A programme I much enjoy on Radio 4 is The Listening Project. Thousands of conversations from across the length and breadth of the UK have been recorded and broadcast. They cover every topic under the sun from the sublime to the banal. Some exchanges are funny, others profoundly moving as we dip into other people’s lives. This week I’ve been engaged in a listening project of my own in Plymouth, hearing the concerns of local people, including some of the most socially excluded in our society.
At the Oasis Café in Stonehouse I was invited to a meeting of Transforming Plymouth Together, a joint initiative of the Diocese and the Church Urban Fund to help address the issues identified by the Plymouth Fairness Commission. It was the venue for a conversation between church and community leaders as they reflected on life in the back streets of Plymouth. It was a privilege to listen to the experiences of street pastors, debt counsellors working in the outer estates, those supporting people living with dementia, the people who run the local food bank, the Open Doors initiative for asylum seekers. Now that Plymouth has been designated a dispersal point by the Government for refugees I listened to how that policy is panning out on the ground.
If there was one theme that connected these people beyond their passion to be advocates for the vulnerable in our midst, it was the gift of their own listening to those who are regularly ignored. Perhaps the gift of their time was an act of prayer? After all, is not God the One who listens, who as the poet R. S. Thomas says, like the swell in the Atlantic, allows ‘our prayers break on him, not like this for a few hours, but for days, years, for eternity’.