Monday, August 12, 2013

Bridge Gathering will celebrate 21 years

Achievement beyond dreamsWhen the Bridge Camphill Community bought 'Nugents Field' and the Kilcullen Main Street buildings attached which had been a home and a forge, nobody could have dreamed how it would be today, writes Brian Byrne.

But 21 years later, it is a 'village within a village', with a campus that includes homes for the residents and co-workers, a weavery, workshops, a cafe, a complete farm with animals and organic vegetables growing, and a nature trail.

The changes will be enthusiastically discussed when some 35 former co-workers come back to the Community tomorrow, Tuesday 13 August, for a 21st birthday reunion. The actual anniversary is on the Friday of this week, a day which will be marked by music, drama, a big birthday cake and a party which promises to rival any held in Kilcullen for generations.

"It's all coming together nicely," says Bridge Camphill's Mischa Fekete, who is the primary point of contact for the event, although organising it is very much in the Community's tradition of team effort. "We are very grateful to the people of Kilcullen who have individually provided us with accommodation for our guests, so we don't have to set up a tent village. Indeed, many of those providing beds have thanked us for giving the opportunity to be a part of the celebrations."

Those attending are coming from as far away as Israel, Germany, Spain, and a number of other European countries. In addition, many people who can't come have taken the opportunity to touch base with the place where they had worked, for shorter or longer periods over the past two decades.

The programme for the 6-day event includes a number of artistic and craft activities. These include the participation of a couple of French artists who will create a mosaic on the recently-built Community Hall and also direct repairs to the Sun Mosaic visible from the bridge which was damaged a couple of years ago in the harsh weather. "We have to thank Kildare County Council, whose Arts in Health Programme gave us a grant to help with these."

In the afternoons the participants will help with some physical projects, including landscaping work on parts of the Nature Trail which was completed last year. "We are considering a small drama presentation on one of the evenings, and on the Thursday evening we will look at photographs together of how Bridge Camphill developed over the years. Apart from our own collections here, many people have emailed in their own photographs, so reminiscing over these will be very nice. We'll also have a late night video session watching the presentations of 'Oliver' and 'Fiddler on the Roof' which we put on in the early 2000s.

"It will be a sharing of the milestones, and the living history of what has happened here. Our people with special needs will also be a part of that, and we hope that for many of them it will trigger memories too." The culmination of the evening will be a 'candle light coming together' in a spiral that represents the journey taken in the 21 years.

Mischa reckons about 400 volunteers have come to work at Bridge Camphill down through the years. They spend between a few months to a year at the Community, and many of them have stayed in touch since they left.

The idea of setting up in Kilcullen itself was formed by members of the Camphill Community at Dunshane some miles outside the village. "We had a sort of vision that we'd like to do something in the town, interacting with the general public and becoming part of the wider community. There was also the thought that with a small, less policy driven project, we could pioneer something, and that was very exciting."

Exciting, and scary. Mischa recalls the early days of the An Tearmann cafe set up in the Main Street building. "There were days when we might have maybe five customers, and we had to wonder was this making any sense?" But it did in the end, and An Tearmann today is not just one of the busiest coffee shops in town, but has become a focus for the whole community of Kilcullen and beyond. If you want to meet somebody, it's the first place anyone thinks of.

Looking at the overall landscape of the Bridge Campus today, it's a fascinating thought that every single tree, every plant, every building has been put there by the Community. "When you walk around it, from that perspective it is quite incredible what has been achieved. Also, when I look at how our people with special needs have developed over that time, how many of them have matured and grown up and have taken responsibility in so many different ways, I think it is a privilege to have walked with them on that way, and been allowed experience what has become a deep connectedness with these people."

This article was first published on the Kilcullen Page of the Kildare Nationalist.