Every year the Holding Group reads through feedback, looking for the patterns, seeing what it might be time to change, noting areas of concern that need to be addressed and so on. The problems of finding a circle, particularly when you are new to camp, are a frequent theme. Over the years we have explored a variety of ways to encourage and support ‘newcomers’, including Gate Team walking round the site with new folk, introducing them to experienced campers and finding a circle for them to join. Sometimes it works really well and a new camper kindly shared how her first experience at SAC encouraged her to book again:
- Being welcomed by a camper on our arrival who recognised our vulnerability, as we were first timers and feeling very unsure about joining a circle. She warmly invited us to join her circle....I felt welcomed and cared for.
- We received help with setting up camp
- Circle members were friendly and open to engaging with each other. It quickly became a base where sharing, connection and support was exchanged. I felt a sense of belonging and somewhere that was safe, supportive and always welcoming, especially when camp presented personal challenges, as I am learning that it inevitably does!
- all circle members engaged with maintaining the fire, cooking and eating together and having an initial group share/check in to introduce each other and discuss issues such as dietary requirements. We shared a connected blessing each evening, before eating together.
- as newcomers, we felt very well supported in joining the DUP and other activities. Experienced campers from our circle actively ensured we felt included and supported in joining in with such new activities.
- I experienced beautiful moments of unity and connection, within the circle, dancing and meditations.
However, there are also plenty of stories about how very difficult it can be to find a circle with a space because they are all ‘saved’ for friends; sometimes people say ‘yes’ to you joining their circle without mentioning the ‘buts’ they know might make their circle challenging to some. For example – yes, but we have 3 known snoring champions already in this circle, so earplugs are recommended; yes, so long as you are OK with a gaggle of children under 3 years old; yes, but so far we are all gluten, dairy, sugar and caffeine free; yes, you are very welcome, but more than half the circle are on full working tickets, so there may not be many people in the circle some of the time.
And here’s what happened when our newcomer came back for her second camp:
- We approached a circle and asked if we could join. The occupants of 4 of the tents were present and we experienced a rather 'closed' and somewhat unwelcoming reception, although the answer was yes. I remember sensing immediately that it didn't feel right but felt we had no option at this stage (it was late on Saturday afternoon) other than to make extra effort to engage with our fellow campers and to go with what the Universe was giving.
- there appeared to be no motivation from other circle members to create a wood supply or to maintain a camp fire.
- the circle felt very disconnected, with only two shared blessings pre-evening meal.
- the dances and meditations triggered a great deal for me and I felt I had nowhere to go with what was coming up. There was not a safe and nurturing/supportive circle to return to. I was struggling to understand why I was experiencing such a lack of unity within my circle when the camp ethos is all about connection, community and unity.
Fortunately, other people were around to support this camper, who was then able, over time, to move into a space of trusting that what evolves on the field is organic and could even be seen as exactly what she needed at that given moment - even though it didn't feel like it at the time!
So, for SAC 2019 we are again asking everyone to be mindful of how best we can each embody the Vision of camp and manifest ‘unity within diversity’ in our circles. We suggest that for every space saved for a friend, a space is also saved for someone you haven’t camped with before. We are also planning to keep an eye on circle size, with clearly marked areas to allow safe movement through camp. Ideally there will be a maximum of 10 tents per circle. There were some magical mega-circles last year – wonderful for all those who were part of them but daunting for those left out! There are other ideas being explored including a ‘buddy’ system – get in touch if you’ve got anything in mind that could help.
Written by Linda Winn