The Stepping Stone Community

Roger dropped Judith off for an early morning walk.  We turned right at the cemetery and took the left fork at La Briaude, weaving our way to Mescoules.  The landscape, largely seen from above, was enticing.  At one point Judith slipped into a field, presumably to avail herself of the facilities.  She may, possibly, have found it more convenient in Sigoules.  Then again, maybe not.

Looking down on some distant cattle, my companion told me they were Acquitaine blondes.  They blended in beautifully with the golden fields.  We found we both had a penchant for photographing tapestry landscapes.  A farm vehicle with a trailer clattered towards us at great speed.  As we took refuge on the grass verge, no way was it going to slow down.

We wondered whether a rabbit bounding across a farmyard had been an escapee from hutches we saw in a smallholding which looked entirely self sufficient.  It had a lovely garden, a pony, pig-pens, and tomatoes flourishing among vines across the road.  The owners possessed the second beagle we had disturbed on our rambling, both of us equally relieved that each dog was securely fenced in.  A roadside sign was slightly less scary than the one I’d seen yesterday.

Judith  had pointed out a sign to Mescoules on our previous walk.  To me it had seemed to lie in a totally different direction.  Chris and Frances would vouch for this since I’d managed to get us lost trying to lead them to the vivarium a couple of years ago.  Having walked through that village today, I was quite pleased that we were able to direct a car driver to it on our way back.  Since she hadn’t pronounced the final S, I speculated that she was from Northern France.

As usual, my friend was good company, and made what turned out to be a ninety minute walk seem much shorter.  Naturally we finished up with a drink at Le Code Bar whilst waiting for Roger to collect her.  Incidentally, the reggae night starts at 9.30 on 18th. August.  With 45 degrees on the garden thermometer I’m glad we went out early.

This afternoon I finished reading ‘Death in Holy Orders’ by P.D.James.  This is an excellent book which transcends the mere detective story, with its comprehensive understanding of human nature.  The action is set in a religious community.  Ordinands and guests are free to eat when and where they like, except for the evening meal, when all are expected to attend this ‘unifying celebration of community life’.  This reminded me of the early days of my friendship with Ann, Don’s late wife.

As an Area Manager of the inner city Social Services Department of Westminster, I was continually frustrated at the lack of provision for the care of older adolescents for whom we were responsible.  One of my own clients went to live in the establishment Ann was managing in Chelsea.  It had been her ambition to set up a community of her model for just the group of young people we could not adequately accommodate.  Through my visiting my client I realised that, in Ann, we had a gem who should be encouraged.  I therefore chaired a committee, assembled by Ann, which set up The Stepping Stone Community in Finsbury Park.  We rented three houses from a Housing Association; staffed it with suitable carers, and opened it to young people aged 16-plus in their last two years in care.  This was additional to my employed occupation.  The unique element was the ‘normal adult’, one attached to each house.  The idea was that these adults, all in work, were to provide a model for the young people.  Adults and adolescents alike each had a bedsit.  In exchange for their accommodation the adults were contracted to attend a house meal once a week.  They and the other residents took turns in producing the fare. This organisation thrived for more than twenty years in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.  Unfortunately, because of the growing  reluctance of Local Authorities to fund such agencies, we began to struggle financially.  For our last five years our treasurer and I kept us afloat with personal bank guarantees.  This was beginning to worry us.  We therefore approached another child care agency, The Thomas Coram Foundation, seeking a merger.  The Foundation had an infrastructure we couldn’t match, having benefitted from the legacy of a wealthy eighteenth century merchant.  This included many valuable works of art. They welcomed our suggestion.  I chaired the merger group, and eventually the long-established agency took over our project with a promise to honour its values.  It is greatly to Ann’s credit that members of all sections of Stepping Stone, last year, travelled to Bungay to attend her funeral, paying tribute to how she had changed their lives.

Today was completed with chicken and chips in the square, with Stella from Le Bar.  I was in the company of a Welsh family consisting of Emma, Phil, Ken, Ben and Kaylie, and baby Jessica.  They were staying in the house belonging to Val, who I had met watching the England/France football match earlier in the year.  She had told them they would find me in the bar.  I most definitely claim I wasn’t there, but David directed them to me.


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