Spring always brings an air of optimism – there’s just no avoiding it! Light was flooding into the building from the conical lantern. Flowers were being planted in the Square outside. And we had some fascinating small-scale events on our hands.
International Women’s Day in March saw us working with Speakers’ Corner to re-enact the classic speeches of Emmeline Pankhurst and Martin Luther King with Kirsty Cox and Leo Wringer playing to a packed College Green. And in the evening we showed Colin Thomas’ provocative film about the freedoms that World War Two brought to many of the women caught up in it. Eye-opening!
In the face of chill recessionary winds, I restructured things slightly. On the one hand room bookings were down, but on the other we now had hard-won skills in staging and publicising events. So we took the 2nd floor Lounge room out of circulation, and moved some of the team up there away from the day-to-day turmoil in the reception office to act as event consultants. I moved back too into my little study next to the Lounge – because however reduced our income was, the level of activity and the number of lovely people putting their heads round the door every day, made the downstairs office a difficult place to concentrate in.
For the first time in seven years we narrowed our Refugee Week focus right down. There were two reasons for this. After three years of work we’d finally got City of Sanctuary status granted and the City of Sanctuary committee planned a very big Launch for it in Refugee Week. And secondly I knew I had to get ahead of events. I had to clear enough space in my head and my diary to think pro-actively. For the past few years we’d been delivering events that we’d committed to long before – and as soon as we were over one, we’d be into the next.
Back in 2007 we’d used the wonderful Juice Creative to redesign our website and sharpen up our image. As part of it we changed our strapline from “Inner Strength for the Outer World” to “Time, Space and Clarity” – because that’s what we felt the Pierian Centre offered to the world. But thanks to our growing success, we now found ourselves woefully short of all three! We’d always used the image of a swan, serene above the water but little legs flapping like mad below. It was crucial we gave full time and attention to our visitors – taking care of everyone who came to the door was our sole reason to exist – but behind the scenes, we were now running pillar to post! And too much of my time was taken up with money worries and a depletion of my mental, emotional, spiritual, creative and physical energies. It was a situation that couldn’t go on…..
We had one of our best ever Refugee Week exhibitions in the Centre. Artists Ricky Romain and Heather Fallows had done extraordinary work the year before with St Michael’s on the Mount primary school. The workshops this year produced amazing, thoughtful, expressive artwork which visitors thought had come from adult students rather than 10 year olds. And we were relieved to be in the hands of old friends there – tried and tested and brilliantly talented – because we had something very big on our hands elsewhere!
I knew in my bones that the City of Sanctuary launch was likely to be our last really big event – I was beginning to see it as our Swan Song. Decisions were being made somewhere deep down in my psyche. But if that was the case, then it had to be one to remember!
The artistic direction was in the hands of Liz Mitchell, who had done such a good job with A World Beyond. We chose a turquoise blue as the colour we would fill the Council House with, and then College Green, and finally Bristol Cathedral where the extravaganza would end. It was a magical mix of the serious and celebratory. Hundreds of people crowded into the Council House for speeches from civic leaders and asylum seekers. Then they were issued with blue umbrellas as they emerged into the sunshine of College Green, snaking their way across it with drums and song.
The final hour saw a dozen performance slots fill the Cathedral with music, dance, poetry and song. It couldn’t have expressed our message of welcome and sanctuary more clearly or more colourfully! Afterwards a few of us followed the two Tibetan monks down to the docks and watched them pour the sand mandala they’d created into the living body of water……
I decided to close. I decided that if I didn’t close the Centre in a planned and caring way, then I might lose control of events and have a messy, painful closure forced on me. I checked that everyone was OK with this – and then gave way to such a flood of relief that I realized at last how much I’d been carrying!
When searching for a name back in 2001, my first impulse had been to call it the Anahata Centre. One of the qualities of the Anahata (heart) chakra is the capacity to make decisions “following your heart” – and this closure was one call that I just knew was right. The alternatives would have turned the business into something very different. And though I’m sure I was right in the end to choose a different name, I do wonder whether at some points in the Pierian story I let the Centre stray from the wisdom of my heart…..
We carried on with a full programme of bookings and events. Joe Hoare’s monthly Health & Wellbeing talks were blossoming – and July brought the Vietnam vet turned Zen Buddhist monk, Claude AnShin Thomas to stay with us. He proved such a compelling speaker that we used the greater capacity of St Stephen’s Church for his talk, with his workshop taking place back at the Centre. His gentle, painful honesty and very human warmth were so welcome after the dramas we’d been through!
My very first blog started with the final moments of the Pierian Centre. That culminating tableau, watched on that cold December evening by about 350 people, with the Fanfare for the Common Man soaring out into the December night, brought to an end a day of memories and reflections. Over 800 people joined us at some point in the course of it. We not only filled Number 27 but, courtesy of my lovely neighbours Julius and Bette, we filled the ground floor of Number 25 as well with magic, music and exhibitions. It was very emotional, and very inspiring too – a real and fitting finale. As the lights faded to blackout and everyone left with their little key ring lights flickering away from the square, I knew we’d made an impact, but I had never realised that it was as big and warm as this!
I wondered in that first blog about the legacy we’d leave. Most of it of course will remain unknown. We never really know the impact we have on people! But that final Closing Celebration gave us an inkling – and there have been a number of interesting developments since then. I’ll tell you more about these in future blogs, and keep you posted about the book that Nick and I are writing – a full and frank exploration of the adventure that was the Pierian Centre!