CSR: Listen for the unexpected from the most unlikely of sources


Alice

For my next visit to the Compton Day Centre as part of my CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities, I decided to see if I could talk to one particular service user who hadn’t had much of a chance to speak his opinions. There are plenty of eloquent ladies who voraciously voice their points of view, and even though this is highly entertaining, the two gentlemen who sit together don’t always get a word in edgeways.

So I broached the subject of what happened to them during the War. This brought an interesting reaction: the ladies couldn’t see why I wanted to talk about such an occurrence that happened such a long time ago, whereas the male service user I had pin-pointed out immediately sprang to life, sat up straight and looked eager. This is what I had wanted. Even so, I let the natural progression of things run their course, learned that plenty of the ladies had managed quite successfully during the War, even with their men-folk away fighting, and one announced she had been a land-girl in the local fields. Her main focus was being a dairy-maid and having to milk a long line of cows twice a day – obviously a lasting impression.

I left them discussing rationing and turned my attention to the gentleman in the corner. He looked very pleased. Being very elderly, he told me many times he had been in the merchant navy, how they had swindled him out of everything, how hard it had been and how long the hours they had to work, and that he had been posted to sail around India and then down towards Northern Africa. It was important to let him talk, even with the repetitions, and he told me he still has nightmares about it. My heart went out to him.

After a jolly game of bingo, in which I helped my sweet old lady remember which numbers had been called, and she won a game too (so good to see her pleased little face), the service users were left to talk amongst themselves. One particular lady in the corner, small, dainty and extremely well presented, called me over. She had a particular story to tell me about the War.

In spite of her appearance, my dainty lady had performed deep and mysterious tasks during the War. She had undertaken ‘hush hush’ work which she had spoken to no one about since the end of the War, and certainly not during it, not even her family. Further tentative questioning didn’t reveal anything further about it, obviously the sense of loyalty towards secrecy was still a strong force, but I was still amazed that the most unlikely looking service user had such a dark and interesting history to tell.

What a fascinating morning! And what a sense of achievement to have listened to these two service users, both to get things off their chests that may have been sitting there for many years.

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