Wednesday 22nd September
It was really difficult leaving Peterborough this morning. From the moment we arrived, their warm welcome made us feel right at home.
After a short bus ride we arrived at Coventry Cathedral. As we wandered through the ruins of the old cathedral that was bombed in 1940, it gave us a sobering reminder of past atrocities. After lunch at Benedict’s (cathedral cafe) we were back on the bus for the trip to Cradley Heath.
After an exceptionally smooth unloading of the bus and change into our uniforms, we got back on the bus in order to travel to a mayoral reception at Sandwell council chambers. The MSS enjoyed a magnificent afternoon tea. During a very informative talk about Mayoral chains and Maces (a symbol of power) Wendy Adams was seen wearing $500,000 worth of jewellery. (What would they go for on eBay?!).
A delightful evening meal was interrupted by a presentation to Brian Hogg of an official MSS Mace. Just remember Brian; with great power comes great responsibility.
The MSS were enthusiastically welcomed by the folks at Cradley Heath. The audience responded enthusiastically to the new program format and really entered into the spirit of the evening
Home to Billets. YEAH.
Thursday 23rd September
After a slight delay due to mechanical difficulties on the bus, again we were very sorry to leave our new found friends at Cradley Heath. We drove through beautiful countryside and ate our very appetizing lunch (prepared by our friends at Cradley Heath) on the bus. On the way to North Shields (N.S) we were greeted by our first rainstorm in the U.K.
The Officer of North Shields (Captain Donald Montgomery – not Colin, Judith!!!) warmly greeted us. The quaint Army hall we were to perform in enchanted us. An intimate atmosphere was created in the Hall when the lights were dimmed during the singing of “The Great Southland” and the slide show depicting Australian landmarks.
Very pleased to meet our Billets and head home for a good night’s sleep.
Friday 24th September
You wake up some days having no idea of the life-changing experience you are about to encounter. Today was certainly one of those days.
It was off to Southwick Community School (a learning centre for some of the UK’s most highly disadvantaged children) for a workshop with a few grades of the school and participation in an Appreciation Assembly for those who volunteer at the Salvation Army sponsored Austin House.
We were thrilled to see the Australian flag flying high on the school flagpole. A well organised gym fitted out with a boxing kangaroo flag and a life-size kangaroo with a Joey in her pouch made us feel immediately at home.
The children arrived in the gym and were extremely quiet and subdued. Deputy leader Merryn Steel introduced the group and taught the children Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi.
Alison Drummond told the story Koala Lou and had the children enchanted by her story telling. Karen Webb taught the children a song and soon the room was rocking to Jesus Rocks the World. Not a single sign of the shyness of the children was now evident.
It was a unique opportunity to mix with the children during their lunchtime in the school cafeteria; a meal Jamie Oliver would be proud of was enjoyed by all.
A real bond had been established between the children and the MSS and even though we were quite tired, a number of the MSS were to be found out in the schoolyard playing tiggy, skipping rope and soccer. The Head Teacher provided those tragic teachers within our group a tour into the classrooms of the school.
The staff and students of this special school will never know the impact they have made on the MSS. They shared with us in the Appreciation Assembly singing three beautiful songs and actively participated in the MSS presentation. There was barely a dry eye in the gym when these beautiful, precious gifts from God returned to their classrooms.
Graham, thank you so much for this truly amazing experience we had at Southwick Community School.