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Compassionate Communities – Story Circles

Why change was needed

Many people live with feelings of loneliness and don’t feel they belong to a community, however during the pandemic, there has been a strong positive response from communities which has helped bring people together.
Many people reached out to support each other, often connecting with their neighbours for the first time. Compassionate Communities appeals to this same spirit and hopes to build authentic, fulfilling conversations to ensure that people from all parts of the community, young and old, can continue supporting each other.

We aim to provide an opportunity for people to have a voice, telling their story of life through COVID and how this has affected them positively and negatively. It also provides those participating the opportunity to express their hopes and aspirations for the future. 

What we did

Since June, we have been meeting with people in Coventry and Warwickshire to offer “Story Circles”. These are guided conversations where everyone is given a chance to speak, and to respond to what’s been said. An atmosphere of trust is created; session are between 45 minutes or 2 hours, depending on the needs of the group, and different methodologies are used to make sure the Circles welcome all.  

The concept is simple, but the impact is powerful. Conversations go wherever the participants choose, and frequently we are finding that people value the chance to unburden themselves about their challenges, growth and treasures as a result of COVID-19. Profound truths are shared and people often enter with caution, and leave feeling lighter, affirmed and uplifted. 

Session participants have said: 

“It was such an interesting session, and a fantastic opportunity to discuss and raise mental health awareness…. yesterday’s session was truly inspiring, and the learning is something I would love to help deliver to the wider community.”

“I have thought about it afterwards, and it would be great to take the things we said and make a mural out of them, so that others could see the words and know that they are not alone in their experiences, even if they didn’t get the chance to be in a Circle.” 

The CEO of Rugby College said, “Feedback from the meetings have shown how incredibly honest the students were about the mental health impacts they’d experienced, and the trust has been able to signpost them to external support.”

These Circles are a simple, powerful way to get to know each other better, and for everyone to be valued and heard.  Open to everyone – individuals, businesses, community groups, young and old. 

Who was involved?

The project is led by Simon Betteridge, Head of Compassionate Communities at UHCW supported by Charlotte Temple, Lead for Community Connections at UHCW. 

Story Circles work is being supported by a wide range of partners; councils, acute healthcare providers, secondary and further education bodies, VCSE organisations and Coventry and Warwick Universities are all willing collaborators to help Circles be delivered and promoted. 

Additionally, individuals from the community also step forward and help us to reach others through this work.  

Compassionate Communities has an established commitment to train other workers in the ICS in the skills and techniques to deliver the Story Circle method.  


The ‘Story Circles’ that have taken place to date have exceeded expectations with participants of various ages stating the opportunity was valuable to them. Participants so far range from their teens to their 80’s, of varying social and ethnic backgrounds. 

A recent example of a Story Circle was for a group of five 17 year old males from Rugby and their contributions were amazing. The participants were from different ethnic backgrounds and shared experiences such as:

  • Crucial friendship online during bereavement in lockdown
  • Positive effects on education 
  • How they had grown in confidence
  • How they had learnt to organise their lives better
  • Their anger at people’s behaviour in ignoring safety 
  • How they wanted to live and future aspirations 
  • The importance of community

They also spoke passionately about how they appreciated the rare chance to talk to adults in a mutual way, with their voice being genuinely heard. There have also been some intergenerational ‘Story Circles’ and these have also presented a rare chance for different ages to come together and  hear each other’s experience in a deeper way. 
The above is just one of many examples of story circles and the information that can be gained to get a better understanding of our communities and to encourage a sense of belonging.

What's next?

The community decides – the Circles help build a conversation about values, about solutions, that people take forward and act on together.   Examples so far include people who choose to connect beyond the Circle meeting, people taking up volunteering opportunities,  or setting personal goals as a result of the session.  

The project work is supported to at least the end of 2022, as part of COVID recovery efforts within the ICS. 

Book a place on a Story Circle or arrange to run one, by getting in touch with