Nana Anto-Awuakye writes about the new and innovative project ‘Simply Listening’, which you can access every last Thursday of each month at the Crofton Park Community Library.
Simply-listening is a community listening initiative, inspired by my own experience of walking into a cafe when I had a young son and just wanting to speak to someone outside of my family and friends. I didn’t want someone to tell me ‘all mothers feel a bit low, you’ll adjust’. And I also didn’t want to ‘medicalise’ how I was feeling.
It’s taken me a while to get to this point (my son is now 14 years old!), a full time job and taking care of the family but it remained at the back of my mind.
Issues of mental health and loneliness have been pushed to the forefront of public awareness and understanding, and Simply-listening got off the ground because we realised that quite simply, we just needed to start creating a presence in the local community.
Friends and family who have years of experience working in the NHS supported the training, and I became a mentor with BME PR Pros – which has helped to reinforce listening skills, and at work I’m a mental health first aider – sometimes called a workplace listener.
We would like to roll out volunteer listeners in cafes across Ladywell and Brockley – our local Cafes are friendly safe spaces for people to walk into, and the bigger dream is to roll out across London and then UK wide. SO next step for us is funding to train up volunteers.
We were at the Good Hope Cafe last year, in Ladywell, and the experience was amazing, and humbling experience to be a listener.
These words stayed with me: “Sometimes your friends don’t want to hear the bad stuff in your head – only the happy stuff. Thanks for listening to me.”
And the gentlemen who got up from the Simply-listening table headed to the door, then swung around and said: “Thanks, thank you for listening to me.”
We now have a permanent slot at Crofton Park Community Library Cafe, the last Thursday of every month, which is really exciting! I now hope we can start to broaden out the project, for example, as well as the regular last Thursday in the month slot, to consider ‘Simply-listening’ evenings in the library, when we can get more volunteers using all the available tables in the library for listening.
We believe that a network of listening-champions trained and supported – can be the key to tackling issues such as isolation and loneliness in our local community.
Simply-listening is free and confidential – we don’t need names or private details. A listener will listen to someone’s views, thoughts and feelings without judgement. Simply-listening is not counselling, we don’t give advice, problem solve or provide therapeutic or psychological service. A Simply-listening listener is prepared to sit and hear someone.
My background is in journalism, working for BBC Radio 4 and 5 and working in media and international development. I would describe myself as being an excellent listener, you just have to be, when working as a journo. It was only when I did some training that I learnt I was a terrible listener but it was only when I did the training, that I realised listening to every word someone speaks is so powerful for the person speaking. I had to learn not to jump in to ask a questions, to problem solve, and not fill the silent voids with my own voice – but instead embracing the silence. It has been one of the most demanding things I’ve ever done, but also the most joyful, because people I have encountered have told me how good it’s been to be listened to, without judgement.
We really believe that when you are able to listen to someone with kindness and compassion, it can be the start of restoring hope in someone’s life.