New ways of staying together
This feels like a somewhat overdue update on how a project which is entirely based around the concept of encounter and bringing people together is surviving in a time when we are all being told to stay apart. As we watched the lockdown creeping closer through March, the idea of maintaining this wonderful community felt like a somewhat daunting prospect: being together in shared space felt like it was so intrinsic to who we were: how could we do what we do, be who we are when we were being forced to stay away from each other?
But it is not so very long ago that this project was just a vague idea, and with a bit of imagination and creativity it became a reality: so with a touch of that same imagination and creativity, we began to dream about how we could in fact, carry on. And, after all, if you've arrived in the UK as an asylum seeker or a refugee, if you've left all you knew and crossed half the world, if you've faced the UK immigration system, there's a pretty good chance that resilience and adaptability feature high on the list of qualities you've had to develop.
And so we, like the rest of the world, investigated video conferencing apps and moved our sessions online. Our ongoing online group chat became increasingly active and important as a space of sharing. Messages were exchanged. We helped each other set-up the necessary technology to stay involved. We stopped paying for bus tickets and instead started supporting those who needed it to access sufficient data to stay connected.
We now "meet" twice a week. Just as we always have, we check in with each other and chat. We share the things we are struggling with and the things which are going well. We sing happy birthday. We ask for advice and offer each other ideas. We reflect, we listen and we speak. We learn with and from one another. We play with new vocabulary. We share stories, we write poetry.
We smile across a screen and create safe space where we can share laughter and, at times, tears. We find ways to say we are, still, there for one another. That no-one of us is, in fact, alone in this sea of uncertainty. We are continuing to be and to build a community of friends.
Of course there are so many things we miss about the way the project existed before corona virus locked us in our homes. We miss visiting schools and sharing our stories with the next generation. We miss sharing delicious food and the informal moments of conversation which can't quite be recreated online. We miss welcoming newcomers to join our 'family' and greeting each other with a warm embrace.
But at least we have discovered we don't have to miss each other. Though physically apart, we remain very much together.