A visit to: The Magdalene Group
Based in Norwich and delivering services across Norfolk, The Magdalene Group runs a variety of projects which are aimed at raising awareness and preventing the exploitation of women and young people. Their services include education, advice and tailored one-to-one support, and they have recently opened their first accommodation, providing two beds for young women who have nowhere safe to sleep. Based on the success of this new offering, and the fall away of statutory services when young people turn 18, they are now considering opening accommodation for adults.
The development of these services is due in part to the Group’s embrace of feedback. Their application to the Listening Fund in late 2017 focused on experimenting with new ways of surveying the young people who use the group’s Rose Project service and investigating whether more inventive uses of technology could help generate insight into how the Group’s offering should develop.
Through discussions with other Listening Fund partners, however, and following reflection on the structures and power dynamics within their own organisation, The Magdalene Group are aiming to take their listening work much further than outlined in their original application. On a recent visit to their offices in Norwich, they explained to us how they were trying to develop as an organisation and some of the challenges they were facing:
1 – The Magdalene Group want to embed the practice and spirit of listening across all of their services and within the culture of their organisation, including women and young people in strategic planning, business development, staff interviews and reviews, etc. However, they recognise that there is a lot of work to do before these ambitions can be realised, and many of the challenges they face are of a practical nature: with staff and volunteers already very busy, how can they embed listening into teams, processes and meetings? Are there current practices and systems which can be adapted, or is a more fundamental change required? How can they resource these changes, particularly in relation to staff time?
2 – The Group want to develop a deeper understanding of what services and support women and young people want, but engaging them in listening and feedback work can be difficult, especially when there is only a brief touch point. Moreover, many of the young people who use the Group’s services are referred to the organisation rather than proactively seeking their help and support. This combination can mean that young people are less invested in the Group and are therefore less interested in contributing to detailed discussions of how the organisation and its services can develop and improve.
3 – The Magdalene Group are keen to listen to a range of ideas and opinions, and to encourage discussion about the direction of the organisation, but like some other Listening Fund partners, much of the Group’s work is done on a 1:1 basis and staff have to be conscious of a complex mix of safeguarding issues. Creating a youth forum – or even organising a group discussion – can therefore be a challenging and time-consuming task which might not be well-suited to the needs and circumstances of the young people who use the Group’s services.
Many of these challenges are related and The Magdalene Group are ambitious about tackling them all. They are investigating how they might develop peer-to-peer listening as a way of hearing a greater range of voices, and they are continuing to identify some low-effort-high-impact changes, such as asking for young people’s opinions on the language used on key forms and during interviews, and what information the organisation could helpfully share on social media, which might help affirm young people’s belief in the power of their voice and give them the confidence to contribute to the shape and future direction of some much needed services.