I spent a lovely weekend with the members of the Kennet Valley Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers.  It was a particularly well-timed visit as they were basking in the success of a mammoth Fleece to Fabric challenge called The Newbury Coat.  The papers made much of the group’s not managing to break the record they previously set 20 years ago, but didn’t state that the coat was for a much larger man this time, and was made without the big carder they had before.  So with more hand-held equipment, fewer spinners, and a larger coat, it’s not surprising they didn’t quite manage the time.

What I think is much more significant is the team effort involved in the whole project.  Obviously something like this requires organisation and precision timing, but the sheer number of people involved in the fleece preparation, the spinning, the weaving, the dyeing and the tailoring, is staggering.  That this was undertaken by the Kennet Valley Guild, with some spinners and weavers coming from nearby areas to assist, is nothing short of marvellous!

They were celebrating the achievement on Saturday with champagne and beautiful cake and it made for a very lively meeting!  With a workshop on texture the next day, I was able to stay over and enjoy some of the members’ company for a second day.

What I want to write about today is the shared experience of being part of something big, like the Newbury Coat.  A project that brings people together with enthusiasm, being part of something bigger than yourself, working as a team for a greater purpose, is something that is so important both to communities and to individuals.  Even though people’s lives are so busy, there are those who will volunteer to help with something that brings people together.

This year, in my neck of the woods, has been a good one for this sense of community this year.  The Royal Wedding was, for many, a great excuse to get together as friends and neighbours to have a street party.  Our village holds an annual rock concert (which was also this last weekend), showcasing our local bands and raising money for the Air Ambulance.  It is always a sell-out family occasion and greatly enjoyed by the vast majority of local folk.  (There are always one or two moaners in every village!!)  And we are not unusual.  There are fetes and fairs all over the country where communities get together.

We live on a road which frequently sees old steam rollers and horse-drawn carriages and curricles going past on their way to a meet or a fete in the summer months.  People have deep love for their hobbies, interests and enthusiasms which is so good to see and enriches every person that takes part.  This diversity of interests leads to motor rallies, re-enactments of historical battles or challenges, getting together for a fete to raise money for charity, putting on agricultural shows, gymkanas, athletics and sports meetings, dramatic performances, concerts, festivals for all sorts of events.  We are so lucky to have this richness and diversity of activities in which we can participate.

But I just wonder how many of us really do take part in something like that?  We all like to enjoy them, but if a few more of us would lend a hand, we would actually enjoy them even more.  The old adage, what you put in you get out, is so true.

It is noticeable that where people volunteer to take on a small part of a big project, not only do their communities benefit hugely from this, so do they as individuals, making connections with people they don’t yet know, building stronger and more resilient communities where people help each other and give mutual support.

The Brits are really good for pulling together in a crisis.  Maybe this economic situation will keep bringing us together more, for the long term, in projects that engage and enthuse us!  What will you do in your community?