On Friday 15th July we held our first full gathering of the new Leeds Poverty Truth Commission. The session was spent hearing from the testifying commissioners around three issues they had decided upon – isolation, starting up and the real benefit scroungers. Here are two testifiers reflections on the story so far.
February 10th 2016 was the first meeting of Poverty Truth Testifiers, from then onwards we met every two weeks working towards presenting our ‘stories’ to the Civic and Business leaders. We started as a group of strangers but with the help and encouragement of the facilitators – Andrew, Mike and Louise – we became a group of friends bordering on ‘family.’
So the big day arrived July 15th 2016 !! 9 people had been chosen to tell their story, I was one of the nine. My story was under the heading ‘Starting Up’. Funnily enough I wasn’t nervous but excited to be doing this. It took me back to when I was employed by the NHS when doing presentations was part and parcel of my job. In the previous five months the Facilitators and the other Testifiers had helped me grow in confidence so by telling my story I grew more and more as a ‘Person of Interest.’
To begin with I was hiding outside in the sunlight (*when our many quests arrived). I’m not one for busy social situations; too many sounds often can cause sensory overloads… So instead I waited slumped against the wall, tea and biscuits beside me; you could say I was scared to meet our special guests.
A week before this, we [the testifying commissioners] practiced telling our stories amongst ourselves, and at first I didn’t think much would happen. Sure, I can tell it, but not always express the emotions behind it – I felt numb… When telling all that’s happened to me, it felt like I was back there again in days where I was bullied often, where I felt trapped in an educational establishment, but most of all when every day felt like a struggle. But in perspective its nothing compared to other stories and people’s lives.
When the time came for us to share our stories (again) with the civic and business commissioners [at the first full gathering], I was truly concerned that people would start to cry again. Of all the reactions I thought the first telling of my story would invoke, other people crying was one I didn’t expect. Sure, the story was pretty emotional but to actually cause other people cry over my experiences really surprised me.