I started my first CSR (corporate social responsibility) placement at the Day Care Centre in Compton on Wednesday 19 January (read all about it here). The idea was to ?develop my listening skills?, a requirement proposed by Chantal.
I arrived to find the service users (this is the correct term for the users of the Centre) slowly making their way from the bus to their seats. I noted they all had preferred chairs, and an empty one started a rumble while they worked out who was missing. The staff busily pacified them with a cup of coffee and a mince pie left over from Christmas.
I started to talk to my nearest service user, a sweet old lady who reminded me of my mother-in-law. My open-ended questions that could have prompted conversation resulted in ?I don?t know? or ?I can?t remember? accompanied with an apologetic look from her soft brown eyes. She commented I had nice teeth, and then asked if I was married. I showed her my wedding ring, and then asked her about her many rings on her fingers. I learnt she had had two husbands, who both had been very nice to her, and that she had had three children but one had died. One was living abroad in the Cotswolds and another, her baby, still lived at home.
A bustle from behind turned out to be the local vicar and his team who had turned up for their monthly morning service. Lots of greetings ensued and introductions made (the vicar with new service users plus a lot of interest in me and why I was there). Sympathetic confirmations were made about one member who had passed on recently, with an announcement that his funeral was the next day. Sheets with the words of the service were passed around, and the vicar and his laymen took centre stage, complete with electronic piano in the corner.
Much appreciation was voiced about the late arrival of the empty chair?s occupier, her transportation having been delayed. The vicar announced the order of the day and the service began. Everybody listened attentively to the prayers, and joined in as much as they could to the hymn (?We three kings of Orient are?). I found solace in the vicar?s words and listened to form my own interpretation of them.
During the general confusion while the vicar and his party made their leave, I listened to the other service users? conversations and heard one announce she had been living in Compton all her life. I made a mental note to talk to her the next time I visited.
An announcement for bingo created much excitement, with several service users perking up. I positioned myself next to my sweet old lady, who looked very pleased. The number cards and big colourful pens were passed around, with nobody quibbling about their colour. In the first game everybody listened, and the exultant cries of ?Bingo? coming in quick succession towards the end caused much appreciation. The second game needed the staff to remind service users that their number had been called, and I?m ashamed that my observations superseded my listening resulting in my sweet old lady missing a number. During the third game it was obvious that the concentration was too much, with many dropping off, only to wake up at the end and ask if such and such a number had been called.
Finishing promptly at 12.30pm, with delicious smells emulating from the kitchen, my sweet old lady spoke up to say that they had very nice dinners here. She enjoyed very much coming to the Centre to have such nice food, and that they made it here themselves. Staff started the procedure of moving everybody to the tables ready for lunch, and I was led away by Mrs Paul to show me the fire evacuation procedures, which she should have done at the beginning but was busy fetching the late service user whose transportation had failed to arrive. Listening and retaining information was vital here.
I asked her about Applepie Hill, as the vicar had said I worked just on the other side of it. Mrs Paul pointed it out to me through the window, and then asked about the area in which I worked. Having confirmed the location, the conversation worked around to the farmer who owned the field behind Chantal?s house, who had employed Mrs Paul?s husband as Dairy Manager before the farmer had sold his dairy herd. Mrs Paul herself was a farmer?s daughter, and until 10 years ago had only worked with dairy cows. Listening to the stories from the Compton locality will enable me to piece together what I have already gleaned, and appreciate my local surroundings better.
So today?s session showed me that listening will enable me to learn new information, that obvious questions won?t necessarily allow me to find out what I want to know, that using the environment as aids will help find a way to get people to talk, that allowing your mind to wander and stalling your concentration for just a tiny bit may arise in something important being missed, and picking up and retaining facts in the form of questions to ask later at a more convenient time may be more productive than an instant request.