Written by Cath Barton

caths-pictures-002Driving home from my first of Sarah’s Circle meetings, I felt a warm, fuzzy glow.  As a facilitator I had started the journey with lots of emotions; feeling privileged to be asked to be involved, excited about the possibilities, anxious about a new role and of course nervous about how the first meeting would go.

I came away with one overriding emotion; excitement!  There was a real energy in the room and it was powered by the commitment of the people forming the Circle and the many possibilities that we could achieve working together to support Sarah achieve her goals.

Margaret Mead’s quote sums up my mood perfectly; “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Sarah’s Circle is the group that can change her world. I really believe this!

It’s important to me to share this journey so that you too can see the possibilities of a Circle. Not just what we are achieving for Sarah or even what you could achieve by using your own Circle but also how to do it – after all, the ‘how’ is the bit that you can replicate and I really hope that you do!

Reflecting on the early stages of Sarah’s Circle formation, here are my top tips:

  1.  Use a one-page profile to share key information about yourself. One-page profiles are used to match facilitators with families. My one-page profile was matched to Sarah to ensure I was the right person to facilitate her Circle.
  2. Share something of yourself as facilitator; being invited into people’s lives is a great privilege, it needs to be a relationship that is balanced. As well as being a great tool for capturing detailed information about a person a one-page profile allows you to share something personal about yourself with others. This was really important to me.  As I embarked on the journey of being invited into someone’s life, I wanted to share information about me and my life.
  3. Think about where to have the first meeting and making people feel comfortable.  Meeting Sarah’s Mum to plan the first Circle meeting felt really natural and relaxed. We had great conversations about who to invite and what we hoped to achieve. We did have a plan about what we wanted to discuss at the first meeting but we were also very conscious that the get together should be relaxed.  As Caroline Tomlinson says, “Why have a meeting when you can have a party?” Family members, friends, people who support Sarah and her advocate came to her meeting.  It was a ‘get together’ of people who loved her, knew her well and wanted her future to be bright.
  4. Technology is fab, use it to support you. Sarah’s Auntie joined the meeting via Skype
  5. Take time to share who people are and their relationships and positive stories of their time with the person, it makes for a positive start and captures richness. Although everyone knew each other (apart from me) we started with a round of introductions, asking people to share their relationship to Sarah.  Was it necessary when people already knew each other?  Definitely! It started the feeling of mutual support, of the bond of relationships and the common purpose of our gathering. We shared stories of when we have had a great time in Sarah’s company.  This captured history, richness of relationships, fun memories and again reinforced our purpose around mutual support.  I was really pleased I had met Sarah prior to the meeting as I was able to share good times too.
  6. Record a clear purpose and common goal. We knew the aim of the Circle was around supporting Sarah and her family in her future but we also wanted to record a clear purpose of our get togethers. This is what we came up with: “To develop person centred information to support Sarah to have a great life, to have mutual support, to get together and share ideas.”

I’m very much looking forward to our next meeting; the person-centred review. This is where we will gather more information and develop actions for the future. I’ll let you know how it goes and leave you with this quote from Margaret J. Wheatley (one of my favourites!):

“All change starts when people get together about the things they care about.  We move in the direction of the questions we ask.”

If you want to find out more about Circles of Support, then join our community on facebook, twitter and our groupsite.