Feedback from the 2019 UKAGP Conference Participants

Alec Parsons-Smith sent a link to our online survey to all conference participants. 43 of the 65 conference attendees completed the online feedback form. Analysis of numerical scores and qualitative comments indicated that of the 43 conference goers represented:

Overview
All responded that the conference had met their expectations fully (90%) or to some degree (10%).
All thought the conference was good value for money, and 97% thought it was accessible.
All respondents said they would take what they had learned back to their Gestalt practice.
All respondents said the conference offered space to learn something new, to participate in shared thinking, and to voice their thoughts and feelings.
Most respondents (85%) thought the conference offered space to strengthen their sense of belonging to a national community.
Three-quarters of respondents said they are very likely to come to the next conference.

Comments
This was the best UKAGP or even best conference I have ever been to. I think there was a very kind and loving atmosphere that the organisers had clearly generated: Love in the way Gaie used the term.
The whole thing was amazing! Rooms, setting, food, venue etc. The conference was organised perfectly. The community and the content was sublime! How’s that for a compliment??
Excellent conference, just what I need to recharge and refocus.
Even though I struggled at times to fully partake in all activities, I left feeling nourished, supported and with a sense of belonging.
I think the wisdom of the elders who were able to name and hold the unfinished business that arose at various flash points did this very well. I am assured and inspired ..it is a privilege for me to be a part of this community.
I caught up with some friends/colleagues and met several new people that I connected well with. That was a lot of fun. I am grateful for experiences like that.
Congratulations for striking a balance of structure with emergence. It felt fluid and yet satisfying.
Overall the conference felt like good value and the organisation by UKAGP was superb.
Don’t stop doing what you are doing. Even where there was some confusion re the AGM, I felt it personified the wider fragmentation and how we are then able to make the whole, rather than trying to fix the situation. It changed the rhythm and feel of the weekend, which for me provided stimulation, self-awareness of my process and a deeper sense of belonging to a community going through and facing the challenges raised.
The venue is outstanding, and the staff there really helped provide a holding environment.

Why people came
Most conference participant’s primary motivation for coming to the conference was ‘to feel connected to the wider gestalt community’ (88%), and to meet, connect and engage with friends and colleagues,
old and new (93%).

Comments
Having recently completed my Humanistic Gestalt Counselling training, I was keen to connect to the UK Gestalt tribe. I felt it was important to invest in the UK community.
I was curious to see ‘Gestaltists in the wild’, as opposed to a training institute.
I found it very satisfying as there were lots of opportunities to meet and reconnect with others in the Gestalt community, to hear their views, and to learn about their current professional concerns and experiences.
Really appreciated the extra steps taken to welcome trainees. I would highly recommend this to other trainees, particularly the way there was no sense of exclusion or superiority from those with far more experience.
As a trainee, I loved the very open minded and inclusive approach, and felt very much that there was a place for me in this community, if I decided I wanted to take the opportunities.
I loved the opportunity to get to be with and amongst people in a variety of ways – this offered a particular freedom and playfulness – lovely.
Good to reconnect with people I met last year, and to make new contacts within gestalt.
So good to dance … thank you for organising this. The meals and the spaces worked so well in enabling informal connections.
The music and dancing on Saturday were an absolute highlight. I was so delighted to have the same band playing for us again. A truly joyous evening.

The programme
Respondents were asked to comment on each aspect of the conference programme.
The stats indicated that the programme had gone a long way to meeting participants’ expectations, as is evidenced by the high scores given to sessions overall: Jan Roubal’s keynote (97%), the social evening (95%), the small group exploration of issues arising from Jan’s keynote (88%), the participant led workshops (87%), the opening session with Peri Mackintosh (80%), the Haka session (77%), the Community Meeting (76%), the AGM (75%), the fishbowl (69%) and the constellation (52%).
Unfortunately, we omitted to include the process groups on the feedback form. Sincere apologies to Rachel and all the volunteer process group facilitators.

Comments
Jan’s keynote was very helpful, especially in the way he took an inspirational leap to present without his Power Point and to include a very personal insight into his work. Very engaging and very useful.
I have an interest in vicarious trauma and aspects of compassion fatigue experienced by police officers. There were several aspects of Jan`s speech that reminded me of the behaviours that I had experienced in colleagues. Ultimately, I was left questioning how far am I prepared to risk myself and the measures that I take to foster self-care.
Jan’s talk led to stimulating debates. I found myself reacting physically to what was said and although I did not agree with everything said, I found it stimulating and something that I will reflect on.
It was a very valuable experience for me – a combination of a very competent theoretical explanation/exploration of different aspects of gestalt approach/practice and Jan’s personal sharing with which I can resonate. 
I felt I had more of a handle on field theory. The boat seemed an appropriate metaphor to me. And I appreciated his humility. I felt encouraged to be more “with” my client – something less focused on in training.
There was a thread to his presentation that unfurled so elegantly. He seemed to be able to attend to the depth and breadth with ease and accessibility. The structure of his presentation – the invitation to get up close and personal in the fishbowl – was really innovative. As a trainee I was aware of the how space can be used, how those with experience/ entitlement can make themselves figural. I think this was the case, and I was also comfortable noticing this. I was delighted that the process was noticed and named, that male voices dominated almost exclusively at the outset. I was really delighted to listen to all the voices and I found Jan to be a person who walks his talk.
Jan spoke to my experiences of working in the NHS with clients experiencing depression, and my more recent work with supervisees – especially those in training.
Initially I was unsure whether to attend Jan’s keynote, as I have found his presentations elsewhere rather formal and unimaginative. The power point that he tended to use in the past just unnerved me.  So this year’s presentation was a revelation for me: he abandoned the idea of PP, he kept his presentation relatively brief and very personal – in effect l was very satisfied. It provided an excellent introduction to a group experiment that followed. All experience was excellent, energising, and stimulating intellectually. Thank you Jan, and Belinda for this!
I really enjoyed this year’s conference very much. All activities on offer were emotionally stimulating and made me think, some of them like Peri’s workshop, Haka, and constellation session presented me with some challenges but each of them was a thought provoking and intense experience. The community meeting led by Gaie and Ruth was excellent and a truly integrating experience, picking up the unfinished strands left from prior experiences.
The small group session had an ongoing resonance throughout the weekend and allowed me to draw through the threads of the keynote and Haka, so this gave a coherence to my experience as well.
The constellation session started well and I really enjoyed sensing my place in the timeline and acknowledging to myself those (both present and absent) who have been a part of my Gestalt journey up to now. However, I felt the focus drifted and my attention wandered as time went on. At times the facilitators asked questions and then rephrased the participants’ replies which jarred with me (this may be normal in this sort of work, but I have no experience of constellations and it put me off).
The Consellations workshop started off well but seemed to lose vitality and energy? Maybe could consider a different and more varied format with such a large group?
I thought the process groups were important – just the right balance. 
Congratulations for striking a balance of structure with emergence. It felt fluid and yet satisfying.
The
Haka was amazing, unforgettable, profound and powerful.
I really enjoyed and valued the haka session, but I wasn’t entirely clear on how it connected to conference themes and thought it could have been more contextualised in terms of gestalt.
I LOVED the Haka.
Found the Haka process a bit didactic at times …might be another way to teach the Haka? The UKAGP website could be the portal/contact point for trainees and qualified practitioners to make contact, collaborate, refer and grow research. There is the appetite for this and there would need to be the money to make it a successful platform for this.

Areas for development
The feedback on the conference was overwhelmingly positive and indicated that the majority of participants found the whole experience engaging, satisfying and growthful. In the box below I have included most of the feedback expressing dissatisfaction about various aspects of the conference.

Comments

Venue
I would like future conferences to be more ecologically answerable.
I agree we should be concerned about sustainability of venue.  
At every break and mealtime I just had fruit, whilst other people enjoyed cakes, biscuits, sticky toffee pudding, etc. All of the puddings could have easily been veganised, then we all could have enjoyed them.
Some of the vegetarian selections were somewhat unimaginative.
For me the formal conference dinner was too noisy to engage except with people sat immediately next to me, even that was a struggle to hear.
This year I was a bit sensorily overwhelmed by the music and dance and so retreated from engagement. I have previously enjoyed the ceilidh where the dancing is marshalled. I imagined that this makes it more inclusive. In future maybe there could be a quieter gathering spot , a “chill out” area for those who want to gather but not dance. When weather is good the outdoors probably provides this.
I think the accoustics in the large pavilion room are bad – the reverberating noise made Saturday dinner painful. Maybe the venue should also think about investing in a loop system???

The programme
More space in the programme. Felt that I had to drop something in the programme for some self -care and headspace and felt frustrated to have to decide what to not attend.
I would have liked more space to rejuvenate and to have time with friends. The days were a little too packed for me. I did step out however when I felt the need.
Really needed some free time built in – too much contact, not enough withdrawal.
The programme felt quite rushed with very little down time – would have appreciated a fertile void at some point!
I would have appreciated some down time – and perhaps the offers of say some morning Tai Chi or Mindfulness Practice would have helped balance the ‘extravert’ and full-on connection. We can connect in silence. And the beauty of the outdoors at Lane End would have been lovely to have done some Tai Chi, or other meditative movement.
I wasn’t ready to attend to my fragments of my perception as I arrived, I needed something that was more consolidating.
Less time on the Haka. More of Jan Roubal!
I would have liked more of Jan and Gaie , two interesting and knowledgeable Gestaltists.
Jan’s keynote was allocated too short a time and I would have welcomed more in-depth discussion opportunities.
I felt the fishbowl was limited in its value. There was not space for many to speak and some stayed taking space for the whole session. I think it could be time limited. There was also too tight a circle that movement was not possible.
Overall really good experiences. Some mixed experiences about some of the events and meetings. Sometimes not enough space/time to process, but I’m not sure why exactly. Perhaps there was enough time/space but depth could not be reached (as a group) in the time/space given to resolve issues or develop ideas further. Something about looking at pain or discord, or whatever challenging feelings come up in conferences. Some of this is missed. The Constellation was a good example: some emergent feelings were not really explored further; maybe it’s too difficult to do this in a large group. I also wonder if there is fear about looking at the negativity around.
I found the constellation session inappropriate, particularly the visualisation. At which point I left. I felt the fishbowl was limited in its value. There was not space for many to speak and some stayed taking space for the whole session. I think it could be time limited. There was also too tight a circle that movement was not possible.

Lessons Learned

Comments
The committee needs to build on the excellent administration, attention to detail in the preparation and choice of venue.
The conference is good value for money.
Participants appreciated a variety of formats for fun, engagement and learning.
The conference is inclusive, nourishing and welcoming of trainees.
The opportunity to dance on the Saturday evening is a highlight.
The conference balances structure and emergence well.
Process groups, workshops and other small group activities are highly prized.
Balance needs to be struck between high contact activities and withdrawal/fertile void opportunities. 
The programme committee needs to be clearer when introducing special activities (e.g. Haka and Constellation) so that members of the community understand how these fit with the conference theme; equally, facilitators need to be clear about the UKAGP community so that they facilitate appropriate activities and respond appropriately to participants’ contributions.
Careful attention needs to be paid to auditory issues both in whole community meetings and during social events.
Conference food and facilities need to reflect contemporary concerns about climate change and sustainability.

Survey results analysed by Belinda Harris PhD, September 2019.