Winter Solstice at the Paper Garden

Honouring the solstice has become a tradition at the Paper Garden, and as the days of 2018 shortened, our team began reflecting on the explorations made through its seasons. The year took us on an exploration of the stories surrounding the magical yew and the mighty oak, so a celebration of these two icons of our landscape, and the inspiration they have given us over the year, seemed fitting on its closing. We welcomed around 130 people to the garden at the Printworks, who braved the cold and gathered around our warming fires. Children from St John’s, Redriff, and Albion primary schools and young people from Kingsdale, Bacon’s College, and City of London Academy came along with mums, dads, brothers, sisters, older people from Time and Talents, and friends and volunteers of the Paper Garden.

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We began our ceremony with wreath making in the winter forest, where we have made the yew tree a ruling queen. In preparation, we visited the oldest yew in London, in St Andrews Church in Totteridge. With her huge hollow trunk, she is allegedly thousands of years old, and the guardian of the magic and secrets of the forest; the everlasting tree and the bridge between the sky and the earth. Legend has it that at this time of year, on the eve of the winter solstice, when the fires are lit and the wreaths are made, it is possible to call upon the Yule King, who carries the spirit of this forest.

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Children from Redriff had the audience captivated as they shared their memorised poems in honour of the yew and sure enough, the Yule King arrived. We crowned him with a wreath and he walked us through the transformation of the forests, from winter, to summer. Children from Albion did an equally impressive recital of their poems in honour of the oak, which revealed a pathway into a transformed Paper Garden workshop. Hundreds of shimmering leaves and tree trunks, and the creatures that live within them, had been created out of paper and clay by the many children from the primary schools and older people who had been coming to the Paper Garden over the preceding months. In this enchanted forest, our woven paper yurt had become a very old yew with a hollow heart. The Yule King stepped inside for his own transformation to begin. We heard from Kingsdale year 8 students, who spoke about their 3D sculptures that took us into the stars above the forest. Our Generators performed the last act, with poems honouring the sun. With great anticipation, we opened the door of the yurt and miraculously the Yule King had transformed into his summer guise. With gasps of excitement, and even some dry ice, he stepped forth, shining.

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Our solstice celebrations have become annual features in the changing area of Canada Water. They are imbued with the magic that comes from combining children's imaginations with nature. It was great to have some of the architects and landscape architects who are working on the Canada Water master plan join us for the evening. Together we are learning and shaping the special role children and young people will play in bringing heart and soul in to the public spaces in the development. This is what our guests had to say about their experience of the evening:

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Thank you for the invitation to attend yesterday evening. It was a lovely soul-warming celebration. The Paper Garden is looking brilliant! - Paul Eaton, partner at Allies and Morrison.

We are so honoured to be part of these celebrations and I thank you so much for making them such meaningful events. I look forward to the summer solstice and working with you in the new year. – Joanna James, Deputy Head, Redriff Primary School.

Many thanks for such a lovely and inspired evening last night. I love that oak leaf forest. I loved the way the evening was all about the children from start to finish. Even the food. It was great to see such a mix of people; enjoying this local community gestalt/wholeness/glue. Mary Acton Adams, friend of the Paper Garden.

Everything about that evening was so special . You have planted such a strong beautiful seed of inspiration, wonder, joy, love and incredible generosity . My family loved it ...so unexpected in that urban sprawl which made it even more magical – Lee Carter, friend of the Paper Garden.

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