Community connections and stories

by Sarah Browning
As I write this piece, I am sitting in the Oakwood Centre in Woodley, the town where I live. Holybrook Associates_4412b_resizeI am here today because I attended a breakfast networking group in one of the centre’s meeting rooms and decided to stay on for a cup of tea in the café and to use the wifi.
This building holds a special place in my heart, as when my now-8-year-old daughter was a baby, my friends and I would take our babies to be weighed at the clinic across the park and then wheel our prams here for coffee, cake and chat. I can look around the room and – even though it was recently refurbished and given a new lease of life – remember sitting at various tables and recall lots of memories: the spot where my pram was standing when I noticed my daughter playing with her pram toys for the very first time; the sofas where 6 mummies and 6 babies squeezed in – the grown-ups chatting, the babies snoozing.
I would never have thought it was possible, or even likely, to have an emotional attachment to a building that is not your home or the site of a big, significant life event. In fact, the Oakwood Centre is partly taken up by the town council offices, so I suppose strictly speaking it’s a municipal building, which makes attachment to it seem even more unlikely. But those years spent making new friends here, learning to be a mum and watching my daughter grow, have obviously flicked a switch in my brain. Now that my daughter is at school and my life is developing professionally, it is good to be maintaining that connection with this building as part of my life in a different way.
I choose to specialise in working with not-for-profit organisations, with people who are trying to change the world for the better. Some of the individuals and organisations I support are doing that on a global scale, improving the lives of people around the world; others are working more locally in the communities where they live.
To get their messages across, I often talk to them about using real people stories, to demonstrate the human impact of their work, whether that be a woman who is setting up her own clothing business in Sierra Leone or a Berkshire teenager who is learning interview techniques to get their first job. My story of connection to this building and this community is perhaps not so unusual as I first thought.
Talking to people about how they feel and react to things in their lives, not just the facts about what they do, is a great starting point for hearing some amazing, life-changing stories. Whether you use those stories to develop a whole organisation or just as interesting experiences to hear about for yourself, making connections in this way is enjoyable and valuable.
What stories are you going to discover today?