Creativity Learning Transformation
Profile photo of Janey

by Janey

Fuelling the fire in your learning world

Posted on 1st July 2016 in Learning, News

beach fire seasonal naturalConversations about learning have been a major feature of life this month. Our oldest grandson has just attended taster days for the move up into the world of secondary school in September. Another is in the process of working out with family, teachers and their colleagues how we can best support him to overcome some of the challenges he finds at primary school. The rest are sharing their hopes and fears for the move into a new year group.

I attended two open days with our god-daughter who is just at the start of choosing a secondary school. The move into a bigger campus, with five times the number of children, and a different structure of learning, is like entering another world for most children. It was interesting to see how the schools decided to introduce their particular learning world to prospective families.

Both schools involved pupils in showing us around the campus and it was valuable to ask them about their school experience. They were all positive and when I asked them why they thought their school was good, the things they most commonly mentioned were:

  • the teachers are friendly
  • they take bullying seriously and they deal with it
  • there’s lots of different things you can do – art, sport, music, trips
  • it’s like a big family/community
  • teachers make things interesting and fun
  • there are some good facilities

So in our straw poll being happy and safe were top of the young people’s list. Academic results didn’t get a mention! Read the rest of this entry →

Profile photo of Janey

by Janey

Barefoot Learning

Posted on 29th July 2015 in Creativity, Learning, News, Transformation

Barefoot SailWe’ve spent the last six months living on our old yacht and sailing up the West coast of Mexico and the Gulf of California. Our style of boating involves muddy anchorages, wild islands, slow sailing and self-sufficiency. We generate our own 12v electricity, filter our own water, buy local food from local producers and sellers, row our dinghy and sail whenever we can find a puff of wind (rather than motor). We recycle everything, use all resources sparingly, try to contribute to local communities and leave as light a footprint as possible wherever we land. We call it Barefoot Boating.

Our boat is a vintage yacht built by Westsail in 1974 and in quite a neglected state when we found her in 2008. Over the last seven years we have worked in our holidays to bring her back to sailing form and create a welcoming home. We have tried to restore rather than replace, reshape rather than discard or destroy. She is still a work in progress and we are keeping to these principles as we slowly sail, explore and work on the boat in a new rhythm of life.

Living slowly and sparingly has brought us an abundance of benefits. We are living in the ocean and have time to observe,  learn and connect with the creatures of this amazing world, from cornet fish and boobies to dolphins and whales. We find we naturally adopt  mindfulness as part of our daily rhythm, sitting on deck washing clothes by hand, sailing slowly watching boobies trying to land on our mast, mediating in our bunks at sunrise listening to whale song.

When we anchor off an inhabited coast, we take time to get to know the community there (weather permitting.) We listen to their stories and see how we can learn from each other and work together to improve life in hard times.

Reshapers work continues as we sail. I’ve found that writing for education and transformation, developing e-courses, assessing students and  learning from people we meet are all possible from a boat. We are actively developing partnerships with local projects that we can support, more news of a special water project and women’s co-operative in our next update.

Visiting England to spend time with family, friends and colleagues prompted me to make further connections between our sailing life and Reshapers work.. The connection between mindfulness and mental health is well evidenced, but can we develop mindful creativity?  We’ve always adopted reflective practice and experiential learning, can these form a model of barefoot education?

These questions will shape my work for the next year as we sail in the Golfo de California and down the coast of Central America. Where will the wind and tides take us? What will we learn from the stories and images we find there? What projects will we be able to support? I’m very excited to find out and hope you will join me on the voyage.

Profile photo of Janey

by Janey

Make a Difference

Posted on 30th August 2013 in Learning, News, Transformation


Challenge Network

What a summer! I’ve spent a lot of time with some amazing young people on a national citizenship programme run by The Challenge Network. Together with 125 young people aged 16-17 (and a brilliant team of staff),  I’ve abseiled down cliffs, scrambled along boulders, got soaked and bruised gorge-walking, narrowly avoided food-poisoning as they learnt to cook, learnt new drama games and visited some brilliant community projects across London. I’ve built friendships, given lots of warnings, laughed and cried, sat in casualty, been frustrated, exhausted, happy, moved and inspired.

Our backgrounds were from the widest range of class, gender, ethnicity, culture and experience. Yet in the short time (16 days) we were together we became a strong community, learning to get along, supporting and encouraging each other (with a few dramas and disagreements on the way!) We shared our hopes and fears, our challenges and aspirations and our dreams for living in a better world. We were inspired by the community partners we visited to plan our own campaigns to change our little bit of the world. In the words of Barrack Obama, ‘We can have the courage to change.’

As the world agonises over what to do in Syria, and other places of conflict and suffering in this world, this was a great reminder that all of us hold the answer in our hands. One of my heroines, anthropologist Margaret Mead once said

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.

How are you changing our world? Share your challenges, ideas and achievements with us.


Profile photo of Janey

by Janey

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

Posted on 22nd January 2013 in Learning, News, Transformation

Yesterday was a momentous day :

MLK, martin luther king, equality, freedom, justice, dream

Martin Luther King Day and the inauguration of Barack Obama for a second term.Barack Obama, USA president, ethnicity

Listening to Barack setting out his vision in his inaugural speech I felt again the mixture of anger, passion, joy and hope that I felt four years ago when he took his oath as the first black president of the USA.

I felt angry because it has taken so long for a black leader to reach the top in the Western world; because there are people who clearly want him to fail because of his ethnicity; angry because here in Britain we still haven’t achieved racial equality, so if you are young and black you are still more likely to be excluded from school, more likely  to end up being unemployed and more likely to be stopped and searched by the police.

Newborn, ethnicity, equality, diversity

I felt passion because my support for the King’s dream for all God’s children to be free is a personal one; my son is also of mixed heritage and we have had a hard journey together from his conception. Back in the 80s we faced direct racism, even from my own family, because I had a black partner; even now only 70% of Britons are happy for their child to choose a partner of a different ethnic group (Equality & Human Rights Commission). In the 90s we faced exclusion from a society that seemed to want to divide people by their skin colour; white people said I had betrayed my own kind, black people that we weren’t black enough. In the school years we faced the challenges of finding a strong positive identity when you are part of an invisible minority “but we don’t think of him as black” and your culture isn’t recognised “Mummy why are all the black people we learn about at school poor and living in huts? We’re not like that!”

Just the term black is a challenging one. In the 00s we started a project for parents of mixed heritage children, partly because in ruralbuttons, diversity, craft Suffolk we recognised the isolation of single parent families with a white Mum and a mixed race child (my own situation.)  A black social worker from Essex came to tell us that we were failing at promoting our black children’s identities.  When we said that we wanted a more inclusive term (if I’m a white Mum, calling my child black denies my part in his or her identity) she told us we were racist. Instead of celebrating diversity and promoting inclusion, like the latest policy promoted, she was creating tribal division and judgement. Whereas we wanted to celebrate both our individuality (including all the strands of cultural identity woven into our families) and our common humanity, as equal and united. Inspired by a play by Dael Orlandersmith that came to Ipswich a few years later, called Yellowman, I wrote a poem which explores my personal struggle with difference and my hope and belief that we all have equal worth :

When we were five it began, sorting buttons into neat coloured piles

I drift among a mottled tribe, throbbing to marimba’s beat, chewing pap

Buckra eject me from their house, light reflected into black absorbing all

Kinless I cling my soul to you, small chimurenga of my flesh cleft inside…

…Honey you are perfect as you are, in the skin God wrapped you in, umber sweet

(you can find the full poem here.)

I feel joy because Barack is a living symbol and role model that overcomes these unworthy differences between us. Because today’s children of mixed heritage grow up in a better world, still a way to go, but better than it was for our family in those days.    And I feel hope because yesterday he once again showed that he is a man led by the core values of community and equality and a deep commitment to peace and justice for all people. It’s a commitment I will continue to strive to do all I can to achieve in my own little bit of the world. What about you?

Profile photo of Janey

by Janey

Seasonal Treasures

Posted on 29th November 2012 in Breathing Space, Craft, Creative Spirit, Creativity, Handmade home, News, Still Waters, Transformation, Tree of Life

It’s really important to me to keep my life in tune with the rhythm of the seasons, as part of the natural order of things. Like our grandchildren who each developed their own little ritual when they visit, getting out the bird book, playing with the same toy, fetching down the treat jar, it’s partly the reassurance of repeated patterns, from spring bulb shoots to summer lushness, from glorious autumn leaves to woolly snow.

At our last Still Waters event we marked the passing from harvest to winter by thinking about preserving and storing. Once the harvest is gathered in the autumn, its time to sort,  salt, pickle and preserve all our best produce to keep us through the winter season. We’ve been scenting the kitchen with aromas of blackberry jam and spicy chutney, quince cheese and chestnut chocolate truffles. Mmmm, can’t wait for the Christmas feasting!  But for those of us who aren’t farmers or gardeners, what is our harvest? community art with heart pebble beach natural love

As we shared around our group, it was striking that top of everyone’s list were the gifts from our relationships. Not just the obvious easy gains of a friend to have a coffee with or a partner to cook a meal for us. What we treasure most, what will sustain us through the winter, are the hard won fruits of support through adversity, from someone we have learned to love whatever they have done, from someone who we found we could rely on when we needed them most, from a family gathering together when life was bleak and difficult. Our treasures were patience, grace, compassion, care and unconditional love. I hope your harvest is as rich.

advent calendar colth craft handmade creativeSo with our store cupboard full, I’m ready for the start of advent. In the Christian tradition, advent is a time for emptiness and frugality. Like Lent, it is a time of fasting, clearing out the clutter as we wait and prepare for Christmas. I’m trying to clear out the clutter of busy-ness, tiredness and grumpiness – I must admit it’s a challenge, you’ll have to ask my family how well I am doing!  Our next Tree of Life meditation event takes the seasonal theme of birthing and draws on different traditions to look for signs of rebirth in our own lives. It will be a welcome breathing space in all the Christmas preparations.

I do love getting ready for Christmas, though. What better way to spend a winter evening than making homemade sweets or felting decorations in front of a log fire? It’s a great season for crafters and homemade fans and I’m really excited about the new advent and Christmas goodies in our shop. We’ve got felt and fabric decorations, with more being added each week. We’ll also have a stall at the December Harkstead Farmers’ Market for anyone in Suffolk. If you haven’t got an advent calendar yet, there’s one fabric calendar left in the shop; and two reflective calendars which you can also download, with a choice of stories or prayers for each day of advent. Happy advent!

Profile photo of Janey

by Janey

Learning for peace

Posted on 7th November 2012 in Learning, News

I was planning to write about the American elections in this week’s blog. All the media coverage had got me thinking about leadership. What am I looking for in a leader? What influences my vote? These proved harder questions to answer than I expected.

Nominate #Malala for the Nobel Peace Prize #Nobel4Malala

Then I got an email from about the campaign to nominate Malala for a Nobel peace Prize.

Suddenly it all became clear. Malala embodies the qualities I am looking for in a leader. Someone who has strong values and is not afraid to proclaim them. Someone who is prepared to stand up for what is right, whatever the cost. Someone who believes in equality and justice. Someone who has experienced the struggles of daily life shared by the oppressed and disenfranchised across the world. Someone who is ordinary yet doing something extraordinary. Someone who does it in a way that promotes non-violence, the way of enlightenment, peace and justice.

Read the rest of this entry →

Profile photo of Janey

by Janey

Happy Launch Day!

Posted on 23rd October 2012 in Learning, News, Transformation

sky-birdWe’re very proud and excited at Reshapers to be launching our lovely new website today! It’s all about our passion for learning, creativity and transformation and we hope it will help you to reach for the skies.

We hope you’ll enjoy looking round and finding out all about who we are and what we do. Please add your comments and ideas – we love conversation. Look out for lots of extras coming over the next few weeks, including guest bloggers, free downloads and  new courses. Read the rest of this entry →

Profile photo of Janey

by Janey

A voice for abuse survivors

Posted on 20th October 2012 in News, s:vox, Transformation

Child abuse wave on rockhas often been described as having a ripple effect like a pebble in a pond and this can certainly be seen in the ripples spreading from the Jimmy Savile revelations. Actually it feels more like a tsunami as the courage of the first few victims in speaking out gives strength and permission for many others to join them. The waves are pounding on the shores of our most hallowed institutions  the BBC and the NHS, and like the church before them, I am sure that once the waters recede, we will never think of them quite the same again. I suspect that this is one of the things that we find so disturbing about this particular predatory abuser. For my experience of recent conversations with friends, colleagues and strangers on the train, is that we are more deeply disturbed by this than the exposure of the recent Rochdale gang of sexual abusers.

In the Rochdale case, 47 victims were identified by the police, once the authorities were persuaded to take the girls revelations seriously. The report into the investigation revealed that some social workers colluded with the abusers by deciding that these vulnerable young girls were ‘making their own choices’ or even ‘engaging in consensual sexual activity.’ Now we can recognise the grooming process that may give that appearance and we have heard enough from the court case to understand the coercion and exploitation that was involved. We are horrified by the story and  righteously indignant about social services, but really if we are honest most of us don’t identify the girls with our daughters or the abusers with our husbands and brothers. Read the rest of this entry →

Profile photo of Janey

by Janey

Learning Co-operative Practices

Posted on 19th October 2012 in Learning, News

Did you know that this is the International Year of Co-operatives?

IYC logoNow a massive global movement, the flagship  co-operative society was founded in 1844 in Lancashire, UK, by the Rochdale Pioneers. Like Reshapers, they were founded with strong ethical principles. They agreed a set of rules and practices which were radical then and some still are radical today. For example, the rule ‘one member one vote’ applied at a time when women and working men could not vote for their Member of Parliament and the rule also stated that equality of the sexes also applied to membership, at a time when women could not own property in their own right. They opened the shop for public trading in the evenings – for working people who would not be allowed away from their workplace during the day. Profit was shared equally between members according to the amount purchased and along with a fixed rate of interest, this practice ensured no greedy financiers could take the profit from the people. They pledged to provide affordable housing and land for cultivation to improve members social and economic conditions, at a time when there was no national social housing scheme.

In a legacy Reshapers are proud to continue, they agreed ‘a definite percentage of profits should be allotted to education‘. This was at a time when the law prohibited working men from educating themselves.They founded a library with 1500 books, ran lectures and classes and its is believed they taught many of  their members to read and write. This commitment to education continues today through regional co-operative societies and the national Co-operative College (where you will also find lots of information about the Rochdale Pioneers.)

As a social enterprise, we carry on the tradition of running our company according to strong ethical principles, paying a fair wage to workers and putting all profit back into the business or into community projects that align with our mission and values. That’s why we bank with the Co-operative Bank and use an ethical insurance company. We are also part of the community education and open learning movement, committed to ensuring learning is available to everyone especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. That’s why we will be adding free learning courses as a core part of our service.

lighting fireOne of my favourite sayings about learning is  ” Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” (commonly attributed to William Yeats but actually a paraphrase of Plutarch) Researching about the Rochdale Pioneers for this post, my passion for community learning was re-ignited. The Pioneers struggled to find a way to make their co-operative principles work against all the odds, and they learnt and developed as they went. They were strongly principled and the fire in their belly, fuelled by the experiences of poverty and oppression, is what drove them to succeed without compromising or letting go of their core values. Educating their members was a way out of poverty, of ignorance, of deprivation, of powerlessness, into a society where people are informed, can make choices and have dignity and respect. To me this is the best of community learning. It’s learning that both comes from the community experience and transforms it. It’s the community developing itself. It’s mutual co-operation and self-help. The first free learns that I write for Reshapers will be about the people, ideas and practices that have transformed me and my community. I hope they’ll light your fire.

Profile photo of Janey

by Janey

Autumn Fires

Posted on 18th October 2012 in Craft, Creative Spirit, Creativity, Handmade home, Still Waters, Transformation

Boats on River Stour, John ConstableWe celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary and the start of autumn last month with a walk and beach BBQ on the shores of the River Stour.  The name comes from the celtic sturr, meaning strong, and meandering along on its banks and waterways always gives me peace and strength.W  I love this beautiful river, which passes through Constable Country down to the North Sea. We live near the Suffolk shore along the tidal stretch, from Shotley up to Brantham.

beach art, recycled, eco-friendlyThe beaches from Holbrook to Erwarton are local favourites for walks and gatherings, and Tree of Life held our most recent Still Waters reflective walk along here – you can download the free booklet Ebb and Flow from our shop page.

We reflected on the ebb and flow of our lives, whether we are flowing with the tide or struggling against the current. We gathered flotsam and jetsam from the shore as we walked and shaped it into beach art as we shared our picnic. The combination of art, food and beaches is a special one and so was a natural choice for our anniversary weekend.

beach fire natural seasonalWe were blessed with sunshine as we walked and gathered driftwood ready for the evening chill. Sizzling sausages above the flames and baking chocolate bananas on hot stones…mmmm, doesn’t get any better! The combination of flames and sand reminded me of one of my favourite handmade home crafts, sand candles.

sand candle craft handmade naturalThese are easily made by making a candle-shaped mould in damp sand and then pouring in hot wax. The sand sticks to the wax as it sets, creating a raw and earthy style which I love. The wick can be inserted into the mould before you pour or added afterwards with a wicking needle.

sand candle lavender natural craft handmadeYou can embellish with dried flowers, seeds and nuts pressed into the side of the mould, which emerge from the wax as the candle burns down.  I like using lavender from the garden, adding a calming scent to the candle. You can also decorate by carving away areas of the sand to reveal the clean wax, although I  just enjoy the texture of the sandy skin.

Sandy candles are just one of the seasonal  crafts we have made in our Creative Spirit sessions. When I lead the sessions, I like to use materials that are natural, eco-friendly, recycled or re-shaped – its one of the ideas behind Reshapers name! The sand came from the beach, the wax was old candles melted down and the lavender from our garden. All I had to add was a wick and a little candle dye, from our local craft shop.

For some more fire and candle ideas, click the candle picture below for your free worksheet. We’ll be adding a worksheet or pattern to all our Creative blogs, so make sure you come back regularly for more ideas. sand candle craft handmade natural recycled