Marriage Care recently held its National Training Event: a long-awaited in-person gathering after a fourteen-month break from face-to-face meetings.

Over 130 relationship support specialists, admin volunteers and staff came together to explore how we can support couples and one another, in all our diversity, as we looked at the subject of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

Facilitated by both our Head of Relationship Counselling, Michelle Hayes, and Head of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment, Fran Watson, attendees were guided through an interactive and discussion-based programme covering a wide range of topics from Social Graces to hidden privilege and intersectionality to code-switching. The weekend built on the cultural competency skills we already possess and had a particular focus on the unique dynamics of inter heritage couples.

A key takeaway from the three-day event was the importance of getting to know ourselves – being aware of our own background and how this affects our views and assumptions – and with that in mind, the necessity of being curious and through explorative, appropriate, questions gaining a better understanding of the clients we support and those we work alongside.

Saturday’s session kicked off with a look at John Burnhams Social Graces and how this theory can help us understand a person’s uniqueness arising from aspects of their identity (such as culture, race, education and religion).  Exploring the Social Graces helped us understand that not only are we multi–faceted but that even when these factors are considered we still need to ask more questions, and not assume. In doing so we will understand not only the core ingredients of someone’s identity, but what that means to them and how this may affect their relationships.To emphasise this participants took one social grace and explored what that meant to them, and in turn what that outcome meant, and so on – in doing so we could see how unique the outcomes could be.

The session ended with a lovely activity – ‘’The Joy of Me’’ – where participants shared the joy of their uniqueness. Here are just a few of the comments shared:

‘’The joy of me is sharing my life and talents with family and others’’

‘’The joy of me is getting to know people’’

‘’The joy of me is I question things’’

‘’The joy of me is feeling comfortable with other people’s differences’’

‘’The Joy of me is getting to know my interesting uniqueness’’

An exploration of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions theory helped further our knowledge of the challenges an inter heritage couple and even a client and counsellor could face due to the differences in their cultural dimensions. Hofstede researched 40 countries and defined cultural dimensions – such as power distance (how equal individuals in a society expect to be) and masculinity vs femininity (the extent to which a society values traditional masculine and feminine roles). These Cultural Dimensions shine a light on the values and meanings that we may have absorbed from the society and culture that we are surrounded by. In a relationship our respective cultural identities may give rise to tensions, but also carry the potential for richness.

Handouts on all topics were available, including suggestions for further reading.

Saturday evening was a chance for us to celebrate our long-serving volunteers who had achieved 10, 15, 20 and 25 years of service with Marriage Care and to enjoy social time, catching up with old friends and making new connections. The evening continued with entertainment provided by The Cod Beck Ceilidh Band for all those with the energy to dance!

We were fortunate to have Bishop Patrick McKinney from Nottingham celebrate Mass on Sunday. The Bishop encouraged volunteers with the prayer of Saint Augustine, whose commitment to God, once given, guided his life’s work and his actions. He thanked Marriage Care for the warm welcome and shared on social media that ‘’It was a great joy to celebrate Mass with Marriage Care teams, counsellors & volunteers…and to thank them for their good and vital work.’’ He recognised the dedication and commitment that volunteers give, whether as newcomers or those with many years within the organisation.

The conference closed with a speech from Marriage Care’s Chief Executive Mark Molden reflecting on the journey we take as those walking alongside couples. Sharing from the road to Emmaus narrative he encouraged volunteers that ‘’like Jesus on the early part of this journey our primary mission in Marriage Care is to come alongside, to meet people where they are at, to travel in their direction, however inconvenient…To enter into their stories, their pain, their joys, to identify with them, to listen intently, to be fully present – respectful, curious, relational.’’

The following are just a few comments from volunteers who attended the event:

‘’I learnt a lot -it really raised awareness and issues around diversity and different cultures.’’

‘’ I found the weekend wonderfully stimulating’’

‘’ Great to hear personal stories which helped make sense of the subject. Sundays video clips were very moving. The weekends work has bought back to the surface the core values of Marriage Care. ‘’

‘’For me the training delivered a great balance of self-reflection, and practice & knowledge-reflection, with thorough information and reference giving’’

‘’A brilliant two days – well planned thought provoking’’