This is something a little different for my blog pages, something that I hope you all enjoy. My theme is the connection of community and my inspiration comes from a marvellous lady who has come into my life through the strange set of circumstances that the pandemic sent my way. Back in those early lockdown days, with my mental health suffering, I was spending more time on Twitter than previously and came across Clare.
Clare is responsible for the Community Harmony Scarf project. This creative venture spreads hope and kindness around the world and serves as a springboard for conversations about mental health, connection and community. The scarf that Clare knits from ribbons was started back in 2017 and has grown in scope ever since, with each section knitted representing a different theme, themes that emerge from the conversations that Clare has with her community, be that in virtual or actual meetings with people.
The ultimate aim is to make the scarf long enough to wrap around the King Power Stadium, the home of Leicester City Football Club, which will take 730 metres of scarf, I am not sure how many thousands of knitted ribbons that will finally total! The bigger achievement in my mind though, once this has been accomplished, is that each section of scarf that makes up that length, will contain the voices of so many individual stories. It is best to explain this in Clare's own words:
"I ask people to choose a ribbon which is then knitted into the scarf. The ribbons, like the people of our community, are all very individual. When you put us all together we make something that is long, strong and very beautiful, with everyone supporting each other.
Every ribbon represents a person, every person matters and everyone has something to contribute."
Clare posted these thoughts back in September 2021, along with instructions of how others can get involved to knit their own sections to add to the scarf. That is a further layer of how the wider community has been involved in this project, with sections being knitted in various different locations, both nationally and beyond the UK. Yet, Clare continues to be the driving force behind this project, the main knitter, the inspiration to many and the sort of person who's sheer enthusiasm cannot help but carry others along with her.
Back to my own initial contact with Clare, for then I was feeling a mixture of lockdown effects and menopause-induced anxiety. I was in one of my phases of overthinking everything, wanting to be proactive but constantly second-guessing myself. I saw that Clare was running online sessions of 'Monday Morning Smile' where all were welcome to join, talk about whatever they wished and connect with others. It took me a lot of courage to join the first zoom call but Clare was so welcoming and always made participants feel at ease. I was soon looking forward to whenever the next meeting would be.
The writer in me, wanted to know more about the origins of Clare's scarf project. The arts teacher that I was for many years, saw the power and the creativity of the project. All of that combined to inspire me to write a short story with the scarf at its centre. Clare was kind enough to agree to me publishing it within my book 'Click and Connect - A Collection of Hope.' An excerpt from it, is included below. I hope the story is a fitting tribute to celebrate this lovely lady and her inspiring work, for the scarf is about hope, connection and the joy of community. We are always stronger together.
Ruby's Ribbons (Click and Connect - 2021)
This is a true story.
Well, most of it is. All stories are true for a while, for the time that you read them, that is. For that is their special power and their magic. But real life has magic in it too, if you know where to look for it. Often it is found in the most ordinary of places, with ordinary people and ordinary objects. This then, is an ordinary, magical story and here is its truth.
It all began a few years ago, with a simple idea and, as we all know, the best ideas usually start from something simple. This one took shape when a lady called Clare took a few ribbons to Oadby Youth Centre. But perhaps it is better not to start at the very beginning, choosing instead to jump forward to a moment when the ribbons had been doing their work for a while. For that moment, we must picture a rainy Monday morning and a little cafe offering shelter and warmth.
Clare pulled a yellow ribbon from the collection in her bag. Clare - the lady with the vibrant red hair and personality to match, who sat each week in the corner of the cafe. From her favourite cosy spot, with coffee cup in hand, she could drink in both her warming frothy caffeine hit and her view of the tables dotted around the bustling cafe. This Monday morning she settled into her usual routine and watched the stream of people pausing their days to rest and chat. She smiled between her sips of coffee and her knitting, an all the while, her passion for her ribbon project grew.
Today, like most Mondays, it was not long before the ribbons on Clare's needles cast their spell. Slowly woven into an ever-growing scarf, sooner or later they captured the interest of an onlooker, drawing them nearer with each click of the size five needles.
"What are you doing?" asked Ruby, a little girl with ribbons of her own tied into two untidy bunches of her ash brown hair.
"Oh, hello," said Clare. "I'm listening to my ribbons." She held up the snaking scarf of ribbons in response to Ruby's question. Ruby tilted her head quizzically as sh took hold of part of the scarf and began to run her thumb and forefinger along a silky ribbon that had caught her attention. Clare's infectious smile spread across her bespectacled face, encouraging Ruby to explore the ribbons further.
"I can't hear anything. Ribbons don't speak," stated Ruby with the unwavering confidence that eight year olds often possess.
"Well, my ribbons do, they tell me their stories," said Clare. "They all have something to say."
"All of them?" Ruby's amber eyes opened wide. "What do they say to you?"
"Too many things to tell all at once, for I have so many of them," explained Clare, smoothing out the twisting, bumpy collection of ribbons currently hanging from her knitting needles. "Imagine if you had a whole shelf of books all shouting their stories out to you at once, that wouldn't be much fun would it?"
"It would be very noisy, worse than playtimes at school," said Ruby. "I don't like playtime, there's always too much noise."
"Well, that's the same with my ribbons, I suppose. They can'y all tell their stories at once, so I only carry a few of them with me each day. All of these ones belong together in this section, It's called 'Freedom,' do you like it?" asked Clare.
"Very much so," replied Ruby. "You mean this is the book of Freedom?"
Clare laughed and Ruby watched her eyes dancing. "I think that's a great way to describe my scarf - each part is like a book on the shelf, an all the ribbons are the words and chapters inside them. Shall I help you to hear the story?"
"Oooh, yes please," said Ruby, as she moved her chair closer to Clare's and laid the scarf section across her lap. "I love stories, they can travel anywhere and when I hear them, they take me with them on their journeys."
"Well, let's see where this story takes us then."
With that, Clare began to tell Ruby all about the ribbons of the 'Freedom' story. She explained that the yellow ribbon she was knitting today, was singing a song for a lady she had met. The song was called 'Tie a Yellow Ribbon' and brought back memories of a childhood holiday where the lady had built sandcastles and jumped over waves and sang the song loudly, as she danced on the water's edge. Ruby could just imagine the scene and understood the feelings of freedom attached to it. She knew a little about the word 'Freedom' as she had heard it used at school in an assembly and she watched television programmes where presenters talked about animals running free. She had decided that she felt free whenever she found time to sit and quietly read, or when she watched the birds flying off from the bird feeder that swung on the branch of a tree in her garden. The more Clare talked, the more Ruby wanted to listen and to know about all the other stories that this kind lady's ribbons told.
"Will you be here tomorrow?" asked Ruby.
"Not tomorrow, but I'm here every Monday, adding to my scarf."
"Can I come listen to your stories again?"
"Of course. What's your name?"
"Ruby. What's yours?"
"Clare - the ribbon lady."
"Would you like to choose your own ribbon to add, Ruby? Then I can add your story to the scarf too."
"Am I allowed? I don't have much of a story to tell."
"Everyone has a story, Ruby. Have a look in my bag and see which ribbon will tell your story..."
There is more to this story in my book, just as the story of the scarf continues. The latest update that I have heard is that there are over 350 metres of completed ribbon sections, long enough to span the pitch at King Power Stadium. It has taken Clare over 5 years to get to this point and is likely to take another 5 years before there is enough to wrap around the whole stadium. The 350 metres and 5 years represent the connection of thousands of people and is a beacon of light that shines upon what is possible when community works together.
I hope to meet up with Clare in person soon, which will be lovely. Two strangers connected through a few ribbons sounds unusual, but aren't we all connected in some way or another? I'll be sure to pick one more ribbon to add on that day too.