By Bruce, a supply teacher from Norwich
What we did on our holidays……. It sounds like the title of the first piece of writing we had to write on return to primary school in September.
However, the Step Blogger editor asked me how I spent my summer holiday. Well, apart from spending it wondering when my next pay might be coming in, I was involved in three events this summer that made me think of our concept of ‘community’.
Last summer, England was engulfed by a series of riots which left the country asking if we had lost our sense of community. Mrs Thatcher, infamously in the eighties, stated that there was no such thing as society, and since then, we teachers have been trying to teach personal and social education to undo some of the damage.
At the beginning of the holiday, we spent two weeks in western France. It was our privilege to attend two free concerts held in the grounds of local churches. The first one consisted of acrobats performing inside and outside of the church followed by a concert of Flamenco music with two dancers. As the flamenco concert went on and it grew dark, coloured spotlights played on the church, at times making it appear as though the church was in flames. At the end was a fireworks display. The second concert was in the precincts of another church. A New Orleans style jazz band played, followed by performances of modern dance and break-dance which took the breath away by the athleticism and grace of the dancers. Once again, spotlights animated the ancient church. The two concerts were part of a whole series of over 100 concerts known as ‘Les Nuits Romans’ (literally ‘The Romanesque Nights’) organised by the regional government. The aim, as the mayor of one of the villages stated in his introduction to one of the concerts, is to find new ways to celebrate the rich architectural heritage of the area, primarily the 12th century churches, but secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is to provide opportunities for the whole community to get together. He stressed the importance in French villages of the church, the village square and the ‘mairie’ to their sense of ‘community’. At each of these concerts, the sense of welcome and inclusion was palpable. All generations were there, from the oldest inhabitants who were found seats near to the front to the youngest babies in carriers on their parents’ chests, rocked to sleep by gentle dancing. And in between, the teenagers, so often demonized, enjoying the cultural mix as much as anyone else.
Nobody felt excluded.
We came back early from France as we were among the lucky ones who managed to get tickets for the London 2012 Olympics. We had already experienced the excitement and general happiness by seeing the torch relay through Norwich, but a day in the Olympic Park was on another level. It was the best response possible to the riots of the previous summer. Although at times astonishingly busy and crowded, at no time did I hear a cross word. It felt as though for a brief time, we had been allowed into the kind of society we had dreamed about in the sixties and seventies and articulated by Martin Luther King. Although we were there partly to support British competitors, we could celebrate everybody, including the rest of the audience. At one point, a Venezuelan insisted on taking our photograph using our camera. He wasn’t happy with the first attempt, and made several others by which time we thought we were old friends. The volunteer helpers have already been praised highly but they were fantastic, models of enthusiasm and help. Again, they reflected the whole of society and the rainbow nation that we have become. Clearly none of them felt at all excluded.
The third event was a more personal one. For two years, my wife and I have been trustees of a charity in Norfolk called The Bure Navigation Conservation Trust. We are dedicated to trying to provide a footpath, accessible to all, along a nine and a half mile stretch of the beautiful River Bure. We also want to draw people’s attention to its rich heritage and wildlife. In August 1912, a terrible flood caused a tsunami on the river, destroying bridges, locks and making hundreds homeless. On Sunday 26th August 2012, we organised an event to commemorate this catastrophe. We managed to get a site on the river, invited several historic boats, booked a hog roast and a bouncy castle and invited everybody to come. A flotilla of thirty canoes manned by sea scouts brought a token cargo downstream and the largest of the historic boats, a Norfolk ‘Wherry’, brought kegs of beer upriver. Last year, I was able to set up a design project with GCSE students at Aylsham High School (where I had been doing supply work) to design a logo for the Trust. We had over fifty entries which we whittled down to six. We have been using the winning logo for over nine months but on Sunday we were able to present the winning student with his prizes. Once again, the event attracted all sections of the local population because we were remembering and celebrating their own heritage.
So, what might these three events teach us?
Heritage is not a fixed thing; it needs to be reinterpreted for the times we are in. People do not have to attend services in the French churches to appreciate them, the London 2012 Olympics succeeded in re-branding our notions of what it is to be British, and our own little event in rural Norfolk, awakened the local population to the richness of what lies under their feet. Inclusion and exclusion are not platitudes. We need to find ways to involve, welcome and celebrate all of society’s members.
Editor’s Note. This blog was originally published in 2012