Who is Welcome?
If you haven’t heard about Waddie Welcome, please have a look here www.waddiewelcome.com to find out more. Readings of Mr. Welcome’s story have been done all over the world, and I have participated in a couple as well as setting a few up. The story is a brilliant one to start conversations about hope, possibility, community, and ‘people power’. It can also be a great one to challenge negative assumptions or low expectations of people who have disabilities.
Recently I decided to support the opening of a new pub near my work by suggesting that we could host a Waddie Welcome reading there (well, someone’s got to do it…). Inspired by some ideas that Kirk has (and as this was part of my paid work) I decided to focus the invitation towards people who live or work in the area around our office. I produced an invitation which would also serve as a poster and went around the local businesses to make the welcome. I was careful to make the effort to enter into a dialogue rather than just hand them an invitation and leave. I thought that would give the message I wanted to; that I was keen to engage beyond just populating the reading. I stated to each of them, “this is your invitation, but if you would like to display it in your window then that would be really helpful for us too”.
I wasn’t sure how to connect with the residents in the area. We are surrounded by big old tenement flats which have individual buzzers for each flat. I decided that people would see the open invitations in the shop windows and that would have to suffice. After all, it felt a bit intrusive to buzz each door and climb the stairs to stand on someone’s doorstep. But I wonder; was intrusion my real hesitation? Perhaps I was overwhelmed by the scale of the task or self-conscious about my unusual endeavour. Making an invitation is a vulnerable process – it inevitably invites rejection as well as (if you are lucky) acceptance.
The doors are open…
On the night of the reading, five of us from my organisation turned up, plus a couple of friends of ours. The pub was busy and felt friendly so I went around to explain what we were doing and to make sure nobody felt excluded. One man was interested enough to join us – he even phoned his girlfriend to come along.
But that was it. Of the thirty or forty posters I had hand-delivered, nobody responded. We had a lovely evening but as a way of reaching out and making a welcome – I would have to say I failed. This is OK. I had seen this as a bit of an experiment and sometimes experiments don’t work. I hadn’t spent hours and hours preparing so little was lost. But it makes me wonder… What changes in my approach could have made the difference? What can I learn from this for future endeavours? Maybe it does just take more time than I was able to give it. Maybe the timing was wrong. Maybe the tone of my invitation was off- key. I am still figuring it out, and I would be glad to hear of your own experiences or your thoughts about what I could have done differently. It certainly won’t put me off experimenting in the future!
A quick shout-out
The Mash Tun on Easter Road is the pub, by the way. The team there were wonderful; clearly very community-minded and committed to the event, including creating bourbon cocktails to celebrate Waddie Welcome’s Southern (American) routes. Since I didn’t manage to bring them much business on the night… let’s meet there for a pint?
8 responses to “What next, when the Welcome doesn’t work?”
First of all count me in on grabbing a pint with you. Perhaps January would be good.
Second, I think every time we have hosted a Waddie Reading it has been really different. It is such a powerful story. Getting it under the skin of just one person will somehow ripple to many. Keep trying, it is NEVER a failure even if all it does is stoke those embers for you!
Thanks, Beth! I will see you for that pint in a few months… 🙂
This has happened to me too. A few times. Once when painting a big wall along a walking trail – just my neighbour and I turned up despite an offer of a free sausage sizzle afterwards. And another day for a community conversation where only two people turned up despite a free drumming workshop and excellent catering as a lure. So, my assessment is that people don’t usually ‘just turn up’ to the unfamiliar, unless they’re asked by someone they know very well. Most people are shy about coming to an event that they’ve never been to before because they’re unsure of the format and therefore of what’s required of them on the day. Perhaps I need to work on making more personal invites or asking people to ask people they know, and making the invites as self-explanatory and identifiable as possible? The best turn ups I see in our neighbourhood is for the market (a known format) and meetings of the local residents action group where people have been asked to attend by our resident newsagent who knows EVERYONE in town. She’s known as a doer so people trust she won’t ask them to something that wastes their time. Does that help at all?
It does, Sarah! It makes so much sense that most people would prefer to become involved in something new via something (or someone) familiar.
I have found similarly, in my limited experience – both when using a round robin email or a notice on a church service sheet asking for help or for attendance at an event. People tend to need the notice, and then a personal invitation. And possibly two or three reminders. I do find it a bit exasperating, but I never respond to round robin emails either, or very rarely, so I try not to judge others too harshly (I try, I’m not saying I don’t!). I think people don’t want to push themselves forward to volunteer sometimes, as they feel they don’t have enough to offer. Or they think someone else will do it/go there and they don’t have to. Or that they aren’t ‘invited’ until they’ve had a long email/phonecall from the host asking all about them and also whether they are coming along! It’s not put me off organising stuff, but I don’t do anything that I’m not 100% committed to anymore. It does take a lot of energy and time.
I agree Stella – the personal invitation is essential!
It has always been a struggle for us to get people to come along to our community cinema. Despite giving personal invites and chatting to people about the project a lot of people just don’t think it’s for them (until they try it, that is – then they often love it). The best way in for us has been word of mouth and getting other people to advocate on our behalf. We’ll get a full house one day it just takes a bit of time.
MashTun sounds lovely.
Thanks for sharing your experience! I feel like ‘failures’ are just as important as triumphs because they challenge us to stretch. In this situation as an outsider I still think it was perfectly meant to be with a tiny crowd, because you never know how many people may have researched Waddie just by seeing a flyer, plus you still made an authentic connection with a bar you are already bringing support to (Beth is really taking one for the team there, huh)
I do agree that inviting people you already have some sort of a relationship with let’s them know you want to cultivate that further, even if it’s with a shop keeper you hardly know but always see. Doing the public suggestion boxes has already taught me that people are generally more trusting of and willing to take a ‘risk’ with someone they recognize. And in turn we are sometimes the exact same way 🙂