Reflections on Community Conversations in Grey Bruce County

Submitted by Community Animator on January 23, 2015 - 10:03am
By Sarah Milne, Public Health Grey Bruce

My co-worker Marilyn and I ventured into our first set of community conversations on Wednesday in the small town of Wiarton, Ontario. Marilyn’s close relationship and connections with her clients over the years brought our group together to talk about community.

When I walked into the hall and began to be introduced to the group it was in the midst of children being dropped off, the daycare being provided for the moms while they attend our conversation and activity. I am surrounded by an eclectic mix of people and a busyness of excitement and anxiety. The interesting part, I have no history or context for any of them. They are people, like everyone else making their way in this world.

Seven women ranging in age from 24 to 54 have gathered around the kitchen island in a converted warehouse. A space that now houses a church, prayer room, fitness area, a daycare, an adult learning centre, working kitchen and newly expanded food bank. It is an amazing set of women, laughing and gathering preparing jars of strawberry jam together. There is something ancient and ritualistic about this process that brings back thoughts of homesteads and communities of the past.  There is great pride and ownership for this space, the bricks and mortar space they call their community.

As we move from the laughter of the jam making in the kitchen, we continue to giggle and chatter as we head over to the prayer room to begin our conversation. This is my first one and I really have no idea how it will evolve but what I do know is that the conversation began long before we entered this room.

Where to begin?  I look down at my scripted sheets and well organized notes and handouts and begin. It feels a little prefabricated and I am reminded that this is about listening to stories and sharing of experiences that have shaped and formed these individuals and this community. I allow us to digress and vary the format to accommodate the conversations that emerge and preferences of the group.

The tangents are many, tears flow, and laughter ensues, hugs and touches by members of the group break past the barriers of our relationship. How do I capture these moments, how do begin to put this experience into words, the ‘community’ that I witness. I am struck by the stories but also the insight and learning that is shared around the table. I am humbled.