Tell the story

December 1, 2009

“Two soups”; a life cut short

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 4:19 pm

I once had a good friend I nicknamed “two soups”. He had a cutting, caustic wit, loved Italy, hated Stockwell (where he lived), and always ordered two soups at the local deli (one was never enough). Then last year he died broke, broken and alone.

I hadn’t seen him for awhile, but heard he’d lost his job and started drinking heavily. It wasn’t clear how he’d died, but alcohol was clearly the cause. He wasn’t found for a month; no one had called, no one missed him. He had no parents and only a distant brother, who was called in to organise the funeral.

It’s a terribly sad tale and almost certainly the first time anyone has told it. But it’s stories like this that make people sit up and listen; if you’ve got a story to tell, people will want to hear, will want to help, will want to make a difference – hopefully.

A year on. I was at a social services conference last week where directors of various local councils droned on and on, backed by text heavy powerpoints, about how it was time to really engage with and help services users (that’s me, you and people), particularly with mental health issues. The audience sat all day, heads bowed; somnolent, silent. It was well meaning, expensive to run and forgettable.

In the evening I asked other people attending to give their verdict on the speeches; most admitted they’d forgotten what had been said.

Some said it was a waste of time and they wouldn’t be attending again. These are directors of public services remember.

Unbelievably, this was an event geared towards helping communities, helping older people, disabled people, people with drug and alcolohol problems. It was paid for by the public, was set up in the interests of the public and yet nothing was gained. Why?

Because people were not talked about. And there’s the rub. We have to talk about people; their lives and their problems to engage the audience that will help those people; will help my friend “two soups”, whose real name was Neal, who loved Italy, but hated Stockwell.

It’s not the council directors who are entirely at fault, it’s the time-worn means by which the message is (mis)communicated. Below is a link to a site where well meaning people talk about the need for more community engagement. It looks marginally more engaging and relevant than my conference last week. I wonder what they took away from such a day.


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