Chris Ogle talks to Leslie Tate about how Link4Growth, a not-for-profit networking organisation, supports personal, community and business growth. As Chris says: “Link4Growth could be considered a playground to try new things out in a supportive, nurturing environment without fear of being judged. Anything from sharing our own skills (presenting), taking responsibility for an event, public speaking, or even honing social media skills by helping out Link4Growth before applying to your own projects.”
Leslie: What’s the story of how you came to run Link4Growth SWHerts, please? What have you learned?
Chris: I live in Watford and became involved with Link4Growth some 7 years ago… My background is in IT, writing systems to manage / run businesses. I’ve always had to understand people’s problems and find solutions. I guess all my life I’ve been seeking ways to improve things for people. This requires communication skills at many levels, logic but creativity too… I like it as I get to use all of my brain!
What have I learned? The world is constantly changing, no faster than in the field of IT, and, too many plans make it hard to be flexible and adaptable. I don’t plan much… a basic vision of where I am going and then take each day as it comes with the spirit of an adventurer… if it’s helping with where we’re going it’s in… if not? …. Then it’s out!
Leslie: Can you describe the main ideas behind the organisation?
Chris: The premise behind Link4Growth is very simple. Everything starts with a conversation. So we help to set up meetings which are free to attend, inclusive, with no agenda. Having no agenda provides a space where no one has any expectation to ‘perform’ or do anything that they themselves do not want to do. Anyone can just come along and be themselves and participate in the way that works for them… so we meet, talk, listen, learn, connect, share and inspire.
When we meet, yes, we get to know each other, yes we build deeper connections… but… what do we actually physically and mentally do while we are engaging?
We have conversations, we evaluate what we are hearing and the people we are talking to. We form opinions, we judge, we side with others, we gossip, we say things about others, we tell people our opinion (whether they asked for it or not), we signpost, we mould others (or try to), we introduce people to each other, we share our expertise and experience, we tell people what we think they should do… we do lots of different things… some, on reflection, we ought not to be doing, others… we silently congratulate ourselves on helping / connecting others and take pleasure in our selfless generosity and seeing things develop that we initiated.
Being amongst people who ‘lean towards’ wanting to give without expecting return, who are kind, and compassionate has an impact. Over the years as I surround myself with these ‘similar thinking’ people and continue to try and practice the 7 principles of Link4Growth* something profound has begun to change in me…
* Everyone is important/should be respected/should be able to contribute/should be heard/has value/is equal/ is on their own journey.
Leslie: Could you describe how that personal change has developed, please?
Chris: For me, after a while, it was as if the tables had turned. No longer was I involved in the creation of Link4Growth, rather Link4Growth was beginning to influence and create me. On further reflection I saw emerging the desire to be better than I was yesterday, to do the ‘right thing’ even if that road was more difficult for me… to slowly progress towards being the best human being I could be. To be the very best version of myself for those around me who ought to be getting the ‘best me’ I could offer.
Now I understand that at Link4Growth events what I am doing is ‘honing’ myself. I am practicing my social and engagement skills with each interaction. Each time we meet I am presented with new opportunities to work on myself, improve how I can serve and help others, and gradually perhaps move ever closer to discovering what my real purpose is… give meaning to my life.
Leslie: How has Link4Growth helped people in your area?
Chris: Link4Growth is like peeling back the layers of an onion… on the surface it looks like a fluffy networking kind of thing… but as you begin to interact and engage with more and more people you begin to change.
Link4Growth is like the oil between the cogs of community. People who relate to Link4Growth are generally people who ‘give without expecting return’. They want to see others succeed and love signposting, connecting and supporting other local people whether these are businesses, community groups, charities or just other people looking to deliver something for the benefit of the community.
Leslie: What’s unusual and rewarding about what you do as the main organiser?
Chris: Link4Growth is a leaderless organisation, we don’t tell people what to do, we provide a space where they can discover what works for them … it is based on 7 underpinning principles and a series of behavioural guidelines**… It encourages people to just get on and do something. If you think there is a need and that people will benefit and you have a passion for it, what is stopping you? Often people are looking for permission… you don’t need permission to do something good, you need courage and belief… just get on with it… see what happens… and you don’t need money either… instead of asking “How are we going to get money to do this?” ask, “How are we going to do this without any money?” You would be surprised at what happens next!
** Don't tell people what to do, we encourage people to unfold their own lives. Only share our perspective when given permission to do so. Give unconditionally without expecting return. Facilitate creating spaces where people Can come together and are free from pressure to meet the needs or expectations of others.
Next week I interview author Katie Munnik: ‘Knitter, Immigrant, Writer. Canadian Pilgrim’.
ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- Purple is a coming-of-age novel, a portrait of modern love and a family saga. Set in the North of England, it follows the story of shy ingénue Matthew Lavender living through the wildness of the 60s and his grandmother Mary, born into a traditional working-class family. You can read more about/buy Purple here.
- Blue tells the story of Richard and Vanessa Lavender, who join a 90s feminist collective sharing childcare, political activism and open relationships. You can read more about/buy Blue here.
- Violet is about late-life love. It begins in 2003 with Beth Jarvis and James Lavender on a blind date in a London restaurant. Attracted by James’s openness, Beth feels an immediate, deep connection between his honesty and her own romantic faith. From then on they bond, exchanging love-texts, exploring sea walks and gardens and sharing their past lives with flashbacks to Beth’s rural childhood and her marriage to a dark, charismatic minister… Signed copies of Violet can be bought here.
- The Dream Speaks Back, written by Sue Hampton, Cy Henty and Leslie Tate, is a joint autobiography exploring imagination and the adult search for the inner child. The book looks at gender difference, growing up in unusual families and mental health issues. It’s also a very funny portrait of working in the arts, full of crazy characters, their ups and downs, and their stories. You can buy a signed copy of The Dream Speaks Back here.