Tucked away between the shops and restaurants in Newcastle’s bustling city centre, next to the door to the Brunswick Methodist Church, a small and understated plaque marks The Listening Post, a small group staffed mainly by volunteers that invites anybody and everybody to drop in for a chat, if they need somebody to talk to.
‘It was started on the initiative of the then minister’s wife,’ says Roger Gordon, a Volunteer Listener at the group. ‘There were a number of churches that supported it at the start but, gradually, it’s become an offshoot of the Brunswick Methodist Church. It’s not here to promote the faith though; it was felt there was a need for somewhere in the city for people to be able to come and unload their problems. This was in the days before regular counselling, and it’s kept going.’
If the idea seems a relatively simple one, that’s because it is. Pop in, ask to chat to somebody, wait for a Listener to become available and then get whatever you need to talk about off your chest. Roger makes sure to point out that this isn’t a formal counselling environment, and although the group can point people in the direction of others that can give more practical advice and support, the Listening Post is just that – somewhere people can go and be heard.
‘It’s just to give people time to unload their burden. The majority of the people that come are generally lonely and isolated. Some don’t find it easy to fit in, others have perhaps had a tragedy in their lives that they’re finding difficult to get over, or they may be having a crisis at the time they come in. There’s no need to book an appointment – if the Listeners are already occupied, people may need to wait, but they can come any time between 12pm and 3pm on the days we’re open.’
On the other side of the fence, the group welcomes volunteers to become Listeners – Roger signed up around 12 years ago. ‘I’d just moved to the area and was involved with the church – I was interested in helping out with the training, as well as the listening. Now that I’ve retired, I’ve got a bit more time so I’ve continued with it.’
Roger and some of his fellow Listeners provide training to new volunteers to help them find their feet. ‘We mentor and supervise people before we let them listen one-to-one,’ he explains. ‘It involves being non-judgmental and accepting, being open to hearing at times some quite gruesome stories that can be quite distressing. The training’s also about exploring feelings, attitudes and the ability to cope with those sorts of stories over a series of sessions. We then do some practice on the use of language and conversation techniques and the ability to be quiet and not push the conversation, as well as being open-minded. It’s about building trust and relationships with people.’
The Listening Post operates from 12–3pm, Monday to Saturday, but is closed on Thursdays. For more information on visiting or volunteering, visit www.brunswickmethodist.org.uk or call 0191 232 1692.