people with different views together
But they discovered common ground when they realised that they had both lost loved ones last year.
From Megxit to Brexit, masks to lockdowns, here are six politically opposed pairs who like healthy disagreement but found many things in common.
Read all the Mirror's Britain Talks content on our dedicated channel
Raj Kathane and Susan Smith
Most of their lives have been spent working for the NHS but they have very different views on how to reward colleagues for the jobs they have done during the pandemic.
Raj Kathane, 73, is a retired consultant psychiatrist from Bedford who does not think the NHS can afford pay rises.
Susan Smith, 56, meanwhile, a head matron at a hospital in Warwickshire, believes staff deserve more than a clap.
Raj Kathane from Bedford chats with Susan Smith from Warwickshire
Raj said: “There’s no doubt they deserve a pay rise but what about porters, frontline staff, the secretaries? Very quickly it starts to spread out.
“The NHS deserves rewards of some kind but I’m also thinking about the financial situation of the country. It’s a debt we will have to continue to pay. The answer needs to be ‘No’.”
Susan told Raj that recruitment and morale were key. She said: “I feel we’re coming to the end of nurses who joined as teenagers and made nursing a lifelong career.
“The incentives to keep people in nursing have changed.”
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Raj said he agreed, but added: “Even a 5% rise would be breaking the back of any government. The implications would be vast.”
The conversation got warmer when they discovered they had both worked at the same German hospital. And they agreed on one thing – that the NHS had done a great job during the pandemic.
As the chat drew to a close both Raj and Susan said they’d enjoyed it.
“It was delightful – we can have differences of opinion, but situations change over time,” said Raj. “It was lovely meeting you.”
Colette Dingley and Fiona Boston
They had very different lockdowns but when carer Colette Dingley sat down to chat with business owner Fiona Boston, they formed a real bond.
As Colette, 49, explains, she’s had a tough year, working non-stop shifts and missing her family. Her three daughters had to give birth without her there and her dad died last summer.
Colette, pictured top, says: “I work in the care sector. So I’ve worked all the way through. It was hard.”
Fiona, 56, is from a big family too but was able to see a lot of her relatives when her hair and beauty business had to be put on hold. She and her staff were furloughed, allowing her to spend time with her bubble.
Colette Dingley from Manchester
Fiona Boston was chatting from one of her shops in Stockton-on-Tees
She says: “I tried to do sales through Facebook and did deliveries but we struggled. We had just enough to pay the rent then Boris gave us some support. That was marvellous. We got a grant and that allowed me to keep my business.”
But as the women chat, they realise they both struggled with loss during the pandemic.
At home in Mancetter, North Warks, Colette, a mum of six and grandma to seven, says: “Going through that process is difficult and if you have a large family it’s been tough – my mum had to sit down and decide who could come to the funeral.”
Fiona is chatting from one of her shops in Stockton-on-Tees. “I was at a funeral – there were only 30 people allowed – and I looked around and thought, ‘is this what we’ve amounted to?’,” she says. “Is this all we’re worth?”
They end the call on an upbeat note – by saying how much they’ve enjoyed a chance to share their views.
Angela Marshall and Lauren Pitt
As they say themselves, they are chalk and cheese. But when Conservative Brexiteer Angela Marshall got together with Labour-supporting Remainer, Lauren Pitt, the conversation flowed.
Before long they were talking about everything from party politics to pandemics before moving on to family, travel plans and even phobias – Angela is terrified of snakes. Now they plan to keep in touch.
At first Angela, 69, who lives with her husband in Usk, Wales, is keen to hear more about Lauren’s views.
She says: “I think Boris is doing well, but you can tell me if you disagree. I’ve tried to always have an open mind. I try to listen to people’s points of view.”
Angela Marshall from Usk in Wales (L) meets Lauren Pitt from Bedlington
Lauren, 23, who is about to finish her postgraduate degree in International Politics at home in Bedlington, Northumberland, is chatting over Zoom in her bedroom.
She says: “We’re all very left-wing in my family.” Angela says: “I’m a strong Brexiteer. I would say I’ve been brought up Conservative all my life, but I’ve made up my own mind.”
Lauren says: “ Brexit was the first thing I could vote on. During my life we’ve always been in the EU.”
Angela says: “That’s the difference between your age and my age. I was quite strongly for Brexit and so were most of our friends.”
What is BritainTalks?
Britain Talks plans to bring the nation back together over a virtual cup of tea.
People have signed up to agree to meet someone from outside their bubble for a conversation online on June 19, as part of this year's Great Get Together.
- Find out more at Mirror.co.uk/BritainTalks
- Follow us on Twitter @britaintalks
- And visit www.greatgettogether.org/2021
- Britain Talks is also on Youtube
We all know it’s good to talk – but how many of us really get the chance to chat with someone outside our own bubble?
Brexit, Covid, vaccines, masks and politics are just some of the topics some of us have strong views on but are finding it hard to discuss. At times, it can feel like we’re struggling to make ourselves heard.
Living through the pandemic has made it harder than ever to meet up with new friends. But at the Mirror, we're firm believers in the power of talking and just as importantly, listening to people, even those we disagree with.
That’s why we’ve joined up with the Daily Express for Britain Talks – to make sure we’re including people with a wide range of views.
We don’t have to agree – we just all need to learn to disagree better, and make sure we listen as well as talk. We may even find things in common.
The pair share their experiences of caring as both have people close to them who have needed care recently and talk about travel to America and plans for the future.
Lauren says: “Thanks for doing this, it’s been really interesting.”
Angela smiles as she says: “I’d love to know how you get on – do keep in touch.”
James Barry and Kai Sandbrook
They are at different stages of their lives, but the pair met to discuss their differing views over Brexit.
James, 34, is a maths teacher at a secondary school in West London. He spent lockdown looking after his two-year-old baby while his fiance, a community nurse, worked throughout the pandemic.
Kai, 19, spent the last year studying for his finals before starting a degree at Aberystwyth University in Wales.
James voted for Brexit while Kai, who wasn’t old enough to take part in the poll, said the country should have remained in the EU. Before long the pair are discussing the political affairs of Brexit, Megxit, education and lockdown.
James Barry from West London meets Kai Sandbrook from Port Talbot, Wales
James says: “I am definitely not a staunch Brexiteer.”
He tells Kai how he gets “incredibly frustrated” when he reads comments online.
James adds: “There is no real debate, it is people shouting and screaming their opinion at the top of their voices and they’re not willing to listen to anyone else.”
Talk soon turns to Harry and Meghan. Kai tells James how he thinks racism is “prevalent not just in the Royal Family but everywhere”.
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He says: “Racism is still an issue, it has never not been an issue.
“To me I think Meghan was probably mistreated and Harry was probably mistreated for being in a relationship with her.”
James agrees but says he felt Harry and Meghan didn’t “deserve” to have money and security when they moved to America.
As the call ends, the pair say they were glad to have met through the project.
Marie Brown and Pam Page
Marie Brown and Pam Page live 400 miles apart on opposite sides of the Irish Sea and despite different views about lockdown found a lot in common.
Marie, 62, chief exec of a domestic violence charity in Northern Ireland, wants to wait “until we are out of the woods for good” before restrictions are lifted.
But Pam Page, 67, an NHS complaints officer from Stafford, Staff, is disappointed with the delay. Pam says: “I could cheerfully go down to London and strangle Boris over that. I was so ready to throw my mask away.”
Gran-of-three Marie says Covid cases are rising in Northern Ireland again: “He didn’t lock down quick enough at the beginning, he probably shouldn’t have opened up at Christ- mas and the dine out thing was a disaster.”
Marie Brown from Northern Ireland meets Pam Page from Stafford
Pam fears the hospitality industry, festivals and theatres could “disappear if we don’t let the country loose again. I don’t think spending billions on Covid was a good idea”.
Marie disagrees: “I don’t think we spend enough money on the health service anyway. The work put into Covid will be valuable, I don’t think that will be lost.”
But both women were frustrated with the Government’s spending on the Test and Trace system and the purchase of PPE from abroad. And they discovered they both voted Remain.
Pam asks Marie: “Is Brexit affecting you because all we’re hearing is sausage wars are on the way.”
Marie says: “Brexit is affecting us badly. I was really not impressed with how Boris dealt with it. Theresa May had a better deal for Northern Ireland.”
The pair ended the call by telling each other they would love to have gone for a drink together.
Mary Southcott and Tom Anderson
Mary Southcott and Tom Anderson are both grandparents who have worked in politics but they definitely differ over Brexit.
Mary, 71, from Bristol, joined the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform in 1988 and was its parliamentary and political officer from 1990 until last year.
Tom, 61, lives in Maidenhead, Berks. Semi-retired, he spent most of his life working in banking and was a political lobbyist in Washington, US.
Leaver Tom said: “My biggest issue with Europe is the bureaucracy. They waste money.”
Mary Southcott of Bristol worked for the Labour party
But Remainer Mary disagreed. She said: “But don’t you think Britain has the same problems as Europe? Our governance isn’t brilliant.”
Tom admitted: “Britain isn’t perfect, far from it, but I find the whole structure of Europe with Strasbourg and Brussels… why do you need two places?”
When Tom said he voted to join the EU in 1975, Mary asked him: “So you’re in favour of the common market, but not in favour of co-operation, people-to-people, students studying in other universities?”
He replied: “I think it is wider than that.” Mary asked if Tom supported independence for Scotland, and Tom, born to a Scottish dad, said no.
Tom Anderson of Maidenhead, Berks was once a political lobbyist in Washington, US
Mary laughed at that, saying: “Well, we already have found something in common.”
Later, she added: “Instead of finding the points of difference, we need to find the points of commonality, what we have in common, the Jo Cox phraseology.”
The pair have organised a second Zoom call to continue their talk and Tom said he would like to invite Mary for a coffee “so we can keep the conversation going”.
If you missed out on signing up, follow along via @britaintalks and mirror.co.uk/britaintalks.
And it’s not too late to join the Great Get Together – www.greatgettogether.org