‘There’s something SPECTACULAR about seeing a place,experiencing a different culture, being exposed to new ideas’ Barack Obama
If you’ve been to St Annes you’ll know that I’m not referring to the town, but instead it’s a reflection of the past weeks, from the comfort of my home.
This opportunity has indeed been spectacular, because of its reach, in terms of depth, breadth and length, but mostly because of the magnificent people I’ve met. It hasn’t just been the project hosts either, though they have been amazing, it’s the taxi drivers, museum attendants, free tour guides ,restaurant staff , hotel receptionists, airbnb hosts who through every day chat have been great sources of insight into the issues within their local communities.
I am reminded of a visit to the Ukranian Museum in Calgary, ostensibly a touristy distraction, where I learned about the hardships endured by Ukranian emigrants to Canada and their internment during the 2nd World War. I had never heard this horrific story of people losing their homes, land and freedom, due to national fear about their Austrian connections. This quote was displayed amongst the exhibits:
There are parallels here with the institutional experiences of people with learning disability and their families, in the past and today, as well as with the injustices that people are enduring in their attempts to develop and maintain relationships, right now.
This is hidden information, that most citizens are unaware of. It is the reason for campaigning through the U-Night Group and Supported Loving and why national media reports, like Jayne McCubbin’s recent feature for BBC Breakfast, are so important.
Similarly, I found that there was much to learn from considering the fascinating history of the First Nations people, who have also been terribly marginalised and oppressed and are now trying to rebuild their identity and culture.
I was particularly fascinated by their perspective on wellness, with the emphasis on relationships and inclusion, as a binding force:
The last stop during my visit, entailed a five hour bus trip there and back, but it was worth every second of that inconvenience. Kelowna was probably the most beautiful place on the journey. It was the Lake District magnified and more lush, with a Californian climate and almost as many wineries.
Apart from the scenery, my host for the day, Margaret Newbury-Jones was magnificent.
She is a sex educator and therapist, specialising in developmental disability and we found that we had a great deal in common. Not only did she share some of her brilliant teaching resources with me, but we were able to exchange ideas and experiences about involvement in group and 1:1 sessions.
This is Rachelle and Margaret
She also arranged for me to meet with Rachelle Hole, at the University of British Columbia. Rachelle is the Co-Director of the Centre for Inclusion and Citizenship, where y she has led a community-based participatory theatre project focused on improving sexual health knowledge and positive sexuality among self advocates. I was able to watch some of the impressive footage from their ‘Rights, Relationships and Responsibilities’ drama production.
Another stop, before Margaret treated me to lunch at White Spot, a traditional British Columbia restaurant, was at the Developmental Disability and Mental Health Service, where I met Social Worker, Kirsten Charles. Yes, this is a multidisciplinary team that just works with adults who have a dual diagnosis, which is almost unheard of in the UK. I listened to her, with envy, talking about her work that cuts across boundaries and avoids professional conflict. Inevitably, a key element of this intervention is about relationships and sexuality. I was particularly interested in the group work sessions she is currently running, using dialectical behaviour therapy approaches.
I also got the chance to visit an art exhibition at the University organised by Cool Arts, who are dedicated to providing fine arts opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities. Whilst the theme was ‘Layers’, not sex and relationships, I was impressed by the quality of the work and its inclusive placement, within a University setting.
So, by contrast to being whisked around Kelowna and hopping on and off Greyhound buses, life in St Annes is quite unspectacular. It’s now about catching up with family, friends and colleagues and getting down to the business of writing the fellowship report.
Given all the information and ideas that I have collected, it will be no mean feat to crystallise my thoughts into a concise, manageable document. There will be hair pulling, copious amounts of coffee, procrastinating washing machine filing and the odd glass of Prosecco along the way, but I do hope to be able to share the final report with my wonderful hosts and interested parties in the UK, by the beginning of March, next year.
In the meantime,if anyone is interested in the whole or part of anything that I have been exploring and wants to know more, please do not hesitate to contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org