It’s impossible not to feel inspired when you sit with Deborah Zaher and we couldn’t wait to hear about her business – Gather in Circle CIC. Deborah has an incredibly kind and genuine way about her and this feeds into the work that she does, we wanted to find out more! Gather in Circle, is a Community Interest Company which focusses on gathering people into circles.
Circles? You might be asking – but once we had spent half an hour with Deborah we were full converts to the power of this simple shape. Deborah says; ‘The circle process can be used as medium for authentic and meaningful conversation. We get rid of the table, put chairs in the shape of a circle and follow a process that opens up the conversation, creates a feeling of safety, allows everyone the opportunity to talk and welcomes equality and diversity.’
Deborah goes on to tell us that people have been gathering in circles, pretty much, since time began. People have gathered around campfires at the end of a day to share stories and built stone circles for worship for thousands of years. Many indigenous groups still gather in circle. She goes on to tell us that circles became part of the women’s movements during the 1980’s, where women felt that meeting in circle promoted healthier communication.
It all started, for Deborah, five years ago when she read a book titled; ‘Urgent Message from Mother: Gather the Women, Save the World’ by Jean Shinoda Bolen, a psychiatrist, and author of books on the topic of women and men in the development of spirituality. The book described a belief that if women came together to meet in circles, it could change the world. After reading the book Deborah got in touch with the charity, Gather the Women, and asked how she could become a part of the movement. And their advice was that Deborah should start her own circle, here in Liverpool. That was four and a half years ago, and Deborah has an established circle which meets every month to talk about different topics; ‘It’s beautiful, and a genuine sisterhood that we have. We’ve discussed so much! From Food to Sexuality to Forgiveness.’
After some time, as Deborah began to learn more about facilitating circles, she was witnessing the great effects and outcomes that it was having on the people who participated. Particularly after an event for women she held on International Women’s Day at Rathbone Hall in the Port of Liverpool Building. ‘I realised then that I wanted to take circle into the community, that was over three years ago! Two years ago I incorporated Gather in Circle CIC into the community interest company that it is now, and aim to take circles to as many places as possible.” Deborah believed that wherever a group of people meet to communicate, the circle process can be followed and had a vision of taking circle into schools, prisons, businesses and the community and training the people who are taking part so that they are able to sustain the community created and facilitate their own circles.
After having some time out to have her child, during her maternity leave is when Deborah got the ball rolling and has really been able to get Gather in Circle CIC up and running. This summer she received funding from the Big Lottery Fund and established a project to gather 120 school children into circles and spent the first six months of the year running pilots with children in their schools.
‘I’ve been working with Primary School children between ages 7 and 11. It’s been amazing. Children are very insightful and they need that outlet to talk, they need and deserve to be validated. The pilot had a huge effect. Nine months later, a teacher at the school said to me that the school was still feeling the impact of it. Now children from different year groups will go and speak to other children in the corridor and play with each other in the playground. I saw that it was a huge area that I needed to get into and work with.’
Deborah’s background has clearly helped her become the person that she is today, and that’s someone who is perfectly suited to facilitating circles and interacting with the public. ‘I was a children’s entertainer and a children’s face painter, a receptionist for a long time which I really enjoyed, set up and ran Rumours the world’s smallest nightclub, taking it up and down the UK to festivals and I worked in the promotions industry for seven years training and supervising people and promoting all manner of every day products to all manner of people! All of my jobs have been quite social, working with people from all different parts of society and all different ages. Now that I’m doing circle work I’ve realised that I’m really well equipped for it.’
Even the most well equipped among us still benefit from a little extra support though. So when Deborah was setting up the CIC she got in touch with The Women’s Organisation and attended our Planning for Success course. Now she is working with Janine Hyland, a Senior Business Adviser who specialises in Social Enterprises and Community Interest Companies. ‘Working with Janine has been amazing and The Women’s Organisation is such a fantastic resource for women in Liverpool. We’re so blessed to have this.’
But who knows, maybe one day The Women’s Organisation will call on Deborah’s circle facilitation expertise. As well as working within the community, with women and school children, Deborah believes that circle can have a fantastic impact within businesses and teams. She says; ‘I’m going to be working with businesses of all different sizes as a consultant. Circle can be used in the business setting for for conflict resolution, team building or using it in place of a meeting following an agenda.’
And what are Deborah’s tips for using circle within a business environment; ‘I’d say to a business, if you’d like to adopt circle, allow a bit of extra time, twenty minutes to half an hour, for each meeting so that what needs to be said can be said, sometimes people say things they weren’t expecting because the nature of circle creates stillness and allows our inner story to come out, so be mindful that meetings may take a little longer. But it will pay off because people will be hearing the realness of their colleagues and developing compassion and community. Every person in circle is equal, there is no hierarchy. Every person in circle is a leader, every person is responsible for creating the space and holding it and the positions of facilitator, scribe and guardian are rotated amongst everyone in the group. Meaningful discussion and deep listening are fostered in circle creating a richer communication experience and leading to empowerment, group transformation and stronger communities and teams.’
As well as this Deborah has been accepted as a partner community organisation with the Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group. She has a vision to run a weekly mother and baby circle here in the city. ‘I’d like to do this because after I gave birth and when I was pregnant I realised that there were very little real spaces for women to go and talk about how they were feeling, and there was so little emotional support, even amongst friends. I realised that nearly all of our social activities for adults are based around nightlife and places that aren’t accessible to pregnant women and women with babies. When I was pregnant, everything I learnt was from a book, and again that just made me feel disconnected. What I’d like to do is create a mother and baby circle where we connect and talk about our experiences, instead of a traditional mother and baby group where the focus is on the children playing and some parents just sit round the edges, not communicating with each other.’
‘Being pregnant and having a child is such a huge experience. I want to give women, and mothers, and women who have had miscarriages that space to share those feelings.’
Deborah clearly has her plate full with some great projects under her belt and coming up soon and is achieving her goal of bringing circle into every aspect of life where we meet and talk. But she has even bigger plans envisioned for Gather in Circle CIC ‘I want to create BIG events for women in this city. I’ve created small events over the years and I see bigger events coming including more and more women and girls. Circle is incredible because it’s so versatile and can be adapted to many different areas. My aim is to come up with creative ways in which to apply circle and touch as many people as possible with circle.’ And we’ve no doubt that Deborah will…