Without a Vision the People Perish

Mrs Jones was a phenomenal teacher and community organiser. She was particularly active in her local church where she had rejuvenated the Sunday school, the classrooms of which were packed to the rafters with dedicated teachers and excited and engaged children. For decades the Sunday school had been the talk of the town and the church had thrived with the young families that had been drawn through its doors.

But Mrs Jones’ health started to deteriorate, and she eventually moved into a nursing home. She no longer attended church, much less was able to lead the Sunday school. A succession of people tried to follow in her footsteps, all burning out and giving up. The church struggled to find teachers for all the classes, and the children became bored and disengaged.

The problem was that they were holding on to a golden calf. The vision for the Sunday school had been given to Mrs Jones, not the succession of people who followed her. If we attach ourselves to the visions from the past, we miss the opportunities that are right in front of us in the present.

Over the years, I have had a number of opportunities to lead and help facilitate communities and projects, both sacred and secular. During that time I have learned much about what it means to lead, how to build community, how to raise up new leaders, and how to help people to thrive. The first, single, and probably most important thing I have learned, is that the project is the people and the vision emerges from those who are in front of us, right here, and right now. Like manna from heaven, with every new person who comes through the door comes new possibilities, new ideas, new gifts, and a new vision. All we need to do is make space for that vision to be nurtured and to grow and then we see things happen that are beyond our wildest dreams.

Sure you need structure, but that structure needs to be simple, modular and malleable. Components need to be able to be easily added to or put to one side to accommodate the ebb and flow of people through the group. Nothing need become like Mrs Jones’ golden calf. There will always be infinitely more to do than we could ever get done, so why not do the things which we’re good at and excited about in the here and now?

In November 2017 I was asked to lead the England Project on WikiTree. WikiTree, like its name suggests, is a genealogical community where volunteers collaborate on a global family tree with one profile per person who has ever lived. When I took on leadership of the England Project it was a quiet affair. There was a list of 400 names on a static free space page. Some of the people on the list were no longer alive, many were no longer on WikiTree. Yet I had a vision. I had a dream of a virtual community of hundreds of members who would gather together to achieve the single, simple goal of increasing the quality and quantity of English profiles on WikiTree. But where to start? It’s simple. It begins with talking to people. It begins with communication.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how to gather people together and get them talking to each other.

Long Time No Speak

Taking the time to reconnect while we’re apart

Welcome to day three of my #Staycation podcast! Today is all about using this time to reconnect to people we may not have spoken to for a while, and staying connected with people we have. I hope you enjoy it.

It’s been lovely to hear back from so many of you, with your own ideas of how to handle this time. Keep them coming!

And remember, we’re not alone, we’re in this together, take care,

Liv x

Denman Writing Retreat

 

I recently went on my first ever writer’s retreat at Denman College in Oxfordshire, England. Denman is owned by the Women’s Institute and offers a plethora of course for members and non-members throughout the year, including a number of different writing courses. The retreat appealed to me because I thought it would give me some quality time to write, away from the usual distractions of home. I wasn’t disappointed. The course tutor, Chrissie Hall, herself a published writer, was disarmingly brilliant at helping us strip away our fears, anxieties and confusion about what we wanted to do with our writing. She inspired us to unleash our creative energy and to share with and support each other. In just four days we had become family, forever invested in each other’s successes.

It’s amazing what can happen when a group of people with a common interest and passion get together. Couple that with an organisation with its roots in the Suffragette movement and you have an environment that is a hotbed for getting things done. That was definitely the case for me. My current WIP, a pre-teen novel about a girl called Mollie Price, was in the planning stages when I went to Denman. During my time there I was able to really flesh out my core characters, do a detailed plot analysis of the book, and finish a very strong first draft of chapter one. I’ve already begun chapter two, and shall continue work on that today.

We had lots of time and space in which to write, opportunities for one-on-one’s with Chrissie, and just the right amount of time to come together and share with one another. All this in beautiful surroundings, with a comfortable study/bedroom to retreat to if we chose to, and delicious food served by friendly staff.

I initially chose to write in my bedroom but quickly decided instead to work in the big teaching room with everyone else. I had my headphones on to help me focus, but the sheer energy of everyone working in the room together was an utter joy and definitely helped me to produce some of my best work.

I’m now sitting here, back at home with my headphones on, playing the same music I played on retreat, and it’s definitely reminding me of those feelings and helping the words  flow as I type. I’m planning on booking myself into the same retreat next year and may go to another in October on preparing your manuscript for publication if my current WIP has reached that stage.

The upshot of all this is that I would recommend writing retreats to anyone who can get to them. There is nothing like it and it will definitely help you progress with your work.

Write on!

Liv

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

 

neighborhood

In my childhood I lived in a wonderful road where everyone knew each other. Children used to gather after school to hang out, build camps, run races and generally have fun. The older kids looked after the younger ones and so long as we we didn’t leave the street and were back by tea time our parents weren’t the least bit concerned.

It wasn’t just the children I befriended. Across the road from me lived a fascinating lady who had been a missionary overseas. Even as a teenager I would look forward to my visits with her over cups of tea and slightly stale biscuits as she recounted her adventures from around the globe.

Next door the Finnegans always had a plaster for us if we grazed our knees, and Mr O’Leary at number nine let us climb in his trees and build tree houses. No one needed a CRB check to speak to us. We were neighbours, the next best thing to family, a community that did life together, that laughed, cried and grew together.

Nowadays being a neighbour, and part of a community, is much more challenging. People build higher and higher fences and walls around their homes, any adult befriending a child that is not their own is automatically looked on with suspicion, and you’d probably be hesitant to hand out plasters or serve cake in case of allergic reactions and court cases.

But all is not lost. It is still possible to be a good neighbour today and a community of strangers can become a community of friends. Here are some of the things I have seen happening in my street recently:

  1. Christmas cards

    There is no better way to find out who lives in your street than to send them Christmas cards. “To all at number 10, wishing you a very Merry Christmas from Olivia McCabe at number 28” lets them know you are there, thinking of them, and gives them the opportunity to send a card back introducing themselves to you in turn.

  2. Neighbourhood Watch

    If there is a Neighbourhood Watch group in your road then think about joining it, if not then why not start one? You will get updates from your local police about what to watch out for in your area, and you will have the chance to get to know more of your neighbours. This is also a perfect opportunity for neighbours to keep an eye on each other’s houses whilst people are away on holiday.

  3. Parking

    If parking is limited in your area be as courteous as you can be about where you park. Our neighbours let us know when they are going to be away and offer their driveways as extra parking when people need it. People aren’t in the least bit territorial about their patch of tarmac and as a result it all feels very relaxed and friendly.

  4. Bins!

    Also know as garbage or trash cans. In England we have wheelie bins. In my part of Hertfordshire we are big on recycling and have four different colour bins. After a recent Christmas party where over sixty guests descended on our house (including a lot of our neighbours) we were left with a lot of recycling. One couple who had been away over Christmas and New Year and not used their bins offered us extra space. Now how’s that for good neighbours?

  5. The Sick and Bereaved

    One of the things I absolutely loved about my time living in the southern States of America is how communities rally together when people are sick or bereaved. You only have to sneeze and cartons of home-made chicken soup land on your doorstep. If you are bereaved then you don’t need to shop for food for months. A steady stream of people come to your door to offer their condolences and always bring mountains of food with them.

    This is a habit I have brought with me back to England and it is slowly catching on. One neighbour recently had her appendix out and she was inundated with some delicious soups and breads on her return. When my other neighbour’s wife died suddenly the whole street set up a rota to cook for the bereaved husband for a month. He is now the first person to take food round to people who are struggling, usually in the form of his excellent chocolate pie.

  6. The Lonely

    We all know that there is a huge difference between people living in solitude and people who are lonely. Young mums may be surrounded by a big family and still be lonely, where as an elderly woman living on her own may be perfectly content. That being said it’s always good to find out which of your neighbours are living alone and check up on them once in a while.

    The key thing in all of this is relationship building. No two people are the same and you can’t have a one size fits all approach to building community with your neighbours. You just need to get creative in getting to know them as individuals. When you have done that you can invite them to barbecues in your back garden, call on them for a lift to the airport in the dead of night, and be there for them when they lose someone precious to them. After all, aren’t we designed to be part of something bigger than ourselves?

    Are you a good neighbour? What have others done to be a good neighbour to you?

    Have a good one,

    Liv x