At a local community centre in a northern city, a group of people, usually 8 to 12 in number, meet weekly for two hours in an afternoon. They are a diverse group with roughly equal numbers of men and women and range in age from their 30’s to their 60’s. Most of them live nearby on the local estate but a few travel from further afield, just to come to the group. Some have come through word of mouth; others have been referred by their GPs. For all of them, attending the group – facilitated by a counsellor/community worker – is a priority and represents a highlight in their often very difficult, troubled lives. It provides a space, and a safe place, to meet with others in similar circumstances, to talk about the issues that affect them, both personally and in the local community, and, importantly, to know that their feelings and experiences will be heard and respected by others. They are all too often the ‘Cathys’ or ‘Daniel Blakes’ of this world….
‘Dave’ is a typical group member. He lives alone on the fourth floor of a block of nearby flats. As a child growing up nearby, with a father who drank heavily and intimidated his wife and children, he was involved in petty crime and had a brief period in Detention Centre before signing up for the army, which provided him with some stability. He married and had two children but the marriage did not last and he is no longer in touch with either his ex-wife or his children. He has had a number of different jobs but been unable to work for a number of years because of a spinal injury, caused when he was a welder. He is in constant pain, very isolated and was referred here by his GP because of his severe depression.
Dave was initially reluctant to attend the group but after two years is now one of its most regular members. He sees it as a lifeline and looks forward to the weekly meetings and to the occasional outings that the group save up for – for meals out and to local places of interest. He is still quiet but is slowly opening up and now reaches out sensitively to new, especially younger group members.
What Dave has never, until recently, admitted to anyone (and no-one has picked up on) is that he is unable to read and write. It was only when the group co-ordinator asked members individually to provide some personal details prior to a trip that he was able to tell her in confidence, as someone he now trusted, about his difficulties. With his permission, she has now identified a nearby adult literacy group that Dave can attend and, with help from a support worker, he is planning to go along for the first time next week.
‘Dave’ is in fact fictional but his circumstances are common enough, not just in his community but throughout the UK. In future, this column will be in the words of individual group members themselves, citizens like us, recounting their stories, telling us about their lives, their problems and their successes.
A Fellow Citizen