Countering Polarisation with the Roots Programme

Do you ever talk to people with a completely different life experience to your own? We tend to find our bubbles and stay inside them, which can be comforting but disconnecting. The UK has such a broad, deep society and we really should be more curious about our neighbours.

Funded by the National Lottery’s ‘Bringing People Together Fund’, the Roots Programme is a project that hopes to counter polarisation in the UK. It offers an opportunity to exchange life experience with someone unlike yourself and learn how other people live. Roots exchanges offer a place to create connections and smash assumptions between people living parallel lives in the UK today, for a kinder, more curious and compassionate society.

Founded by Ruth Ibegbuna, the project started this month and will connect people living very different lives, reducing our sense of polarisation and altering our perceptions of ‘other’, encouraging people to compassionately and fearlessly enquire more about how others live.

Online and offline exchanges of life experience are guided by Roots over two months, between pairs of UK citizens that have very different experiences of the UK. Roots pairs individuals that feel marginalised, sidelined or misunderstood with those who inhabit social spheres bound by sameness and lack of diversity.

Partners are paired over points of difference and, over the weeks, share their passions, views and their day to day experiences as well as their sense of belonging, traditions and home life whilst being encouraged to notice and explore their differences.

“We’ve worked quietly throughout the pandemic,” explained Ruth Ibegbuna, “connecting people online with others across the UK from diverse backgrounds. All the exchange experiences have taken place from the comfort of our front rooms. We’ve all missed human connection through the lockdowns and this has made it a pivotal point to examine our relationships and expand them.”

Clare Richardson is the programme’s Relationship Lead. “The isolation during the pandemic, so hot on the heels of the division we felt during the Brexit debate, has created a strong sense of polarisation. Are we really that divided or is it just what we are told by the media alongside a lack of opportunities to meet different people?” If you would like to take part you can contact Clare by email at [email protected]