Taking steps into a changed landscape
Amazingly, we’re over half way through 2021 and have completed our first tranche of online retreats. So what is the outlook for QVA at this time? When will we be returning to offering retreats ‘in-person’ and what will they involve? What can we learn from our online experience and is there anything that can be taken forward in our ongoing programme?
The first piece of good news is that we’re in discussion about a number of potential working retreats in the UK to take place before the end of the year. We hope to be supporting Quaker Meetings in projects of local relevance and concern, both as ‘commuting retreats’ – where participants live locally and travel to the venue each day – and along the lines of our more traditional model.
But there’s also good news about our online offering. Whilst there is clearly a great benefit in gathering in person, there are also benefits to gathering virtually from our individual locations: it not only enables connection in the most environmentally sensitive way possible (i.e. without the carbon footprint of transport); it enables participation by people who are less able to travel. And whilst the immediate practical outcome is less tangible than the tasks that can be achieved when we’re physically together, engagement with issues of concern is no less real and can result in individual or collective action that is considered, creative and effective.
We’re still exploring how to make the most of this medium but the comments from participants so far have been encouraging. Here are a few…
“I really enjoyed the chance to retreat from my working and home life with a few Friends, some of whom I knew and others who I hadn’t met before… Yes, I would consider joining another retreat in the future.”
“I thought the balance was achieved well, with… quiet coordination and ‘holding’, including the silences, and the varied format including the ‘plenary’ times and the breakout rooms. The breakout rooms were important in enabling personal interaction with a few individuals. It never felt rushed.”
“I really enjoyed the silence at the start and the epilogue at the end. Having this pattern every week contributed to my sense of it being a ‘retreat’. I also valued seeing and hearing from the other attendees who felt familiar to me by the end of the retreat.”
“Meeting and sharing with like-minded others. A new experience from my living room! Ain’t technology wonderful!”
Online retreats won’t dominate our programme in the future by any means, but these comments show that they are helpful for at least some participants. Other equally valued insights will help us to improve the way these events are framed and how the mechanics of online meeting can be better managed.
I will leave the last ‘word’ to the image a wonderful piece of ‘craftivism’ led by Evan Welkin and Rosie Carnall, co-facilitators of our first online event. A contribution to the ‘Loving Earth’ project, this panel tapestry was collated by Rosie from materials provided by retreat participants. With thanks to Rosie and all concerned for their inspirational efforts, showing that even when apart, we can create beauty together.