Posted by: Caroline Hirst | July 5, 2011

First Listening Experience – Trust the process…

Having done my training with Nick and Alexa and 5 other interested volunteers back at the end of May I have to admit that I have been apprehensive about starting this process. There have been so many questions running round my mind…how do I approach people? What will I say to them? Do I know enough about the project if they ask me any questions? Given all of these questions, and plenty more, I’ve got to admit I had been putting off going and speaking to people a bit!

However, last week it was my sister’s birthday and my family went out to celebrate it. Just the normal family gathering, chatting and catching up and because we were in our local pub we were also meeting friends and catching up with them. During the evening I had a great chance to chat to my family about my involvement in this project and where it was going. My brother-in-law (as always) asking questions that I was sure I wouldn’t be able to answer! But all of a sudden there I was speaking with passion and interest and actually knowing what I was talking about! I’ve got to admit, this lit a fire under me!

I moved on after speaking to my brother-in-law to speaking to people in the pub itself (well the beer garden, it was a beautiful night) I sat with two gentlemen and began by asking the million pound question…..what do you love about Newark? This was followed by blank looks and then a sideways glance at each other to as if to say is this woman for real?! I went on to explain that I wanted to know about how they felt about where they live, what they love, what concerned them, what they’d change and what if they had the opportunity, and given the chance if they could do anything they wanted at all in Newark what would it be?

This seemed to at least start the conversation, I think they realised I was genuinely interested and not trying to sell them anything or make them part with their beer money! Inevitably the negatives came out first; too many yobs, too much litter/graffiti, not enough decent pubs, no prospects… however, the conversation soon turned to more positive subjects for starters they love the pub we were in, a great atmosphere, fantastic location it has been done out really well, the staff are good and it’s generally where they meet up with each other and other friends. Then it was discussed about the events the council put on such as the Beer festival, the jazz festival and carnival and that Newark was actually quite fortunate in the amount of things that the council puts on (negative again, “it’s not as much as there used to be!”)

I went on to mention a couple of the projects that I have read about which have been successful in other areas; the pair became quite animated at this point and said that a place where local people could enjoy, see and even possibly purchase local artists work was a great idea as it’s not always easy to showcase art work affordably. We continued throwing ideas around about arts and cafes and how the council could/should do things better/like they used to. In the end I thought I’d better join my family, after all that was why I was there! I gave them the details for welovenewark.org.uk and hopefully left them with some food for thought to go with their drinks!

I rejoined my family, but not for long. Very soon I was in deep discussion with a close family friend about the listening process itself, currently a market researcher he was interested in the bottom up approach which we are using here, he was curious about its success rate and how people reacted to being approached. We discussed helping people to help themselves, giving them the tools to build and develop their own projects rather than telling them what they need and doing it for them. This led to a couple of people joining in with us and a lively debate ensued about people respecting something more if they have worked for it and towards it and made it happen for themselves!

I think in the end I pretty much gatecrashed my own sisters birthday with all this work talk, but the truth of it is I couldn’t help myself…once I got started I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to talk to more people and find out what they thought and get their opinions and get them involved! To the extent that I gave out the welovenewark details while we were eating and again as we were walking home! Now I am hooked, I am looking forward to going out with Nick soon and going door to door with him to see how that works. Anyone who has been involved in the listening training or anyone who wants to get involved I urge you, take that step it might be scary but believe me once you’re out there you won’t look back!

Thanks for reading this and remember keep listening!!

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