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?