Sue Oxley is a now-retired R.E. teacher but stays busy writing, quilting and running groups. She lives in the North East, by the sea, which she can very highly recommend as the sky is always changing. She has run a bed and breakfast hotel in Glastonbury, organised many Catholic pilgrimages all over Europe for pilgrims from her church, conducted – as a trained celebrant – over a hundred and fifty funerals, three weddings and one ‘welcome to the world’ for a new baby, and made nearly fifty quilts. She likes to be busy. She has three children, two grandchildren, one husband and one sister – who are her precious people – and friends that she loves.
Why and How
I read once that there seems to be something in their primal make-up that makes women long to be in a supportive and helpful group: somewhere they feel they belong outside their family group. The writer – whose name I can’t remember – thought that it may come from the need in early tribal groups to have childcare in case of illness or the death of the mother in childbirth. The woman’s circle made a bonding space where friendships would grow, and then, through the women’s love for their friend, the orphaned child would be cared for or the new-born baby fed. However long ago or why this idea began, I have found that there is something soul satisfying about a group of women meeting in a circle that it can become a truly deep and necessary part of women’s lives.
Imagine this: You enter a room, and a familiar group of like-minded women look up with smiles and hellos and they shuffle around and makes a space for you and you slip into the circle as part of the whole. You settle down in a chair, get your breath and relax. You are one with the group – you can speak or be quiet or just do what you want. It’s your circle, where you talk about the things you love, form precious time in the week for yourself and give yourself all the space you need, with other women in that female group, to discuss anything and everything you want; a place to find friendship and understanding.
You can find one by starting one. I have set up quite a few groups and most of them have been based around patchwork and quilting, as that is my hobby – another word for crazy addiction! I began making quilts, very badly, over 25 years ago and gradually taught myself how to improve. I started my first group because people asked me to show them how to make quilts, but after a while the support and friendship in the group became the best part of it for us all, not forgetting the quilts themselves of course which showed up in exhibitions and on beds.
Patchwork or knitting or writing or film or drawing or dance or yoga or cooking – whatever it may be that you really know about may become its structure, but the soul of your group, its foundation, will be the deep need that women have to sit in a circle together and talk, share experiences, find advice and comfort, and make friends. It can overcome the awful social isolation and loneliness that exists in our scattered communities in both cities and rural areas. So, make sitting in a circle the first thing you do in your meetings – with drinks and snacks, which always help things along.
There is one particularly important thing I found that puts the magic in my groups: make joining and attending the meetings free. I really believe that when money comes in the door, magic flies out the window. Don’t charge for your time, your skill or your teaching, or even for the things you lend or donate to the group. These groups – these circles – aren’t about making money. You will find that the women will donate for the hire of the room and the tea, probably without you even mentioning it. Put a box by the door with ‘Donations for room hire and refreshments’ on it, and that will be fine. Women know what things cost. Those who can afford it can have the choice and make space for the women for whom it would be a choice between donating or less food. I have never had to make up the difference – even more magic!
Everyone knows when a person is starting something specifically for money, and this of course isn’t a bad thing in itself. But this type of group is not about making a profit. It could be of course, and then the atmosphere, the expectation of success, the whole feel of the meeting would be different, and the focus would be on the sewing or the dance or yoga or whatever the structure is, and not on the spirit of it – the friendship and bonding.
After a few years I left the groups I had founded in Somerset, and the women I had come to love dearly, to move north. Without a hitch they all carried on without me. With just a little pang I felt that this was really success. I realised that if you give women a space to sit and talk and create you will be making something that will have a life beyond you. You may be the founder of the group, but very soon it won’t belong to you, if it ever did. It will belong to the women who will give it life and are the ones who really own it. Within a couple of months, I had started another patchwork group 300 miles away in a strange, new county and went very quickly from knowing nobody at all to again having a great group of like-minded friends. Some things are worth much more than money.
Running a circle in your spare time can be the way you give back to your passion, your hobby, for the delight you have in it, but more importantly the way you give to women in your community the ability to find their own magical space. Start a circle and it will give colour and meaning to your life and to the lives of those in your circle and I promise you will all have a fabulous time.