On Saturday 4th October we met record-breaking paralympian Tanni Grey Thompson at the Croydon's Clocktower - an event we had been looking forward to and working towards for some time.
Learners from CALAT had been involved in a project on the theme of overcoming adveristy. The literacy groups had each read her book, 'Aim High', with each learner then doing a piece of biographical writing outlining a hardship that they had overcome in their lives. Next, the learners had their work published in a booklet which was given to Tanni on the day.
Brit School - A Script of Sorts
The event started off with an excellent performance by a group from the BRIT school who performed a piece called: 'Life: A Script of Sorts'. Combining music dance and personal writing, they were able to communicate as individuals their collective will to live and celebrate the experience at the same time. It was nice to see such a young group able to express a very positive sense of what life means to them, all the more poignant given their 'Script of Sorts' was developed in the context of working with children in a local hospice.
The Young Poets
Next a group of young poets took the stage by storm, using a variety of poetic forms inclusing the limmerick, diamante and shape poetry to express themselves on themes of achievement among others. As the Psalmist said (Pslam 8:2): 'from the lips of babes and infants you have established strength, because of your adversaries, that you might silence the enemy and the avenger'. Not normally one to misappropriate the Bible, I did feel that it was remarkable to see such young children writing and then reading poetry in front of such large crowds. Maybe the enemy and the avenger are illiteracy, ignorance and poverty which would seem automatically to occupy any space left by a lack of learning. So maybe education is a powerful weapon against such things; this is an argument that the children made for themselves as they demonstrated how rewarding it was for them to work with poetry and rhyme at a young age.
CALAT Literacy Learners
Our Literacy learners really did well, reading some very personal writing to a large assembled group of mostly strangers. Their work covered themes such as alcoholism, equal opportunities, the shame of illiteracy and memories from childhood. They stood up proud and we were proud of them. It was not difficult to see the value of their education as they delivered their work clearly and confidently one by one. One learner even said that the service had made a huge difference to her life. (Keep it coming!) Many other learners, although not present, had contributed to the booklet making for a real smorgasbord of a publication, with just enough of each story to leave you wishing to read more.
Lanfranc School Learners
The stories written by the Lanfranc learners were also a remarkable pointer to the value of investing in and supporting those in need who chose our country as a place of refuge. I know what we do is ultimately reckoned in terms of numbers and percentage; the value to the Lanfranc learners, though, of the input from their helpers and teachers did seem clearly to transcend such as a calculation.
Tanni Grey Thompson
Tanni then spoke for about half an hour talking about her early life, her athletics career and her life since retiring from the track. She is a very bright individual with a strong desire to succeed and seems never to have worn her impairment a reason to aim for anything other than the absolutely maximum she could achieve in her life. She won 16 Paralympic medals in her career including 11 golds. She deferred reitrement after Athens 2004 and only winning two Golds feeling that she still had unfinished business on the track. This is a philosophy that she seems still to be following today working as a mentor and coach to young athletes among other roles.
Read more about Tanni on Wikipedia
We All Have a Story
As her talk finished it was evident that we had not heard the whole story. Similarly, the learners were only able to read exerpts from their longer pieces. Collectively, there seemed to be a story rising up out of everyone, if only we'd had enough time to hear it all. I got the feeling that the total amount of narrative present in the audience had a greater mass than I had imagined. I even wanted to stand up and tell my story. In an atmosphere of trust, as the stories come out into the light, it does not seem at all unreasonable that the shadows of fear and laziness might gradually evaporate leaving clear a way ahead we thought we might never walk down.
Croydon Cultural Olympiad