Written By Gillian Allan, Community Circles Facilitator in Edinburgh
We run a ‘community circle’ in North Edinburgh which meets once a month and has been going for three years. The idea is that we gather together a diverse group of people to eat, talk about community and share our resources, skills and talents. We also like to share what is good and new in our lives. An important part of our circle is that we all leave our labels at the door, whether they are, ‘doctor’, ‘person with a learning disability’, ‘lawyer’, ‘mother’, ‘Christian’, ‘father’, ‘Hindu’, ‘straight’, ‘gay’, ‘sales assistant’ etc etc., and we meet together as people.
The model is based on a circle called ‘Beyond Welfare’ in the US and there is a similar circle in Nottingham.
In the summer we had a review and planning meeting and people said wonderful things about coming to the circle. They valued it’s positivity saying things like ‘after a bad day it’s good to come and think about something positive with people’. They also really appreciated the chance to come and meet with other people in a friendly and non-judgmental environment: one woman explained ‘it takes you out of your box!’ and another member said the circle offers a ‘different way of being’ from day to day life.
This last comment really stuck with me. It seems so often in day to day life that we are met with the judgements of others, with expectations that we should somehow be different from the way we are; more beautiful, achieving more, more funny, more popular, the list goes on and on… But we as a circle have come together and created a small community where we feel able to be ourselves where we are accepted just as we are and where we accept others just as they are.
For me, that is the thing which makes my heart glow when I think about coming along to our meetings: knowing that I’m about to meet a wonderful group of people who otherwise I wouldn’t get the chance to meet and to know that it’s OK to be myself: no one will be judging me.
Its also great to be part of a group which is intentional about giving a warm welcome and where people take an interest in each others’ lives. Feeling welcomed and valued is an essential part of what it means to me to live a full and happy live and I’m very grateful for the opportunity this group gives me to experience that.
Being part of a group of people who have begun slowly to make connections with each other, to form friendships to share their resources and skills such as hand reflexology, lawnmowers, curtains, candles and pictures has been a real privilege for me.
My experience of being part of this small community has really confirmed my belief that over and above having enough food and a secure place to live, in order to live a rich life what we need are good conversations, good connections and relationships and somewhere we feel accepted and valued.