• Welcome week: welcome peace: part two

    I've completed my week making cranes for The Lakeside Theatre at Essex University now.

    For the last few days of my week there I continued to approach people gently, much as you would an animal in the wild. It's interesting to observe people in one space, particularly in a space where most people are there for one reason but there are huge variations in the level of comfort felt by people within that space. At the university there were people who felt incredibly comfortable there, they've been there for years in different guises and obviously feel at home. Sometimes they feel so at home that they stop really seeing their environment, everything becomes blase and old-hat.

    There are others who are comfortable but deliberately avoid going to areas where there is a tension of change: stalls are set up; music is playing; new people are milling around; it just feels different so best to stay away until it goes back to normal.

    Others have smaller levels of comfort. They're new but they've met some people and they're excited about the future. Everything is bright, it's an adventure to find your way around; it's liberating to meet new people and even to be a new person yourself (not just to others but also to yourself).

    Yet others have hardly any level of comfort. They are also new but haven't met many people, or don't know where the people are they have met; or haven't figured out the etiquette for contacting other people yet. They sit in the squares, trying to look as if they feel comfortable (thank goodness for mobile phones); sometimes they'll walk around a bit, as if they do have something to do, somewhere to go. They'll feel massive relief when finally there is somewhere to go and they can walk with a definite purpose. There's still hope though; they (mainly) realise that this feeling won't last forever. They can see the effort being made to integrate and welcome them and when they feel more confident they'll join in, but for the meantime, they will watch and absorb.

    My own level of comfort ranged quite considerably during my week there. At times I felt like I was at home. I studied here for my own degree so I'm familiar with most of the buildings, some of the staff, the layout. I know where the toilets are. At other times I felt incredibly uncomfortable; I couldn't find anywhere to sit to make the cranes, it was noisy; I was cold; there were different buildings from when I was here before. When I started to feel uncomfortable it was much harder to start a conversation with someone. It felt as though I had to physically yank some confidence from deep within me just to turn to the person next to me and say hello. This reminded me of when I started at the university. The welcome week wasn't so well organised then, and as I had two young children (18 months and 3.5 years old) I wasn't staying on campus. It took the whole of the first term for me to feel any level of comfort at all. In the meantime I kept wondering what on earth I was doing; I was searching for a place and a purpose beyond the limits of the courses I was taking.

    But when I did feel comfortable I was happy to ride along on a wave of confidence; it become much easier to start a conversation (I didn't even think about what I would say to start that conversation). I smiled at people and enjoyed the time I spent with them. It reminded me that the searching I had done at university had been to find like-minded people; to make connections and feel as if I belonged.

    I hope that the making of the cranes and the conversations that went into making them have helped some people to feel more connected during welcome week. I hope that they will look at the cranes, at the collective work, the unified wish for peace and sharing stories and feel hope for their own future.

    Each crane is an individual piece, some with real character, but they all hang together; a reminder of the connections that people started to make with each other during welcome week.

    What will happen to the cranes now? I left them hanging in the cafe. Perhaps people will make more and add to the tower, perhaps they won't. Maybe they'll stay for a while and then be given away as Christmas presents. Or maybe they won't.





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