Updated: Aug 22, 2018
Our launch Walk and Talk on 8 August was the first of many gentle and informal shared learning moments.
As we walked together through the city stopping for stories and performances, Coventry folk shared their thoughts via postcards, photographs, videos, social media messages, and of course via conversations with friends and strangers.
A flexible frame around that learning meant we were capturing what we know in on:
what we already do as a city to combat isolation;
what more we could do to embrace & grow this culture of connectedness;
what motivates us to be part of the movement;
our experiences of isolation;
our feelings and thoughts about taking part in the Walk and Talk and thinking about how and why this creates opportunities for connection.
So together we used all our powers of observation, listening, story-telling and curiosity to identify some of the early ingredients for change but also how we keep evolving and strengthening the movement.
This way of looking at our experiences of isolation in the city and the different ways we work together to animate the movement will be shared openly in our learning notes over the next three years.
In this way we can ask ourselves how we might we respond as a community to our learning by creating the conditions for more and stronger experiences of connection. For example, following the learning from last week and the generous sharing of ideas by people taking part we have identified practical, logistical, relational and emotional steps we can design into the next happenings to better extend that welcome, curate those conditions for connection and make an even stronger invitation to join the movement in different ways that best suit them and where they are at.
The early observations and generously shared knowledge from this launch Walk and Talk helped identify some early themes for us to pay attention to as the movement grows...
1. Our common story
Storytelling is an ancient tradition that binds new and existing communities together, actively passes on wisdom and guidance, informs our identities and sense of purpose, and reaches out to make explicit our common human experience.
Through our #covmindthegap* movement we witnessed how stories build bridges to make positive caring and supportive relationships possible.
Once again during this Walk and Talk the power of sharing personal stories of isolation carved out moments of reflection and empathy for the 60 or so people listening intently.
The willingness of storytellers to share their vulnerability ignited care and affirmation form others in the audience. The learning highlighted expressions of heartfelt thanks for the bravery and honesty of storytellers that triggered a cathartic release of emotions when others recognised they are not alone in their experience. The physical response of the audience to this vulnerability and honesty is important in understanding the impact of the stories. They were leaning in to listen respectfully; they were nodding in recognition of the experiences spoken about; discussing with those stood next to them how it made them feel; celebrating the storyteller with cheers and clapping and enthusiastically responding to their calls to action.
In this way the stories accelerated a process of peer support and recognition of our common needs of care, support and belonging.
This commonality creates the space for more empathetic and kinder responses to strangers that open us up to connection and networks of mutual support and generosity.
2. Playful disruption
The informality and festival feel of this happening is important in terms of creating the authentic conditions for connection, but also for reminding us of our basic social nature as humans. Sadly, this is a quality that has been increasingly designed out of our day to day lives over recent decades contributing in part to the scale of isolation we face today.
By holding these conversations outside, in the sunshine, interwoven with creative performances, coupled with the intentional communal activity of walking the city we are disrupting formal, institutional norms. These institutional norms can often unintentionally reinforce professional silos and amplify our sense of separation and lack of agency.
The Walk and Talk creates fun ways to explore together alternative routes and ways of getting to know Coventry. We experience familiar spaces that would ordinarily feel rushed, or hostile, or lonely, as places of joy, connection and creativity. An open invitation to ALL, (extended through a range of public platforms and networks), to have civic conversations about isolation in public spaces is an important act of equality and disruption of the societal norms that undermine our collective voice and power to affect change.
The conviviality of this happening set the tone for a playful disruption with social purpose. With colourful placards, beautiful personalised hand drawn maps, cupcakes, and creative performances in a range of unusual public spaces the visibility of the movement is made loud and clear with all the isolation taboo busting that signals. The message is clear #connectingforgood is not about labels, titles, institutional rules and norms. This approach disrupts unequal power relations, helps nurture peer based relationships and networks without boundaries, and so helps us pool our collective resources and energies.
3. Abundance & generosity
The W&T taught us there is an abundance of energies, skills and capabilities that are currently untapped that people are eagerly bringing to this movement. After all we planned for 20 Coventry folk but 60 movement makers turned up!
The thrill expressed and energy released by the scale of response to the call to action was tangible. The visibility of new friendships being forged and old relationships being strengthened through this intentional and life affirming happening brought joy to those taking part.
It is important to recognise that this manifestation of abundance is in part a function of the investment of time in relationships that the team and grapevine more broadly have made over the last few years and the deep well of trust that has built around that investment.
There is power in so many everyday folk and system actors turning up - not having their sandwich alone at their desk/at home - but rather deciding taking part in this collective action is more important personally and professionally. Not only was this abundance expressed in boots on the ground, but also in the many acts of generosity witnessed. This included offers of cake making, gifting of memento photographs, holding of placards, offers of leading the walks, sharing of own stories and ideas, spaces of future gatherings offered up, curating of digital stories and active promotion by network weavers intentionally helping to amplify the movement.
This generosity was also expressed in the everyday acts of kindness observed amongst those attending in terms of caring for each other as they moved around the city - crossing roads, avoiding cyclists, finding a place to sit down, checking in on those walking at a different pace or sat outside the main group, listening respectfully to storytellers. These are the everyday norms that help us meaningfully collaborate and connect with each other. They are important in nurturing a broader culture of connectedness.
Emergence of everyday architects of change in Coventry?
The learning documents a growing community of Coventry folk urgently seeking to be part of the fight against isolation in their lives, in their communities, in their city. This Walk and Talk made very visible the scale of willing hands, voices, hearts and minds offering to do, to care, to share, to be part of the learning, to perform, to create, to host and connect.
Knowing that this approach to social change is collectively co-designed from within the community appears to be at the heart of the energy observed. This community requires no permissions to be part of the change they seek.
We will keep working out loud to ensure our collective wisdom informs this movement. If you want to join in we’d love to chat.
*Read the Revaluation report on Grapevine's Good to Go movement here: http://www.grapevinecovandwarks.org.gridhosted.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Grapevine-Good-to-Go-revaluation.pdf