Friday, 4 July 2008

July: Across the cattle grid

It’s six o’clock in the morning, but I can’t sleep, so here I am sitting at my desk in Scargill Cottage, looking out across the little hay meadow and the children’s playground to the steep slope of Scargill Wood. That looks like the top of the hill but I know that above it, invisible from this angle, the moor and fell rise for another 500 metres to the top of Great Whernside. Up there the curlews and oystercatchers who have young to protect pursue you as you walk, circling and swooping overhead in agitation, their alarm calls and the wind the only sounds to be heard.

I’ve been at Scargill since April 2007. I was hoping for a year and I had 15 months, so I can’t complain. Superficially, Scargill looks much the same as it did in July twelve months ago. The main apparent difference – and from my point of view, not a bad difference – is that the grass hasn’t been cut since our mower broke down some months ago, and everywhere, apart from the field where our neighbour’s black and white Friesians are grazing, has a lush covering of tall meadow grasses waving gently in the wind. Inside the building, morning worship still happens every day in the chapel and is the familiar Scargill mix of inspirational set liturgy one day, with its phrases so well worn by the tongue and its emphasis on peace, justice and the earth, and an entirely personal and unpredictable approach the next, depending on which community member happens to be taking it. Short term community members set out the racks of toast and trays of croissants – if we happen to have guests in, which frankly is not much of the time these days – and the duty manager roams the sprawling, inefficient, ruinous-to-heat premises opening curtains and unlocking doors.

But once you look beneath the surface, everything is different, because Scargill is closing. Pictures and objects have little numbered tags hanging from them, ready for the keepsake auction. In the office Debbz is returning bookings and deposits instead of taking them. Corners of barns and cupboards undisturbed for decades are being cleared out and their contents resigned to skips, while in the woodland, bracken is rampaging over the smaller flowers despite Ian’s heroic one-man attempts to keep it in check, and I try to clear a patch round what looks like the very last Common Spotted Orchid to have managed to flower at Scargill. This is a very sad time for everyone, not least the dedicated bunch of Scargill partners, friends and well-wishers who have kept the place going since it opened its doors.

In many ways, the death throes of Scargill have been extremely painful. I feel very privileged because for the few months I was a short term community member – a volunteer – here, I had the space I needed to do what I came here to do – find some useful work, draw breath, and reflect on where my life was going and what my next steps should be. The work was often hard, but it was physical and left me energy to think. It was also very varied, and included lots of contact with people of all kinds and backgrounds. In my encounters with guests and community members I could feel I was making a difference in the world – even if only a little difference. And my life was enriched from being in a place where prayer is part of daily work, signs and expressions of people’s spirituality can be found in every corner of the building and estate, and where thinkers and writers on religion and theology come to give talks and lead retreats.

But for the volunteers who arrived a few months after me, life hasn’t been like that. There has been a tremendous drive over the last few months to cut costs, work more hours, contact more potential customers, install more efficient systems, modernise, commercialise. People with useful skills acquired in a pressurised past they were trying to escape from have been taken off the dining room and housekeeping rotas and put back in offices, while the people left laying tables and cleaning toilets have felt abandoned. We’ve all had to learn new skills – and sometimes surprised ourselves by what we could do. We’ve all had to give up cherished things – the overnight disappearance of the tots’ playroom to become a new office was particularly upsetting for many. There has been anger and blame as well as determination and energy and a great community spirit. And in the end the effort came to nothing – rising fuel and food prices were the final straw – but at least we know we gave it a good try.

When I started this blog I intended to add to it every month, but life changes fast, and good resolutions are easily overtaken by changing circumstances. This was the beginning of October’s unfinished posting:

Wharfedale is stunning in autumn. The dale runs north-south, and is steep sided and narrow, so when the sun rises above the hills that border the east side of the dale the slopes of the west side catch its full light, and the grey rock, the green pastures and soft reds and yellows of Knipe Woods all glow in their various gorgeous colours. Walking up the drive in the morning on my way to work, I stop and watch the jackdaws wheeling about against the sky and the grey background of Knipe Scar. When I start walking again the little flock of chickens which have been scratching about under the hedge disappear around the corner of the house with indignant clucks, followed by three sheep in a panic, who shouldn’t be here at all, but have learnt to pick their way across the cattle grid.

Across the cattle grid…that’s where we’ll all be going at the end of the month, but in the other direction. It’s not long to find new jobs and homes for so many people – your thoughts and prayers would be much appreciated!


John Lloyd said...

Does anyone know why the tots' room was dismantled? We were at the Partners' week in Jan/Feb and queried the need for yet another office - raised the matter with the chair of trustees in a letter but got no satisfactory answer

John & Helen Lloyd

Anonymous said...

Please continue the blog.
Many people are thinking of you and praying for the community at this time.