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A BEACON OF LIGHT
Genesis of the Story Chair
This article by Jon Canessa, the Cathedral’s Lantern Initiative Lead, was originally published in ‘Link’, the magazine for the Diocese of Newcastle. It contains news, stories from the Diocese, and regular feature articles from the Cathedral.
The Cathedral’s Lantern Initiative seeks to reframe who a Cathedral is for. As a unique place of worship and historical significance, its function, sanctuary and beauty are a gift to everyone. One of the Cathedral’s values, Radical Welcome, looks around to see who is not here, and asks why. This compels us to go out into the wider city, to make meaningful connections and partnerships. Specifically, it calls us to walk alongside those individuals and groups that have been judged or oppressed.
In this context, the Lantern Initiative contacted a local Changing Lives women’s group. The group have experiences of the criminal justice system and were invited for a tour and asked to give their views on how the Cathedral might be a place of
belonging. Having first established a relationship with those who were previously not present, Radical Welcome looks to see a culture transformed by the presence of hosting those who were missing.
The women collectively shared experiences of being judged by others and of being denied access to certain opportunities because of their past. They carry a deep-rooted sense of not belonging and of not being seen. The trauma and abuse the women have been exposed to throughout their lives unsurprisingly means they value ‘feeling safe’ and are highly attuned to their environment. Their experiences of the Cathedral as a place of sanctuary – where they are affirmed simply for who they are.
The women were captivated by the Cathedral’s crypt, finding it a place of sanctuary despite, at the time, being full of scaffolding and broken chairs. Seeing beyond the clutter, the women asked if they could use the crypt as a place where they could
share their stories so that others might better understand. By doing so, they imagined saying goodbye to their past just as mourners gather to say goodbye to the deceased.
Over the last 12 months, a physical Story Chair has been created, supported in collaboration with Northumbria University and
the North East Probation Service, involving more than 50 women across Newcastle, Ashington, North Tyneside and Sunderland.
On Friday 8 September, the Story Chair will be unveiled publicly for the first time at a special launch event taking place at Newcastle Cathedral. Composed of the women’s artwork, the Story Chair will be used across the country to open conversations with cultural venues about how they can make their spaces more inclusive.
Through this transformative project, the women involved have explored various storytelling techniques, empowering them to
reclaim their narratives and take control of their own stories as they move forward.
Watch this short film about the creation and development of the Story Chair.