The Circle Works Celebrate 30 years

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We were so happy that they celebrated it with us, as they brought so much that was truly wonderful with them when they joined us at St Katharine’s in January of this year. The Master dressed for the occasion, and welcomed the crowd to general enjoyment:

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The obvious emotion of Geoffrey and Heather, principal hosts of The Circle Works, brought laughter, and I confess some tears, to my eyes. It is the reason more photographs are lacking, being too busy listening and feeling. But that is what The Circle Works are all about.

Reading the booklet celebrating their thirty years I realise that it’s been some time since I read anything that gave me quite so big a smile, or made me think quite so much. It was inspiring, and impossible to summarise — their collection of stories and pictures and thoughts developed over so many years of work defies it. There is so much in it that we hope to embody throughout St Katharine’s, especially through the new wellbeing hub as it opens up to the community.

Their concept of hospitality through hosted space is perhaps the one that springs most immediately into the foreground — it is so important for the kind of work we do, but also something rarely thought about in the ways that they do. Geoffrey writes:

Tondo

The Tondo, the first thing that you see when you enter the space of The Circle Works: ‘These pieces of broken pot were gathered by a child who in her short life has already faced unimaginable challenges. Learning that she was soon to be separated from her siblings, she dug the fragments out of the school garden, and after carefully washing each one, brought them to her counsellor. Every piece was held, examined, talked about, wondered over, wrapped in tissue, and given to The Circle Works to look after.’

What defines hosted space is not just the presence of a host and a space, but the relationship between the two. A ‘person’ is not simply occupying a ‘place’ like a caretaker staying on the premises until it’s time to lock up, but inhabiting it expressively, responding to it and ordering it in ways that reflect something of themselves and their intentions. A hosted space is created mindfully, and to enter it is to encounter a mind. The mind that imbues a hosted space needs to be a ‘holding mind’, consistent and coherent as well as interesting, but it need not be the mind of an individual. Provided they communicate well enough to be ‘of a mind’ – which is not always as easy as it sounds – a pair of people or a group can certainly host a space together. In fact, the space is enhanced as the relationships between the hosts become woven into the hospitality they offer.

We need to create and host a space that is imbued with our own spirit, capable of holding those who enter into it. This is the kind of peaceful and safe space that so many have found at St Katharine’s to do the deep thinking and soul searching that they need to do, but we need to care for it, and be thoughtful about how we deepen and extend it.

It seems a blessing that Geoffrey and Heather come to us now, just as we are extending ourselves into a new set of buildings, and opening up to the community in ways we have not done for many years. At this precise moment we are building new spaces, and hope to carry this understanding and experience into their building.

One place we will start is — like The Circle Works — with stories, with inviting local people in, and doing our best in this space we have created to listen well and deeply to what they have to tell us.

Thus we create a new space for reflection. Our work has already expanded into open reflection days and led reflection days, a new opening of space to a wider community. The wellbeing hub will extend this even further. In this The Circle Works’ version of the Learning Cycle has great potential in looking how our work in the community emerges, how we try new things, evaluate, and learn. They write:

Imagine the Circle Line with just three stations: Experience, Reflection, and Outcome.

‘Experience is the stuff life throws at us all the time,’ and too often it becomes overwhelming. How beautiful then, to reframe it as they do: ‘an infinitely renewable resource, a deep and richly rewarding mine of useful material.’ We will be gathering experience in plenty as we invite the community in to develop projects and tell us what they need.

Sky Window

Memory Garden: Created by Dr Jeffrey Higley with a team in a local school, photograph by Jeanette Weaver. He explains: ‘You enter a little twisty passageway, and you come to what we call the Cloud Watching Seat…all you have to do is cloud watch, and let your mind and your imagination range through that opening.’

Reflection is where we make sense of this, ‘a space for remembering, for sorting; for making connections and for seeing possibilities.’ In our current thinking, it is exactly these connections and the relationships that emerge from them that are our principal focus, with a goal of creating a strong and resilient community of mutual support and caring.

How useful too their use of ‘outcome’ rather than ‘action’, not to suggest that action will not emerge or is not important, but to capture the other equally important kinds of things that can emerge from this process: ‘the enlightenment that comes from a slight shift in perception…’

Meditation, stillness, a focus on the spirit. The use of art and embracing of creativity in developing the spirit. The moving from the centre of these things and of ourselves to turn outwards, and create change in the world around us. Heather and Geoffrey have brought all of these things to the heart of St Katharine’s through the room they are creating as their base, and their work in our reflective zone.

The afternoon ended with a concert of some lovely music from ex-students of Norwich School who came together to sing in our chapel, and to which everyone was invited — they even got the audience to participate in a round.

We join with The Circle Works in celebrating these decades of history, the memory and work of the late Jeannette Weaver who we only know in spirit through this wonderful organisation she helped form and that we know and love today. We look forward to the years that lie ahead of us and know great things will emerge from our work and conversations together, so a huge congratulations to them on their thirtieth!