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The Road Well Travelled

Image: Sharon Court ©

I’m a fan of Doctor Who. Have I mentioned that before?

I re-connected with the Whoniverse at the tail end of Christopher Eccleston’s incarnation, when David Tennant took the reins (and boy did he!). I loved the way each episode was full of humour and insight, frustration and compassion – and of course a generous helping of mild peril and running around a lot! I was shopping for new trainers at some point during this re-connection and settled on a pair of red converse style shoes, as my nod to Doctor Who.

They’re a bit worn out now. You can see from the photo, the scuffs and dirt and the cracks along the edges. Not entirely waterproof either (though they were never meant to be I guess, being mostly canvas).

There’s a parallel at the moment, between my old, worn out trainers and some of the people I’ve been connecting with. Part of my role as in the Youth Chaplaincy project is to come alongside people; to travel with them on their journey of life. To offer companionship, a listening ear and empathy, even though, as a Chaplain, I can’t personally change anything.

Thing is, this journeying business has been happening, not at work, but at home.

I’ve been travelling with a young Mum whose husband died of cancer (he was 35 years old).

I’ve been journeying with a young woman who is struggling with a restrictive medical condition (she’s in her early 20s).

And now my journey extends to include this young woman’s mother, whose own mother is gravely ill, as well as another woman whose older husband is seriously ill.

Each of these situations are distinct and disconnected from each other (apart from the family link between the young woman and her grandmother). Each of the people involved is feeling a wealth of emotions at different times, and weighed down by a burden of love and anxiety which is hard at times to put into words.

And I can’t change any of them.

So what does it mean then, to take ‘the road well travelled’? Most of us have heard of the phrase ‘the road less travelled’ but it seems to me that lots of people are on this well-travelled road of pain, suffering and uncertainty.  We’re all of us familiar with the stress, anxiety and even powerlessness that comes in certain seasons of our lives.

And yet, despite all the people on this road, having these periods of struggle in your life often seems to be a very isolating experience – we don’t talk about it, we share our pain with only a few people and we hide away our vulnerability from others saying “Oh it’s ok.” “We’ll get by.” “It’s been worse!” or the classic “I shouldn’t complain!”

Shouldn’t you?

Why not then?

Who said that how you’re feeling isn’t worth complaining about, or sharing with others? Who declared that suffering is somehow a gradable thing, and that some types of suffering are more worthy than others? By keeping things in, our feelings can intensify. They can become concentrated and begin to manifest themselves through our moods, behaviour and even as physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle pain and indigestion. Sharing our pain and burdens is how we heal each other, and how we help to form a community. But I’m digressing a bit…

The thing that struck me about all this is not whether or not I can change anything (which I can’t) but actually the importance and value of being on the journey with someone. Mostly I’m cheering from the sidelines – praying, texting, popping in to visit sometimes and listening – giving time to listen and care about what’s being said. Offering my time, my empathy and at times even my tears, for the situations we find ourselves in.

My trainers are tatty and old. Worn and marked by the journeys I’ve taken in them over many years. But I think that’s good thing. Those marks and scuffs are the signs of the journey I’ve made and am making. The holes and tears in the seams are the marks of the things I’ve gone through: the grief, loneliness and burning frustration that I’ve felt at different times in my life.

And in some ways, those scruffy old trainers might be more valuable, more useful, more flexible and responsive to the unexpected puddles and grit of life, than a pair of shiny new ones? With shiny new trainers, we might be wary of getting involved; worried about splashes of mud, or sharp stones. But scruffy trainers have seen it all and they don’t mind a bit! They’re not bothered by grass stains or mud splatters or anything else for that matter. They’ve done a few rounds in the washing machine and they’ll no doubt do it all again.

Because you see, we need each other.

We need community, relationship, friendship and honesty – to hold us up, and root us to the ground. To lift our heads, but also to offer a place to hide.

We need each other – not in our perfection, but in our weakness.

We need each other in  our battered, worn through, holeyness, rather than our shiny, new, untouchable ‘successful and got it sorted’ apparel.

We need each other.

I hope that you may learn to value your battered, worn out holeyness as something worth sharing with others. I hope that you slowly gain the courage to be vulnerable enough to share the truth of your journey with others. And I hope that you and I might find some joy in amidst the difficulties, on this well-travelled road.

Does it add up?

A colleague within the Church of England recently sent me information from the Children’s Rights Alliance for England. Towards the bottom of the email, which was a summary of a variety of reports from 2016, was this list of statistics:

Children’s Rights Alliance for England

CRAE findings from their State of Children’s Rights in England 2016 report:

  • 3.9 million children were living in poverty in 2014/15 (29% of all children)
  • £2.4 billion cut from children, young people and family services over six years
  • 3,390 families with children are living in bed and breakfasts
  • 39,388 recorded sexual offences against children in 2014/15, an 84% increase in the past two years
  • 30% financial decrease in support for asylum seeking families with children
  • 1.4 million more pupils are taught in good or outstanding schools than in 2010
  • Less than 25% of white British boys from lower income backgrounds are achieving five GCSE grades A*-C
  • 14% of looked after children achieved five GCSE grades A*-C compared to 53% of non-looked after children
  • 202 children under 18 in adult mental health wards last year (43% increase since 2011/12)
  • 200 million a year cut to the public health grant in 2015 with a further £331 million cut by 2020/21

There are a couple of things I want to comment on in particular:

The number of children living in poverty was almost 1/3 of the population two years ago. I wonder what the figures would be now?  Just to clarify, the poverty line is defined as “the estimated minimum level of income needed to secure the necessities of life”. The Children’s Society website has a calculator which shows what level the poverty line was at, between the year 2000 and 2015. In 2015, an average household of two adults and two under 14s might be expected to have an income around or above £336 per week (after housing costs). Anything less than that would mean they were living below the poverty line.

Think about that for a moment: there may well be families you know, ordinary ‘normal’ families, who are actually living in poverty, but you wouldn’t know it just by looking?

It will come as no surprise to anyone, that the needs* increase as the funding for support services decreases. Public funding continues to be slashed and services cut or relocated to the voluntary sector (but on a smaller scale) and yet the levels of need are clearly not in line with the services available.

*particularly of vulnerable families

202 teenagers with mental health problems were cared for in adult mental health wards. This highlights how stretched adolescent mental health services are (teenagers are only admitted in specialist, high need circumstances such as attempted suicide, severe weight loss or being a danger to themselves) and also raises questions about how well equipped mental health services are to deal with the diversity of needs from different generations?

These statistics makes sobering reading for anyone, but many of us who work with children and young people may feel it more keenly as we see the faces which these disembodied numbers represent. I think it’s important therefore, that we keep reminding policy makers that these numbers are real people, with real faces, who deserve to be valued and treated with respect, and not reduced to a dot on a graph.


I travelled up to Leigh Park today to meet with Lynne Dick, the Director of Making Space

They’ve recently completed a Heritage Lottery funded project and I wanted to learn from her what she thought made the project a success and how it might have been better.

Making Space as an organisation is a refreshing blend of valuing the creative (seven studios available for artists starting-up) whilst underlining the practical (artists need to have a business plan and show how they’re going to make a living from their work) and outreach (using creative approaches to engage and value local people and skills).

Whilst their former project doesn’t link so much with Somerstown Stories, the new one they’ve just applied for may overlap a great deal with ours. The new project seeks to explore Leigh Park in the post-war era and they’ll be recruiting a Historian-in-Residence. Given that many of the former residents of Somerstown may have been relocated to Leigh Park, there may be some interesting cross-overs, as their stories and ours, weave together.

More to come on this, I’m sure!

Giving things away

It’s true to say that whilst I believe the work I do has a significant impact, it’s not like a sculpture or a book that you can take away with you. My work is rather more intangible. And so, with a Practitioners Marketplace happening in a few weeks I hit on an idea to offer something more memorable: origami bags.

teeny tiny origami tote bag

The idea is that I’ll attach my business card, like a gift tag, add some jelly beans or M&Ms and then people will have something more interesting that might stick in their minds, rather than a 2-dimensional piece of card.

I’ll post what the response is in due course 🙂

And we’re off!

Big Local is part of the Big Lottery


Fratton Big Local is getting underway with a vengence!

Despite being on Easter break* preparations are in full swing to launch the Fratton Big Local consultation at the May Fayre on May 2nd at St Mary’s Church.

The last few days have been a busy swirl of organising promotional material and beginning to put some of the infrastructure in place.

The website can be found here:


*technically 😉

Getting ready…

Even while preparations are being made to end one role, more preparations are underway to start the next one.

The Fratton Federation’s Big Local award is now in the public domain, and I’ve just completed the draft version of my contract and the programme outline, showing goals and timescales and some detail for the work that will be carried out with myself and the team of volunteers.

As part of this preparation, I started out creating a list of words that seemed to fit best with what I hope to achieve and what I hope people will get out of this consultation process. My aspiration is not just that data will be gathered and questions asked, but that a whole community of people will be mobilised and energised to engage in the investment in and transformation of their own neighbourhood. Change doesn’t happen overnight, neither is it swift, and for some people that can feel like inaction or failure. But anything worth doing is worth doing well, and sometimes you just have to accept that that’s gonna be slow!

I fashioned those words into a letter, and in turn I sent that letter to the Wordle website:

Wordle is a lovely application that will analyse your text and recreate it as a visual using different colours and size of text, which you can change if you wish. The largest words are those which occur most often in the body of the text.

Here’s my letter as a visual. I hope you enjoy it.

"Dear Volunteer..."

Failure -v- Success

‎”If we punish mistakes we’ll never learn or evolve. If you want to learn twice as fast you need to double your failure rate.”


A nice quote I saw amongst the Youth Mobile Top 50 Trends for 2011.

Youth Mobile is an organisation that does research for the benefit of marketing organisations.

To see the full report:




Creating, supporting, investing

Although I have been working as a freelance practitioner since July 2009, Apple Seed as a information portal is but merely a seed, so more details of projects mentioned here can in fact be found elsewhere. Links will be made available as appropriate.

I enjoy project work, not only for the variety and flexibility it offers, but also because each project gives me the chance to invest in people and enable them to realise and experience their own potential. I believe very strongly in valuing people: in assuming they already have something to offer, rather than considering them empty vessels waiting to be filled. I very much enjoy investing in people’s skills and building their sense of confidence and my leadership style is very much a facilitative one.

I like giving things away – figuratively and in reality, and I am just starting to see some of the fruit of that. I’m looking forward to more fruit as time and my work progresses.

nurturing change

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