Running a Good Society conversation

Church Action on Poverty supporter Liz Delafield shares how Dialstone Lane Methodist Church in Stockport used our 'Good Society' resources to spark conversations and action for change.

On Saturday we had a meeting with two local MPs, using the computer app, Zoom. It was called ‘A Good Society? Within and After the Covid Crisis’. A collection of people, mainly from our local area, joined us in a question/answer dialogue. It was the latest in a series of events that had been taking place at Dialstone Lane Methodist Church, and our first virtual meet-up. These meetings explore what it means to be a good society. They have included hustings events for local and general elections, an event prior to the referendum and several roundtable discussions.

I would encourage other churches and faith groups to hold a gathering like this. It is a great way to contribute to building and engaging with the community. I do not hold up the way we did things as a model you need to follow. There will be many other equally valid, or better, ways of holding good society gatherings. We made plenty of mistakes along the way. Here are a few ideas that may be of some use:

Getting started

The journey began in the run-up to the 2015 General Election. We met around tables with a good supply of cake and coffee. We used the questions and ideas in the Good Society toolkit. This is still available  although it might be time for an update! This led onto our second event, a more formal hustings.

Communications

We use traditional ways, such as church notices, newsletters and posters, and invited groups that may be interested (church/faith groups, community groups, sixth form colleges). We also made an event on Facebook via our church page, and shared this on local community groups.

Keeping going

Many churches held similar Good Society gatherings but few have kept it going, so why did that happen? Several people who had been to the first two meetings had got a taste for it and were asking, “When’s the next one?” Things just developed from there. We had ups and downs along the way. But building a good society, or what Christians call the Kingdom of God, was never going to be achieved in one election.

Share a vision and keep hold of your ideals

At the majority of our gatherings, we have looked back at the 2020 vision of a good society produced after the initial good society conversations.  We also decided that we wanted to add “A flourishing NHS that meets peoples’ needs.” We ask our contributors to express their ideas about a good society. This gives us a focus.

Keeping control whilst allowing expression

Whenever people with different opinions get together, things can get a bit fraught. We decided early on to establish ground rules. A well planned and chaired meeting helps to set things on the right foot. By and large the political candidates and other invited guests have been well behaved. People often come with lots to say. We try to find ways people can contribute, even if they don’t get to say it in the meeting. Our larger events have a ‘marketplace’ to give out leaflets and hold informal conversations. Sometimes people are invited to share ideas in other ways such as a ‘have your say’ board.

Teamwork

An event like this takes a lot of planning. I have relied a lot on a friend in my church who is an excellent organiser. We are also very lucky to have some members who bake delicious cakes.

Using Zoom

Owing to the restrictions on meeting during the Covid 19 epidemic, our latest meeting was on Zoom. We decided to keep it to one hour, as zooming for longer than this can be difficult. We put people on ‘mute’ on arrival to keep it from being chaotic, and lined up the questions beforehand. It was less fluid than our real-life meetings, but a useful alternative under the circumstances. One advantage is that we don’t have to clear up afterwards!

What next?

We are planning another Zoom meeting, this time with local councillors. Perhaps, as we emerge from this pandemic, this would be a perfect time for all of us to reflect and renew our vision. It’s time to build back better. What is our vision for a good society in 2025?

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