September always feels more like a ‘new year’ than January does. There’s a sense of anticipated difference – in the levels of noise, people, activity, queues and above all start of semester work-loads. Only this year I haven’t actually stopped working. I don’t know where the summer’s gone, only that I havent gone anywhere with the exception of last week when I visited the University of Kent; home of the Creative Campus Initiative. Creativity appeals; imagination, dance, poetry, music and above all reflective writing – I knew I’d feel at home there 🙂
Brayford is an attractive campus but it misses the landscaped gardens of the ‘Cottingham Road – Hull’ campus. Kent campus is built on a hill surrounded by trees and bushes full of rabbits and squirrels; a highspot is the Canterbury Labyrinth – more about this at http://labyrinth.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk – looking even better for real than it does in the pictures.
The labyrinth overlooks Canterbury Cathedral; creating appropriate parallels between a workshop on reflective journeying and Chaucer’s pilgrims travelling to the shrine of Thomas A Beckett, murdered in the cathedral in 1170. The cathedral itself is permanent memorial to the craft of the medieval stonemasons but there’s less on the death of Thomas himself and the candle marking the long gone shrine is nowhere near the alleged place of the murder. For years I believed there were bloodstains on the stone; more likely a natural colour change but a powerful memory and I wanted to investigate. The pillar itself is no longer there; instead there are headstones in the floor and one has a circular plaque which a guide told me is where the pillar was. Coincidence or design? Either way it sounded speculative and most people, myself included, will have walked over that spot without even realising it’s there. The rest of the cathedral is well worth a visit but there is no blood on the stones.
The value of conferences is the opportunities to meet other people and share ideas and experience; especially with a subject like digital exclusion, which isn’t high on anyone’s list, although it should be. Participants at JSWEC, the Joint Social Work Education Conference, were a rare mix of service users, carers, volunteers, social work students, educators, practitioners, academics, government officials and the mix worked well. The atmosphere was friendly, supportive and eclectic; widening participation in practice with not an ivory tower in sight.
The HEA Conference took place the week before; like JSWEC it was also held at the University of Hertfordshire. The atmosphere was different although the bar was equally well attended. Jan Sellers from the University of Kent created a temporary labyrinth in the campus grounds. It was a shame it couldn’t have been there for JSWEC too because it would have been popular. The idea of walking the labyrinth is to take time out. Pause to reflect and focus on the winding twisty path into the centre and out again. Understanding isn’t important, you don’t need to analyse, it’s the doing of it that counts. Interest in the use of labyrinths in higher education is growing. See http://labyrinths.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk for more information.
My conference hat-trick began with the International Social Work and Social Development Conference. I blogged a bit about the Hong Kong experience here. The experience was inspiring. International conferences offer a rare insight into other countries and lifestyles. They support a retrospective assessment of what you have at home. No matter how much we complain, the UK is an excellent place to live. We have an education system the world admires, a welfare state second to none and precious amenities we take for granted like clean drinking water. John Bowerman, photographer for National Geographic, says the only justification for travelling is the stories you bring back. The most memorable story I heard was from Ms. Valerie Maasdorp, Clinical Director for the Island Hospice and Bereavement Service in Zimbabwe. The speech contained multiple realities; poverty, lack of food, shortage of medicines, the legacy of Aids resulting in thousands of orphans and the harsh consequences of living under a dictatorship government. Here we can ignore the media and pretend everyone wears shoes and can provide for their children. Sharing space with people who are living lives so much harder than ours is a difficult, uncomfortable experience. The story I bring back is we should all value what we have so much more than we do.