Epistle from Holiday School 2016
We gathered a week ago, new and familiar faces greeting one another with the warmth and affection that is always a central part of Holiday School life. Nervous newcomers were made to feel welcome by our amazing student helpers, and given opportunities to begin conversations that would grow into full blown friendships before the week was out. Despite a poorly PA system, not letting us dance on the first night, and a poorly Elspeth, not present to lead proceedings, the ice was broken in traditional HS style in our first social. The nerves were still there for some; others were wondering what they’d let themselves in for. Holiday School had started.
The theme for this week was Social Justice, putting an emphasis on what we can do collectively or individually to help reduce suffering and unfairness in our communities. The inclusive community we try to create each year at Holiday School felt a distant place during the first session of the week, led by Becky Shaw, owing to the sensitive subject she was talking about. Although this was not our customary interactive Monday session, it provoked strong emotions and discussions around issues of anxiety, mental illness, and social exclusion.
Our first full day together also meant choosing an activity group, with a wide array of options on offer. Perennial favourites were present: the newspaper, craft, sport, film studies and Level 42. Other activities returned: baking, knit-and-knatter, and the video group; while we were delighted to also have the choice of dancing and creative writing.
The excellent Guy Milner led our Tuesday session, which got us mingling and talking to each other. Guy gave us a chance to realise how geographically diverse Holiday School is, and how drastically life chances can vary depending on where we live. In small groups, we discussed a range of controversial statements related to our theme, showing how difficult it can be to provide clear-cut answers to questions of social justice.
On Wednesday we were visited by Paul Burr, who told us about his life and the choices he had made, towards helping others rather than enriching himself. We were inspired by his story, and his energy and enthusiasm towards making the world a better place for people in need. His was a simple message: if you discover a problem, use your own talents and the skills of others to create a solution. Aim for the flag pole, don’t follow the crowd.
The highlight of the week for many was our day of social action on Thursday. To spend part of our week here actively striving to help others brought us even closer together. Some participants visited a community garden, helping to produce food that will be freely available for people to eat. Others packed bags at a local Sainsbury’s to raise money for a special care baby unit. A peace vigil was held in St Helen’s Square, to show solidarity with people affected by conflict. Others remained on site at Bootham to write letters to their MPs and create ‘twiddle-things’ for people living with dementia, to keep their hands active. After a few days of listening to and being inspired by stories of social action, it was incredibly rewarding to give something back ourselves.
On Friday morning we were visited by STEVE BURKMAN, who delivered a talk about the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Charitable Trust and Reform Trust. This gave us another perspective on social action, particularly focusing on the work of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree, a pioneer in the study of poverty in the early 20th century.
Throughout the week we spent time in our nest groups - this year named after vegetables - reflecting on the events of each day, sharing our feelings, playing games and continuing more serious discussions from the sessions. Nest groups become very tight-knit as the week goes on. They allow each of us to create bonds with people of all ages, who we might not otherwise get the chance to spend time with.
We started each day with Meeting for Worship, an integral part of our week, offering a chance to reflect and connect as a whole. As we have become more and more reliant on our phones and social media, year-on-year, it can feel difficult to fully unplug and be still. But detaching ourselves from busy lives reminds us how to be truly present and helps us to form a stronger community together.
As ever, the socials at Holiday School provide the perfect end to each day, bringing us all closer. Seeing people lose themselves in the dances and games, laughing and smiling, reminds us how special Holiday School is, and how lucky we all are to be part of it.
In the words of one participant:
“Holiday School is a break from real life; a hole in the ground in the middle of a storm. It’s revitalising and safe. Void of judgement, it’s a quick place to duck down and gather your thoughts and energy. But nothing can last forever, and I always feel like I’m being dragged through and before I know it, I’m falling away from it, back into real life. The panic I get on the last full day, however, shows me how important HS really is, and what it means to people like me; people like us. I’ll allow myself to feel comforted by the knowledge it will be here for me the next time summer comes around.