For the last few years we have been going to the Christian summer festival, New Wine. Last Year I was reflecting on how important it has become for us as a family because it is a week of intensive community with our church family (both locally and families who camp with us from other churches). The week following New Wine we meet up with parts of our extended family for another week of camping in lovely Somerset. Inevitably we get chatting about the Christian festivals we each go to, some to Spring Harvest, Word Alive, some to Keswick. This year we chatted a fair amount about the logistics of taking our families – all in some way shaped by additional needs – to such large, noisy, intensive festivals. On paper it sounds mildly ridiculous to attempt such a thing, so what does it work out like in practice?
These are some of the ways we as a family handle the logistics of camping, being in community, going to the meetings and events, sleeping, eating, staying clean enough… and growing in our faith:
When we first began the adventure of camping the eating side of things was actually really difficult. B has not ever found eating easy, her diet at that time was really very restricted and her usual routine involved managing to eat just enough sitting on her own with the TV on simply to dampen the stress and panic enough to face the food. So eating while camping was tough for her. Most of her ‘safe foods’ were possible to store and prep in a tent so that was something, but of course no TV, no space, family and wider church community right there all the time.
Plus whenever a bug, fly or wasp came even remotely near her she was panicked. So at first food was eaten (or looked at) rather stressfully outside with the rest of us, but by the end of each mealtime B was usually quite distressed and sitting in the bedroom, zipped in on her own. Over the years this level of stress about camping mealtimes has eased a little and most of the time B manages to join us and eat something. I think in part this is a reflection of a wider change about how B is coping with meals together all the time. Needless to say wasps are still a problem! This year with 5 adults around our table we still had a bit of a job dealing efficiently with them and keeping the meal on track!
As a church group we eat together in ‘family clusters’ – so everyone is included, and supported. This year we had the joy of 3 extra adults eating with us. All known really well by our kids, and all extremely accepting and patient of how our family life happens. Their help was invaluable at mealtimes, getting the food started when Andrew or I were still walking back after fetching T from a group, helping involve the kids in washing up and generally keeping us cheery throughout even the most dysfunctional moments, and bringing the first evening meal so we didn’t need to cook after putting up the tent and sorting the kids out on the day we arrived.
We have a menu that we only have to tweak each year as dietary needs change, and alongside the menu we have 3 shopping lists! One is a list of what needs to be prepared or bought and packed to take with us (we prep 2 main meals in advance and take them frozen.). The second is a shopping list for Andrew to fetch while I register the kids with their groups after the tent has gone up on arrival day. The third is to be bought on the day off, including things to take to the BBQ with our whole church group that evening.
What can I say??? We’re not naturally great at sleeping anyway! This year though we all slept in the same bedroom section and I think, miraculously, we possibly got more sleep than usual!
There are shower blocks dotted about the showground where New Wine is held. There are also sinks in all the loo blocks which lots of people use for washing faces and doing teeth though we do that in the tent where it’s less crowded and distracting. The showers are quite small and there is almost always a queue, it’s also fair to say that they are a little hit and miss – usually a mixture of hot moments with unpredictable cold ones thrown in. This year we also faced the challenge of some of the showers losing water pressure – not easy with shampoo already applied but only a dribble of water running down the wall to rinse with!
When B, A & T were small enough we took a large-ish flexi bucket for baths in the tent. It was a bit of a slow process heating a few kettles to add to cold water to get the temp right, but it was clean, enough room for me to help, and no queuing, as they grew a small paddling pool also came in handy in a similar way. Now they are all too big, but we have managed finding times to use the showers and have coped. And with T this year I simply haven’t pushed it – baby wipes took care of it! There is a disability accessible shower on site, with enough room for a parent to help a larger child. We may well look into using that next time.
I take travel hand wash detergent with us and try to wash tea towels and any other essentials on the afternoon of the day off. This year was so wet I didn’t get the chance – nothing would have dried. But of course the wet, and the festival mud created a lot of washing, and ‘Our Place’ (New Wine’s inclusion teams) came to the rescue washing the things we really needed – especially T’s ‘apple blanky’ when it was dropped in a puddle.
There are kids groups right through from baby to late teens, and registration forms are taken between certain times on arrival day, and the kids are given wrist bands. Most of the groups have a couple of sessions each day, babies fewer and older teens more choices but a similar amount of time.
There is a thorough system of dropping off and collecting, with more than one check of your ID, the handover card you gave in that day, and the child’s wristband. It takes a bit of time but works well. T didn’t like the wristband at all this year, and kept taking it off and ‘putting it somewhere safe’ – so on a couple of the days that she went to her group we had to get her an alternative, approved ID badge from the admin team at the back of the venue.
The groups are very busy and so they are quite noisy even without the music & use of microphones. There are stage lights and live worship bands, and in the younger groups often team in costume for the upfront parts of the session. Kids are in smaller groups with team looking after them and always get dropped off and picked up in that same place with those team members. For the younger groups the sessions are very tightly structured and include upfront storytelling, silly games and worship and prayer and also active games. craft and chat in the smaller groups.
This year T struggled again and we were so very thankful for the Our Place team. Our Place have team in every venue supporting children to help them join in with their group. They also have a break out space near the side or back for times when kids need to escape or some calming down space. They have fidgets, a visual timetable and ear defenders at the ready! We needed support at drop off, and T needed support during the sessions she attended. Our Place also have a separate kids, youth and adult venue that is open a bit later than the others as a safe haven for those who can’t settle or who can’t manage a whole session. T loved the kids venue and most evenings we went there rather than her group having used all her energy up during the rest of the day.
Some mornings were also just too much and we took T with us to the main arena. Getting out my emergency distractions and other little games that I always have to hand.
B, A & T all have boxes or tins in their rooms where we put all the little oddmenty toys – from those fast food freebies, to the one off homemade and all things small and unique. I pack up a small bag of these when we go for days out or away for longer like these weeks. I also like to have bubbles (the small tubes sold as party favours are great), fidgets, little notebooks and pens (the ones with multiple colours in just one pen are my favourite – space is of the essence, I have to carry it everywhere!). This year A & I turned a little mint tin into a habitat for a tiny dinosaur complete with rocks trees and volcano – a whole world in a tiny portable tin – perfect!
It sometimes feels frustrating that it’s not straight forward getting to sessions I want to get to – this year I didn’t make it to many things in the evenings at all – but over the years I have found these times when I take a little one to an alternative venue (either Our Place, or Stepping Stones when T was little – a large play space, with tea coffee and the main arena being shown live on a screen) to be full of valuable conversation, chances to connect with other parents often feeling the same frustration and the team in these venues just as ready to pray with you and to talk discipleship!
Our Place run seminars for parents in the mornings which have been a place of gentle challenge (ok sometimes challenge never feels gentle!) encouragement and prayerful support. I have grown such a lot in my faith as I have been a part of the Our Place family network. The encouragement and safety of the space they provide has helped me to go on wrestling, to dare to step out and step up, to trust and hope in deeper ways as we share experience together, know that whoever we sit with or pray with there is understanding and acceptance. This year we looked together at the story of Ruth and reflected together on feeling uprooted, the frustration and pot-boundness circumstances can sometimes make us feel; how God provides, often through the support and help of others – like Ruth’s Boaz; and how God turns the situation right around breaking the chains around those women and leading them to fruitfulness. Plenty for me to treasure and to keep on reflecting on in the midst of piles of muddy washing, a garden that has grown quite a bit while we were away, a tent in need of drying, camping gear to put away, a house that is in disarray and trying to help the kids adjust to down time at home, while Andrew goes back to work!