Imagine a world with more Dereks
Thursday 24 December 2015

Derek the patchwork donkeyEvery Thursday in Cheltenham there’s a gathering of local residents with a common bond; knitting!

What images do you conjure up when thinking about knitting? Ones of Grandmas knitting away in their favourite chairs, furiously casting on and knitting endless scarves and squares for that old knitted blanket?

This weekly gathering is so much more than simply knitting. Yes, knitting is what brought these people together but the bonds of the group are much stronger than any wool or yarn could be.

On an average week, there are a dozen or so people all from very different backgrounds. The group meet at the lounge of a local social housing complex, Cheltenham Borough Homes, which is offered free of charge. Once the venue had been found, all they needed to start was some wool, knitting needles, and some tea and biscuits (essential!). It’s an activity which costs very little but is highly valuable to those that attend; in fact I'd be brave enough to say it’s priceless.

Derek and some of the knittersIt’s had a transforming effect on the people that participate. In bringing so many different people together, prejudices, pre-conceptions and stereotypes, have all been demolished. You’ll meet with mental health issues, dementia, old age, cultural diversity, learning disabilities and physical disabilities, experienced knitters and the novice alike, along with a few volunteers who come along, with their knitting needles too, to make the tea and ensure everyone has a custard cream or digestive to dunk.

What you’re instantly struck by is the warmth exuding from the group, the warmth of a sincere and genuine welcome, whether you’ve been here from the start, or it’s your first visit. I haven't been to many groups where it’s as welcoming and diverse. It’s a great boost and every Thursday I can’t wait to get to work!

Derek in the nativity scene at Gloucester CathedralRecently, and rather festively, we've all been knitting different squares, which have now been very carefully put together to make Derek. Derek is our patchwork donkey, and he's currently residing in Gloucester Cathedral. Derek is part of the Cathedral's nativity scene, and very proudly he stands.

Derek is more than just a donkey in a nativity scene. Derek, being made up of lots of differently knitted squares, represents the diversity of the group, the individuals of the group, the coming together, each with their own story to tell, each with their own contribution to give, each with their own personality. You could say that Derek, the nativity donkey, reflects far more than the group itself; Derek is a reflection of the local and wider community.

Derek has enabled greater acceptance and understanding of people different to ourselves. Derek doesn’t judge or assign labels, nor does he stereotype. Derek accepts everyone. Imagine a world with more Dereks!

Samantha Dee
Activity Coordinator/Employment Project Leader