“What I need is a good listening to”. That was the headline, a few years ago, of a powerful ad campaign run by the Children’s Society. Not the “good talking to” from a cross adult, more familiar to many children. But adults need “a good listening to”, too.
In Hodge Hill, we run a little drop-in place, twice a week, that we call Open Door. The name is quite deliberate – it’s a place where you don’t need to make an appointment, where you can come and go when you want to, and where you’ll find a warm welcome, a smiling face, a cup of tea, and a listening ear. It’s also a place where you can get help accessing the internet, writing a CV, searching for jobs, making phone calls, and all kinds of other practical support. “You feel equal in here” says Stefan, one of our ‘regulars’. And if people often come through the door very aware of their ‘needs’, we’re really keen to help them discover and unlock their gifts: the things they’re passionate about, the things they know about, the things they can do, that they could share with their neighbours.
And that’s where ListenUp! comes in for us. We were really keen to find opportunities to give people an opportunity for a longer, more in-depth “good listening to”. To help them become more aware of the resources and resourcefulness they have, the ways they have – even when things are really tough – to ‘make ends meet’, to ‘keep head above water’. And to give them safe spaces where they could also voice those experiences of being overwhelmed, of ‘going under’. In the process, relationships of trust, understanding and empathy are deepened, and friendships have a chance to grow, bridging differences of background, experience and nationality.
But ListenUp! opens up possibilities for even more. We work really hard in Hodge Hill to celebrate and nurture the ‘hidden treasures’ in our neighbourhoods – the networks of support and care, the groups where people come together around a shared interest or concern. The conversations we have with people through ListenUp! will hopefully highlight and uncover many of these, but also reveal some of the ‘gaps’: what kinds of local support are missing, that would make a real difference to people’s ability to ‘make life work’? And what can we develop together – with the people we’ve listened to potentially taking a leading role?
And then there’s the bigger picture. We know first-hand that the savage cuts to services and the so-called ‘reform’ of the welfare system are having a huge impact on many, many people in our neighbourhoods. But ListenUp! helps us get into the nitty-gritty detail: exactly what difference does the bedroom tax, or a sanction from the Job Centre, make to this household and its livelihood? And how do they manage to cope, and what might happen if they ‘go under’? ListenUp! builds up a real, lived ‘evidence base’, helping to challenge and undermine the easy prejudices, and building a rooted, shared authority to speak and act for change.
Listening seems to be a quiet thing. But it’s actually the seed-bed of revolution. As listening ‘hears others to speech’, it empowers them as new ‘hearers’ in turn. Those who heard Jesus cry ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ became the witnesses to, and agents of, resurrection. It’s a world-changing movement, and it begins with “a good listening”.