Beyond (Un)employment Session 2
Sharing Stories & Learning to Listen

Our second Beyond (un)employment session together took place on Wednesday 3rd May, and was designed as an exercise in learning through listening. To introduce the session, cohort member Andrew shared what he has learned around different modes of listening with the group, opening up the idea of trying to engage with stage 4 listening during the session. Something happens to the speaker when people are listening ‘really quietly’.

  1. Downloading. Listening for what you already know.
  2. Factual Listening. Listening for new information.
  3. Empathetic Listening. Listening with empathy and connection.
  4. Generative Listening. Staying out of advice giving or analysis. Think about: What is this producing in me as I’m listening?

So, with these layers of listening established, what were we going to listen to?

Personal Presentations

The cohort were invited to create a short personal presentation to share with the rest of the group based upon 3 Things That Have Shaped Your Outlook On Work. Rather than asking each other to come to the session prepared with these, there was an important emphasis on: What comes to you today? What do people in this room need to know? What people chose to share included personal experiences, conversations, advice from past employers or teachers that continues to resonate with them, even articles they have read, as well as a lot around their families and histories,

‘Your job as teachers is not to teach what’s in the library, it’s how to use the library.’
‘I want to be a secretary.’ ‘Why don’t you want to be the boss?’
I thought I was going to find something I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but I realised I like learning new things.
It wasn’t until I graduated that I knew what a CV was.
Do I have to do something I hate alongside following my dreams?
Your work doesn’t have to stay the same.
My parents were coming from a place where the status quo validates you.

Some jobs are horrific, but if that’s what you need to do for your family to survive, you do it.

This exercise created a deep sense of intimacy in the space, and allowed the group, who had only met once before, to find connection between themselves and broadened their understanding of the viewpoints they were all coming from, as well as the experience, skills and personalities to be navigated, further unlocked and learnt from within the room, like a kind of collective potential energy.

We spent a lot of time actively listening to many different perspectives, whilst also going slightly deeper than surface level introductions. I believe deep understanding and trust within the cohort will lead to more informed design and teamwork in the later stages of the programme.” – Immy Kaur

Human Library

In the second half of our time together, we moved to a more open space downstairs at Impact Hub Birmingham and opened up the conversations beyond the cohort, using a Human Library exercise. Here invited speakers, or ‘books’ could be approached for their stories and perspectives to be shared with the cohort as ‘readers’, as well as being asked provocation questions if necessary. The cohort were instructed to treat these visitors Like a book. Take care of them. If one book is very popular, be gentle, and make another selection. Active listening was also a very important tool to be used.

During this story sharing process, the Beyond (un)employment Birmingham cohort travelled around the different areas or ‘shelves’ in small groups. The room was lively and vibrant, with lots of intimate conversations co-existing in close proximity. The limited time available for each story made for snippets of sharing, anecdotes of understanding, that were continued after the session in an informal way over a dinner shared by everyone.

Our living books who kindly made themselves available on loan were:

  • The Accidental Poet by Rick Sanders
    From the corporate rat race to a full time poet, with some creative making in the middle.
  • It’s Not As Hard As You Think by Jay Bansal
    What it was like to be made redundant at the age of 57, after being at the same company since 16 and leaving school with no qualifications.
  • Trial & Error by Andy Reeve
    The journey of a curious mind through all the sectors – private, public, social and criminal.
  • My Journey by Ikhraj Singh
    Choosing to do an apprenticeship and not following the university path.
  • 5 Things In One by Becca Kirkpatrick
    From Trade Union Employee to Fitness Instructor and Basic Income Advocate; an insight into multiple identities & future beyond employment.
  • Hello, From The Outside by Melissa Nicholson
    Leaving the teaching profession and life on the other side.
  • Society Misses Opportunities by Bibi Senthi
    When you suffer from mental health problems you are largely left out of society, we have so much to offer employers.
  • Be Free, Switch Your Currency by Kieran MacKenzie
    Earnings vs. learning; doing work that matters.


“As expected there were many experiences that were similar and others that were very different and it became evident that the richness of what comes out of this group will come from the group being able to hold these contradictions and paradoxes and work them into any ideas, interventions or approaches they take up. Several members of the groups stayed around afterwards to chat to each other and felt at home, which signified that we are ready to take the group into some more in-depth content. – Daniel Blyden

Key words from our check out: Exposing, new, exhausting, reassuring, bonding, trusting, open, good, enriching, enlightening.

Whilst we are still very much in the beginning stages of this project, the session felt like a key shift towards making some deeply connected work together, creating the foundations upon which to bring our whole selves to the table, as well as taking the first steps to invite the missing perspectives we felt were missing into these important conversations, and to continue connecting more broadly with ideas and stories from across the city.

To get a low down on this session there is a video below capturing the thoughts of two of our participants; Michael and Deborah, as well as three of our Human Books; Becca, Bibi and Jay, at the end of our second session together.

Further reading on emergent listening: 5 Tips for Achieving Emergent Listening

Further reading on the Human Library concept: Human Library event shares conversations, opens perspectives

Further reading on empathy: Empathy in Creativity and Design Thinking

To follow along with updates from the programme visit:
or drop your comments, ideas or links into the form below to have your say, and feed into the conversations started in this session.

Live illustrations by Baljinder Kaur.
Photography & videography by Paul Stringer.