January 2018 - Barrow

AOH Barrow in Furness

What are our stories of us?  How do we want to live and be together? 

​"Welcome to the first Art of Hosting in Barrow in Furness.  We have already had two trainings in Morecambe Bay and over 70 people have trained in the art of hosting harvesting and holding space for good conversations about things that really matter to us.  All of this is about building strong connections between the people who live and work in this area, people who are passionate about improving health and wellbeing and passionate about us living rich fulfilling lives where everyone has a chance to thrive.  

​There is lots of inequality here and our 'top down' way of doing things is not changing anything.  This is about changing the way we do things, we are building a social movement where people together can change the future.

​The more you get involved, the more you get out of it". 

#TogetherWeCan  - ignite change for a better future



Mel and Andy welcomed everyone and invited us into a check in.  The purpose of the check in was to hear everyone's voices and reasons for being here today.  It's a good way to start a meeting or conversation as it helps everyone to settle in and become aware of each other and themselves and the many reasons we have for being part of something.  Mel explained circle practice and spoke about the lovely centre piece created from stones, shells and images of Barrow.  

Mel explained the beauty of working in the ancient pattern of circles and how it invites us into a deeper form of listening to each other.  Circles mean that people are face to face and there is more equality in the group.  Using a talking piece that you pass around to indicate who is speaking and who is listening means everyone gets a turn and you can really relax into listening deeply.  There are three roles in a hosted circle;  the host who offers the question and the framing and invites the circle; the guardian who takes care of the energy and timing of the group; and the harvester who records what is being said and offers back a reflection on the whole conversation.  Mel invited everyone to check in with the question:



World Cafe


Mike and Paul invited us into our first conversation using world cafe, a great process for conversation where we need to explore many diverse views, looking for the connections and collective wisdom.  We discovered that important pointers for a good cafe is to have a really good question, to know the purpose of the conversation, to harvest it well. There are 2 rounds of conversation on the same question but in between people change tables and carry their conversations to new places and people. The final round is a harvest round where we hear back the themes and patterns that have come through from the small groups.  For a great cafe, have really small groups (max 6 per table) and lots of pens and paper to doodle and capture ideas, a few sweets or candles, anything that creates an intimate and welcoming atmosphere also helps. 

The invitation was for people to tell stories about Barrow in Furness, real stories of real happenings that brought to life the amazing things about Barrow, what was working well and what was valued here?  

These special features were then harvested on red bricks (Barrow is famous for its red bricks) to show the many things people appreciated about this place.  

We spoke about using an appreciative approach as a way of finding out what a group of people really care about.  If you are going to envision the future you can either think about the problems and how to fix them or you can think about what's working well, where the life force is and then dream together about how you could build on this to get even more of it.  This approach is called Appreciative Inquiry and it set the framework for our 2 days together.  Discovery in the Cafe, then dreaming of the future vision for Barrow and finally on day 2 thinking about how we might go about designing change and delivering on our dreams and what we want MORE of.


Jon gave us a basic introduction to Harvesting, not simply collecting the information that comes forward in any conversation, but using it to make visible and make sense of the themes and patterns  that come out. It has many stages as identified in the graph below and is an often underused art in itself.  It can take many forms from newsletters to poems, to videos, to journalling and you need to have a strategy to harvest both the visible tangible things as well as the intangible often hidden things that happen like better relationships and greater understanding. 

Having identified the really special qualities of Barrow a small group met over lunch to turn the conversation harvest into a story: Here it is. 

Working with chaos and order 

Jose introduced us to the concept of Chaordic.  We played football, firstly experiencing chaos with  its breakdown of all the rules.  Then over ordered, over controlled football which for many felt just like management. Finally chaordic football had just enough order and just enough chaos and flexibility and movement for us to play well together.  

​This is the sweet spot of where we need to work, in the middle of chaos and order.  Mike then explained the model a bit more and we considered which were our natural preferences and how we could each expand our ways of working.


What do we dream possible for Barrow? 

​Continuing with the theme of appreciative enquiry, the whole afternoon was taken up with us dreaming about the future.   How can we build on the good things that are happening here and make this place even more amazing?   Projecting 20 years into the future we worked in small groups dreaming BIG.  We then shared our visions though creative presentations, skits, poems and even a bit of role play action and bridge building.  Everyone listened to the visions and harvested the elements we saw as crucial parts of the future vision. These were then collected on one large map and harvested into a poem.

How do we want to live and be in Barrow in the future? 


Harvest Poem from the dreaming

"The year is 2500, and what a time to be alive,

thanks to education reform, we've all learned how to thrive,

potential is nurtured, children encouraged to believe,

free from discrimination, every person's potential is achieved,


Our education system fixed broken children, all issues have been resolved,

through therapy and united communities, every problem can be solved,

All community members care and support each other, no longer selfishly living blind,

people are connected through their hearts, no longer disconnected through their minds,


People are free of defective judgements, and materialistic egotism,

they're environmentally conscientious, no need for a dictating system,

Crime, drugs, anti-social behaviour, no longer exist,

because society cares enough, to make sure no-one is missed,


The elderly have companions, no longer live in fear,

pro-social members of society, care enough to lend an ear,

We all help each other selflessly, have purposeful meaningful lives,

We no longer struggle separately, Now together we all thrive!!"


Day Two - Designing and delivering on our dreams 

Feed forward and check in 

We began day two with a bit of harvesting from the newly formed harvesting team, they reminded us of the check in poem from the first day and then invited us to look under our chairs for some words that had been significant from yesterday. Then to find people who had the same words and to be in conversation about how that word had been important to them yesterday.  The words were  


The newly formed check in team invited everyone to place on the Barrow Map both a star to show where they were from and an object that was meaningful for them.  We were then invited to check in using one word, so we could take a temperature check of the whole group.  It was a challenge to keep to one word and we experienced a familiar scenario when hosting large groups of people.  When do you give time to what ever needs to be said and is emergent but might take you off your schedule for the day?   When do you need to intervene to bring things back on track?  This being a training and it being important to make sure we had the time for all the learning of the new hosts we kept the check in short but sweet. 

Opening Space 

What do we need to explore now to move closer to our dreams and visions ? 

Jose ( Happy Birthday ) introduced us to the divergence - emergence - convergence model.  Explaining that each of the stages is needed for groups to work together, but that we often rush through the emergence space to get to the answer too quickly, and that's why actions and ideas often don't stick as they haven't had enough time to really become collectively explored.

The newly formed hosting team team invited us into an Open Space.  A very simple, powerful way of holding highly productive and inspiring meetings, conferences, and other learning events for groups of 5 to 2,000 or more. This is a meeting with no prior set agenda. All who care (passionately) about the theme of the meeting show up and sit in a circle. The sponsor of the event may say a few welcoming words, after which the facilitator gives no more than 15 minutes of instructions, framing the invitation and explaining how the group is invited to work.

The host explains that anyone who cares to may announce a topic (or topics) to discuss in sessions. Participants are invited to go to the centre of the circle, write their session topic on a sheet of paper, write their name (indicating they are taking responsibility for convening the session and also take responsibility for some harvest or feedback from the session. Then the participants announces their topics to the group and post them on the Community Bulletin Board.  Together the group creates the agenda, the Community Bulletin Board, by posting the session topics on a wall  indicating the time and place of each session with a post-it. 

After that, the Board becomes the Village Marketplace, which is opened for participants to determine what they want to participate in. And then everyone gets to work in self-organizing concurrent groups. People manage their own time, space, and energy. They may choose to “bumblebee” from one concurrent session to another, cross-pollinating the conversations in the different groups. Or they might choose to be “butterflies” and just stand (or sit) at the tables with tea, coffee, and other refreshments that are available throughout the OST meeting, often described as a nonstop coffee break.  OST works on one Law, the Law of Two Feet:If you feel like you are neither learning nor contributing, you are responsible to use you your two feet and leave, perhaps move to another group..  Follow your passion and take responsibility for your participation.”

10 conversations were called and 2 lively rounds followed.  We then came back together to hear back a harvest and some tweets from each of the group hosts.


​Linda and Andy took us through a simple way to think about how to design a good conversation, a good meeting or a good project. ​What are all the things you need to think about when designing and hosting conversations?  Getting really clear on the need and the purpose and also the team who you might work with ( don't go alone ) Finding a good question takes time and is a great measure of how well you are reading what's at stake.  Invitation is an art, how do we invite well and then let go of our need for certain people to participate.  You can use any of the tools for your meeting, but they are just tools. Your questions, purpose and what you want to harvest will guide the design of the meeting.  Take time to harvest and make sense of the patterns and themes that come out.  Follow up actions and take time to reflect and learn.  What: So What: and Now What are useful questions here.  Finally pay attention to holding the whole of the process, seeing it beyond a single event and take a birds eye perspective.  Who is tending to the well being of everyone in the system?



Finally a small team of participants hosted us into a design lab.  Inviting people to  put forward real projects that they were working on and that they wanted some help with.  A template to help everyone think though the design principles was provided and we spent an hour in small groups developing the projects and asking some questions to help the project holders get clear on what they were trying to do.  Some peer coaching followed, everyone moved to a new table and heard a quick summary, then the project holders turned their backs and listened in to the new groups response.  Not being able to respond allowed some strong feedback to come forward.  Finally the project holders returned to their groups and spent some time in summarising where they had got to and what their next steps were 

7 groups were called.

Autism awareness:  committing to raising autism awareness in your home, work, school  - next step form a Barrow Partnership 

Partnership Hub:  - next step contact the people here to get it off the ground

Mens Centre:  that address health inequalities in Barrow for men - next step service design cafe

Hosting the big lunch:  connecting people and finding people to take part - next step form a core team and find a venue

Make the ICC meetings more meaningful:  the current meeting has a set agenda which will need incorporating but how can we make it more engaging and attract all  - next step meet my project manager and lead GP to reshape this 

Hospice: asking Barrow what they need from a new wellbeing building in Barrow - next step GO and talk to hospice users

Hospital Membership: Barrow has a foundation trust hospital - the public need to join it  - get people involved, make a presentation and talk to media 

Check out and commitments circle 

Finally we checked out with a circle of commitments, everyone speaking their intention to what they offered to do now or to take away as an action from our time together.   The aim of this session was to really make visible the results of the two days and to show some of the places where people had real intentions to work collaboratively with each other.  People stepped in to support each other as they made their commitments and intentions real.

A FINAL MESSAGE:  Thank you Barrow we LOVE you.

Day Three 

​What does Art of Hosting mean for us? How can it be used in our own practice?

Welcome back and check in - what am I hopefull about and grateful for? 

We began the day with a check-in, to bring everyone back into focus having been away from each other for a number of weeks. The question came in two parts, from which Mel harvested using the words and phrases that she heard from around the circle.​​



Then Linda and Andy introduced us to the four fold practice

Host yourself: you are the tool,  you cannot host others if you cannot be present and show up yourself.  How do you welcome yourself, how can you be present and feel like you are not in a rush or distracted.  How well do you sit in the middle of the conflict and yet not rush to fix things ? 

Be Hosted: Participate  your can't broker this if you yourself can't participate and be in conversation yourself.  This is about learning the art of conversation, remaining open, asking questions and not rushing to judgement.  It's about learning how to be in good conversation but even better listening

Host others:  This is the scary bit, stepping up to create the space for good conversations and actions by other people.  Having the clarity of purpose, preparing the space well.  Its also about convening or calling a conversation or project that you feel so passionately about, that you step forward to make it happen and see who comes with you.  

Co creating: communities of practice: becoming a community that learns together and continues to meet and support each other. Learning how to collaborate with others and co create together. 


We each experienced all of the practices and talked about our strengths and weaknesses in each area in mini triads - what sense am I making of all this?

 Following a delicious lunch we moved to a world cafe to share stories and experiences of how and where we had been practicing our learning from the training.  Sue started us off with a great story about some events she had run where the quality of listening and speaking had made such a difference to the meeting and Andy spoke about the gathering of the 300 people who came in response to a call out to talk about poverty in Morecambe.  We then shared all our experiences and finally harvested the learning and also some new calls for new conversations in Barrow - A BIG BARROW CONVERSATION 

Finally we checked out with a strong commitment to keep in touch and keep meeting up to support each other 

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