Lindsey Bennett is feelin’ the healin’
There’s no entirely predictable formula for strengthening a community. But welcoming hundreds of people from Toxteth and way beyond, to a windswept park at dawn, on the longest day of the year, to eat, talk, share, dance, create and ultimately gather together under an old oak tree at dusk before parting peacefully, comes close.
If we add in key moments like, ‘gong bath’, ‘community healing dance’ and ‘red tent’ you may be forgiven for thinking that organisers Squash Nutrition revived Woodstock in Princes Park for their Food for Real festival. Indeed, amongst many other vibes, the hippie one was present, but so was the family one, the international element, sustainability, exercise and the outward-bound spirit.
I used the thirty-minute break until Tai Chi to join the clusters of duvet swaddled participants...
Billed as a free all day event come rain or shine, the solstice-fest is one of four that take place at the winter and summer solstices and autumn and spring equinoxes. The latter two have a combined programme of out and indoor food workshops showing films about global food and community issues. All start with a salutation to the rising sun and so it was that at 4:15am we gathered for yoga on a spread of tarpaulin and blankets… OK, the others did.
I eventually arrived just before 6am and sheepishly threw myself into zen pilates led by the significantly more chipper Sophie of Liverpool Pilates Hub. After some very welcome stretching in the biting cold, I used the thirty-minute break until Tai Chi to join the clusters of duvet swaddled participants at the picnic benches to break my fast.
Is there anything as good as food cooked outdoors in challenging conditions? Squash know what they are doing from countless lunches in their thriving Grapes community garden, by their new HQ in Windsor Street, L8. But my lack-of-sleep and the sun’s refusal to come out at all seemed to enrich my granola, coconut yoghurt, strawberries and local honey experience. And that of my flatbread cooked on a wood-fired stove with lashings of peanut butter and a hard-boiled egg. Hot water infused with lemon balm and mint grown in their aforementioned garden gave comfort in the watery sunlight.
The lure of coffee meant a temporary parting with Squash, forgoing the communal picnic lunch (BYO) and activities including listening to and drawing nature and so forth. I also missed my opportunity to sit in the ‘red tent’ - an actual physical tent and a concept from biblical times of special places for women to share and support one another. I did return at the tail end of the Eid afternoon tea, sun now finally out, to watch hundreds of people, young to old, play in the sun, help cook the community feast and make an orchestra out of vegetables.
All this was free to anyone that turned up - an incredible, generous of spirit and truly embracing gesture. Donations are welcome of course, put towards the ‘Soup it Forward’ scheme which pays for a portion of soup for those in need.
If you read this as some local, crusty, hippie frivolity that is no more significant to the lifeblood of the city than a whiff of incense in an abattoir then you would be very wrong. Squash Nutrition is a successful and dedicated food, arts and environmental-focused community membership organisation, which has worked with local people to make positive social change at every step of their journey. Established as a group since 2007, they opened their community designed eco-friendly home on Windsor Street in May, with a store, café, catering service and workshops.
Their work sees them consult widely and implement genuine community led action. The new Hub is a tranquil wooden, light-filled space, their workshops help people to gain skills, including help setting up their own business and the thriving Grapes garden allows people to meet, eat, share skills, learn and teach in a verdant part of an otherwise concrete and sometimes unloved part of town.
And so, for the evening ceremony I fortified myself at the communal meal of veg curry, cabbage and beet salad and tzatziki with flat bread. All delicious; piping hot curry, refreshing purple salad, generous portions and waste responsibly disposed of.
I can honestly say I’ve never had an evening like it - although it wasn’t my first gong bath. Meal now cleared, we all gathered in a huge circle to the insistent sound of African drums and dancing, to move together in a bespoke choreographed community healing dance (healing from angst, stress, local events etc.) before joyfully spiraling towards the smoke from burning sage to have our individual negative energies purged.
The gong bath was fifty minutes of surround-sound bliss from the skillful hands of practitioners playing gongs and crystals in the fresh air, eyes closed, winter coat on, lying in glorious harmony with a bunch of strangers in a park, in an apparently ‘notorious’ part of Liverpool.
Food for Real Liverpool, Summer Solstice Community Festival, Woodhenge, Princes Park / Squash Liverpool, 112-114 Windsor Street, Liverpool, L8 8EQ