Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Return of the Yurt

Since last years' twin disasters (both consequences of rapacious market managerialism of public services), 'Growing Better Lives' hasn't been doing so - and the poor old yurt itself was homeless, until we suffered our third disaster - collapse and breakage of many of the ribs which support the crown. As time passed, even the success of our launch party (personality disorder dog show and all) faded into a vague disappointment that nobody with any relevant influence had come along to support it.

Triple disasters
Being ever-more organised as secretive and mistrustful businesses, NHS Foundation Trusts (aka hospitals) cannot get their corporate head around concepts like sharing, cooperation, informal relationships and the common good. So we were forbidden by Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust from allowing NHS registered patients from also enjoying the greencare facilities of the yurt, therapeutic horticulture, fresh air and contact with nature as part of their treatment programme. The therapy programme continued in the public, antiseptic, noisy and unwelcoming corridors of Wexham Park Hospital.
a therapeutic environment?
Being desperately short of revenue, in the most deprived and ethnically diverse corner of the Thames Valley, Slough Borough Council had to sell land to make ends meet. At the top of the list of uneconomic plots of land that would be readily developed for private housing was Wexham Nursery. An oasis off the busy B416, with friendly staff and lots of sheltered work for those with learning disabilities, they diligently grew all the bedding plants for Slough's roundabouts, cherished their memories of winning Chelsea medals in years gone by, and ran a small and other-worldly garden centre. Our plot, and the 'magic garden' that had been established behind it, were turned over to the diggers and developers - but the situation was very much sadder for the people who had put all their working lives and care into something of beauty that was no longer valued.
Bedding plants £1 - everything must go
It was always ambitious to try assembling the thing between Christmas and New Year - but we managed it, although the cotton lining was too wet to fit - and we didn't have time to fit the five felt sections with their cat's cradle of nylon cords. However, we got the canvas over the thing, to at least protect the wooden structure until we could find a weekend day to put all three layers on it. But the weather was not kind to us: ripping winds loosened the canvas, and shook the trellises, ribs and crown to their foundations. Then came the snow. Unfortunately, the canvas cover, though loose, was still roughly in place when the blizzards hit. And that sturdy cover provided a 21 foot diameter circle to comfortably accommodate about 5 inches of snow. Which, on a weakened structure suddenly made the elegantly convex roof into an inelegant concave wreck. With about 20 of the 72 ribs snapped in the process.
Convex version

Concave version

Tucked between a totem pole and a life-sized stuffed buffalo, we now have a perfect size circle amid trees, work areas, a large pond and a large log cabin - with kitchen, classrooms and office. It hardly matters that we're on the site of a major electricity substation, a whisker's distance from the M25 and only a few miles from Heathrow.
Our hosts - a mostly educational greencare project who are part of the Thames Valley Groundworks organisation - seem faintly amused at our comings and goings - but helped us enormously by rescuing and tidying up all the parts of the collapsed heap of wood and canvas - and sorting them all  into intact and broken; they are now also helping us to devise horticulture programmes, and marketing them for the last phase of our EcoMinds grant, and running the activities with us.
The Yurt Workshop soon provided us with replacement ribs and shipped them over from Spain, and a flicker of interest was reignited from the good people who had suffered the privations of winter 2010 with us. So, on the hottest day yet of the year, we sat around all morning talking and scheming - and then got down to the serious construction business. Trellis - easy; ribs and crown - a bit trickier until we made sure we had the trellis arranged in a perfect circle; cotton lining - much easier for being dry; felt layer - quite a tangle of odd bits of string needed to hold it up, but secure eventually; canvas cover - went up like magic, poked into place by three of us with spare rib poles. The only remaining problems are that we need to stake it all down and find or replace the missing nylon webbing girdles, and plane the door slightly so that it fits again - presumably having become a bit warped by all the bad fortune and unfavourable climate it has suffered. A bit like us really.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Heaven or hell?

A weekend in the countryside, at a rural study centre on an organic farm, supplied with all the good fresh food, drink and treats we could ever need; sleeping in bedrooms in a lovely old Tudor farmhouse (was later converted into a Jacobean mansion), all beautifully restored and maintained; in easy distance of London, for a relaxing and stimulating weekend with about twenty like-minded people. With fresh air in abundance, walks across the Low Weald of Kent on the doorstep, peace, quiet and tranquillity. An almost unique chance to escape from the pressures and hectic pace of day-to-day life. Even more, chance to work with others in an authentic and unique way, and feel connected to the natural world - and each other - in a wonderful peaceful environment. 


Isolated without TV or even a mobile phone signal, thrown together with a whole group of strangers and very little structure or explanation of what everybody is there for.  A kitchen and fridge full of food, with which we are expected to feed ourselves for the best part of three days - and to cap it all ...the group meetings! The large groups at the beginning and end of each day where we have to decide what to do together and what we make of it all, and the small groups - about seven or eight people (including 'conductors') where we are expected to tell of our innermost feelings in front of people we will probably never see again. Uncertainty, anxiety, painful thoughts and feelings. You must be mad to want to go on a course like this.
Heaven or hell? You choose! 
And you're welcome to come on the next one, November 14-16, either way.

Since 1995, 'Living-Learning Experiences' have taken place for a weekend every May and three midweek days every November. Ostensibly to train mental health practitioners in the advanced use of certain types of group psychotherapy, they are usually experienced as something rather more significant than a run-of-the mill skills course.

The one which finished yesterday was particularly interesting for its cultural mix: the conductors of the small groups were from Italy and South America, and participants came from India, Ireland and Yorkshire - as well as the rest of England.

Rawlings B (2005)
The Temporary Therapeutic Community: a qualitative evaluation of an ATC Training Weekend. 
Therapeutic Communities 26 (1) 6-18