Day 229

Level 2 Chi Kung.

After Katie left Stagecoach, I received an email asking me to participate in a focus group about the company. I agreed, partly because I felt that our local Stagecoach had really gone down hill and would enjoy the chance to vent my dissatisfaction, partly because I have paid for this kind of research in the past (on Healthy Start) and wanted to see what it was like from the other side, and partly because the incentive payment (£100) seemed ok for a couple of hours sitting around chatting and drinking tea.

I assumed that they would have lots of people wanting to do it and that I wouldn’t hear back from them but, in fact, they pretty much ripped my arm off and hit me with the wet end. And even after I had said yes they kept phoning to make sure that I was still coming, explaining that my presence was vital as I was ‘the only representative of my demographic’. This intrigued me and I wondered if I would be able to spot, by looking at the other participants, which demographic I was the only representative of.

Tonight was the night and, heading in to the city, I was impressed with the quality of the directions, which not only specified the nearest tube station but which exit to take (crucial) and turn by turn from there. Arrived at Old Street, took exit 4 as instructed, then the first left into Leonard Street. Except the first left isn’t Leonard Street and neither is the second. Arrrgh! I was still trying to work out where the hell I was when I got a call to say that they had screwed up the directions, which should have said exit 2!

Got to the venue and it was immediately clear what demographic I was there to represent: white/female. It was explained that the client would be watching the proceedings through one-way glass (I hope we didn’t do that to our Healthy Start parents!). The big surprise though, was that all the material we were asked to comment on was very much focusing on Stagecoach as a way to kick-start your child’s career in the performing arts! This was weird – none of the parents I talked to at drop off or pick up over the course of two years had any such aspiration, they wanted their wee ones to have a good time, develop confidence, explore their creative side.. Some of the parents made no secret of the fact that the kids were in Stagecoach so that mum and dad could go to the gym or run on the heath.

The participants tried to gently suggest that it was actually the softer skills parents were after: confidence, team work etc. Finally, maddened by the dodgy directions and lack of tea (that’s right: no tea! no coffee! not even a jug of bloody water!) I said ‘Look, parents who want their kids to have a career in the performing arts don’t send them to Stagecoach – they send them to Trinity Laban or somewhere where they know what they’re bloody doing.’ Sadly for the client (did I hear a gasp from behind the one-way glass?) the other participants then pitched in in a similar vein and, though the term ‘washed-up starlets’ wasn’t quite used to describe the Stagecoach staff, it was clearly coming… The facilitator closed the session early, went into the next room to check whether the client had any supplementary questions (No! No!) and we escaped into the night – collecting our two crisp £50 notes a-piece on the way out.

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