Listening to the periphery at the heart of Westminster
Eighty people packed into the Cardinal Hume Centre’s children’s centre, a stone’s throw from Westminster’s power places – Parliament, Whitehall, Abbey and Cathedral – yet somehow a million miles away from the formalities of what now passes for conventional ‘report launches’ or political debate.
Good Society conversations always start with listening at the periphery
As Cardinal Nichols eloquently said in his keynote speech, ‘The Good Society conversations always start with listening at the periphery. But the periphery is not always geographically distant, but rather people or places which feel distant from power.’
And the huge energy in the room came precisely from listening to the stories and voices of those living and working in the peripheries:
Kim Mathews, centre manager of St Austell’s Community Kitchen in Cornwall – a thriving café at the heart of the community, bursting at the seams, offering an extended family of friendship and support to those who would otherwise be isolated. “What makes for a Good Society: Respecting and caring for one another.”
Andi Smith, minister of Saltley Methodist Church, who responded to the realisation that women in their diverse community in Birmingham had nowhere to meet together, by helping to establish the ‘Remnants’ group: Local women, Muslim, Christian and of no particular faith, sewing together, learning new skills, but above all listening to, sharing and affirming each others’ stories. “People from different backgrounds help us see what we can’t see in ourselves, but the truth is that the church has not learned enough from projects like Remnants.”
Paula Tabakin, member of All Souls Church, Belfast with her partner and young daughter – a community in which she feels ‘beloved’, a church offering spiritual refuge to people who are hurt and excluded elsewhere.
Margaret Reynolds, longstanding Church Action on Poverty community activist from Meadowell, North Tyneside, recounting a forty year struggle – in the face of the failures of successive Governments – to bring hope to her extended family and community. And now, in face of absent local politicians, herself standing in the council elections to represent the community she lives in.
Out of such people, stories and communities is a Good Society fashioned
The Good Society: All people are of fundamentally intrinsic worth – an antidote to a society which values people only for what they are worth
Is such a vision of the Good Society the antidote to the hollowed out conversations and failed politics – of left and right – of recent years? Such was the challenge posed by Maurice Glasman, ex-community organiser and living wage campaigner – and now enobled member of the House of Lords? “If we are to forge the Common Good we need to learn to live with tensions and face up to the arguments in a relational way. We need to challenge elites and build a politics based on people who represent communities where they live.”
Faith traditions are well placed to take on this challenge, because we have a radically different notion of human value and the Good Society, according to Elizabeth Oldfield, director of the think tank Theos: “Unlike others who value people only in terms of wealth, work, education or ‘hotness’, we believe that people are fundamentally of intrinsic worth.”
The Good Society: A potential to fill a void in politics and public services
Echoing all that had gone before, Caroline Slocock of Civil Exchange, endorsed the call: “Our task is to fashion a new politics and language of the Common Good. The Good Society conversation has the potential to fill a void in politics and public services.”
So what are your thoughts on the Good Society?
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and Church Action on Poverty will be gathering the stories and views of all those who take part in the Good Society Conversation together over the coming months. These will help to inform what the Churches say together nationally in the run up to the UK General Election – but the Good Society is also something that all of us have a stake in just as importantly in our own neighbourhoods, villages, towns and cities across Britain and Ireland.
The Good Society Conversation: Now its over to you…
The Good Society report and website explores what these questions mean to ordinary folk in seven communities across the UK – but now is the time for you to take part…
If you were to have a local ‘Good Society’ conversation with someone in your community tomorrow, who would it be? Which periphery would you start from, and who else – church leaders, politicians or others – might you invite to join in?
Download the handy guide to holding your own Good Society Conversation – and let us know how you get on!