A big conversation begins in Newbury
In August last year, I was still finding my way around a new town. After 19 years in West London, I was starting to adjust to a new life in West Berkshire. My frequent forays into my new home town were navigated by landmarks and useful shops, rather than street names. One morning I bumped into a man staffing a very small stall outside the home-wares shop. Above him fluttered a banner all about ‘building community together’, and on his table were leaflets all about ‘community conversation’. Keen to find my way into the local community, I introduced myself as the Minister of the town’s Baptist Church, and suggested that we had a conversation.
One thing led to another, and two more conversations with that man and his colleagues at West Berkshire Council. A training course in restorative practice followed, which provided an introduction to some of the most motivated and compassionate providers of social care I have ever met. After that, a date was put in the diary, a registration completed with the Big Lunch and the Great Get Together, and plans launched with new friends at the Council.
Today sees a Community Conversation in Newbury Baptist Church some nine months after that first encounter. A collection of people drawn from the local community – of all ages, backgrounds and professions, will share their lunch and share their ideas for the town where they live. Like any other conversation, I know about its beginning but not its end. Outcomes may be as varied as the people who scribble their ideas on our table cloths – but it is good to talk.
I have been considering the nature of conversation, and reflecting on how differently the phrases below play on the mind:
- Talks are under way
- Discussions are being held
- There was a full and frank exchange of views
- Negotiations have begun
- We’re talking now
Although they should all mean similar things, it seems to me that each comes with its own ‘baggage’. In the language of translation methodology, each has ‘collocated meanings’, whether intentional or not. Today’s conversation really is just that. Hosted by a local church, supported by the local council, attended by local residents, it is a conversation – a start, a beginning. At the end of a week where anger has spilled onto the streets, that can only be a good thing.