It’s often said that the only real way to learn about community is to experience it, and this week was a good example. Whilst I know several good books on community, they’re one-dimensional compared to this, and it’s interesting to unpack what made it work well as a community.
Roots – earth and sky: the whole week was out of doors or under canvas. We endured the storms, soaked up sunshine, sang in starlight. There really is a grounding, centering quality about living with nature like this, and it was a beautiful field with hills and woods around it.
Trunk – structures: in the community where I lived for 5 years, the value on which we differed most was structure. I believe good structures make community safer and easier. Unicorn Village Camps have been running for 19 years, and I’ve really seen the quality of structures improve with experience.
A key one is campfire circles: everyone is asked to be part of a circle of 10-30 people, camping around a campfire, sharing much of the cooking. This gives a family-sized home base that provides stability in a camp of around 300 people in total. Old hands are asked to include some newcomers in their circle, which helps them a lot to integrate.
Another structure is an all-camp gathering for an hour, three times in the week: these don’t just share information and resolve queries, they build fellowship in the whole group.
Fruits – trust, inclusion, expression: these are some of the qualities I see good community enabling, whether it’s a group that’s together for hours, days, or years. Trust is a subtle, delicate thing to evolve, and I could spend pages exploring how I think it grows, on this camp and elsewhere.
There’s a chicken-egg relationship between trust and inclusion of diversity: each enables the other. When you’re suddenly camping with people with different values and habits, you need trust and tolerance to avoid constant friction, and I was touched by how little friction I saw all week. All this enables people to express their true selves, and it was moving to be in a situation where sharing our joys, sorrows, dreams, worries, felt safe and supported.
Unicorn run four Village Camps on different themes each August. I hope to be teaching again on their Dancing Spirit Camp next year, and can highly recommend all of them. See more at www.unicornvillagecamps.co.uk