Reflections on Meet, Mix, Merge in Coventry. By Richard Rollinson 

[In early 2016 two Charities – The Care Leavers Foundation and The Rees Foundation –both committed to supporting Care Leavers and with very common aims and ethos – agreed to merge and use the synergies gained by this to extend even more our capacity to support Care Leavers and help them make a difference for themselves and others. The formal marking of this merger happened at an October event in Coventry during Care Leavers Week. These are my thoughts stimulated by the occasion and venue]

On a pleasant, warm autumn afternoon in St Mary’s Guildhall in the very centre of Coventry we got together, Care Leavers, staff and Trustees of our respective Charities, until now two, but from hereon in One. Two become One [pace, Spice Girls!].

Until that day I had never visited Coventry, only passing by it in my car or going through it on the train [aka Cross Country Cattle Cars]. Today I stepped off the train and went “downtown”, having told a bored ticket clerk at the barriers that if he pointed me in the right direction to the city centre, I promised I would never tell anyone else the secret, there being no map or sign in the station to guide people.

By 4 PM I had joined an “advance party” of Care Leavers from CLF and Rees in the beautifully preserved Guildhall. Built 1340 – 42, until 2002 it hosted major civic functions and was now a site to visit or host a gathering such as ours in its warm, rich surroundings. And the Hall is not only strikingly beautiful, it is clearly very lucky too. After all, it carried on operating through the bleakest years of the Black Death that arrived on England’s shores right about the time it was built and raged for years, emptying many villages and towns [1346 – 52 and periodically thereafter in Tudor and Stuart times]. And it wasn’t destroyed in April 1940 by German bombs that otherwise levelled its immediate neighbour, Coventry St Michael’s Cathedral and much of the rest of the city [a la Dresden some years later in retaliation].

Extraordinary too, as well as deeply moving, is the site of that destroyed adjoining Cathedral, now silent, open to the sky, a few objects intact, all else obliterated apart from the shell of its walls, and its tower [!]. There is a deep calm therein these days, as if we stand on a spot where silence finally descended in that April after a horror of destructive explosions and consuming fires, and remains today, bearing witness still. On the spot where stood the main altar, a large cross crafted from some surviving charred timbers stands now. And beneath it a prayer of forgiveness for all that we have done and do until this day [Syria, the vulnerable across the world and at home] that still destroys, kills, maims and disowns.

Then I notice through where the North Transept would have been there is a covered stairway, linking this silent sentinel  – and enduring testimony to humankind’s capacity for both soaring creativity and grotesque inhumanity – to the new Cathedral, whose relatively modest exterior ushers us into a world of wonder, awe and, yes, beauty. A kaleidoscope of colours pour out from modern stain glass windows that rise from the floor to the roof. A clear glass “wall”/”canvas” is engraved with angels either quietly standing or in impressive motion. And then the eye turns to the far wall of the Lady’s Chapel beyond the main altar. There a tapestry of rich colours and the risen Christ’s body hangs over the entire huge wall. I sit and reflect on…..

Well, many things, and one in particular, which is why I am recording these things and hoping I am not simply indulging myself and taking advantage of you, the readers. I thought, during our celebratory gathering and even now, that in the one place there are still signs of great sorrow and massive destruction, and just nearby to those there has arisen out of that trauma not just something whole again and wholesome, but wonderful, beautiful even. Majestic. And in the Guildhall just the other side of that “destroyed” Cathedral where we were gathered it is clear that it has survived nearly 800 years, not entirely unscathed but certainly more than just standing – more standing solid, sure and fine.

And I think even more – how much those dramatic national experiences of destruction, death, survival and “resurrection” over long centuries mirror and echo the experiences of too many of our Care Leavers who have suffered and endured trauma beyond imagination, often for years of “bombings” and toxic attacks on their emotional and mental health as severe as the plague on medieval bodies and the incineration of WW II innocents. And who [these Care Leavers] have also survived and, even more, are emerging [or have emerged] from the rain of destruction and harmful “fires” of their earlier lives – and are now having their own “resurrections” into the wonders and beauty of ordinary life of being and belonging and lives very different their hurtful pasts, even if still challenging because of their invisible scars.

As Care Leavers and those who seek to support them, the work of and for forgiveness and reconciliation – internal and in relation to a world that too often closed its eyes and ears and turned its back to their cries of pain – that work will long go on, just as forgiveness, peace and reconciliation is far from secured in the wider world. But we know there is hope. Globally, history shows us; more locally, our Care Leavers do. There is strength in many to rise and live, even when hurt and harm has struck hard, deep and long. We remember with sadness those who could and did not, just as we celebrate those who can and do, day by day. The newly merged Rees, the Care Leavers Foundation will try to give active support where it can, understanding whenever it can and recognition always –  of the strength and potential of Care Leavers as well as of their continuing needs.

Richard Rollinson
3 November 2016

Read on: Communication From A Care Leaver

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