A (different) story of tents

There are, we know, lots of refugee stories accompanied by images of tents. Often they are stories from Calais, or from other transition points on long and difficult journeys. They are stories which need to be told and need to be heard. 

For some of those who are part of the Stories of Hope and Home project this is part of their story. But it is never the whole story. 

And however important they may be, these are not the stories we want to tell today. Today, we want to tell a very different story accompanied by images of tents.

From almost as soon we got back from our wonderful trip to Wales in February, a summer residential was definitely on our agenda. An opportunity to take time out from our everyday lives, to create safe space to build community and share stories.  

And then, Corona Virus happened and, like so many plans, it seemed like it would be impossible. 

Even as lockdown gradually eased, much of what we might have liked to do was still well outside what seemed safe and realistic. And yet, that chance to get away and be together also seemed more important than ever. So with a little bit of imagination, a large garden and some very generous hospitality, we did indeed make our residential happen. Not quite as planned, perhaps, but still a very precious experience for those who took part.  

We didn't, physically go very far... we were only a ten minute train ride from central Birmingham. But at the same time we were worlds away from the 'same four walls' that have been the backdrop to the last few months, from being trapped in lockdown with all the ensuing stresses and strains and troubled memories. It is amazing what a difference fresh air and friendship makes.

Amidst all of the inconsistencies, changing policies and shifting goalposts around Corona Virus, the advice that staying outside when we meet others keeps us significantly safer has remained consistent throughout, so the obvious, perhaps only, solution to having a group of people gathering to spend time together was, of course, camping.

One of the participants suggested in the evaluation that: "next time we should arrange this for summer" ... you'd think August would meet that criteria, but we did face near gale force winds on the first day, and torrential rain on the last, so I guess we could all see their point! I did wonder whether this is, in fact, how the British citizenship test should be conducted: if you can camp for a couple of nights in the wind and rain and still be very much smiling at the end of it, then you ought to be able to consider yourself fully inculturated!

We dodged the showers to put up tents, tightly attached every single guy rope, and we obviously did a good job because no-one got wet or blown away over night. We handed out sleeping bags and what felt like hundreds of blankets to guard against the cold. 

I am perhaps slightly exaggerating, because to be fair, sandwiched between the wind and rain, we did have very fine weather for the main day in the middle of our trip. 

And we took full advantage to fit in lots of different activities: a few word games, some story sharing, a little bit of drama, a walk to the park, a game of football, jam-making on the patio, more story writing, a barbecue, a bonfire, some story-telling ...

And in between all of that there was good food, and good conversations, time to relax and lots and lots of laughter.

Above all, perhaps, there was community and friendship and love. 

Together, happy memories were made.  

For some of those who are part of the Stories of Hope and Home project this is now part of their story too.