A few weeks ago, I tried something new – I was a guinea pig of sorts trialling a pilot idea for a Community Hub. Aimed at people running their own businesses, the event was held at Hawkwood College, an independent education centre overlooking the Stroud valleys. The Community Hub’s objective is to offer a place for individuals to build personal connection while having fun.
A warm welcome
Upon arriving at this slightly hippy, super green venue (we’re talking 42 acres of grounds), we were immediately greeted by a friendly face. Alison Coates, the organiser, welcomed us with freshly ground coffee, a variety of teas and homemade chocolate brownies.
Sat in a circle with nine others, Alison, a trained life coach, ran through housekeeping, rules and intentions for the half-day session. Then, rather refreshingly, we took part in a couple of warm-up exercises, instead of having to give the obligatory introduction (name and what do you do). I can feel anxious during situations like these. There is nothing worse than being last in the line to speak aloud to a group of expectant faces. I found Alison’s approach to be both helpful and a thoughtful touch.
Having moved the chairs away, we started the first exercise. This involved us standing in a position within the room based on where we had travelled from that morning. Being a non-Stroudie, my geography of the area is poor, so I asked the group for help. This didn’t seem to matter as everyone seemed to struggle – while having a laugh doing so.
When we did get around to introducing ourselves back in the circle a bit later on, as well as telling the group who we were and what we did, we were also asked to share one thing we were celebrating this week. What a lovely personal way to share something positive, leading to connection with others.
Members of the group showcasing their skills
Planned into the event’s schedule, were three exercises hosted by other members of the group:
- Adam Fotheringham, a public speaking coach, ran an exercise on thresholds. Asking us to visualise our goal in life or our “cake”, Adam spoke about how we can move forward, against all obstacles, which are often ourselves, to get to our cake to eat it. (We did later get to eat some delicious homemade brownies made by Alison.) There was something very powerful in us physically standing in the room and visualising the cake at the other end of the room. The image of my cake will stay in my mind for quite some time.
- We then got musical with Sarah Fotheringham (Adam’s sister), who conducted us to create a rhythm. With it having been more than ten years since I last picked up a musical instrument, this was an unexpected but complete joy. I never could have predicted that shaking a maraca and keeping time with the group, could have been so much fun. There was something quite magical about doing this – doing something with our bodies, creating something and switching off from the thoughts within. Here I felt true to connection to what I was doing, rather than what I was thinking.
- Bonnie Grotjahn, an Action Learning Associates coach then co-ran a session with Alison. Action learning brings peers together for reflective learning in a supportive environment. It aims to stimulate transformation, helping individuals and organisations achieve goals. We were each invited to bring an issue we had been experiencing to the group and allocate a number to the issue. The number 1 was “I don’t need to speak about this with the group now” and number 5 was, “I need to speak about this pressing issue right now”.
Three members of the group presented their issues and it was surprising to realise that some of these issues were ones shared by several of us. It was great being able to listen and ask questions to try and help each person with their issue. Through conversation, I was able to gain useful insight and reflect upon my own problems or areas for growth.
Overall, I got a lot of value from this event. Through pushing my boundaries and accepting the invitation to go along in the first place (aka saying “yes”!), I learnt a lot about myself, as well as others, in a safe environment that encourages growth and connection.
Alison’s intention for the event was that we left “feeling nourished by the connections you have made, the fun you’ve experienced and the growth that has gently taken place whist in the company of other extraordinarily ordinary human beings, just like you.”
Thank you Alison for gifting this wonderful experience. You’ve achieved your goal.