Hello! We hope you’re well and enjoying Spring! This is a wonderful time of year – it’s lovely seeing the flowers starting to appear, and smelling the blossom everywhere. I’ve been enjoying planting a variety of things in our little stretch of soil beside our front door, watering it whenever the rain doesn’t, and watching it grow. And in the warmer days of recent weeks Ben and I have been making the most of the communal garden, sitting outside with a book or eating outside on camping chairs. We even had a few evenings playing badminton in the garden, which we haven’t played in years and have thoroughly enjoyed, despite the tendencies of Poundland shuttlecocks to lose their heads…!

In February we had the pleasure of going to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, for Ben’s brother Tim’s wedding! He married a lovely Iranian woman called Jalaleh, and we had a lot of fun getting to know her, and members of her family, during that week. It was a beautiful wedding, and Tbilisi was a fascinating city to explore! It was great having time away with Ben’s family, too – a very refreshing holiday, full of delicious food and lots of good wine. At some stage we hope to visit Jalaleh and her family in Iran. She is in the middle of applying for a spouse visa to come and live with Tim in England, and nobody is quite sure how long this will take; in the meantime she’s still living and working there, and Tim is living and working in England, and from what I can gather they’re both drowning in paperwork to try to get her here.

Speaking of family weddings, my sister Marianne is about to get married, next month! So I’ve been spending time organising and preparing for her hen weekend, next weekend. I believe my Mum’s life is currently consumed with making beautiful purple wedding decorations… We look forward to seeing lots of my family at their wedding next month, as well as celebrating with them (presuming that she and I survive the hen party!).

Ben’s work is going well. He recently cut down to three (long) days a week at the café, where he is doing some normal café work and some more intentional community-focused bits and pieces. He’s also recently started doing respite work once a week as a personal assistant for a friendly young man with Cerebral Palsy. Ben’s enjoying getting to know him, and has had his eyes opened somewhat to issues of accessibility across Gloucester and Cheltenham – many places and facilities really aren’t easy for people in wheelchairs to use!

My Barnwood Trust work is multifaceted, as always. One of the main things I’ve been involved with lately is supporting new community builders working in parts of Gloucester City, who are in the process of forming a new CIC (Community Interest Company) into which various people from the County Council, City Council and Police will be seconded. It’s been a fascinating journey. Thankfully I have little to do with all the forms and documents involved in the formal setting up of the CIC – my work is primarily supporting and mentoring the individual community builders, sharing practice and coordinating team meetings. I’ve also been working on a Community Building Toolkit/Guidebook which will eventually be made available for community workers across the country, after being polished up and piloted with the CIC. I’m still involved a bit with the two villages that I started work in, about three years ago, but primarily through supporting residents to continue the community building work in their own social circles now that I’ve stepped back – and also working with residents and professionals who have connections to an area of housing that is being redeveloped by the Trust. I’ve continued to support community workers and community-building-groups in more of a consultancy capacity in the North Cotswolds and a little in the South Cotswolds, which has been fascinating. And I’ve had some involvement working with someone from the Diocese to support vicars and churches to build community in their own contexts, which is becoming more visible this year through workshops and a handy written resource. We also have an office move coming up – probably in early June, though some staff are moving in to the new place at the end of next month. We’re all a little nervous about how this will work out and what it will be like, and I have some personal concerns about the impact it will have on my time and my finances – but we’re working through those details and I’m sure in a few months’ time we’ll have figured it all out and be very happy……

Ben is still enjoying his counselling course, and due to finish Level 3 in a couple of months’ time. It’s been a big time commitment and he’s put a lot of work into it – and is recognising how useful the different skills are for different areas of life and work. He’s hoping to continue on to the Level 4 course from September, which is a significantly bigger time commitment (and cost), and will go into more depth. He hasn’t yet made the application to join the Level 4 course, but is still thinking and praying about how it will work in relation to existing commitments, jobs and the like.

My little side-projects seem to be ticking along nicely: supporting artists to get their artwork/photography professionally printed onto A6 greetings cards; teaching acrylic painting courses (3 different groups, each meeting monthly); speaking at WI meetings and the like about some of my experiences in different cultures; selling jewellery at events and online; and occasionally doing some painting – including recent experimentation in paint pouring, which is great fun! I’ve also been working on two writing projects (with two others on the back-burner as well): one about Bolivia, involving some of my own memories as well as a variety of stories from Operation Restoration staff and some of the kids that have come through the projects. The other is an attempt at creative writing – my first fiction project (based on a true story), which has been very enjoyable! If you’d like to read some of the latter, do let me know and I can send over a chapter or two as a taster. I think I’m about a third of the way through the first draft.

This week we had the APCM at church (Annual Parochial Church Meeting – like an AGM). It was good to celebrate together some of the lovely things that have been happening in the church over the last year, and to think about some of the things that we’d like to focus on or work towards over the next year. The new Vicar and family have been with us just over a year now, and seem to be settling in – they’ve been a great encouragement to Ben and I, and we’ve enjoyed getting to know them.

Going ‘away’ to work somewhere long-term is still on the cards (since people keep asking), but as yet we still don’t have a specific place or project in mind. We’re in touch with a few favourite organisations about possibilities – but we also recognise that we don’t need to rush; that the time here in Gloucester working semi-normal jobs and learning lots is equally important.

Our car, Minty, is doing really well at the moment! We’ve had her over a year now (!) and I don’t think we’ve been back to the mechanic at all yet in 2019! We’re very pleased, and hope to have lots of roof-down days in the coming months as the weather warms up a bit.

Please do let us know your news and how you’ve been! Enjoy Spring, what’s left of it 🙂

Ben and Kat