They were the energy we needed. They lifted us with their whole being. They enthralled us with tales of their work. Reflections from Stu on the final ATEDAL partner meeting

By June 15, 2015 Features No Comments

Blog by Stu Packer

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Recently members of the Superact team, accompanied by two learners from the field of creativity and wellbeing, travelled to Germany for the final meeting of the Grundtvig Lifelong Learning ATEDAL project. This learning partnership, formed from representatives of organisations from France, Belgium, Germany, Romania and Turkey, aimed to provide opportunities to share examples of best practice in working with and supporting disadvantaged adult learners. The week was educational, informative and fun. Stu Packer, Superact’s storyteller, has written about his experience of the trip…

Superact, as you might know, have a tendency to not do things by halves. So to represent Superact at the final meeting of ATEDAL in Dusseldorf in the second week of June they sent a musician, a willow artist, a circus entertainer and a storyteller. Yes, really. Our ethereal Ursula Billington being the Musician, the gorgeous Sarah Le Breton the Willow Artist, the which-way-up-am-I Emily Ball being the Circus Entertainer and mys elf [I know] the Storyteller. Part-way through the week our very own Mark Cotton joined us. Not so much a Director as a pure visionary.

ATEDAL is a learning partnership that was put together for members of organisations across Europe to share how they use ‘alternative techniques to engage with disadvantaged adult learners’. Joining old friends from the partnership is always heartfelt. True friendships have been forged – we are invited to the Pyrenees, Romania, Dusseldorf, Turkey, Belgium whenever we wish. The invitation is mutual. Anyway, I digress.

On our first day we went on the Sky Train in Wuppertal (search for it and be amazed). Not only did we whizz up over the course of the Wupper river hung beneath a one-tracked train, we learnt that the Sky Train trains and employs the new Germans, immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Fab way to engage disadvantaged adults methinks.
Next up was an engaging discussion about xenophobia in schools and how Arbeit und Leben are holistically educating everyone to lower our societal barriers and be together, live together, share together whilst being true to ourselves. Wonderful inter-cultural discussion.
Then we met Peter Reichenbach of Seven Gardens who had us mesmerised with his stories of how natural plant dying is done. Peter is a wizard, his way of using natural plant dye is alchemy; he’s a gifted storyteller, never once giving a method or recipe – but I now know how to get purple from a red cabbage!! He is more self-deprecating than Hugh Grant, though with better hair. Even the prints he had hung up around us were printed using natural plant dye. Uber-cool dude. Want to stop using chemicals (pron: shemicals!) in your printer? Pop off to his website.

(Much food was enjoyed each evening – I can’t tell you how much rounder my belly is this week).

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On Day 2 our lovely hosts, Gabriela and Martin und alles, took us to Gasometer. Approaching it was awesome. In it was Cathedral-like, awesome. Sarah Le B and mys elf [I know] lay on the metal floor inside and were entranced by an incredible light show installation. Trippy wowness. We took an internal lift to the roof. What lovely strangers we met up there; what incredible views of (only half of) the Ruhr industrial region.
Later on the same day we had the privilege of being invited into the region’s seat of Government of North Rhine and Westfalia. Here we exchanged views on how the German way of voting is a tad more democratic than here in the UK (note: MY view, not Superact’s). We had our afternoon meetings in these open environs. Sitting in a circle in a portal of power certainly feels empowering. The discussion was loosely based on helping disadvantaged people survive and thrive in employment. I’d vote for us!! What a privilege to be in the same room as these like-minded people, our fellow collaborators in ATEDAL, let alone be party to the conversation!
We trammed and walked it to the evening meal, accompanied by the amazing Klaus Klinger – famous and talented and happy graffiti artist. One whole street was graffiti’d up to the chimneys – search for Kiefern Strasse. Yeah, you’ll be impressed.

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(The evening meal – Portugese – big!)

By this time we were wiped out and something beginning with K. This full program had taken its toll. It seemed that nothing could give us much needed energy. Breakfast only filled our bellies.

Day 3- We visited Cologne Cathedral – intricate, huge, imposing, old, masculine.
Then something amazing happened. Truly, deeply astonishing. We visited a place of education and support, run entirely by Muslim women. Smiley Muslim women. A simple German facade opened in to a little piece of nirvana. As we filed in we were greeted by lovely head-scarfed women wearing genuine ear-to-ear smiles. This was not simply for show, these smiles came from a deep place. Soul smiles. Contagious they were too. These incredible women are proud to be women, they are proud to be Muslim, they are proud to wear their head scarves. They don’t preach any of it. They seem to bring a divine kind of feminine power to all who enter. They were the energy we needed. They lifted us with their whole being. They enthralled us with tales of their work. They are the new paradigm, embodied. Out with the preaching of religious writings, in with the preaching by pure example; they walk the walk and you can’t help but feel like you want to hold their hands and walk with them awhile. The morning that I write this blog, I had an email which said, “The divine feminine holds the key to peace”. When I read this I thought back to these inspirational women. How truly blessed we were to have been amongst them.

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…now we were impossibly tired. We had a dance workshop to attend. For three hours! NO WAY JOSE.
Our generous German hosts had got this one wrong. Very tired people required to get up and throw a few dance moves?

Strawberries (who’d a thought it!)
Yes, a bowl of the most delicious strawberries with mint and lemon juice was put before us. Oh, the dribbling.

Then our Dance tutor, Jacquline Fischer, eased us in to the (work)playshop. How can I be so wrong, so often? We discovered things about ourselves we had never thought possible. All of us. It was more than a relief, more than a treat, it was a wild adventure. Sarah Le Breton open-mouthed at the end, “I never thought I could dance like that!” Well, you can Sarah. With grace, beauty and with the confidence of donning a jacket. From the simplicity of the workshop I will never forget those moves; I danced balletic-ally. I did.

The Ebook work was taken by our beardly Mark Cotton. Perfectly. Look out for it at

ATEDAL, the journey, has come to an end for us. I know that we will be working together on more fantastic creative, social, educational and environmental projects in the future. I thank my lucky stars!
My friends in ATEDAL, thank you. A big hug of smiley thanks.

For more about Sarah Le Breton’s Willow Sculptures –
For more about Emily Bell’s Circus stuff –
For more about Ursula Billington and Stu Packer check out our About page
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