Anne writes:- This Story is lengthy because it DETAILS a PROCESS.
“Those involved hope that you Readers, will identify with that detail and the sustained effort which is required to move from the Fire-work of passion, to making action happen.”
THE LIGHT HOUSE STORY a project of ASPEN : Ascot Peace Education Network
“where CREATIVITY, LIGHT and LAUGHTER ABOUND”
“Once upon a time, in a leafy Shire, some larger and smaller people determined to build a sacred space where everyone who entered the glowing yurt would be heard”
So began the Story Book about this journey, in response to the Invasion of Iraq 2003.
STARTING OUT: A CHALLENGE CALLS FOR PASSIONATE HEROES
Aghast at the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a few of us determined to set up a Voluntary Organisation for Peace Education… Beyond joining protest marches, we needed to demonstrate in a longer term manner, the urgency of evolving the United Nations vision of a CULTURE OF PEACE, in which conflict is resolved without war.
ASPEN was launched. It aimed to educate about the causes, resolution and prevention of conflict in the wider world through public meetings for adults. In parallel, we Imagined a project entirely for children and youth.
BUT WE WERE NOT SURE WHAT??? A few of us started to meet, tossing ideas around.
Lynn wrote our first publicity leaflet. It reads as follows:-
The Story Is told of a blackened, desolate, ruined shell of a cathedral – a memorial to WW2. In the midst of the cathedral a room of stained glass had been made. It remains an empty place. Many people came to sit in silence, caught up in the experience of light and colour and life found in the midst of desolation, blackness and death. (One such person reported a couple entering the room. One turned to the other and said,” There’s nothing here. Let’s go”
IN THIS TIME, IN THIS PLACE …many of us have been sickened by the conflicts in the (so- called) Middle East and yet we know intuitively that what is happening there is a powerful outbreak of the same conflicts that go on in us as individuals, and in the local community: primarily the issue of power.
Wisdom of all the major faiths teaches that love is stronger than evil, and that this love has to be embodied in the relationships around us and within ourselves.
We need at this point in time to find a way to live out a tough love that seeks truth, and its commitment to justice for all.
Is the challenge how to respect our separateness and difference from others?
How to find the link between my justice issue and that of someone far away and so
apparently different to me?
SO IMAGINE… imagine stepping into a ‘yurt’ (a circular tent) made entirely of stained glass….. imagine light and colour playing together creating a sacred space.
This sacred space is the Light House.
Yet the Light House is more than this. The Light House is also people. It is a network of folk from a variety of backgrounds and different spiritual traditions coming together at this time in our history for a common task.
And yet the Light House is even more than this. It is a mutual exploration of ways of communicating that are full of life and light and love. The experience of stepping into the Light House will become an experience of stepping into the Light of the local Community’s prayer and desire for peace.
THE YURT: AN IDEA TAKES SHAPE
Six friends met during the summer of 2003. Always in a circle. Always starting with a quiet time and time to tell ‘how we are’. The engineer had never been to meetings like this before, especially holding a shell if you were the person wanting attentive space for speaking !
Mark designed an 8 sided yurt. Perspex panels held in a metal, dismantable side-frame. Roof, metal arched poles. He was finalising material availability and costs. His workshop at home was filling up. More and more metal poles and Perspex sheets.
By summer 2003 our small group had got beyond ‘idea’ through ‘symbol’ to the point where it was essential to enlarge the group and clarify HOW we intended to use the Yurt.
At the end of August we met to organise two AWAY DAYS at Brooke Place, Chobham. On 13/9 and again 30/9 we entered an ancient barn surrounded by huge trees and grassland: a place of inspiration. The invitation asked “What are our individual and collective experiences and feelings about peace-building. Importantly, please bring something that speaks of peace to you, in your life”
The day’s costs were supported by the late Ann Harris, long-time Quaker peace activist. The day was facilitated by our voluntary advisors Geoffrey Court & the late Jeannette Weaver from The Circle Works in Bethnal Green, London. They brought 20 years’ experience of listening to children … listening to one another, as adults. Spacious, unhurried time out.
As we planned and executed these two blissful days at Brooke Place … the (for some of us) very BOLD idea of risking PLAY, set the pattern for future training. Piles of paper,cloth, stuff… lay in the corner of the barn. Firstly, we sat in a large circle taking all morning to slowly talk about the object we’d brought that spoke to us of peace. Again, this is the way we train: spaciously. This is how we aim to be with children.
At Brook Place, on those two occasions, we experienced being in a “sacred space”
After eating and getting to know each other a bit more, we set off into the grounds in different directions: small groups given time and space to make their own place of peace. The vibrant creations made us all, so very happy to see.
From all of this, by the end of the days, we didn’t know exactly what we’d be DOING
in the yurt. What we DID know was how we intended to BE, as we started out with the Light House.
WOW! YOU MEAN LESS OF THE TALK…NOW WE’VE GOT TO DO IT?
Whilst Mark finalised his part of the preparations, others in the group were negotiating with schools and youth clubs about designing and painting the Yurt’s eight panels.
Jenny writes: Each group we worked with was different, with various time and space constraints; as unique as the children involved. Test samples were made to check durability and drying times, working with glass paints on Perspex panels.
After animated discussion by the children about their preferred peace symbol they began their designs. These were then transferred on to the Perspex by laying the drawing under the panel and tracing it with a liner. Where time allowed, painting could be made directly onto the panel for a more spontaneous approach.
The children were highly motivated and gave break time and time before school to complete the panels. There was a great response from Head Teachers, teachers and Youth workers. The children’s’ images ranged from peaceful scenes to peace Buses and CND signs.
The inventiveness and creativity of the children was a joy to see. Through their work the children have taken ownership of the Light House, eager to point out their part and greeting it like an old friend.
TAKING THE VISION OUT INTO THE WIDER COMMUNITY. FINDING THE WORDS TO DO IT. FINDING THE MONEY
Twenty- five years earlier, the artist Anne Gowland had designed the funding leaflet for the WEB Bus: another mobile education project. Her painting and Mark’s moquette were equally, speedily effective. The point is that when the artistic imagination is harnessed, the inner vision can be seen by all. It propels forward.
Autumn 2003 Denise and Naveed orchestrated letters to local business people requesting one-off donations of £100. As with WEB in 1980, direct requests for modest contributions raised exactly the amount needed. Modest one- off ‘starter’ grants came from one private trust, RESPECT, a section of the Princes’ Trust, URI (the United Religious Initiative) and our church. We got no- where with the two Local Authorities.
From then on we aimed to need minimal funds. We worked as volunteers claiming minimal expenses. No charges made for the service. We were fortunate to be able to trust that we would manifest money, as needed.
WHAT REMAINED TO BE DONE BEFORE WE LAUNCHED THIS FROLIC?
How to organise ?
How to train?
Geoffrey Court wrote in Autumn 2004:- “Living Peace is not a state, but a practice, and like all practices, it has to be developed over time. This means the Light House will need to be a place of continuous learning, not only for the children and young people who use and enjoy it, but for all of us who share responsibility for making it work. Just as we are all learners, we are all teachers too ”
These intentions led us to organise in a minimalist manner : minimal paper work, few meetings ( one half hour duration), freedom to opt in and out of tasks, visits limited to the Ascot area at the rate of one per month.
LARP LH Activity Pack was coordinated by Sarah. She wrote:- “The Light House team has enthusiastically designed some of the activities and in some cases practised them too ! This gives them a true idea of how they will work in schools”.
The training day in February 2007, for example, was a deeply heartening experience for the 15 of us able to attend. Moving around in All Souls church (which had become our spiritual home) we reconnected with the glorious stained glass windows, did Yoga breathing with Ranjiit, had a go at Sally’s Brian Gym. Then Geoffrey led a reverie about the recent deaths of two close colleagues, which Jenny completed, leading us into collage making as she played music for us.
Creating collages is a freeing exercise. The images chosen, mostly unconsciously, speak to us in unexpected ways.Finally, we huddled up in our beloved Yurt. We knew we had created a beautiful community between one another, over these few years.
FINAL PREPARATIONS BEORE THE PUBLIC LAUNCH MAY 8th 2004
Activity concentrated on getting the eight panels painted by children and youth, in their own locations; the Fusion Youth club at All Saints, 100 local young people at a Rock Service, the local Steiner school, local Junior and Secondary schools.
THE LAUNCH MAY 2004
Was held at our local Comprehensive school. About 100 people came: the three Mayors from surrounding Local Authorities, parents friends, children who had been involved with the Yurt for over a year. Now was the moment for groups of children to come forward to lift the gauze covers from the panels.
Geoffrey wrote:- “the moment when the lights went down and the beautiful beacon was revealed in all its colourful glory was sheer magic. It seems to me that everyone from toddler to Mayor, was engaged at a deep level and knew that something real and important was taking place”
THE IMAGINATION ACTS
For the next three years the team took the Yurt out and about, month by month. … to local Infant, Junior and Secondary schools, early one morning to the Maidenhead Mosque, to the Area Carnival where children ran across the field, spying THEIR Light House.
Work with adults and families enlarged our contacts. Thus we were honoured by visits from Bruce Kent, War No More; Sister Miriam Macgillis: founder of Genesis Farm USA an ecological sustainability centre; Rev. Donald Reeves formerly of St James Piccadilly, currently founder of The Soul of Europe, peace-building in the Balkans.
Two amazing days’ Peace Festival in September 2005 in All Souls was called PEACE “BEGINS WITH ME”. It gave our small committee and Light House team the opportunity to call on the many skilled therapists, and artists that we knew locally. In particular we welcomed a magical garden mounted in the Font, created by patients at the local Paul Bevan Hospice. Also, writing, constructions and painting from local Junior and Secondary Private schools. As we closed, a seven year old boy hung back saying…..
” I don’t want to go. Is it on tomorrow? I want it to go on forever.”
2004 to 2016 OPENING UP CANS OF WORMSAs the enlarging and amorphous NETWORK evolved during the subsequent 12 years, tough issues were addressed, fresh groupings clustered. The more we learnt, the wider became the SYSTEMIC analysis of INTER-CONNECTEDNESS.The Light House project CHANGED SHAPE. Volunteers moved on to other work, schools were less interested in visits having absorbed CIRCLE WORK into their own practice. The heavy lifting of the Yurt began to be too much for the woman volunteers.Anxiety about outright war transmogrified into arguments around the validity of scientific CLIMATE CHANGE analysis.In 2005 Bishop Cottrell began challenging churches in the Reading. Deaneries to alert & educate about CLIMATE CHANGE. For some of us, our imperative shifted from Peace Education towards raising awareness about the global crisis of Global Warming. Our spirited start-up energy moved from the Light House to an Environment Network: as ever, but a handful of men & women involved.ASCENT- Ascot & the Sunnngs Commumity Environment Network ( a TRANSITION project) took until 2010 to reach its formal constitution. 2014 saw the first Community Environment Festival, 2015 TAKE TWO community play about the Israeli – Palestine conflict.( see separate Story and Tale on this website).WHAT HAS BEEN LEARNT THROUGH THE ASPEN PROJECT ?….Writer Edward Albee when asked what is the meaning of your work, said:-“WELL, LET’S AT LEAST SAY THAT SOMETHING HAPPENS, AS A RESULT OF WHICH SOMETHING CHANGES”THE ASPEN TREE IS A RHIZOME. It spreads by its roots. It is “the whispering tree: the listening tree”.The Light House has been about listening, going slowly, practising language, speaking out, sticking with a demanding commitment. The Light House has been first and foremost a PROCESS with a product that delighted engaged children & teenagers.
“A YURT ON THE MOVE”
No! Not Ascotian Mongolians seeking summer quarters…just a bunch of ASCENT supporters ( at last) moving the Light House panels out into open spaces.
We’d been looking for a home for the Yurt for years, but half-heartedly. Suddenly, in a moment, a solution popped up! (As solutions often do ) …Take it down from its safe parking place, bagged & hanging on Martyn Towle’s garage wall… move it to the Yarwood’s garden..and then onwards to OAKTREE Special School in North London in the Autumn.. 9 of us erected the heavy panels under a hundred year old Holly Tree. Organised by Viv & Nick Perkins from All Saints Church, the group included Andrea Berardi, Richard & Will Yarwood, Ranjiit Kaur, Martin Towle, David & Anne Yarwood. 4 of us were members of the founding Light House Peace project. Richard is the welcoming Head Teacher. Viv & Nick drove the van. Ranjiit made the soup…Viv the Plum Crumble.
Now I can sit inside the Yurt, remembering the intensity of a small group’s passion to create a Peace Education project amidst the turbulence of the Anti-War opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It took us 2 years to plan, design, build, paint the panels, develop our team and teaching materials, make contact with local primary & Secondary schools & youth groups. The Launch was May 2004 at Charters School before the Mayors of Windsor, Bracknell & Bracknell Forest.
Sitting under the huge tree, within a space vibrating with the emotions of those fearsome days of attack. I sense the roots dragging me down to the depth of things.
Excerpts from Geoffrey Court’s ENDPIECE for the Light House Story Book.“And they all lived happily ever after”. Isn’t this how the Light House story should end? After so much effort, aren’t we entitled to bask in an eternal sunshine of sweetness and light? Isn’t that the aim of a peace project?I don’t think so. Peacemaking challenges us to reach out and communicate, but casual chat is not enough…What is needed is a new kind of conversation. The Light House – a symbol as well as a space- declares this, just by being there. It “always causes a stir when it arrives”. It challenges us to depart from our usual script, and engage in the difficult work of dialogue.Dialogue means above all listening hard to others, especially those who are different to ourselves, and trying to understand how the world looks from their point of view.The process is likely to give rise to some painful questions. Which voices are accustomed to being noticed, and which suppressed? Whose story is being told, and whose ignored? These of course are questions about power: they are political questions. So it is that the Light House encourages young people to take their first steps towards the political arena, and we discover after all that this is not the end of a story, but the beginning.