Community Coordinator Ruth Shorrock shares her experience of the Solstice celebrations with artist Stephen Turner and people of the Burnley Wood Community.
I started my first day back at work after a week’s break with a significant case of the post holiday blues. Faced with a back log of emails and a to-do list that left me quaking in my denial-laden flip-flops, by the end of the day the thought of going “off grid” was becoming increasingly alluring. But before I could plan my escape I knew I needed to support the Summer Solstice Event which had been organised by Stephen and Karen for the evening. When I arrived at the boatyard at 7.30pm it seemed lady luck was on our side, the weather was going to be kind, Emma from Canal & River Trust was busily firing up the barbecue and Lynn was talking to the resident ducklings.
Stephen had gone off to collect some Elderflower for cordial, Dillon started to light the candles and I began chopping up fruit for our solstice punch. Local residents Jo and her son Stephen also arrived early to help with preparations and their love of the site and the Egg is infectious. They have worked alongside the “Eggman” since his arrival and their own knowledge of living with nature is fascinating. Soon after, Karen and her mum turn up with a pile of freshly baked potatoes to put on the fire. As the light dimmed so did my low mood as the comforting sense of stillness emanating from the Boatyard combined with the unspoken camaraderie between people at work created a perfect atmosphere. The Egg itself is not advertised widely or turned into a spectacle, it sits at the boatyard like it has always been there, a kind of special, hidden oasis which local people have an affection for that belies the mere ten weeks it has been on site.
As guests from the local area and beyond arrived the mood began to change and became more celebratory. The experience of doing something a little out the ordinary for a Tuesday evening was spirit lifting, we placed candles to form a ring of fire, explored the Egg, toasted marshmallows on the fire, relaxed and chatted together. Children were buzzing about the place, wrapping themselves up in blankets, pretending to be ghosts, having stick fights and watching the wildlife. It was only afterwards did I realise that no one had been preoccupied with a mobile phone which it feels, sometimes, we all cling onto like a modern day security blanket.
I think that is what makes this project work, it reconnects people with a place and each other in a direct and human way which fosters a relationship with nature and the commonalities we share with it from a level playing field, that playing field being the democratising canal side site. Theming events around seasons, such as a solstice, natures own time clock, helps us further to connect in this way. Stephen has also ingrained himself into the local community, he lives just around the corner from the boat yard and the community centre and regularly volunteers there to help understand and support the people he lives and works with.
As the sun set we jokingly danced around the candlelit jars and toasted the disappearance of the light with our delicious potatoes and specially designed Solstice Cake. To close the evening we had a little raffle to raise money for Macmillan, which seemed fitting as they are organising a national celebration of light and is a charity close to many residents hearts.
At 11pm people began to leave and the tidying up began. As I listened to conversations about the evening and plans for the future and how the evening had seen ” Burnley Wood community at it’s best” the thought of going “off grid” is replaced with a reminder of what makes working with Super Slow Way very special indeed.