I have just been updating the website of a prototype called Safe Haven that my friend and I started last year. It is amazing to reflect just how far we have got in that time.
One of the things the reasons for setting up prototypes is so that you can learn as you go. And we have been learning. We did not have a clue what we were doing when we started. We had an idea about who we wanted to invite to our craft group but we did not know what that would involve in reality.
What we did not know
We thought serving people with learning disabilities. We never thought that only one of our regular attendees would never come in a wheelchair. We never thought about having to take care about what people could eat or drink because of the issues they had with swallowing. We never thought about most of our regulars being non-verbal.
We thought that there would be a need in the community that was visible around us. We discovered a need in a community that was invisible to us. We had totally forgotten that there were people living quietly amongst us who had so many needs.
What we did have
The main thing we had was love. It helped being part of a community that is known for its love. It might even have helped that we have a huge vinyl sticker on the wall that says God is love
We also had prayer so we always had somewhere to turn for back up and support. It has been amazing how many times we have had opportunities to share stories and see other requests for prayer answered.
We also had our natural abilities like creativity, research even common sense. We started a craft group because we both love making things. Like most people who love doing crafts we get ideas from books and other people and tweak them to do something slightly different.
We will never see things happen unless we just do it
We had no idea where to start we just guessed and got started. We had no idea how to contact the people we wanted to invite. We put posters up in local supermarkets and prayed. God did the rest. He took our natural and added his super and people started to come.
We had ideas about what crafts we were going to do but once people started coming we had to think again. We learnt as we went along. We had to find things that people we were getting to know could actually do. We learnt the importance of doing things that encouraged carers and craftees to work as a team. God brought people to us and then helped us help them. We could not learn what crafts to do unless we had met people and understood their needs.
If someone had told me before this group got going that I would be thinking about the needs of people in wheelchairs I would have struggled to believe them. Today, when I think about buying a table for use in church one of my considerations, is how much room would a wheelchair user have for their legs.
We learnt things and saw things that we would never have done if we had not just got started. We could have gone round and round in circles trying to work out how to start something much bigger. In fact, in the beginning, we were really upset that what we were enabled to do was nothing like what we had been dreaming about. It was really hard coming to terms with that. It seemed like a tiny drop of when we wanted to see a whole ocean.
The truth is that we started with as much as we could deal with at the time. We could not possibly have learnt what the real needs were unless we had stepped out and made a start. Yes, we are still frustrated because there this dream still seems a long way off.
Learning to swim is not easy
Yes, we are still frustrated because there this dream still seems a long way off. The truth is that making a start and doing a little bit has been an important part of our training and preparation. We had to build step by step. Even the little bit that we did felt like jumping in the water before learning to swim. We had to learn as we went along. We could not learn until we got into the water and we had to jump into the water.
To take the water analogy further there are times when it is dangerous to jump into water and swim. A swimming pool has its dangers, that is why there are people all around trained to help people in difficulties. However, there are more dangers in rivers. There are currents that can push where you do not want to go. There are things that have fallen into the water or been thrown into the river that can hit you or that you can become tangled up in. The temperature is not regulated so you could die due to the shock of being hot and sweaty and suddenly being in cold water. There are microorganisms and chemicals in the water that could cause you harm.
Jumping into a swimming pool and learning to swim is not easy. Yet it is not as dangerous as jumping into a river. A prototype is like jumping into a swimming pool. Yes, it is not easy but because it is set up to be a safe learning environment it is easier to survive the experience.
The biggest thing that this prototype has taught me is that starting with a prototype is essential. We never would have learnt to swim without it. Once we have learnt to swim we can try learning a new stroke or swimming underwater and try doing new things. That is what we have started to think about doing. It will take longer that we expected but we can already look back and see how much we have learnt.