Kirklees Council has identified and pursued the potential in Listening Circles to contribute to addressing systemic discrimination. Listening Circles are to provide time and a safe space for staff to say what they are thinking and feeling around the theme of ‘race’, racism and inequalities following. They are a restorative practice that helps to engender mutual understanding and support among people in stressful times. They are aimed at creating community and sharing humanity. Listening Circles involve listening, learning, and leadership.
The Council has emphasised that the Listening Circles are one part of a broader strategy on these issues. Talking is not to replace action, but to inform action. At the end of each Listening Circle participants are invited to provide any feedback or reflections that they would specifically like to make to the Council.
The initiative has been developed in the context of publication of a report on the disparities in the risk and outcomes of covid-19 by Public Health England. It responds both to the findings on BAME* communities being disproportionally affected by Covid-19, and to the issues being raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. These developments have put a spotlight on the issue of systemic discrimination and have prompted focused reflection on the role that systemic racism plays in inequalities experienced by BAME people.
The Council’s BAME network sought to understand the needs of BAME staff and their experiences at such a challenging time, and identified the need for a space to share experiences and be heard. A working group was convened by the Council to consider how staff might be supported to explore the issues of race, racism and inequalities. The project plan developed for the Listening Circles was developed and has recently been approved.
Four Listening Circles will be facilitated initially. They will be co-facilitated by staff members, by one BAME staff member and non-BAME staff member. Given the potential for such events to be emotional or even angry, facilitators are to be offered support both before and after the event.
The Listening Circles are to be open to BAME and non-BAME staff and to management staff. The first Listening Circle is to be confined to staff without line management responsibilities. The Listening Circles will open with a video to give context for the initiative and set the scene for the discussions. Learning resources on the issues have been compiled and will be made available to all staff.
* Reference term specifically used in the UK context