South of the River: Communication breakdown

Compass-SouthComment logo 2There was an interesting theme running through Wednesday’s Inner South Community Committee and that was the importance, and the difficulties, of communication.

A number of issues came up in the discussion group I was part of. ‘Why aren’t there any evening activities at the Youth Hub?’ – well there are, actually. Interestingly it was a young person who put them straight, reeling off a list of what’s on night by night. ‘I want to play rugby, but there’s only football where I am’. But you’re not far from Beeston Broncos or Hunslet Warriors.

It went on ‘There’s no bus service’, but the Youth Service and Health For All both have minibuses that can be organised. ‘We’re all volunteers and we don’t get any funding’, but the Committee has just allocated £50,000 to groups like yours.

I’m not criticising anyone for not knowing about things that could help them. I’m trying to illustrate that despite lots of time and effort spent on circulating information, lots of people who need the information don’t seem to get it. The blame always seems to get put on the organisation with the message – in this case the council. That’s right, they could be more effective, but I think we all have a responsibility to look, ask, try to find out.

In another debate later on the point was made that men have difficulty seeking help with mental health issues. There’s the stigma of course, but there are also language issues when you do seek help. The buzzword of the moment is ‘mindfulness’. What does that mean? My Other Half sent me a link to download a mindfulness app for my phone – I’m afraid my reaction was unprintable.

Actually it’s a pretty straightforward idea. It’s about living ‘in the moment’ asking yourself how you feel now, not worrying that it might go wrong tomorrow. It’s a good way to tackle anxiety. But let’s be honest, most people in South Leeds are going to hear another jargon word that they don’t understand and run a mile.

I’m OK, I’m middle class. I’m the sort of person who looks things up on the internet, I might even have the confidence to tell a professional that I don’t understand what their talking about. Actually I probably wouldn’t, I’d probably go home and … look it up on the internet. But what if you don’t have a computer, or your literacy isn’t very good? Sorry, I mean if you have difficulty reading and writing?

I was moved by an interview I did with Donna Hall from the Hunslet Club (page 6 in the newspaper). She studied for a degree having left school ‘with nothing’. She said she literally sat at the back of lectures crying because she didn’t know what they were talking about. What a frightening place to be. And how great that she stuck it out, found out what they were talking about and graduated four years later.

I think I may have meandered slightly off the point, but the thing is language is important. I had a manager once that had a poster above his desk ‘Keep it simple, stupid’. Unfortunately he loved jargon, but his heart was in the right place.

There’s another saying: ‘the medium is the message’. Well yes and no. Various teams within the council have got into Facebook – excellent, my guess it that it’s the most used form of communication in South Leeds. But they tend to broadcast rather than chat (actually so do we). The clue is in the title – it’s ‘social media’. It’s supposed to be a conversation, not passing nuggets of information from on high.

Later today we are launching our newspaper. We are doing it because we think the information we put on this website is useful (people tell us it is) and lots of people aren’t seeing it. It might be because they can’t access a computer or don’t use it to look for news. So a print edition, alongside the website seems a good idea, but it’s not without its problems.

I’ve spent the last week putting paper together, selecting articles, laying out each page. It went to the printers on Wednesday afternoon and in the, what 36 hours since I’ve already come across information that should be in this December issue: events for the What’s On page and lists of pharmacies open over the holidays. We can (and will) add them to the website, but they missed the print edition.

We are never going to cover every issue in South Leeds. And we are never going to reach everyone who might need the information we do cover. But I think it’s important that all keep trying, finding new ways to communicate whether it’s online or on lampposts.

I’ll be back in next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

One Reply to “South of the River: Communication breakdown”

  1. Good article Jeremy.
    I get frustrated when I hear people say things like “I didn’t know about …”, “nobody told me this was happening”.

    Communication has to be two way. There is a responsibility on the person issuing the communication to ensure their message is accurate and disseminated through appropriate channels. But there must also be a personal responsibility on the recipient find out relevant info and to feedback that the message is received and understood.

    Some people really do expect to be “spoon-fed” with info and don’t accept their personal responsibility to be aware of what is going on around them and be proactive in finding things out. I guess this is one aspect of a general apathy that appears to be so prevalent with many people.
    Fundamentally, what you get out is proportional to what you put in. When people realise and understand this, then engagement and participation increases.

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