July 22, 2020

A shipyard

Adult Education is an essential part of how any business helps potential customers understand what they sell.  My offer is Telling Stories: Making Business and this is its story!

“In the rude shipyard beneath my window

Books tumble from ear to elbow.

An amalgamation of script and scran,

A living room where money changes hands.”

(From the fascia at The Rude Shipyard.)

I received a phone call from someone who’d enjoyed “Telling Stories: Making Business”, my storytelling for Business owners’ Lunch and Learn.  It was his first visit and he’d found it more engaging than he expected.  (Some months later he told his own story.)

“But”, he wanted to know, “why do you hold it in a café?  I can get you a room in a church for free.” 

I’ve run Telling Stories for a few years.  We meet twice a month.  A business owner tells their story.  The rest discuss it and help the teller tell it better!  At the end we go around the group and each person says what they’ve learned to apply to their own business.

Village Grill

We started back in April 2016, at the Village Grill.  This was the venue for an evening Curry Club business network meeting.  A decent buffet in basic premises.  The speaker could see the whole room if they stood in front of the toilets.  They stood aside whenever some other customer strode towards them with a determined expression!

Lunchtime at The Village Grill was a different affair.  No chef and so for a fiver you invested in a mountain of grilled meat.  If vegetarian, a mountain of carbohydrate.  And so we grimly chewed our way through several months of stories. 

People told me several times over the years, I had a gift for storytelling. I decided to test the water and so Telling Stories was born. And what stories!  Many storytellers used Telling Stories as a sounding board to get started.  M, a woman wrongfully imprisoned for murder for 14 years; R, a pub landlord beaten up and left for dead – now an inspirational public speaker.  T, who fell off a mountain on New Year’s eve 1999 and broke his back – who’s achieved more in the last 20 years as a quadriplegic than most achieve in a lifetime.

Others tell less dramatic tales that make stories out of everyday life; stories that help customers understand them and their business.  It’s hard work to get people to come along but mostly it’s me, the storyteller and 2 or 3 others. 

The Rude Shipyard

In April 2018, the Village Grill closed and so we moved to The Rude Shipyard.  (That’s rude as in makeshift, not impolite!)  The food was good – grilled halloumi, red pepper and rocket sourdough sandwich anyone?  And the place was full of books!  A place where reading was encouraged – what better place for storytelling?  We had a little room to ourselves, with easy chairs.  Nothing like the usual business environment. 

A conversation over food’s an opportunity to take time out and think about someone else’s business.  It feels good at present, word’s getting around, a group of regulars is forming.  My understanding and appreciation of storytelling grows.

My friend asked: “Why over lunch?”  It’s mainly because we must take our stories seriously and how better than over a meal?  It’s partly to support a quirky little café.  All of it is about seeing business as not just money and spreadsheets but a part of small stories that together coalesce into one big story about what business could be like.


I wrote this story in January 2019 and a lot ‘s happened since then.  The Rude Shipyard closed in the early summer and by September, we moved to Yates.  We had a relatively quiet space and it was a more central venue.  Some people complained the prices were higher but on balance numbers increased so that we averaged 4 – 6 excluding me and the storyteller.

Early in 2020, I worked on a move to a new venue, more informal and less costly than Yates.  However, that has had to be put on hold with the lockdown.  We currently meet online, numbers have held up and it’s possible to invite people from farther afield.  This is OK but it’s not been possible to recapture the intimacy of The Rude Shipyard.

Adult Education

I want to distinguish between training and adult education.  When I run a training session, I prepare in detail and know to the last minute where we are in the programme.  There are opportunities to break out and work on specific projects but overall there’s an expectation of certain outcomes and I plan ahead to deliver them.

You could argue such training is Adult Education and perhaps it is but the approach to the Lunch and Learn is different.  I have no specific expectation of outcomes other than the general idea we all aim to become better storytellers.  I usually don’t know what the story is in advance and so cannot predict the learning points.

We work together to create an outcome for the storyteller and everyone present.  Of course, it’s not always straightforward but in general we see something new, learn something and have a good time. 

I believe food’s important but there’s advantage to meeting online.  In time I’ll reintroduce the meal but there’ll always be an online element.  It opens up opportunities for people to participate who were unable to do so under the old format.

Food encourages a meeting of minds.  When we sit around a table, we relax and open up to each other.  There’s no particular expert.  Or rather, we’re all experts, bringing our own unique contributions to the conversation.

This intimacy is harder under lockdown, where we cannot communicate so much through our presence.  Traditionally, people sat over a meal and its aftermath and exchanged stories.  It’s a part of human nature.  Tears are harder to conceal when you’re in the room together.

Why I do this

Stories rarely remain unchanged, the context in which they’re told matters just as much as the context referred to by the story.  I wrote this sequence of 21 stories about 18 months ago.  You may have read some or all of them in their earlier form.  Reading them now, we perhaps see something different, especially as we consider the difference meeting online makes to Adult Education. 

As I republish these stories, I revise and polish them.  Some need little change, for others the changes are extensive.  At the end of each story, I add reflections based on where my thinking has moved onto, especially in the context of Lockdown. 

This is story 15/21.  Last Story:  Profit: It’s Where Your Feet Are!  Next Story:Why Social Enterprise Mostly Doesn’t Work

About the author 

Chris Sissons

I'm a local business owner, based in Sheffield UK. My business is Market Together and I help business owners, anywhere in the world, use stories to understand their business, develop new products, services and markets as well as to market their business. During the lockdown, stories can help you move your business online and plan for the post-lockdown future.

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