Tag Archives: Neighbours

Putting Down Roots

Sharilyn Clowes is a friend I made several years ago, not long after we had both moved to Ratho. She always knew she was here temporarily, but that didn’t stop us from forming a strong friendship. Sharilyn and her husband, Brian, had just been travelling around the world by bike, and I was inspired to hear of her adventures. Right here in Ratho, she did some really beautiful community-building, community-enhancing, and community-connecting. (There will be a little more from me on this at the end of the interview…) She is now at home in Canada, creating an incredible homestead and forging a more settled existence. The time difference and her hectic summer schedule meant we couldn’t Skype our interview. Thankfully she writes beautifully, so here are her very own words!

Can you tell me about an early experience you had in your life where you felt aware of a being included, or a strong sense of belonging to a group beyond your family?

The first one came very quickly to me: camp! I began attending camp when I was just 5 years old. That one week in the summer began to permeate through all the other weeks of the year. Reminiscing about the time spent, dreaming about what next year would hold. As I began to get older, the one-week-a-year ritual grew. I started my counsellor training and began to work throughout the summer. It was a place I could let go an be myself – all about fun! I developed skills in areas I didn’t have other opportunities to try. I made some incredible friendships that lasted for years. Even when I wasn’t at camp, I’d spend hours looking at photographs and writing lengthy letters – some of which I still have! I went for a visit last year (first time in close to 20 years) and it was like coming home!

Tell me about the most welcoming person you know. What do they do that works well to welcome other people into their home, friendship, or community?

The most welcoming person I can think of is Lise Wilson. She is the kind of person you could never forget meeting. I’d read in books about the air changing when someone walked into the room, but hadn’t experienced it until I met Lise. A brilliantly beautiful person who’d always shout a loud welcome when you saw her. I had the honour of working with Lise in her ceramic studio, which was a place she created and others craved to be a part of. Even before I worked with Lise, I would go there. It was a place where the rest of the world was left behind and you could just be yourself and create. Lise was someone who lives each day to the fullest – a life with no regrets – and inspired those she met to do the same.

Can you tell me about a time when you felt a strong sense of agency as a local citizen? When you felt you had power in you to “be the change you wanted to see in the world”?

You’re going to love this next one, Linda because I think I’m going to say it was Ratho! Living there was the first time I started to feel a part of a community and not live a life in independent isolation. I had come from a small town and spent many years running away from it! But the welcoming I received here opened my eyes again. I saw people who weren’t just living in one another’s pockets, but working to make the place they lived better. I was inspired to see a number of groups forming who worked at various causes. The parental involvement in extra curriculars in the school astounded me! These people were not content to simply let things be and grumble about it. If they didn’t like something, they started working towards making changes – and accomplished them! This was a very different mindset to what I was used to, and I wanted to be a part of it!

Can you describe what is going on for you internally when you meet a new person or group of people? What mix of emotions is going on for you?

When meeting people, I feel like I am myself 2 people. There is a part of me who holds back, is scared to be in a group setting and nervous about meeting others. Then there’s the other side that rises to the occasion and likes to be the leader of the group. It doesn’t seem like the two should be able to go together. The more time I’ve spent travelling and meeting other people the less air time the nervous side gets. I find that some of my best memories and experiences have come from spending time with PEOPLE. Alone time is good, but I can’t let that take over my life. Stepping out of the comfort zone and meeting people results in the greatest benefits.

If we keep in mind an idea that there may be “layers” of community building; nurturing your family, accepting friendly invitations, welcoming new neighbours, connecting/introducing people, starting local projects, facilitating events… Tell me about the situations/experiences where you feel you really come to life and can make your best contribution.

Right now I have NO IDEA how to respond to your last question! I can look at other people and say that they’re nurturing or they have great sympathy towards others. I can see the organizers and the inspire-ers. But what am I? I don’t know where I fit or what I’ve done…I can’t say ‘yes!’ to any of the examples of what you’ve listed and don’t feel as if I’ve ‘shone’ on any either. Sorry, I guess we need to ‘talk’ a little more about this!

Well, here I can perhaps step in! In writing these questions, I knew I wouldn’t have thought of everything, and perhaps none of the examples I offered rang true for Sharilyn. What I see in her, and the reason(s) I invited her to be one of our focus people, is and incredible energy to create a good life, living in harmony with the people around her, her environment, and the planet. I am always awestruck by the way she does things properly, from scratch, by hand. For example, I remember her getting the side of a pig and using every part of it. Nothing was wasted; everything was valued and respected and used. She cured her own bacon, for goodness sake! Amazing. Sharilyn is a wonderful host, another part of her community building/connecting gifts. A meal at her house involves home-made bread, home-grown vegetables, foraged berries, and always good company. Sharilyn, as she mentioned earlier, was inspired to become immersed in community life in Ratho, and she used her personal gifts to offer puppetry classes for children in the school holidays, and to help with the local talent show. So she is a host, a connector, and a worker from the common good. And she’s my friend!

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A Welcome That Fits

There are times in anybody’s life, I suspect, when circumstances could lead to feelings of exclusion or isolation. Birthday parties for friends’ children if you don’t have children of your own, boozy nights out if you are teetotal, expensive stag parties if you are totally skint… Right now, for me, it is any social gathering happening after about 8.30pm. My son has been going through a 5am wake-up time for a month or so now and by the evening I am pretty much broken. I have had to cancel or pull out of numerous arrangements and I can’t remember what it’s like to go out to the pub with friends.

Recently I had a lovely plan to have some friends from my village round to my house to Drink Wine and Chat. As the date approached, I knew I had to retract my offer to be the host, since there was a real risk I would have fallen asleep whilst refilling someone’s wine glass! Stephie, one of the friends who were meant to be coming, immediately offered to host and said I could come along if I had the energy, for just however long I wanted.

As it turned out, I was indeed too shattered to make it along to Stephie’s. I went to bed early, with a bit of a frustrated stomp, wishing I was trundling down the road with a bottle of wine in hand. I sent a message to Stephie the next morning, apologising once more and joking that I should start planning more breakfast get-togethers since that’s the only time I have any energy.

Well, within the hour Stephie had texted me to ask if I was free on Friday morning to get together with our baby boys. Some might have given up on me, or just thought we could meet up when things settled down for me a bit. But Stephie empathised with my early-rising, and figured out a way to make it work for me.

It turned out that Friday lunchtime worked best for both of us, so Fin and I merrily trundled down the road, a small box of Greek salad in hand. Stephie really knows how to do a welcome. She had laid out all these delightful bowls of healthy, delicious treats that would suit two babies and their mums. We spent the whole afternoon together: playing under the trees in her garden; reading story books in the living room; drinking tea; eating chocolate eclairs. We had long enough that we could actually have proper conversations despite the inevitable fragmentation of topics caused by the cheerful interruptions of busy little boys. The boys had never played just the two of them before, and my goodness did they hit it off!

I returned home feeling welcomed, energised, supported and very grateful. When things get a bit overwhelming, or we are just really, really tired, we don’t always want to be left in peace until things get easier. In fact, that is often exactly when we need a friend who will work around us and fit us into their lives. I am lucky that I have many such accommodating friends, and a hugely welcome addition to that circle is Stephie.
Thank you Stephie! Next lunch date is at ours!

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Safety in Numbers

It isn’t always easy to think of something to write for a weekly blog. Last night as I walked to the pub to meet a friend, I mulled over ideas and rejected them as insufficiently developed. Half a bottle of red later and I felt more… creative?… as I made the journey home. At the point I switched on the torch on my phone I realised how safe I feel living in this village, and I knew what I wanted to write.

path through grass, sign saying 'ratho community woodland'

a lonely path?

Many years ago I lived and worked in a tiny little village in the Yorkshire Dales. At night, one of my colleagues regularly used to throw on a head torch and stomp around the countryside surrounding Malham, enjoying the feeling of peace she experienced. I marvelled at this and realised how much of a people-person I really am. I have lived and travelled in many cities and rarely felt truly unsafe, night or day, yet I would be terrified to be alone in the countryside at night. I am completely reassured by a faith that there is always someone who could (and surely would) come to my aid. Of course there is always the slim chance that someone may wish to harm me, but with enough folk around me I feel confident that someone would help. And I know that, sadly, this isn’t always how it pans out and that some awful things do occur. But I am not talking about what I know to be true here; I am talking about what feels true to me.

So as my phone lit my way up the path from the pub, I was struck by a sense of protection. The path runs through a little community woodland and takes about sixty seconds to walk, but it doesn’t sit right by any houses (and it is the proximity of houses that usually offers me reassurance at night). But last night it was the sense of the whole village surrounding the path that comforted me. Not an anonymous house immediately within reach, but many buildings housing people I actually know and trust all around me. I felt I could call out and a familiar face would speedily arrive if I needed them.

photo of path past rickety fences and red bike shelter

Houses over the fence – this bit of the walk is safer, Mum!

My mum reads this blog (hello, Mum!) and I would like to reassure her that I did realise that choosing the woodland path is not a sensible thing to do on my own and I promise I will take the longer route next time. Promise. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is the richness of that feeling I had as I strode up a torchlit path at eleven pm. I felt known, noticed, valued, and protected.

My paid work often involves working with people who have a disability and their families or support staff. The concept of the “Vulnerable Person” has led to a fearfulness of ‘bad people’ and a wish to protect disabled people from perceived risk. To be honest, I think the most meaningful and significant life experiences nestle right up beside risk. And I believe that getting to know a hundred people is safer than only knowing two, even if one of those hundred turns out to be a bad egg. Because if one person let’s us down, we still have ninety-nine people looking out for us. Connection not only fuels happiness and wellbeing, it places us more visibly within a network of care and support. And we all need that from time to time.

path leading past fence and towards brick houses

arriving home

It isn’t always easy to think of something to write for a weekly blog, but it is never impossible. We are living ‘community’ every day; this stuff is never-ending…

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A Song of Joy

Image by Eoin Carey

This week’s post takes the form of a letter to four brilliant performers (one of whom is also a friend) whose show I went to see this week. Apologies if specific references lose or confuse any readers. Please bear with me…

Dear Drew, Kieran, Julia and Gav,

Last night I came to see Rantin. Thank you.

Thank you for creating a piece of entertainment which really mattered; a performance which I panicked about halfway through. My panic was this: how can we make sure that everyone in Scotland sees this? Especially, how can we make sure that every young person in Scotland sees this? Continue reading

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Where do we live?

Watching a TED talk today I was reminded of an Irish proverb that my colleague and I often quote:

“It is in the shelter of each other that people live.”

I am not going to say much more; I just urge you to watch this talk. On this blog, we are perhaps guilty of focusing too much on the communities on our own doorstep, the ones that look like we expect communities to look.

This talk opened my eyes, heart, and mind.

http://www.ted.com/talks/iwan_baan_ingenious_homes_in_unexpected_places.html

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Checking in…

Well, I observed, observed, observed, as promised. So, here are some early reflections on my two weeks of pondering setting up a community feast in Ratho

1.  People are kind. I actually already knew this (clever me, eh?!) but it really is starker when you are nervous about something and everyone is supportive and lovely about it. Messages of support came via Facebook, from friends in the village, and in the response of the local Community Development Worker. Continue reading

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Eventually, All Things Merge Into One…

This week we welcome our inaugural Guest Blogger, Sarah Forbes.  Sarah resides in Melbourne, Australia, works with individuals labeled with disability, and is equally curious about the idea of connection and kinship.  Sit back and enjoy her contribution…

 

“Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes and indirect boast”, Jane Austen.

I’ve often found myself living across two worlds, two groups, two ways of thinking about life. I grew up in a home where conflict was common and money was scarce, particularly during my adolescence. I also went to a well-performing private school, thanks to my grandfather’s generosity. I became good at covering up our family’s poverty, trying to fit in with well-off and wealthy students, but remaining in an existence between the two. On weekends I tried to fit into our rural community, and on weekdays with my suburban school friends. At the church our family attended, I was the one asking questions of leaders who didn’t welcome questioning. I’m also a person who is adopted, straddling two families where I am both citizen and guest. Many times growing up I felt like I belonged nowhere which grew my motivation for living in ways that might help others feel more included.

Almost five years ago, my husband, new baby girl and I moved into a neighbourhood known for its poor, troubled, unemployed and disrespected people. The location is beautiful and the price was right. Our home perches on the edge of the Yarra River, which runs from the mountains near our home all the way through Melbourne and into the ocean. On a hot day, after rain, the river smells of eucalyptus, native mint and, like home to me. On a very hot day, people from all over the neighbourhood congregate at the river to occupy the best swimming spots, enjoy a beer and a smoke and catch up with new and old friends. People share their food and their belongings, they check up on one another, they know each other’s business enough to enlist the help of others when someone is sick or broke.

Elizabeth, Val and the Yarra River

Elizabeth, Val and the Yarra River

We have friendships with neighbours who have a variety of labels, particularly ‘bludger’, ‘alcoholic’ and ‘bad news’. Our closest neighbour Mark is dying from asbestosis and is known to some by at least two of those labels. He has lived a life of unrequited love and the worst kinds of loss and violence. Many of our friends and family have questioned our friendship with him, simply because they don’t yet see him for what he offers but rather for the trouble he might make for us. Yet he is the person I would call on when I need gardening advice and the person my children know to go to if Mummy falls off the ladder and Daddy isn’t home. He offers counselling, advice, explains to me how social situations work and he looks after our pets when we are away from home. He sometimes takes my washing in because rain is imminent, and he waters my plants if they look droopy. He reassures us that we’re good enough parents. We worry after him, and he worries after us.

tim and mark at valentine's first birthday party, January 2011

There are many others in our neighbourhood who have suffered unrelenting abuse, who use drugs too often, who are often without food in the house because they trade off the grocery budget for prescriptions or beer or petrol for friend in need. My husband Tim remains their preferred confidant, because they see in him a worldliness that they don’t see in me. Despite all my efforts, people who have experienced desperate suffering typically see through my tough exterior to my naivety about what it is like to be the object or perpetrator of human violence, of what it takes to cooperate with child protective services enough to prove that you deeply love your children, and they protect me from their reality by keeping the worst of the truth from me.

It is sometimes hard to see what I have to offer in the midst of people who understand the world in ways so differently to me. The challenge is to see my talents and skills as useful in their context, and to see in others the same. The greater challenge lies in both offering the space for people who experience deep disadvantage to contribute to my life, and for me to take up that space in the lives of people who might welcome me in when my skills seem useful to them – to offer equal exchange. The deep question for us is: How can we be sure that all people are welcomed, even people who are known for violence, people who sell drugs to children in our neighbourhood, people who might steal from us, even people who might mistreat our children given the chance? The answer comes from figuring it out one day at a time, in concert with people who care enough to ask the same question.

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