Viens t’asseoir je t’écoute (Come and sit down, I’m listening) is a non-profit association of volunteers which offers freely a confidential listening space in the public area, to the passers-by who want to participate. The project is apolitical and non-religious.
Viens t’asseoir je t’écoute started with a simple observation: our society is more connected every day (through transports, information, social networks…) and yet the social fabric is increasingly fragile. The individual sphere is growing at the expense of the public and social sphere, people are exchanging less and less easily with other citizens and our lives are more individual, independent of collective dynamics.
A number of issues arise from this: isolation, particularly of the oldest people, the weakening of community life and social cohesion, and also mental health issues which are rooted in this lack of collective support. The project relies on a holistic listening approach – which does not focus on one specific issue – but aims to equip citizens with the necessary tools to feel better.
That’s what the project is all about: developing good listening within society as a solution to the issues raised. This project attracts people who are socially excluded as well as those who are intrigued by this format and the opportunity to talk to strangers.
On one hand volunteers at Viens t’asseoir, je t’écoute, have been trained in active listening: learning to pay attention to others, developing patience and tolerance, suspending judgements and developing benevolence. On the other hand they offer to passers-by the chance to be listened and to discuss with somebody (to fight isolation), meeting people from different backgrounds (to pursue the objective of social mixing and cohesion., Viens t’asseoir je t’écoute also aims to break down the ego/other barrier , strengthening people’s confidence in their fellow citizens and in their benevolence (developing social cohesion), enabling them to obtain emotional support simply by being listened, or seeking professional help.
On this last point, volunteers are asked not to give advice to the people they listen to. Volunteers are not health mental professionals, and have not the vocation to become one, since the aim is to be open to all. It can happen that people asked for or needed professional aid. At this moment, the volunteer of the association gives the relay to the coordinator of the session, who will take time with the person being listened to, to find the right local institution to best meet their needs.
Viens t’asseoir, je t’écoute can then act, in this case, as a reorientation platform which links beneficiaries and help structures.
Technical details & Operations
The organisation is very simple : There are around ten volunteers per session who sit on a chair, and in front of them an empty chair is available. All chairs are aligned. The sign of the association shares the name (“Viens t’asseoir je t’écoute”) and the key points of the approach (free, confidential, benevolence) is installed. A key element of the project is the location : volunteers must be visibles and the place needs to be a place of great passage except if the purpose is to target a specific population (for example in a nursing home or a university library).
The spacing between chairs is around 1.5 meters: enough privacy and enough proximity to make the project visible from the outside. In addition to 10 volunteers present, there is one coordinator. This person will coordinate the 3 phases of the session.
> The briefing (around 30 min) : Introductory tour, review of the key points of the Code of Ethics (sent to volunteers in advance), what to do in certain situations, sharing of experiences, questions and answers.
> The listening session (2h30 – 3h) : the volunteers sit on the chairs, and the coordinator goes out to meet passers-by to answer their questions, invite them to take part, and keep an eye on the volunteers and provide support if needed.
> The debriefing : Feedback on everyone’s experience (without sharing the content of the stories, which remain confidential), and points of improvement.
Link to the Code of Ethics and the practical guide for volunteers :
For the coordination, a Whatsapp group is used for volunteer announcements and a group for coordinators. Registrations are managed via the website of the association.
An important point : for each session, a fair distribution between old and new volunteers is organised, to help motivated volunteers gain experience and skills, and so enable the project to mature more quickly. Motivated volunteers can then be coordinators to run their own listening sessions.
Deployment & Impact
For now, the association has carried out a total of 7 listening sessions, involving 70 volunteers, 18 hours of listening and over 200 participants. The project interests many people and is growing all the time.
Locally: demand from volunteers is very high. In less than 30 minutes, 48 spread over 4 listening sessions were filled from our pool of 140 volunteers. The founders of the association receive many requests for contact, sometimes from abroad, via their Instagram account. As a result, requests for replication in other European cities are pouring in and multiplying. At the moment, Paris, Brussels and Lausanne are in the process of being developed.
Feedback from participants and volunteers has been very positive! The volunteers are delighted with this simple yet powerful experience. So were the participants, some of whom even came specifically to take part. Some participants have been put in touch with professional services to ensure they receive appropriate medical follow-up. Even if the impact is difficult to quantify, the listening sessions have had real and powerful consequences for the participants.
Instagram : @vienstasseoir.jetecoute