Xenia Experiment: can we inspire action by sharing our learning?

Xenia began as a one off event held in Hackney Museum in 2016. In essence not much has changed since then. We continue to run regular sessions at the museum, often working with other local partners to deliver sessions. Our model- the way we plan and run sessions- is much the same as it always has been. We continue to provide childcare and pay travel expenses, relying on a team of incredible volunteers to deliver sessions each week.

However, Xenia has been developing in the background. The organising team has grown and we now have an amazing board of Trustees to support us. We have been successful in applying for funding, enabling us to have paid staff for the first time. We have worked with organisations to help us show our impact and have been recognised internationally for our work. Over 350 women from 56 countries have attended our workshops. As participants shared the positive impact of Xenia on their lives, and as more organisations showed an interest in our model, we thought how wonderful would it be if women outside of Hackney could go to a local Xenia. But how?

We spent many months discussing this but ended up with more questions than answers. After getting very caught up in the details and uncertainties of different ideas and plans, a friend of Xenia made a brilliantly simple suggestion. Why not do this the way that Xenia started, through a one off event.

We had already spent months writing resources on what we had learnt about running Xenia. This includes practical guidance on how to set up a group, such as getting a venue, building local partnerships, and finding participants to attend. We also share more tacit knowledge, like how to facilitate a session, difficult conversations that may come up and how to manage them. It was an enlightening process. It helped us to better articulate what we do during the sessions and behind the scenes. It also made us realise how much we had learnt and how much knowledge lies within our small organisation.

Through the event we wanted to share our model and knowledge to inspire others. Whether that was to hold a one-off Xenia workshop of their own, or for existing organisations to inform their activities. We also wanted to see if anyone was actually interested and what support they might need from us. Thankfully, people were interested! The event was fully booked after a week.

On 11th January we ran the event, with Amnesty kindly letting us use their venue. Attendees were a mixture of people from councils, museums, charities, as well as individuals. While most people were from London, some had travelled from other parts of England to attend. We told the story of how Xenia began, how it has developed, and explained what we do in the sessions. We then ran a “carousel” of mini workshops. Attendees were put into smaller groups, determined by their location (so they could connect with local people and organisations) and spent ten minutes on each of these topics:

  • Finding a venue and local partnerships
  • Planning the content
  • Facilitation
  • Outreach and staying in touch

As attendees had spent a long time taking in a lot of information, we gave them a few minutes to reflect on what they had heard. We then asked them what their next steps are and what kind of support from us they would need to take them. To our surprise, people were keen to take what they had learnt and start putting it into practice, either by running an event or using it to inform their existing activities. Others wanted to access the resources, as many of the answers to their questions on the day could be found there.

Some asked us questions that we don’t yet know the answer to: exactly how Xenia would be involved in them setting up their own groups? We will use what attendees told us on the day to reflect more on this question. But for now, we invited anyone interested in working with us to get in touch and take it from there.

The workshop ended with everyone sharing one word about how they felt after the event. Hearing the attendees say that they were impressed by our work and inspired to use what they had learnt, made the months of writing resources, planning and running the event all worth it.

Here are some of the words that people shared at the end of the event.

We thought we were being optimistic in thinking people would be interested in our learning, and even more so that we would inspire them to run their own event. But to our surprise we had a waiting list of 30 people to attend. And on the day, people were scribbling down everything we were saying and asking questions with a genuine intention of experimenting with it themselves.

This made us realise that sharing knowledge like this so openly is rare, but that there is a clear appetite for it. We ended the day feeling extremely proud. We came away knowing that people are interested in our model, that people feel inspired to use this learning and work with us further.

So, what next?

Thanks to support from Building a Stronger Britain together, we will soon be launching the resources on our website. Stay tuned for more information on how to access these!

We have found this experience extremely valuable and are glad that others have found it valuable too. While we are keen to work with more organisations and continue to share our learning, we are not currently funded to do this work. If you might be interested in supporting us to put on more events and support groups to learn from our model, please get in touch.

Thank you to everyone who attended the event and so eagerly took part! Please take five minutes to leave us some feedback on the event, so we can continue to learn and improve.