Leviathan, you creature of the seas…

contributed by Cassidy Locke, LANS Y2

When I went to see Leviathan at the MAC last Friday, all I knew was that it was a contemporary dance piece based on the story of Moby Dick.  It sounded intriguing enough, despite the fact that I was having trouble remembering the basic storyline of Herman Melville’s classic novel, having never read it.  I had seen the film, years ago, but all I could remember was a vague impression of a crazed sea-captain of a whaling ship being absolutely determined to catch some particular whale at any cost.  Ahab, this captain was called, and the whale was Moby Dick.  Ahab sought revenge on the whale for biting his leg off at the knee on a previous expedition.  My lack of knowledge was not to be a problem, I was relieved to find. The performance was only loosely based on Moby Dick, picking up key themes rather than attempting a complete retelling.

Throughout, the performance evoked the theme of obsession and desperation that runs through Melville’s novel, poLeviathan-spouting-girl_1000rtrayed through a remarkable flow of capoeira, martial arts and stunningly athletic dance.  The result is hard to put into words.  The stark lighting, making use of black and white, with rare flashes of yellow, the arresting artistry and deft expression of the dancers, accompanied by a moving electro-rock soundtrack by the Polish prog band Lunatic Soul melded to create a remarkable show (check this trailer of the show).  The only prop was long lengths of heavy rope, skilfully used.  The rest of the time we were left to marvel at the dancers.  The female lead, dressed all in white as some embodiment of the whale that Ahab seeks, maintained her distance from the audience all evening.  We were never acknowledged, scarcely saw her face, were treated to long moments where she seemed to flex each individual muscle in her back.  She was completely ethereal, totally elusive, neatly giving us an insight into Ahab’s frustration that he cannot catch her. This is a frustration that we saw mounting all evening with Ahab’s vocal and dynamic performance evoking the chaos of his mind.

leviathan2Every dancer was perfectly poised, panther-like in their bounce and stealth, radiating strength and artistry in a way that I could never have expected when I settled into my seat that evening.   The performance was creative and innovative in every aspect.  There were times when they were all linked together and sailed over and under one another in a way that did not seem possible, even as they proved me wrong.  The James Wilton Dance company gave us something unique, something startling, something powerful.

The Power of Cultural Events

by Jeevan

The recent study trip to see Cathy has had a more profound effect on me than any other of the Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences Cultural Programme’s events. I need not reiterate the version of events, but Forum Theatre’s approach of engaging the audience with the actors provided a new dimension to the performance. It was very easy for an onlooker to sit back and judge about the decisions Cathy made throughout the play and making a commentary about what she should and should not have done.  But the audience was also invited to contribute and participate.

When I summoned the courage to say “STOP!” and suggest a point in the story where one of the characters was asked to swap for a member of the audience to alter the course events, and provide a possible alternative development, I was in for a shock! I was of the opinion that Cathy should accept the council’s offer to move to Newcastle (which would take Cathy and Danielle away from London) and it was up to me to break the news to 16-year old Danielle and convince her that moving to Newcastle was the right thing. I pay a great testament to the actor playing Danielle for remaining steadfast in her opinion that she wanted to remain in London. My decision to play “I’m the adult card” backfired completely and resulted in Danielle storming off of the stage presumably leaving hers and her mum’s housing situation ‘in limbo’.

Perhaps for the first time in a cultural event I did feel the relevance and necessity of the “Next Generation of Leaders” motto attached to our course. The issues faced by Cathy and Danielle are not an isolated case and that is an incredibly scary and stark reality facing people around the U.K, and not just Londoners, and there homeless people in Birmingham.  The play certainly made me take a step back and think that in any transaction that takes place (in this case between a landlord and tenant) there is almost always a human dimension and perspective. If we forget this human aspect and obsess about the bottom line and profit, the strength of community will decline and factions will flourish, and with them tensions. In light of recent global changes, as a society, we need to reassess our positions and think about the world we want to shape. 

contributed by Jeevan – 2nd Year LANS student,  majoring in Chemistry

Cardboard Citizen’s Cathy

by Nelsen Durkee

Facts and figures related to Cardboard Citizens and their work were collated from their official website and related articles. If you are interested in reading more on them, click on the following link. https://cardboardcitizens.org.uk/

As one of the leading practitioners of the Theatre of the Oppressed methodology in the UK, Cardboard Citizens theatre company has worked to tackle the issues of homelessness for the last 25 years. Ali Taylor, writer of Cathy, said that “we need to recognize that homelessness can strip people of their self-respect and mental health.” This is precisely what Cardboard Citizen addresses.

The theatre company, exclusively consisting of members who have experienced homeless in one shape or form, empowers those affected by the issue to understand and change their situation. Those not directly affected by the UK housing crisis, gain a personal insight into the convoluted nature it.

“Cardboard Citizens tells stories that need to be told, through theatre performed on stage, in the streets, in hostels, centres and prisons”. The theatre company provides a format and space for individuals to develop their skills and confidence through projects, workshops but also forum theatre; the format that Cathy took.

The special thing about Cathy and the other forum theatres tours from Cardboard Citizens is that the audience doesn’t just need to sit back and let the story unfold. They get to act. The performance we saw at mac Birmingham (https://macbirmingham.co.uk/ )  was one of the stops on the UK wide tour of Cathy ending February 2017. Based off and inspired by Ken Loach’s Film Cathy Come Home, aired 50 years ago, Cathy reflects on the “social and personal impact of spirally housing costs”, “gentrification” and the “challenges of the forced relocation away from London”.

In the first half of the evening, we got to see the play itself. Fueled by real-life testimonies on the housing crisis, the play was an emotional downward spiral for Cathy and her 16-year-old daughter Dannielle. Following them from the conviction of their original home, all the way to couch and bus surfing, insecure, run-down, and temporary tenements, emotionally raw and desperate fights, it led to the eventual conciliation between the downtrodden, but hopeful mother and burdened yet coping daughter. Characterized by negative turn after negative turn, this was a truly hear-breaking play to watch.

After this emotional rollercoaster for the audience, there was an intermission, which was more than necessary after the events that we saw unfold, followed by the second half of evening: the forum. As I said earlier, this is where the audience got to act. After short round of feedback from individual audience members and resulting discussions, we were prompted to put our suggestions for the betterment of Cathy into action. The actors on stage let the story unfold again, but this time we could intervene with a determined “STOP!”, giving us a chance to get up on stage to enact our suggestions for an improved course of the story. This I think was the critical stage for these performances.

Engaged, Engaging = Forum Theatre (Photo: Emil Toescu)

To bring a personal note into this piece: even though the play’s progression fascinated me, with a desire to learn more about the situation and excited for the chance to intervene in a negative spiral, I still felt powerless and out of place. Here was a situation, from my perspective as an undergraduate Liberal Arts and Science student studying abroad with a privileged family background, where I felt I shouldn’t even pretend to know anything about the issue. I didn’t even know where to start to try and intervene. The thing was though, that wasn’t the point at all.

The point of Cathy was that we were given the chance to rehearse important life decisions that Cathy had to make. We got a chance to be somewhat of a think-tank for alternative courses of actions. We could set high standards for people and how they could improve their lives. We didn’t need to have the answers, but we did need to show initiative. Some ideas were received better than others, some people came from a more experienced background and could give more information than others, but in the end, viable alternatives to life choices were given. The audience made progress.

To bring in more of a Liberal Arts and Science perspective: here was a group of people from vastly different walks of life coming together to try and enact change for an issue that required more than one solution. It’s hard, but it’s possible. Here was a theatrical performance that affected and improved our perspective on a social, political, and economic issue. The forum theatre of Cathy was interdisciplinarity and cross-boundary problem solving at work and it was conducted in an emotionally vulnerable yet polished format. I’m glad that we got to see this performance and widen our horizons on issues for which we can realistically enact change. It was a truly gripping evening.

Contributed by Nelsen Durkee, 1st year LANS student majoring in Geography.

Here are some testimonials from other LANS students on the evening:

Richard William, 1st year LANS student majoring in Political Science.

Cardboard Citizens: Cathy’s tale I have never witnessed a format of theatre quite as engaging and enriching as this. A stimulating topic followed by active intervention in order to stimulate change, followed by discussion and law-making with the aim of proposing change is one of the most interesting forms of political movement that I’ve ever been exposed to. As someone who wishes to reform the political system and in doing so give people more of a voice, I felt that this experience unlocked a closed door behind which lay ideas on creative opportunity for listening to what the people want.[…]

Behind each person is a story, a story which is different, a story which carries with it human suffering at the hands of neglect.[…]

The set was simplistic and yet functional; each piece had its purpose […]

The evening left many feeling united behind the desire to see change, which, in a world of seemingly increased division and pain, is much needed. I would go back time and time again to this style of performance, for even if the script was the same, the response wouldn’t be, and I found the response almost more enriching and engaging than the performance, as it changed the theatre experience from one of passivity where one watches scenes unfold, to one of activeness, allowing for change to occur.

Lizzie Rowland, 2nd Year LANS student majoring in History

I first witnessed the uncontrollable spiral into desperation when I watched Cathy come home. However, I would never imagined the impact seeing the same thing in a modern day context (and on stage rather than screen) would have. I thought the message was more than powerful -scary and moving. The play made me seriously reassess my political understanding (something I thought up until that night I New quite well).

Alice Heaps , 1st LANS student majoring in Philosophy

for her blog, check at: https://justonesecondalice.wordpress.com/2017/01/22/cardboard-citizens-cathy/

“As a performance, this play was beautifully arranged and seamlessly executed with a multi-role cast who switched incredibly between situations and characters to make the story feel incredibly real.”

“As a usually helpless audience, the chance to get up on stage and take the places of the characters and fix things for Cathy had a great element of catharsis to it. It seems that Cathy had more options available to her than she realised at the time and, although heartbreaking to see so clearly where she made the mistakes that landed her into homelessness, the solutions provided by the audience highlighted a running theme of education and thorough-thinking as being necessary to preventing such difficult events occurring”

“Experiencing this play both as an individual situation and a representation of the struggles faced by so many people across the country and the world, it hit me just how ordinary the people in the story really were. I like to think of myself as somebody understanding to the situations of others and I make a point not to judge homeless people and help them if I think I can, but even I will admit that it becomes difficult to not assign stereotypes in some situations. Maybe the most important thing that this experience showed me was that something needs to be done from both within the system, to prevent people becoming homeless so easily, but also from outside the system – there needs to be a change in response towards homeless people.

Some of the responses from the audience were worded in a way that made it clear that views remain divided by ‘us’ and ‘them’ with the latter being people without a stable home, I think that there is something fundamentally wrong with this response and that, while changing legislation can be difficult failure-ridden, a change in attitude is something that everyone can do within themselves to help the situation: there is no us and them, we are all people and we all deserve shelter, food, water, warmth and most importantly compassion”

A day submerged in The Tempest

by Jennifer (Qian) Zhang

For the second Tuesday of the term, we set off to Stratford-upon-Avon for a special cultural event: a workshop, joining a rehearsal, then a lecture on ‘Magic and Science’, and finally, the evening show, in the recent RSC production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It is difficult to encapsulate such a rich and varied day in one single view, and here below are some of the comments made by my colleagues.

tempest_1Nelsen Durkee (Y1) felt that “the whole experience represented LANS as a degree structure. From acting theory to the integration of technology with performance the actual performance was riveting”. And the lecture, squeezed between was “a great supplementary session to contextualize the experiences we were having as well.” Others joined Nelsen in appreciating the whole structure of the day. Jess Dawson (Y2) also referred to the dinner we all had, together, which “was really useful for getting to know other LANS students.” And “watching the play was a great culmination of everything we have learnt throughout the day.”.

Some of my colleagues were focusing on one particular aspect of the day. One commented, with what appears to be a good deal of understanding and previous knowledge on the actual details of the rehearsal that we watched, finding it “fascinating to be privy to the inner workings of a professional stage dress rehearsal for the first time, and no more so than at the RSC nonpareil. Informed by the Meisner technique, the actors employed a five-stage approach to some scenes from The Tempest: preparation, objective, stakes, as if, entitlement. To explain briefly, before a scene, the actor would have a tête-à-tête with the director in which they recalled their character’s point of view, identified their objective in relation to other characters (e.g. gain the affections of Miranda), considered the stakes (e.g. Prospero’s possible presence), related the character’s situation to a personal experience (the ‘as if’), and remembered to believe in their character’s entitlement to their goal. This insight into the acting method helped us as the audience to empathise with the characters more and to keep in mind that all acting is relational. This specific dress rehearsal was for the RSC’s First Encounters with Shakespeare production of The Tempest that is going to tour schools. What was remarkable was the minimal set, in contrast to the high-tech production (with live motion capture!) that we watched later on in the main theatre. Personally, I found I engaged more with the actors’ physical presence when there was almost no set — it set my imagination gears into motion and created the intimacy needed to generate the spark between Miranda and Ferdinand.”

Others, like myself, having only for the first time such an opportunity to attend a professional theatre rehearsal look at it in more simple terms, while being equally impressed. The whole session was an excitement right from the start. We were hosted in the ‘Other Place’ Theatre, and I found Aileen, the director of this production, as the most theatrical spirit-minded and passionate person I had ever seen. Even their rehearsal was inspirational to look at– I admired the fact that the actors and actresses made acting seem so intuitive while I would find it against my nature to express myself like that – too shy! The evening production was also great, I particularly liked the way Ariel expressed his otherworldly qualities using some ballet-like feet movements.”

Certainly, the new RSC production of The Tempest was the focus of the evening. And this particular production has been made famous and the centre of much attention through the extraordinary innovative use of motion capture, and live digital avatars on stage (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/such-stuff-as-dreams-are-made-on-ariel-to-appear-as-3d-digital-a/). Not surprising, the implementation of such approaches generated a lot of discussion amongst ourselves, and reflections from some of my colleagues. Lizzie Slattery (Y2) thought that “for the most part the technology was integrated very well into the production as a whole and gave it the magical quality which is so important for the Tempest. … On the whole though, an amazing production!”

Prospero's Cell in Royal Shakespeare Company. (Photo by Katrina)

Others, while enjoying the potential of the technology, found it frustrating not being able to enjoy it from the seats that were made available for some of us in the theatre hall. Cassidy Locke (Y2) wishes she could “have got more out of the motion capture technology. I felt like I didn’t experience it because I was sat to the side of the stage and so couldn’t see it very well – sometimes from an angle and sometimes not at all. I thought that this was a shame from the production, as they must have been aware that this would pose a problem. This didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the play and the acting, but I had been excited about seeing what the motion capture technology would bring to the performance and I left feeling like I still didn’t know.” And in respect the to relationship between the actor and his live display on various screens and surfaces, a mix that could be distracting or deterring from the watching of either, Cassidy really fell for the play of the real actor: “I thought the cast in general was great though in particular the actor who played Ariel. His movement around the stage was mesmerising. I’m so glad they decided to have the actor Ariel on stage as well as the images of him from the motion capture technology.”

Another friend, Chloe Gooding (Y1) engaged in a more detailed analysis of the production. She clearly did not find the use of technology that inspiring, and almost detracting from the stage performance of the actor playing Ariel. Chloe furthermore, looked at the production almost like a theatre critic and focused of various performances: “The performance of Simon Russel Beale was truly amazing and the use of projection and lighting during the masque scene was breath-taking. In the Show, the only let-down was the use of the live motion capture and the slightly odd performance of Miranda (Jenny Rainsford). The use of motion capture– a new device used for the first time during a live performance was obviously troublesome. Firstly, the effectiveness of the projections relied heavily upon the position in which the audience member was seated. For instance, someone in a central position probably had a far better experience than me who was at the far left hand side. Furthermore, many of Mark Quartley’s fantastic facial expressions and physicality were lost thanks to the restrictive nature of this developing technology, leaving behind only vocal expression and slightly jolty animated creatures. Rainsford’s performance was also perplexing. While I understood the interpretation of Miranda as a strange, isolated girl who has little experience of real society other than what was passed onto her from Prospero, her performance went one step further than that. Her vocal expression was jarring and I felt she lacked the raw genuine emotion one would expect to see during her interactions with Ferdinand. It was like he fascinated her, rather than his appearance overwhelmed her with strange new emotions – this being a widely accepted element of her character and one too integral to leave out, as they did, almost entirely.”

 

Ariel and Caliban taking the bow. (Photo by Emil Toescu).

And during discussing about the play, I was surprised to find out that some of my colleagues had a much closer encounter with the play earlier in their life! Abi Pilkington (Y1) has been studying ‘The Tempest’ at A level and also performed in it. She was “extremely excited to see what the Royal Shakespeare Company made of it … and the RSC certainly didn’t disappoint. For me, the most exciting aspect of the trip was having a personal insight into the rehearsal process from both the director and the actors’ point of view, it really made me remember and appreciate why I love theatre so much. It also gave an insight into the infinite ways in which a play can be interpreted and conveyed, especially when contrasting the two versions they were putting on, one with INTEL’s insane technology, and the other with no technology at all. I wish I’d had this kind of insight into Shakespeare’s work when I was doing my exam on ‘The Tempest’!”

All in all, what a day to spend in Stratford. And I we’ll be excused that, while in Stratford, we did not have a chance to go for visiting the touristic sites. Or go shopping! For LANS, Culture trumps many things.

Contributed by Jennifer (Qian) Zhang, Y1, LANS

LANS Trip to Kiss Me Kate, by Lizzie Slattery

The Welsh National Opera’s production of Kiss Me Kate which LANS attended earlier this month was one of the most fun and unexpected shows I have seen. Having never watched the show before, and knowing very little about it, I went into the performance not knowing what to expect. For the first quarter of an hour or so I didn’t really know what to make of it and found the acting over the top and the pace a little slow. However, once I settled into the show it was fantastic. The mix of hilariously crude humour, fantastic ensemble dance scenes and some surprisingly touching moments between the lead cast members, made it a thoroughly enjoyable show- not to mention the extensive and lavish, operatic solos which punctuated the performance.

The feature of the show which I enjoyed the most was, without a doubt, the tap solo from Alan Burkitt (playing Bill, the drunkard boyfriend of young starlet, Louis Lane). The pace and skill of the dance was breath taking and utterly captured the audience.

The play within a play element of Kiss Me Kate is also part of the fun (and confustion!) of the production and the relationship between Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me Kate’s retelling of it is very interesting. Discussing the play afterwards with other LANS students, we noted how difficult it is for someone with our modern values of gender equality to accept the ‘moral’ of the tale told in the Taming of the Shrew- which is essentially that a women should change herself into a quiet, submissive and obedient in order to be acceptable to a man. I felt that the production left it slightly ambiguous where they came down on the issue; however Kate’s dominant attitude towards Fred (or Petruchio- his character in The Taming of the Shrew) in the final scene and during the cast’s bows, made me think that the show condemned the outdated attitude towards women which it had shown.

As Cassidy put it,

“Although the ending of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew felt a bit out of place with the modern setting of Kiss Me Kate, and doesn’t sit that well with contemporary attitudes, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the production.”

All in all it was an excellent production of Cole Porter’s classic musical, with a fantastic leading cast and extremely strong chorus!

“It was great, it wasn’t what I expected at all. It was very funny, the two gangsters made it. I’d never been to an opera before so I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a very modern play and wasn’t traditionally operatic. Very enjoyable, 10/10 would recommend to a friend”

Miriam, second year LANS student.

”I loved Kiss Me Kate. It was very different to the Marriage of Figaro that we went to last year – more of a musical/opera cross. It was properly laugh out loud funny, from the moment a pigeon got shot out of the sky to the lyrics of Brush up your Shakespeare.”

Cassidy, second year LANS student

LANS trip to the Colour and Vision exhibition, October 2016

picture-1

A number of Liberal Arts and Sciences students attended the Colour and Vision exhibition at the Natural History Museum, as part of our cultural programme during October 2016.  A few of them gave their review of the exhibition below.

‘Visually spectacular and informative with interesting interactive activities, would have liked it to be longer’ — Emily

‘I really enjoyed the whole thing, especially the model of evolution of the eye and seeing how on the way some organisms got themselves freakiest sets of those light sensors. And the colour symbolism wall was really interesting as well – I myself was surprised by my answers. ‘–Ada

‘I thought that there were some amazing parts- the eyeballs of different animals and the bit when you could see what colours other animals see. It was visually so stunning and there was lots to look at. For me it was a little short – I felt like I was just getting into it and all of a sudden it was over which was a shame, but there were some unique parts to the exhibition, like at the end when you were asked to associate certain colours to certain concepts like Femininity, Power and Danger.’ —Cassidy

‘I was slightly intimidated by the large collection of animal specimens. Nevertheless I enjoyed looking at things that were very strange to me— spiny shapes and beautiful burgundy shells. The exhibition tried but did not succeed in linking more to humanity, which I would have enjoyed more than biology. There was an interactive wall of colour cards that you could correspond to different humanity concepts, such as deceit and attraction. But instead of expanding on that, it cut short and ended with a beautifully-shot and colourful video.’ —Jennifer Z

First year trip to Coniston, June 2016 by Martha Hutchinson

The Trip

Two weeks ago, the first year students of LANS went on a four day residential trip to the Raymond Priestly Centre on the shore of Lake Coniston. From hiking to high ropes, we took part in various activities designed to help us improve our teamwork and leadership skills – and were also very enjoyable!

 

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The good weather held for the majority of the week, meaning that evenings could be spent outside on the field and by the lake, or going to the local pub in the village of Coniston.

Monday, 6th June

After a 7am start in the North Gate Carpark, we set off to the Lake District on what looked to be a lovely day. Five and a half hours later, this proved to be correct as we arrived at the centre to blue skies. After lunch, it was outside to do some ‘ice-breaking activities’. These contests ranged from passing all members of the team through a hoop in 4 seconds, to racing a ball up and down the hill in sections of gutter; and by the end of the afternoon, all of the teams seemed to be really enjoying themselves.

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One activity involved passing a bean bag between two people stood on either side of an increasingly wide gap – this was attempted with varying amounts of success.

Tuesday, 7th June

On the second day, the teams split up to complete a circuit of activities individually. My group (Team 4), were on land for the morning. We had a rotation of activities: crate stacking, high ropes and low ropes, all of which were very entertaining! I think my favourite would have to be the high ropes, as it was a brilliant way for us all to work together and help each other through. Then, there was a fantastic lunch (quiche) before we set off for an afternoon of canoeing. While many canoes were off to a slightly rocky start, by the time we stopped for ice cream at the Bluebird café it was generally going swimmingly (not literally).

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Our first task was to build a tower of crates for two team members to stand on to reach a whistle in the trees – thank you Jeeves for coming up with the brickwork pattern

Wednesday, 8th June

Our third day was marked on the schedule as ‘activity day’, and so we had only a small idea of what to expect – other than we would need a packed lunch. Over the course of the day, we completed an orienteering trail, a logic puzzle, a hike and a canoe journey, gaining points for various correct answers during the day. While we were all exhausted by the end, the day was a success – I had a great time, and the views were amazing (even if we had to walk up a rather steep hill to get to them)! Plus, we succeeded in winning the prize at the end – ice cream!

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While canoeing on both days was enjoyable, it was a bit more difficult on the Wednesday as the Lake became rather choppy in the afternoon! (Picture from Tuesday)

Thursday, 9th June

 

On our final day, we were able to choose our morning activity (mountain biking, sailing, gorge scrambling or kayaking). Having chosen sailing, my group spent the morning back out on the lake, which was great fun, and a perfect way to end the trip – especially the water fight with the group in kayaks! After a final lunch and a clean of the centre, it was back on the coach for the drive back to Birmingham. The trip was a resounding success, with everyone enjoying themselves, and it was awesome to be able to get to know everyone on the course. I hope that next year’s group will have as fantastic a time.

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On the final evening, we made a fire in the centre’s fire pit, around which we drank hot chocolate and attempted to roast a doughnut.

Thank you

 

Finally, on behalf of LAS Year 1, I would like to say a big thank you to everyone whose hard work made this trip a success. In Birmingham, I would like to say a special thank you to Ruth German, Ben Kotzee and Stewart Brown for organising the trip. I would also like to thank Ben and Stewart for accompanying us. Finally, I would like to say a massive thank you to all the staff at the Raymond Priestly Centre, who worked tirelessly to make sure we had a great time – everything was amazing, from the food, to the activities, and even to the atmosphere of the centre! The trip could not have gone ahead without any of you – thank you very much!

 

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Also, a personal thank you from me to Ben, Miriam and Lorna for allowing me to use their photos for this post!