Poverty Truth Gathering Birmingham 19/07/2023

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On the 19th of July Cheryl and I went to a Poverty Truth Network gathering in Birmingham, at the Birmingham and Midland Institute. I’ve written a bit about my trip to a network event in Chester before; this was similar, but we were able to bring five commissioners along as well. The event had representative from Lincoln, West Cheshire, Birmingham, Derby, and Salford. These commissions were a wide representation of the Poverty Truth process; some of them had just started, some were working up to their launch (like us), some had just launch and were getting stuck into the full commission work. Birmingham, who kindly hosted us, had just had their celebration event after a full two-year cycle.

The event was like the Chester facilitator gathering in that we gathered in a circle and had a conversation; the relational approach that is the cornerstone of the Poverty Truth process. We all had a chance to introduce ourselves and check in with our favourite colour, and then we broke into our commissions so we could share with the wider group about what progress our PTC has made, what we’re hopeful about, and what scares us going forwards.

There was a thread running through almost every commission: a fear of having the courage to speak, but not being listened to.

And then we broke for lunch, because there’s no meeting without eating! This gave us a chance to move around and have a quick chat with people from other commissions, as well as people from the wider network.

After lunch the facilitators broke us in to mixed groups to do an exercise where one person spoke about a time they were listened to, one person listened, and one person took notes about lessons learned from those conversations, then we swapped roles until everyone had done each role once.

At the end of this, we had drawn some learning out of sharing our life experiences and were ready to all feedback and hear from the group about what good listening looks like.

(Recognising that if we do have a question, there is wisdom in the room that could answer it, and devising an exercise to bring that wisdom out, is the Poverty Truth ethos in a nutshell.)

Some examples of good listening:

· Actively listening, asking open questions, restating to show you’ve understood

· Making eye contact if you can, having open body language

· Suspending your judgement, not making assumptions about who you are speaking to, or who you are listening to

· Be honest in your responses, and about what you can or can’t do for people

We had time left after that to check out, and the question was simple: what are you taking away from today?

People were happy to have seen how they are part of a wider network, how a Poverty Truth Commission is a process that can take small wins and make big change, and how everybody feels a bit afraid about the work we’re doing, and that just means that there are stakes, that it matters, and that they do not feel that fear alone.

And if there was one specific word that came up a lot, it was “Hope”.

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