Doorways

This week I was enthusiastic to help people explore more of their thoughts and memories about present and past home environments.  At first, I couldn’t think of a new starting point for this. Then I saw an image of a door opening in my head. It invited me to start the session with a poem by one of my favourite writers, Marge Piercy. In Doors opening, closing on us, Piercy says:

“We slice our life into
segments by rituals, each a door
to a presumed new phase.”

After this, I led the group through a visualisation exercise about doors from different times in our lives. We went on to have a paired then group discussion about the literal and metaphorical associations we had made with this theme. Read on to see what each contributor came up with in response to these prompts and conversations.

From my perspective, listening to others in these online discussions takes me back to being a child again, when after knocking on the front door of a new friend, I was first welcomed in. I hope that you the reader also feel some of the joy, kindness and honour of being invited to glimpse the inner life of those who open up and greet you here.

Mark Taylor

During the lockdown, every thought and conversation, no matter what the topic, eventually winds its way back to the pandemic. When asked to talk about doors, after hiding out behind them for seven weeks, the connection is all too obvious. So it was a relief and a pleasure, talking to Susan, to reach this point unexpectedly late in the conversation, and even then to touch on it only briefly before closing that door and opening another.

Instead, we talked of changing times: from the single door of Susan’s childhood cottage, opening straight into the living room; to the front doors and hallways and French windows and kitchen doors of modern living; to the many people stacked in tiny flats, with front doors opening straight into their living rooms, and doors built to close tight automatically in the hope of compartmentalising fire.

Doors, it seems, reflect much of the way we live. For my son, like everything else, they are a plaything. If you shut one, you say “Ba-bye!”; if you open one, you say “Boo!”; either way, you laugh for about a minute, immediately do the other and continue until you get bored (which may never happen) or are made to do something boring, like go to bed or eat an apple. If a door is closed, it must have something on the other side that is fun to bash or put in your mouth, and should be opened immediately. If it will not open, bang your tiny fists on it and shout until a grown-up opens it for you. If this does not work, simply rip it off its hinges: this is a thing that, at eighteen months old, you can apparently do somehow.

(When you have a toddler, every thought and conversation, no matter what the topic, eventually winds its way back to the toddler.)

View of a child's playroom with a toddler size red rocking horse and an open door.
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

Jean Thompson

At first I thought I would not have a lot to say about doors, but thanks to Jolene’s introduction and in talking with Joe, I found I was able to get my thoughts in order and actually identify some of what doors mean to me.

Joe and I shared our individual memories of when we had been locked out of our respective homes and unable to get through the door. We were unable to rouse the other occupants and had to resort to alternative actions. Many years separated our experiences, but it was very interesting to know they were very similar. The door was a barrier at that time to what we wanted to do, and the safety of home.

Looking down at a doormat in front of a closed door.  Home is written on the doormat with a heart instead of the letter O.  You can also see the bottom of a man's legs, wearing jeans and trainers, standing in front of the mat.
Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

I have lived in several places all with different doors, but they all served the purpose of opening the way to home, a place to be released from the external world with all its stress and trauma. Getting home from an exacting day at work, or a difficult situation trying to pacify toddlers in tantrum mode, or recalcitrant teenagers, on opening the front door you were in a more private space and able to relax or deal with the said toddlers or teenagers in your own space. Doors protected you from the outside world, and enabled you to just be yourself, whatever that might be.

Another thought came to me as I was talking. When it is warm enough, I like to have all the interior doors open, and enjoy the sense of freedom and flow of energy to the whole house this encourages. Nothing is shut off.

Importantly though, remembering and appreciating too how fortunate you are if your home is a safe place, as for so many people this is sadly not so. A door in those circumstances is the very opposite of allowing entry to safety.

View of the handle on a door handle, beneath a lock.
Photo by Henry & Co. on Pexels.com

Margaret Kendall

I remember my fear on reaching that door in Bloom Street. I nearly didn’t ring the bell. It was the early 1980s and the realisation that I could no longer suppress my feelings for other women had been a long time coming. Going through that door to the lesbian support group changed my life for the better. It was my first experience of “coming out of the closet”, that powerful metaphor for not being ashamed of who you are and no longer hiding that truth from others. It was a real door, but the first of many metaphorical doors throughout my life.

I came through doors to friends first. Some are dear friends to this day, but others withdrew or I did, because of their reactions. Living in Manchester, especially in Whalley Range and Chorlton, I was also in the right place to make many new friendships, some long-lasting. Even today, after changes in society that would have astounded us four decades ago, it would be much harder in other parts of our city and country.

My experience of workplace doors varied, not only when I changed jobs or roles, but every time new colleagues joined a team. I have always preferred to get to know people before coming out, and only then if it seemed relevant. Often it wasn’t, although sometimes I couldn’t control other people deciding to “out” me others. These days, younger people may question such caution but it became a way of life in more hostile times. After all, full legal protection against discrimination at work for LGBT people only came into effect in 2010.

I hovered at the thresholds of family doors far longer than many do. I’m lucky to be part of a large, loving family who enjoy coming together, and I didn’t want to cause distress. Once you’ve spoken, there is no way back. In retrospect, my parents must have seen the change in me when I finally met the right person and settled down happily. They always included her in family gatherings. My partner and I have now been through many other metaphorical doors together over the last thirty-three years.

We’ve lived in our current house for over twenty years now, and are comfortably out with our near neighbours. I smile that we had no hesitation recently in meeting many more neighbours via the recently established WhatsApp group for the whole road. Coming out was not an issue. Connecting, caring and sharing are what matter now.

View of blue sky and sunlit white clouds through a partially open shuttered door
Photo by Beto Franklin on Pexels.com

Tony Goulding

This week’s topic produced some very interesting insights into the importance and significance of doors in our lives. Unlike windows, by their very raison d’être, doors involve us in a more active interaction, involving the transition between different states such as indoor to oudoors, bedroom to living room to kitchen and others. Symbolically, they have also come to represent different phases of our lives, for instance, in the old adage “when one door closes another opens”. In this respect, at the end of this “lock down”, we will all go through to a new lifestyle.

Doors are also intimately associated with the idea of home and a place of safety, but also of hospitality, both of which are being put under the spotlight at this time. While contemplating this symbolism, I was reminded of the “Door of Reconciliation” in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland, which combines both being closed as a barrier and open as an invitation. Briefly, the story goes that two rival families in 15th century Ireland were engaged in a bitter feud. One “Black James” took refuge behind this door and would not come out. Wishing an end to the conflict, and in order to extract his erstwhile foe, Gerald Fitzgerald cut a hole in the door and thrust his arm through to offer his hand in friendship. If you’d like to find out more, take a virtual visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Closely allied to these concepts is the crucial importance of keys in our lives: getting the “key to the door” on coming of age, the romantic sharing of keys signifying a strengthening relationship and even down to choosing a trusted friend or neighbour to keep a spare set of keys in case of an emergency.

The significance of doors was recognised by ancient civilisations. The Roman God Janus, after whom January is named, was the deity who not only looked after doors and gateways but also comings and goings, beginnings and endings and transitions of all kinds. In many cultures, sacred artifacts are placed in doorways or entrances to both bring blessing and ward off evil spirits.

View through an ancient stone archway to blue sky behind,  with broken carved stones in the foreground
Photo by Hisham Zayadnh on Pexels.com

Alberto Velázquez Yébenes

I love speaking with this man. As he normally does, Tony took me away from the usual meditation exercise with a much more philosophical debate. His webcam is blurry, so you normally get a hint of his shape in the middle of the fog…still able to see his Cheshire Cat smile shining through though.

Now, what does a door represent compared to a window (our exercise from last week)? A door represents some sort of movement, action. Whilst a window can be, not in a bad way, more contemplative, a door suggests two spaces that sooner rather than later will be crossed, a threshold he said. As an architect I couldn’t like this enough.

From the simple thought of protection, access … invitation as well. This made me think about those fairy tales about vampires only being allowed to enter a property if they are welcomed in, Netflix speaking.

In truth, during the meditation exercise there was a door ( and a new bit of Spain) I was transported to. The one on my father’s house, in the outskirts of Madrid. It was a ground floor flat in a block with a swimming pool, and this memory brought me to my bare feet and the freshness, still soaked from a swim in those months of the summer. My toes tingled just with that thought. The cracking noise of that door being opened will last forever.

Tony is heading back to the big picture, and we get caught in a story about peace and war (another one of our usual highlights). What his expectations are for the next generation of doors after this pandemic. Will we have an open doors society? His is a thoughtful optimism, not a cheesy one. And I have not lived through a war, so I thought on about The Lord of the Rings.

In the book, in a place called Moira, everyone congregated at an entrance to a very dark passage. “Talk, friend and you will be let in” the magician translates to the audience. Hours and hours are spent searching for the password by speaking different languages. Things like “Open” “ Let us in” etc . Until he realises the hidden message was “say ‘friend‘… and you will be let in”. Voilà and it worked. The big doors opened naturally with another never-ending squeak.

“These were happier times”, and they all laughed. 

Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com

From my window

2nd May 2020. A new month and a new theme for our discussions, The view from my window, which Jolene started by reading us a poem. Then followed a visualisation in which we closed our eyes, reflected on the view from the room we were in at the moment, and remembered views from other windows in the past. We also imagined looking through the windows at ourselves. It was a powerful exercise, prompting much discussion and the written pieces which follow.

Continue reading “From my window”

Echoes from the past: 3

This week’s discussion on our current experiences of lockdown and how the the past is helping us make sense of them reached a new level of richness, honesty and connection. Margaret observed that people were chatting to each other with the kind of trust of those who had known each other longer than we have. Maybe that is a side effect of the times we are in? Whatever the reason, I felt privileged to experience the wide scoping perspective of the overlapping realities we shared. In there, despite our differences, were lots of themes that I could personally relate to. Here are the written up versions of our conversations and personal reflections this week.

Continue reading “Echoes from the past: 3”

Echoes from the past: 2

On Saturday 11th April, the ways in which the lockdown is bringing back memories of the past, and how we’re coping with the present, continued to be a fascinating topic.  Four of us who’d returned to the Zoom get together were joined by three others, and our conversations in pairs, followed by a lively group discussion, led to the following contributions written up afterwards. They are presented in a sequence suggested by Jolene, to reflect the up and down nature of our collective experience.

Continue reading “Echoes from the past: 2”

Echoes from the past: 1

On Saturday 4th April, after a warm welcome and a breathing exercise to help us relax, Jolene divided the six of us into pairs using Zoom rooms.  Our topic for discussion, in this time of social distancing, was:

“What echoes, parallels and memories of the past is the current situation bringing back for you?  And how is the past helping you make sense of what is happening now?”

Although our ages vary, we found we all had experiences from which to draw strength. It was fascinating to report back afterwards and discover some similarity in our previous experiences of isolation.  It was also uplifting to share optimistic thoughts for the future.   

Read on for extracts from the stories we wrote up individually later on in the week.

Tony Goulding

Miners’ Strike 1972

“At the beginning of 1974 to reduce the strain on dwindling coal stocks (the knock-on effect of oil producing countries restricting supply greatly exacerbated by a miners’ strike) the government of the day placed severe restrictions on the use of electricity.  All users deemed to be not essential were only allowed three days of use.  Also, TV broadcasting was reduced and I particularly recall that football clubs were forced to bring forward the kick-off times of their matches to save the electricity which would have been used by the floodlights.  As the crisis worsened the mad rush to buy candles was mirrored by the recent panic buying of toilet rolls.

In 1976 the summer was so dry that the government was forced to introduce water rationing and I remember couples being encouraged to share baths to save water!  I have a vivid memory of being in the main shopping area of Cardiff at the end of August when after nearly two months of very warm and dry weather it suddenly started to rain.  A very unusual reaction took place as people who would in normal circumstances have scurried for cover first stood stunned as if they had forgotten how to behave in a downpour and then many celebrated in relief that the drought was over.  This memory is particularly relevant as it gives hope that times of challenge do not last forever and we will eventually emerge the other side of the current trial and shows how happy and relieved we will be then.”

Ellie Child

“It reminds me of moving to Sweden and everyone speaking a foreign language.  I think the yearning I felt for something familiar/easy communication in those early days speaks to what’s going on at the moment.  When I go out for walks, I’m half hoping to chat to someone, but then think how difficult and awkward it would be.  That said, my experience of communicating through gestures would certainly come in handy!

During our one to one chat in the Zoom “room”, Tony suggested that good old-fashioned post is still important, alongside all the new technology. He mentioned how his friend, who reads the Guardian every day, cuts out the crosswords for him, collects them in an envelope and posts them through his letterbox. I got the impression it meant a lot to him to receive something physical in the post, more than simply having something extra to do.

Something really poignant that emerged for me during discussion of the 3-day week, and also of growing up in the immediate post-war period, was the refrain “I don’t know how my parents/older generations coped.”  This reminded me that children might not be fully aware of what’s going on at the moment, or the scale of it, and that really made me reflect on how important it is to circulate histories about times of adversity and how these were overcome, to look to older generations to share experience and wisdom, and to learn. Also, the friendships that we have made still stand, and people are thinking of us even if we can’t interact with them directly.”

Jean Thompson

“When I was first married, we moved to live in North Wales where both my children were born. In some ways I felt more isolated then than I do now, because I didn’t know anyone, a lot of my neighbours were first language Welsh speaking.  Most of my family did not have even house phones back then, so the only communication was by letter.  Similarly, my son went on a gap year trek in the early 90s when he was 18. From Nepal, through Pakistan into the middle east. Away for 6 months and I think we had two letters in all that time, because he was moving around and often into remote areas.

Although we are physically isolated now, there are means of staying in touch through technology that were not there in the past.   I have a regular zoom meet up with my son and daughter, and they are able to continue their work from home.  Many of the groups I am part of are also using technology as a way of continuing activities.  Of course, all of this is dependent on being able to access technology, and it must be very hard for people who are unable to do this.

Although I was born after the war, it must have been so much more difficult back then when you didn’t even know where your relative or friend was, and certainly couldn’t hear from them.  Also, the restrictions back then on food and essential commodities.  We have become so used to having access to whatever we want (not necessarily need), that these restrictions of goods and movement seem so hard, but another difference is that most of us have fridges and freezers so we can have food in reserve. From anecdotal reports and old newsreels etc, there seems to have been a spirit of support to each other in those awful times and that seems to be so now in many communities, and it is good to see that “war time” spirit to be there. Hopefully that will continue when we are all back into our busy lives.”

Margaret Kendall

“When I was 20, I spent a year in Lyon, France, for the third year of my degree in English Literature and French.  Although that was 1975, I’m reminded now of what it felt like in the first few weeks.  I hadn’t imagined how different from being on holiday it would be, and how lonely I’d feel in a small room in a hall of residence, so far away from my family and friends.  Letters became really important to me, especially since my parents didn’t have a phone.  Even if they had had, it wasn’t easy to make an international phone call then, you had to go to the Post Office and arrange for them to put a call through to you in a telephone booth, and it cost a lot.

Now, I miss being able to be with my family and friends very much, but I’m so glad of the technology which not only means I can talk to them regularly, but I can see them via video links. Some of the groups to which I belong have carried on too, for example, my book group met via Zoom last Monday. I did make new friends when I was in France, but not as quickly as I have done in the last week or so through the WhatsApp group for our street! It was set up by a neighbour after Christmas, following a spate of burglaries, but it’s really come into its own now.  As well as chatting online to neighbours I already knew, I’m regularly chatting to people who live further down the street, including some who are unable to go out at all as they are highly vulnerable.  An unexpected silver lining, as everyone is helping each other in whatever ways they can.”

Alberto Velázquez Yébenes

“The current scenario brought me back to some old memories. Coming back home from a run, with empty streets in the dusk remind me of the summer days in Murcia when I was 15. No traffic, walking down the middle of the road.

It also brought me back to 6 years ago when I first came to England.  I was very much focused in the present and living a day at a time.  The big recession in Spain made me come to Manchester with just a few savings and a lot of uncertainty.  It wasn’t scary, I was just very much focused on the good news and little things of every day and connecting massively with everyone around me.  I can see now where all those connections brought me and how important all this has been during this period of time.  I find that to be a very good lesson because in times of fear you might sometimes be inclined to think in the short term, whereas a healthier thing to envisage is the kind of person that you would like to be going forward and what the ” you” of the future will think of these times. 

Everyone’s stories during the Zoom meeting reminded me of an article I read this week.  It made me think how intense this crisis is coming across, whilst we are relatively comfortable because we have food, water, internet, etc.  I say this with all respect and concern for the people struggling (homeless, or those losing their loved ones at the moment), but at the same time there are several situations, completely aside from the virus, and not only now but during the last decades, which have stricken people in different countries: shortage of water, food, wars in Yemen and Syria, floods, terrible diseases spreading like cholera, refugees dying in the Mediterranean… So, in a way, the situation we are experiencing right now is something, some part of the world has experienced far worse for years.  I wonder if this will strengthen our empathy, if we will look at victims not only as abstract numbers, at poor conditions not only as if we were watching a movie…and so on.

Strengthening the community is something that can move us from isolation to connection, from panic to calm in a beautiful way.”

Linda Rigby

“I’ve had two really isolating periods in the past because of my health issues, so I’m used to occupying myself, but it’s wonderful how technology now helps.  In contrast to my childhood memories of visiting a doctor with a big imposing desk, I had a recent friendly online conversation with my haematologist who sent out my medication afterwards. I’m grateful on many levels, I’ve benefited from research developments, and think of how awful it must be in refugee camps.

During the clap for the NHS on Thursday, my neighbours in the road all came to wave to me, which meant I felt included even though I can’t leave the house. The importance of communication reminds me of my mother in the war and how her friend used to write her letters.  That’s inspired me to write to people who need me to do that.  I wish other older people had the same access to technology and connection as I do.

I treasure little things, like the spring blossoms. My sister in law is making a time capsule with my grandson, who is 6, recording his feelings and experiences as we live through these strange times.”  

We hope you have enjoyed our stories on this theme so far.  As explained in the previous post by Jolene, the theme of “echoes from the past” will continue for the next two posts on this blog, before we move on to another theme.  

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Zooming our way into an online community

Changing times have called for changing methods of communication. The social distancing measures introduced in March 2020 meant that we could no longer meet in person, so the storytelling group has started to experiment with meeting up online!  Our first session at the end of March was very much a trial and error experience, with lots of laughing at ourselves and tips shared on how to work the technology. All of us were learning alongside and supporting each other as we worked out how to use the video conferring site “Zoom”  https://zoom.us/.  Different devices and levels of experience aside, we all agreed that it seemed a bit strangely futuristic at first but with practice ended up being simpler to use than we first thought. 

Our second session on Saturday April 4th was smoother and we actually managed to have a very productive session.  A group of 7 of us ”met” online at 10am and began with a quick friendly chat, soon followed by a guided breathing activity to get everyone settled.  Then we reflected on the questions:

“What echoes, parallels and memories of the past is the current situation bringing back for you?  And how is the past helping you make sense of what is happening now?”

I paired everyone off into “breakout rooms” (where 2 participants could only hear each other speak) for 15 minutes to share a chat and their reflections on the above questions.  Everyone then rejoined the main room and took turns to give feedback what came up for them in discussion.  We were able to finish the whole thing within an hour and it was fantastic to hear how many interesting memories had emerged in such a short amount of time.  Lots of parallels, both personal and collective were revealed, wisdom shared and gratitude expressed.  Margaret is in the process of collating together the pieces of writing produced during these conversations and then putting them together as a post soon, so watch this space!

Some thoughts the participants shared on the session were as follows:

“Very uplifting and connecting”

 “Wonderful conversations inspired”

“Made me realise how much we have got to learn from each other.”

“This could be a chance to give hope to people about how we have got through hard things in the past.”

“Conversations between young and old, exchanging perspectives is very helpful”

“Makes me reflect on how much we have to be grateful for”.

“I really enjoyed it. Being forced to embrace both new technology and social media during the lockdown may not be a bad thing!”

Going forward, our plan is to host a meeting once a week for the first three weeks of each month, drawing in more people to help spread the enjoyable and purposeful nature of what we are creating.

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The Stories of Our Lives continues – 2020 edition

(Here’s a write up of our first two sessions of 2020 written by Chorlton Good Neighbours. This was before the project went online, independently of CGN. To see the original post, click here).

This relatively new project is beginning to get well established , with two sessions taking place on the last Saturday morning of both January and February. Focused around a different theme each time , older members of CGN are paired with local writers (some also from CGN ) who listen to and record their memories and experiences., which will later be compiled into a 2nd book.

January’s session topic was music and dance, and February’s early friendship groups. We start the session with simple introductions eg say your name, and say one word which you associate with music and dance …moving on to some visualisation and relaxation as people are asked to think more deeply about certain memories around the topic. Once under way and with more prompts and ideas , people spend time in their pairs describing an experience or memory that they would like recorded. The writers then have some time together to think through what they have heard and what they wish to re check with their story teller.  The gentle hubbub in the room is wonderful to hear, and we can see many older storytellers expressing themselves with hand gestures , laughter and with a lot of thought.The sessions, are fun, so enlightening and  it feels an incredibly supportive group of people . We are all learning about each other ,as well as acknowledging and valuing shared past experiences…It is a real life history lesson !

The story of how we got started, grew a community then created a book.

The whole project began with a discussion with a friend about how vital connection, creativity, purpose and contribution all are to us.  From this conversation the question arose, wouldn’t it be great if all those elements could be drawn together in one set of workshops?  Inspiration answered and suggested to bring together two different groups – those with stories they wish to tell and those who love to listen and are willing to write down what they hear. 

I was particularly excited by the image of bringing older people together with their neighbours to help people to get to know each other in my local community. And so, soon after, another conversation with Chorlton Good Neighbours took place.  My husband and I had volunteered occasionally for them and had learned about the brilliant work they do to serve older people in my local community.  After chatting to Helen, CGN’s co-ordinator, about the workshop idea, it was clear what a great partnership we would make. Amongst a multitude of other helpful tasks, she agreed to help recruit those who would like to tell their stories and conversations I had with these initial recruits led to a more informed idea of what would work practically and feel good for those “storytellers”.

Encouraged by this input, I put out more requests online and by word of mouth and this quickly led to further support and input; a typesetter and designer, two editors, many writers (some experienced but most who hadn’t written in this way since school) and the involvement of Chorlton Arts and Cholrton Book Festival all appeared as well as the suggestion to raise money on Just Giving to fund the printing of the book.  It was clear this idea had its own legs.  Though I’d had the initial idea of how to get it into motion, once started, I was pretty much pulled along by its keenness to run!

After a period of planning, consultation and preparation, the workshops took place over four Saturdays in August 2019.  Through CGN’s involvement, residents of Adastral House kindly allowed us to use their coffee lounge and each session, we would gather for a brew and a chat and then share a moment of reflection about a theme of the day.  Each section title of this book reflects these themes.  The group would then have a relaxed but lively discussion about what had come up for them during the reflection time. The writers would chat, listen and ask questions to help them get key notes down for their task later. 

The atmosphere in the room during the morning sessions was incredibly uplifting.  Witnessing people of different generations chatting so warmly and openly about what matters to them made us all realise how little age matters when it comes to what connects us and what we value.  Later on, in the afternoons of each Saturday, the writers would stay behind to get their notes typed up into a short piece of writing.  It amazed us all how quickly these pieces came together.  Most people, despite varying levels of experience, got their writing done within a couple of hours and yet still managed to honour some amazing details shared in beautiful and vibrant detail.  Many writers reported how enjoyable this was.  “A honour and a pleasure” was one typical comment. Here is a video that captures some of the atmosphere created in the sessions. https://vimeo.com/356451500/a3212fd1ce

The book itself was formed over a couple of months and many hours of collaboration. Through the combined efforts of the group, voluntary book editors and publisher, we created over 50 stories – enough to create a truly lovely collection that honours the individual and collective lives, lessons and skills of the people who took part.  We shared extracts on a number of occasions, at the Chorlton Book and Art Festivals and a coffee morning at CGN. After a short while, the publication sold out and we had to get another batch printed! To get your own copy, contact me for more information.

To conclude, the book truly was a collaborative effort that I was in privileged positon to help steer.  It was created by a group of like-minded people who all value spending time together and talking about what is important.  In this amazing but often rushed and confusing modern world, we are constantly surrounded by information and the potential for interconnectivity, but can sometimes not have time to simple sit down, reflect, listen and talk. Together we helped each other remember how essential and enjoyable these simple things can be.  A few of our storytellers echoed this with statements like “I feel really listened to.”  Another added, “Sometimes it can feel like our lives and what we have to say are no longer relevant, but here I felt really heard and realised how much I have to share.”