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Category: Writing (page 1 of 3)

Don’t look back…

So it’s January 1st today and I suppose a lot of people will be writing New Year’s Resolutions: making plans to lose weight, get a new job, keep on top of the laundry etc etc

I’ve never been a fan of NYRs, mostly because I think we accidentally set ourselves up to fail: we announce big goals, but without a plan of small steps on how we’re going to get there. As a result, if we then fail to reach our goals, we end up giving up or feeling disappointed with ourselves, which is a shame because that failure is most likely down to bad planning rather than an inability to achieve the goal.

Anyway, I digress…

It was raining when I took the dog for a walk this morning, and I was wearing a baseball cap and had the hood of my coat up, to keep the rain off my face.  As I was walking along the beach I was aware that I couldn’t easily look behind me because the cap and hood got in the way. And I felt like God said to me: “you can’t look behind you”. At first, I was a bit confused because of course, I could see behind me, if I just twisted my shoulders or turned at the waist. But then I began to think more about the phrase – something about it resonated with me? As I walked along I began to think about it in terms of the past in the future.

We look behind us all the time: we look behind us to judge the future. We look at past events and use that as a way to assess or guess what the future outcome of something might be. It’s how we’re wired, our brains are wired in this way intentionally: we learn from the past in order to make decisions about the future. As children, we learn about how high we can swing before we fall off. This is because we have fallen off once before and therefore we learn how high we can go before we’re likely to fall off again. We learn how to run, how to write, how to read – we learn how to judge social situations by making mistakes. It’s the key component and factor in how we learn things and how we progress, how we grow and how we mature.

Emotionally this is a particularly strong dynamic and Daniel Goleman explains it well in his books on emotional intelligence: essentially what he points out is that when an event occurs our brains record not only factual information, but also emotional and sensory information as well. Thus when we encounter a similar event in the future, our brains access any and all relevant information and use that in order to tackle the situation we’re currently facing.

For example: let’s say a child encounters a dog for the first time. The dog happens to be a large breed and it barks excitedly. However, the child was frightened. The next time this child meets a dog, their brain informs them: Dogs are large. They make a loud noise. They are frightening. Even though the new dog they’re encountering hasn’t barked and isn’t loud, the child is still afraid. The child is afraid because they were scared by a different dog on a previous occasion. It takes the calm presence of an adult to help the child understand that not all dogs are large or scary, in order to help the child overcome their fears.

Our perception of the past shapes our view of the future.

This dynamic of drawing on the past to assess the present and the future is an ordinary, familiar and expected mechanism. It happens all the time, every day in our lives, in big and small ways. It’s entirely understandable that we use the past to anticipate the future.

However, on that walk, I began to wonder if God wasn’t challenging me and perhaps others as well, to think differently about the future? I wondered if God was saying: “Don’t look at the past to assess what the future is because the past has gone, I’m not re-doing the old things. The future is a clean, clear, sheet which you can’t read, but if you were to superimpose the past on to the future then you only see what you expect to see. ”

And that perhaps is the crucial element here: our expectations can sometimes define our outcomes.

If we always use the past as the lens through which we see the present and the future, then there is a very real danger that we will only see what we expect to see. We begin to anticipate others responses, attitudes and behaviour and we pre-empt their behaviour by responding to what we think they’re going to do – not what they’ve actually done.

Now it’s true that there is wisdom in learning from our mistakes and learning from past and Einstein wisely pointed out that only a fool repeats the same actions and expects a different result.

BUT – I’m not sure that we can simply apply a binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’ approach to the past and the future. I’m not sure that we can be so complacent, or even as lazy as to say: “Well, I know he’s always like this, so I won’t bother,” or “I know that always happens, so there’s no point in changing anything.” We have to be wiser, more sophisticated, more discerning. The general rule of learning from mistakes is a good one on the whole. But when it becomes an excuse for not challenging ourselves or changing our behaviour…that’s just apathy. No-one else does that to you. No-one else imposes that on you or makes you a victim of that outcome. That’s just you.

So how and when do we tell the difference? When do we acknowledge and benefit from the lessons of the past and when do we take off those lenses and lay them down and look at things with fresh eyes again? It certainly feels risky sometimes, to dare to imagine something different on the horizon – to dare to consider that something new might arise from the circumstances or context before us? There is a risk of being hurt, of being disappointed.  A risk of being frustrated and let down again. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have outcomes and expectations; it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be hopeful or look forward or indeed learn from our mistakes. But when that begins to falsely shape and warp our perception and our behaviour, that’s when it creates a problem.

There is a very real risk I think, that we ourselves might perpetuate the very problems we anticipate, simply because we’ve made assumptions….simply because we’ve used the past to measure the future.

So what now should we do? Well, I hope I’ve been able to explain clearly enough that there isn’t a simple answer – if you were looking for a ‘light-and-fluffy’ ‘Happy-New-Year-Happy-Thoughts!’ piece, I’m afraid this isn’t it! But what I can offer is hope: if we can begin to recognise where our ‘past lenses’ are obscuring our ‘future perceptions’, then there’s a good opportunity for things to change: for us to take responsibility for our own reactions and expectations and allow ourselves to open to new ideas and different behaviour from those around us.

Do not cling to events of the past
    or dwell on what happened long ago.
 Watch for the new thing I am going to do.
    It is happening already—you can see it now!
I will make a road through the wilderness
    and give you streams of water there…” Isaiah 43:18

Bindweed – or – how our assumptions can choke relationships

I am a keen, if somewhat haphazard gardener.  In the Spring and Summer, I view the garden rather like a room outdoors – except that instead of hoovering, I need to be mowing, pruning and weeding. I managed to get my summer bedding and wildflower seeds planted during the Easter holidays this year, with pleasing results! I am hoping to get some Spring bulbs planted in the next couple of days, so that we will have some colour to look forward to early next year when the weather is dull and depressing.

However, every garden reaches a point in the year where it needs to be prepared for winter: the grass needs a good cut, the bushes need pruning back and any dying summer bedding needs taking out and replacing with autumn colour, before that too quiets and fades.

I find this time of year both sad but also hopeful, I guess. I don’t like it when the garden looks dull and colourless, but I know that the plants need this season of rest, in order to have the energy to grow back and flourish next year.

It so happened that I was pruning back the dog rose bush in the corner of the garden. These are traditional roses, with wide open flowers – great for pollinators, and they smell nice too! But boy, do they have a lot of thorns! Dog roses are fiercely prickly and even sturdy gardening gloves won’t protect you from all the sharp spines. It was covered with bindweed, which we’ve struggled with a lot this year – it’s roots are buried deep within the soil and it is relentless and resilient when it comes to its own survival.

If you’re not familiar with it, bindweed is a voracious climber and a noted survivor in the gardening world. Its roots travel deep into the ground and unless you dig them up completely, a snapped root will simply spawn new tendrils and make a new appearance elsewhere. It will not distinguish between a fence or a flower – everything is fair game for this tenacious terror of the garden!

And this is what had happened to the dog rose – buried beneath layers of bindweed, which had insidiously grown up from the soil at the base of the plant, the bush was completely covered and overthrown. No longer able to flower, the rose was simply surviving, buried under the weight of the other plant.

I couldn’t tell the difference between where the bindweed ended and the rose began.

At first, I thought about pulling the bindweed off, in order to get to the dog rose itself. But the more I pulled, the more rose leaves and slim branches began to be wrenched off. The bindweed was so entrenched, so entangled with the rose that it was impossible to separate the two without causing damage. But to leave it untouched would result in the slow and inevitable death of the rose altogether. And so I made a choice:

I got some sturdy loppers and started slowly and steadily chopping everything away, rose and bindweed together.

It was during this cautious and painful process, that the analogy of relationships occurred to me. The dog rose is like our relationships: sturdy, resilient, able to bring life to other things (think bees and pollination). But like all plants, it needs regular care: pruning, watering and sunlight. A plants’ main driver is survival: they put all their energy into it. But sometimes that energy is misdirected – you might get spurs or creepers growing off in random directions, drawing energy away from the main body of the plant.

Plants, like relationships, need care. Pruning, watering and sunlight.

The bindweed is like the assumptions that can form in relationships over time. Subtle at first, coming from the base and not easily noticed, they can creep up into every area of the plant, leaving few sections untouched. If left unchecked, these assumptions, like the bindweed on my dog rose, will become so overwhelming that it’s impossible to see the shape of the original plant underneath. This happens slowly at first, so we don’t really notice it, but soon it can become overwhelming and we can almost forget what the relationship looked like in the first place.

Our assumptions shape the way we view the relationship. It becomes the new ‘norm’ and we find ourselves responding not to the original shape of the relationship we had with that person, but the new, disfigured, distorted version.

It’s usually at this point that couples or working relationships break down. People say: “I can’t see how it could change.” “She/he isn’t the person I first met.” “We’ve been through too much.” Some people can only see the misshapen mass, and not the rose beneath, and feel that it’s too big a mess to fix.

How then can we possibly save the plant? How can we ever extract the bindweed sufficiently, to get to the good stuff of the plant beneath?  It’s not easy, and it requires a strength of character and level of commitment that believes in more than can easily be seen.

How can we fix the situation? How do we restore the plant to full health? We get out the loppers.

Plants, like relationships, require attention: pruning, watering and sunlight. Pruning is important for a perennial plant: without pruning, without an intentional period of rest and regeneration, the plant will strive to continue to support all its disparate shoots and branches, but to its own detriment. People and relationships are like this too – we need periods of growth and periods of rest and restoration. We need seasons of excitement and extension, but we also need time to take stock and consolidate. It’s true when someone says: “She/he isn’t the person I first met.” But did you honestly expect them to be? We are like plants – we grow and develop and change as we age. We are shaped by the seasons in our lives – circumstances and situations; children, work, family, money, death and life. Of course we change. It’s a natural part of the human experience. Not changing – now that would be a far more unusual circumstance.

So to get to the root of the problem, we get out the loppers. And let me be honest: this a brave and painful process. I donned my gardening gloves, took up my loppers and systematically took the whole thing apart. I started at one side and worked my way across and down, cautiously taking each section as it fell down and putting it in a garden bag. The bindweed hid a lot of the dog rose thorns from me, so it was a prickly and painful process. But it was also only at this point that I could see how much the dog rose was struggling, and notice the lack of flowers. Slowly but surely, the bindweed was stripped away, revealing the shape of the wood below. Sturdy, despite its struggles, and strong enough to survive and grow back again next year.

Sometimes we need to prune everything right back to the source, in order to rediscover the heart of the plant, the heart of our relationship.

It’s only when we strip away the assumptions that we can rediscover the plant – and the people beneath. The plant/people haven’t static during this time. They have been growing and changing, just as we have. Sometimes people, like plants, get twisted out of shape by events in life – birth and death, for example, changes us all and sometimes we can’t go back to how things were before. This can be hard to accept – for everyone concerned, but that doesn’t mean that growth and flourishing aren’t possible. It just means that life continues along a new track and maybe in a different direction. Even bushes which have been heavily pruned can regrow into healthy, thriving plants. And sometimes they are all the better for it!

This understanding of how assumptions affect our perceptions and relationships can be applied to all sorts of other things too: not just family or work relationships, but even things like how we react to confrontation, how we choose to spend our money or even how we see God.

Our assumptions fill the gap between knowledge and experience and we often make decisions and choices based on this flimsy bridge. We all need to be mindful of our assumptions, and how they shape our choices and decisions.

May we all seek to take good care of our plants and our relationships. May we recognise the importance of the cyclical seasons of rest and growth. And may we all be mindful of our assumptions and know that we can prune those too, rather than letting them shape us.




Creative Lent #3: Eternal Rest

This week’s Creative Lent post is themed around ‘rest’. But it’s incomplete. There have been so many different threads that have linked into the theme and whilst they all connect and make sense individually, I’ve found it difficult to focus in on just one of them.

So I decided to stop fighting this whirlwind of thoughts, and just give you a flavour of each. I hope and trust that at least one of them will resonate with you!

So to begin with: let’s start with daily rest. Or rather- the lack of it. I’ve been reading some intriguing and affirming books lately about time, rest and the importance of getting a better balance in our lives. One is called Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Bruggemann which my sister-in-law Sarah sent me. Another was given to me by Steve Frampton, Principal at Portsmouth College, entitled Too Fast To Think by Chris Lewis. Although written from different starting points, they both concur in their conclusions and findings.

Bruggemann is looking from a theologian’s point of view at the traditional Jewish sabbath. He quickly points out the contrast between Yahweh (traditional Jewish word for God) and Pharaoh’s systems. When the Jewish people were in Egypt, they outnumbered the Egyptians considerably, and over time became enslaved to the Egyptians state (this was just before Moses arrived on the scene and the lead-up to the famous plagues of Egypt and parting of the Red Sea). Pharaoh’s system is based on surplus:

“What the slaves are to produce is more bricks that are to be used for the building of more ‘supply cities’ in which Pharoah can store his endless supply of material wealth in the form of grain. Because the system was designed to produce more and more surplus, there is always more need for storage units that in turn generate more need for bricks with which to construct them…in the narrative… Pharaoh is a hard-nosed production manager for whom production schedules are inexhaustible.”

Bruggemann goes on to point out that there is no sabbath rest in this system. “There is no rest for Pharaoh in his supervisory capacity…no rest for his supervisors or taskmasters…no rest for the slaves…We may imagine, moreover that the ‘Egyptian gods’ also never rested…for the glory of Pharaoh surely redounded to the glory of the ‘Egyptian gods’…In that context all levels of social power…are uniformly caught up in and committed to the grind of endless production.”

Spring blossom, taken at St Mary’s cemetery

However, Yahweh comes from a very different starting point and “at the taproot of this divine commitment to *relationship* (covenant) rather than *commodity* (bricks) is the capacity and willingness of this God to rest…That divine rest on the seventh day of creation has made clear (a) that Yahweh is not a workaholic, (b) that Yahweh is not anxious about the full-functioning of creation and (c) that the wellbeing of creation does not depend on endless work.”

Take a minute to absorb that idea.

The wellbeing of creation – of our lives even, does not depend on endless work.

And yet how many of us look around our homes, our workplaces and our to-do lists with an exhausted and almost futile sense that we’ll ‘never get it all done’? Here’s an intriguing thought for you: what if it doesn’t all have to get done.

What if some of it could be left knowingly unfinished?

You might need to have a little lie-down at this point.

Enter stage left Chris Lewis, whose starting point on this same journey, originates in the business world. In his book he has spoken with and listened to a number of different people from a range of backgrounds. Lewis observes:

“I see a world moving faster, but somehow making less progress. There is more communication, but less conversation. There is more information, but not more learning.” He comments that “we have created so many ways to interrupt ourselves” and that “every profession has suffered from a decreasing amount of time to really think about problems”. “The rush has forced us to process yesterday as if it were trash, and left us no time to recall, review and learn.” 

It is into this context that Brueggemann offers the practice of sabbath as resistance: “Into this arena of restlessness comes the God of rest who offers relief from that anxiety-producing system.” “The celebration of sabbath is an act both of resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods.”

I would argue that this notion of rest, as part of the rhythm of our lives, is something which we have become increasingly detached from, and yet it is so vital to our wellbeing, as to be as essential as food and sleep. Indeed, Lewis devotes an entire chapter to sleep and the consequences and benefits of having not enough or a good and regular amount of sleep.

But if daily rest and having a good rhythm to our lives is one thing, what’s the long-term view? What are we working towards? Why are we pushing ourselves so hard and so long and at such speed?

This is one of the other threads to this week’s theme which I couldn’t quite manage to tie in to the first one, although I sense they are inextricably linked…

I took a walk round St Mary’s cemetery last week. It was a grey day, not too chilly and the estate team were in mowing the grass. When I first arrived it was rather like a cluster of over-sized and grumpy bees buzzing about the place. Gradually the noise fell away as they finished their work and I was able to take some time to walk among the tombstones and memorials.

I was surprised at how many of them had fresh flowers – I don’t know why it surprised me, but it did. Bright, defiant bursts of colour in between the grey, white or black markers. Some were recent, one grave with the earth still a mound where it hadn’t yet settled, others covered with ivy and almost buried by time. There were a noticeable number of Victorian graves for children – infant mortality was high at that time, but I couldn’t help thinking of the grief and loss of those families who had lost their children at such a young age.

Most of the wording was similar; ‘beloved wife’, ‘dear husband’, ‘ in loving memory’. A couple of them had unusual wording which caught my attention: one crypt had the words “Yes! Yes!” after the names of the people interred. I wondered if they felt not fear, but joy about death and a hope for heaven?

Another had the phrase ‘fell asleep’ which struck me particularly, as it related to a four year old boy. I know that as a society we struggle with talking about death and the fear, pain and grief which surrounds it. We shy away from it, avoid it, give it odd and inaccurate terms ‘lost’, ‘fell asleep’, ‘passed away’ because the brutal truth is so hard to bear.

And yet it exists and it will come to all of us at some point. We may not know when, or how or where, but each of us has a story and all stories have to end.

So what then, does that mean for us? Shall we continue to strive and labour, filling all our time with noise and distraction so as to avoid the inevitability of an ending we can’t control? Or shall we  stubbornly, rebelliously choose to stop, to rest, to adjust the rhythm of our lives in order that we really can make the most of each moment – savour the sights, smells, colours and tastes of everything around us so that, when the time comes, we can say with confidence “Yes!” my time has come, but I have lived my life well and I’m ready now for my story to end.


Perhaps those two strands had more in common than I thought?

As to my making: it is the simplicity of a photograph. Ronald James Towse died, aged four, in 1953. I don’t know his story or the circumstances of his death. But his memorial is a reminder that every life, however small, can and will make its mark upon another, and in so doing, perhaps they can be eternal?

The face of Janus: thoughts from the other side of 2016

illustration by Sharon Court

Towards the end of December I noticed a common theme to the tone and content of my friends Facebook comments. They read basically: “Good Riddance 2016 – you were all kinds of awful and I’m glad to see the back of you!”

To be fair, I can kind of understand their point of view: we saw the deaths of a number of well-known and well-liked celebrities (perhaps no more than previous years but the loss of these individuals seemed to resonate with a lot of people my age). And let’s not forget the shambles of the EU Referendum or the US election… But in addition to that, I know of personal tragedies that people faced: the onset of cancer, the sudden death of a close family member, heartbreak, loss and disappointment. Perhaps 2016 does have a lot to answer for?

I was taking my dog for a walk one day, amongst the mulch of dead leaves and the shadowy silent figures of sleeping trees, and I thought about how much people wanted to reject the year – to push it away and maybe even pretend it had never happened, and I wondered whether we could actually do that? Turn our backs on it completely and simply refuse to accept the pain, disappointment and grief.

I looked at the landscape around me and it occurred to me that nature doesn’t do that. It doesn’t turn its back on the year just gone, but in fact it draws from it intentionally.

During the autumn we see the spectacular effects of nature preparing itself for winter: deciduous trees draw back into themselves any unused chlorophyll and any remaining sugars show in the amount of red in the leaves – the more red there is, the more sugar is present. Yellow or golden leaves have much less sugar.

That chlorophyll becomes the storehouse for the following year, allowing new buds and leaves to be grown, drawn from the growth of the previous season. Nature doesn’t turn its back on the old year when the new one comes; it doesn’t disdain or despair. Rather it keeps the good and uses it for renewal.

Now this is where my analogy starts to get a bit wobbly, because of course if the soil quality is poor, or the local water supply is tainted, the trees might also draw in bad things as well as good. Trees, you see, can’t make choices about their water supply or soil quality.

But we can.

We can choose to keep what is good, wholesome, healthy and encouraging and we can choose to let go of the pain, loss and disappointment. Certainly we will be impacted and changed by it – the rings inside a tree bear testament to the rainfall of previous years – but even loss and bereavement can bring strength and hope after a time.

2016 may have had its challenges, but there were good things too: the long-awaited pregnancy, the chance to go to university, the security of a permanent job, the reassurance brought by making new friends at a new school. These are the chlorophyll moments of 2016: the life-affirming experiences which bring joy, hope and peace.

So will we take our lessons from social media, or from nature, whose quiet presence offers a consistent reminder of the opportunties and choices before us?

The choice is up to us.




Pay attention: life lessons from nature


I am the world’s worst person to go on a walk with.

You see, one of my hobbies is photography, and even if I’ve only got my mobile phone with me, I still want to stop and take pictures – my family often feel exasperated when they have to wait for me, as I’ve gotten distracted by something which caught my eye. I notice things and I wonder and I ask questions…

We hear a lot about mindfulness these days. In case you’ve been stranded on a desert island and haven’t heard of it, mindfulness is the practice of choosing to be more aware of your environment and yourself, in order to promote wellbeing. Some of the oldest world religions have been practising mindfulness for some time – Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity among them, encouraging followers to set aside time aside for quiet reflection and meditation.

It’s become a very popular trend over the last couple of years. As a society, we’re told we are experiencing more stress than previous generations, and the consequences of not dealing with stress properly – anxiety, depression, anger and other manifestations of poor mental health can be considerable. Looking after yourself and your mental health is important and mindfulness can be a healthy part of that, but I try and use it in a slightly different way…

As a Christian, I operate on the assumption that God can and does speak to us and that he has things to say. The challenge is not whether God can communicate as much as whether we’re actually listening! For me, mindfulness – that intentional act of stopping to pause, reflect and listen, is a key part of how I hear from God when I pray and I will often look to the natural world for inspiration.


For example, some time ago I was taking our dog for a walk, and I felt God say I should pay attention to the leaves I saw along the walk. To be honest, I’m usually paying most attention to the dog as he’s a beagle and has a habit of getting into spaces he’s not supposed to, or eating things he shouldn’t. The route was a familiar one and I didn’t expect to see anything special…but I was wrong.



I have included some photos I took on that walk and some observations and questions it raised for me:

Connections (top of the page): where are you connected in? Who or what do you connect to? Are there some connections which need nurturing, or some which need pruning back?

Variety (middle of the page): each leaf is different, unique. They have their own version of the variegation which makes the whole plant  distinctive. That difference is what makes the plant stand out. Do you celebrate your uniqueness, or do you try and hide it? Do you feel uncomfortable with being different to other people, or are you content to be yourself?

Scale (towards the bottom of the page): some of the ivy leaves in this photo are small, others are huge! Yet each one is necessary to the plant. Each leaf’s ability to function and contribute to the life of the plant is not determined by it’s size, but rather it’s ability to access the sun. Do you value the contribution you make? What would be missing if you weren’t there?

I think that whether or not you hold a faith, these questions would still resonate with you, and invite you to reflect on aspects of your life which you might want to change or value differently.

This year’s theme at Portsmouth Cathedral is all about ecology and the environment and it’s called All Things Bright and Beautiful. I’m involved in the planning and management of the project, and will be running some sessions, writing blog articles etc. My aspiration is to create a series of mindfulness reflection activities, based on things found in nature and along the coast, which can be shared during the year. Ultimately, I’d like to compile them all into a little book and have it properly printed – watch this space for further updates!

The Castle of Mystery – raising the portcullis on community engagement

The Rideau Canal, showing Ottawa locks and the Canadian Parliament building

The Rideau Canal, showing Ottawa locks

Well, after a hectic week of travelling, listening, talking and sharing, I’m back from my trip to Ottawa. I had a great time and met some interesting people, but I’m also glad to be home again!

I’ve never been to Ottawa before and I enjoyed wandering round parts of the city in-between conference sessions, exploring some of its history, as well as acquainting myself with the history of the nation itself. The Truth and Reconciliation report on the indigenous people of Canada was on the brink of being released at the time of my visit, and even to an outsider, it feels like this will be a momentous and sobering moment for a nation which views itself as ‘Canada the good’ and has, on the whole, a well-earned reputation for kindness and generosity. I think its going to be a tough road ahead for Canadians of all descent, but also perhaps a hopeful and honest one. You can find out more here: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission


The reason for visiting Canada was so that I could participate in the biannual C2UExpo conference, which took place this year at Carleton University. This year the conference organisers have made an effort to include local colleges as well (hence the C2 title adaptation), and we had the opportunity to visit Algonquin College, which, like much of Ottawa, is sited on unceeded Algonquin land. (The Algonquin are an indigenous people group who originate in this part of Canada). In 2017 the conference will move to Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia.

There are increasing efforts to make universities more accessible and for research work to become increasingly more grounded and relevant to the felt needs of local communities – hence the idea of castles and raising the portcullis. This isn’t always easy, and the university might often find itself pulled in different directions between the expectations and standards of academia and the aspiration for more engaged and diverse community engagement.

However, in varying ways, individuals, teams and departments are seeking to find more creative and reliable ways of

The Great Hall in the Canadian Museum of History. The Hall houses a number of original Totem poles, carved from single trucks of cedar as well as a wealth of First Nations artefacts.

The Great Hall in the Canadian Museum of History. The Hall houses a number of original Totem poles, carved from single trucks of cedar as well as a wealth of First Nations artefacts.

doing this in a wide range of fields and disciplines, and we heard a lot about this during the 3/4 days of the conference. One of the things which really struck me was the reality that unless a Vice Principle or someone else at executive level within the institution, pro-actively takes up the mantle of community engagement, then this kind of work is resigned to being ‘off the edge of my desk’ and will never achieve the quality and impact which such work is capable of. There are many universities within the UK who fall into this category, and whilst the REF Impact agenda* did something to raise this issue and force universities to engage with it, there are still wide-ranging disparities about the effectiveness of this work.

*The ‘Impact’ agenda refers to a decision made by UK Funding Councils, who fund universities, that up to 20% of their core funding would only be awarded on the basis of community engaged research work 

There are challenges to forming mutually beneficial and sustainable research partnerships, not least becoming acclimatised to the different cultures and practices found within universities and community groups. This is something of what my story ‘The Castle of Mystery’ aims to highlight. I told the story to a room of about 30 people on the first full day of the conference and I’m pleased to say that it was very well received, which was very encouraging!

As promised, the audio version and the script are available below, and if you ave any comments or feedback, please feel free to drop me a line: or via Twitter @sharonaverona or Facebook: The Potting Shed on Facebook

listen to ‘The Castle of Mystery’ on audioBoom

The Castle of Mystery script

Online auction: catalogue of items

This entry contains details of all the items available in the online auction and will be updated regularly, so remember to scroll down and see what’s new!

Just as a reminder for the reason behind all this making: I’ve been invited to do a storytelling session at a university conference in Canada in May this this, but I need to raise the funds by April 6th! I am therefore creating and auctioning a range of unique, handcrafted items, as well as stories and audiobooks, to raise for the trip.

If I’m unsuccessful in raising enough money to go, I will contact the highest bidder for each item and offer it to them at a special price, so you’ll still be in with a chance to own that special something you had your eye on!

Thanks in advance for all your support!


a-forest_sunlight-1573690Day 1: Audiobook recording of ‘Emi and the Lion’. Starting bid £20, Link to hear the first chapter here:




bed glass candle holders

Day 2: Trio of upcycled beaded glass candle holders ‘The Elements’ representing earth, fire and water. Bidding started at £8 and will close at midnight on Mon 16th March, We have a bidder on this item already but there’s still time!



coastal maps series

Day 3: ‘Coastal Maps’: a series of framed maps embellished with real seashells. Bidding starts at £20 for the set. Other images can be found here:





swirl clay pendant

Day 4: ‘Swirl’ handmade clay pendant with leather lace. Bidding starts at £3




P1070229Day 5: ‘Peonies’- pair of candles in matching ceramic candle holders with white/lilac design. Bidding starts at £8 for the pair






Day 6: (This is the one you’ve been waiting for!)

Original short story, recorded and delivered either on CD or as digital download, including 3 elements of your choice. I invite you to suggest three things and I will create an original story which includes those three things* The story will be delivered within 5-10days, exclusively to you. Bidding starts at £30

*family friendly suggestions please 😉

P1070201Day 7: Holding cross – hand-finished in either white or terracotta clay. There are a range of designs, as shown on the Facebook page. Please specify if you have a preference. Bidding starts at £5

Online auction launched!

And we’re off! The online auction  is officially launched tonight, with a mouthwatering taster of the first item on offer: a limited edition recording of Emi and the Lion. As you will remember, I’m auctioning a number of handcrafted items and stories* to raise money for my trip to Canada – I’ve been invited to do a storytelling session at the CUExpo university conference in Canada, but I need to raise funds for travel and accommodation.

This original audiobook is available to the highest bidder and the bidding for this item closes in one week at midnight on Thurs 19th March. Any bids received after that time will not be considered.

To give you a taste of what’s on offer, this is the first chapter:


There are three more chapters after this, detailing the further adventures of Emi’s search for her mother and the Castle Libretta. The complete audiobook can be sent on CD or available as a download and the starting point is £20. Bids can be submitted by email to me: and I will post updates about the latest bid periodically, so people can increase their bid if they wish to.

Good luck and I hope you enjoy the story!

*in a few days there will be the opportunity to bid for an original, specially commissioned story where YOU get to choose part of the elements of the story! Keep checking back for more info…

I’m leaving (hopefully) on a jet plane…

This candle holder was hand finished with individual glass tiles and is one of the items on offer.

This candle holder was hand finished with individual glass tiles and is one of the items on offer.

It’s strange sometimes, the opportunities life throws at you.

Nearly three years ago,  I applied to go to a small summit about university and community engagement, prompted by someone I knew at the University of Portsmouth. I was accepted and my attendance at that summit sparked a whole new set of friendships and a fantastic introduction to the world of community engagement.

As it turned out, I was already involved in community engagement – I just hadn’t realised it.

Since then, through this work, I’ve had the opportunity to take part in sessions and workshops at two national and two international conferences. The most recent was the Engage conference in Bristol in December 2014, where I did a storytelling session, and you can find out more about that here:

At the Engage conference, I met up with some of the lovely folks from Canada, whom I’d met at the CUExpo in Corner Brook, Newfoundland in 2013. One of them, Maeve Lydon, asked me if I was planning to attend again in 2015. I explained I’d been thinking about it, but not yet applied. She encouraged me to do so, and reminded me I’d better get to it sharpish as the closing date for abstracts and submissions was just a few days away…

I applied, suggesting I could do a storytelling session, and to my surprise I was accepted!

However, now I have a new challenge: I need to try and raise around £1,800 in order to be able to go.

To this end I’ve decided to organise an online auction, featuring, handcrafted gifts, original framed photographs – and – for a limited number of very lucky people, a completely unique, specially recorded story, featuring ideas or themes chosen by them.

This holding cross is made of clay with a matt varnish. It features the "exit velocity" symbol

This holding cross is made of clay with a matt varnish. It features the “exit velocity” symbol

The idea is that there’ll be a gallery where you can see all the items on offer (with new items being added periodically) with a suggested starting price. Bids can be submitted by email and by the closing date set for each item, the highest bidder wins, just like ebay. The only difference being that bidders won’t be asked to send any money until I’m sure that I have enough to cover the cost of the whole trip. I won’t accept people’s bids unless I know I can go.

This is where you come in: I have a list of items available, which will go up on this website in the next couple of days, and I hope you might consider bidding for them. But in addition: what would you like to see? I’ve shared a lot of images of things I’ve made via the The Potting Shed – Apple Seed HQ page on Facebook. If there’s something there that you’d like to bid on, let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

I’ve got just over eight weeks to raise the funds necessary. Let’s see what we can do!


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