Good Brunches

GOOD-BRUNCH-INVITE-02Matryoshka Haus is a community built around our projects: around designing creative solutions for social change. The community in London has grown through involvement in Sweet Notions, The Truth Isn’t Sexy and the Transformational Index, and we are now ready to journey towards our next project.

To do that we have started something we’re calling Good Brunches: food and discussions social deprivation, finance, politics, hope, hopelessness and a whole lot more!

Over the next few months we will be gathering together periodically to talk, muse & reflect in the hope that a common compassion will coalesce around a particular issue – and then the next Matryoshka Haus project will be born!

To follow the adventure you can view the Good Brunches tumbler page, or the hashtag #goodbrunches

Back in Action

There’s an ebb and a flow to life in the Matryoshka Haus community: times of busyness and activity and times of rest. After a quieter six months since thanksgiving we are definitely back in action now that Shannon has returned to London.

Cathers introducing the group to the week ahead

Cathers introducing the group to the week ahead

Nothing has show that quite as much as this last week: the inaugural Matryoshka Haus Learning Lab. Fourteen Americans from Bent Tree Church in Dallas, Tx came to hear about London as a post-Christian urban culture and what that might mean for the future of mission in the US.

Bent Tree-ers brainstorming reflections at Host Cafe

Bent Tree-ers brainstorming reflections at Host Cafe

This was a true Matryoshka Haus experience: an immersive, intensive week where the venue of the teaching and the people experiencing it with you are as important as the content. Where meals together with members of the Matryoshka Haus community is a crucial part of the week, giving the American’s the opportunity to ask questions and bounce ideas off the ordinary Londoner!

Shannon teaching the group in the FARM:Shop polytunnel

Shannon teaching the group in the FARM:Shop polytunnel

If there has been any doubt that the Matryoshka Haus community has held together over the last year, the Learning Lab dispelled it. Twenty different members of our London crew volunteered to help out this week: taking Americans to church or Sunday lunch, to curry, to coffee, to the pub or even entertaining them in their homes. At our ‘Celebration Evening’ on Saturday night there was a genuine warmth of feeling expressed by both groups – yet again a disparate bunch of Americans and Brits had become friends while working and exploring life together.

[Interested in what the Learning Lab was? You can read more of Bent Tree Church’s adventures at the Learning Lab blog.]


After we had eaten our Thanksgiving feast, we made new stars and lifted them into the sky.

I don’t know when Cathers had the idea of adding Chinese Lanterns to our Thanksgiving celebrations, but it was an inspired thought!

I love paper lanterns. They are such a simple idea. A few bits of fragile tissue paper and a bit of meths-soaked card one minute and then a glowing, floating beacon of light the next.

You need a partner in crime to help you: one holds the lantern aloft, the other stoops underneath with a match or a taper to light the card at the bottom. Very slowly the lantern fills out with light and warmth. And then it begins to lift…

I’m not sure we go for symbology here at Matryoshka Haus. We didn’t say a prayer or perform a rite with these lanterns. We had some fun. And yet there is something about the act of releasing a lantern that lifts the soul.

You stand and you wait, feeling the insubstantial weight of the paper get gradually lighter in your hands. You feel the feeble warmth from the flame grow and the light dance around you as the wind catches the flame.

Gradually you have a sense of an imperceptible pull on your hold and you find yourself releasing your grip for a second to see what will happen. No, not yet. Soon. Maybe now…?

With a gentle lift the lantern is away. At first you feel like you’ve made a mistake and there will soon be a fiery mess at your feet. But no, up it goes. Slowly, then faster and higher. Like a gentle and majestic jellyfish it rises into the air and over your heads and is carried away.

Chinese lantern floating away.

As you watch the lantern rise, you feel lighter. You feel like your spirit has been lifted up, into the heavens with your man-made temporary star. You might not have prayed, you might not have wished, but for a moment you realise that your worries are less present and your heart less heavy.

And you smile.

Being Thankful

The London Matryoshka Haus community gathered together recently to celebrate Thanksgiving. Shannon brought this American tradition with her from the US and it has become a wonderful, looked-forward-to part of our community calendar. I don’t know if we do it right, but we have turkey and stuffing and wine and lots of good company. We eat together, we drink together, we laugh together and we are thankful, together.

This year has been a tough year for many of the Matryoshka Haus family. Shannon, Andy, Thomasin and myself have all been homeless. Shannon’s father died. Rachel N’s business failed. There has been sickness and heartache and a lot of bad or lost jobs and underemployment. People’s hopes have failed to come to fruition and… well, y’know, sometimes life just seems a little tough. I know there have been plenty of times when we have got together and it felt like everyone round the table was having a bad week. And for good reason.

But however hard things might have been we found plenty to be thankful for that weekend. We were thankful for each other, for the genuine loving support that there is round that table, like no other group of people I know. We were thankful for places of shelter and hospitality that restore us: Helen & Cathers’ offering space for Sam; Sue and Iain making a healing home for Shannon in Chichester; my own journey from home to home receiving generosity and a welcome embrace again and again.

We were thankful for Holly’s arrival at Sweet Notions; for Becca becoming an integral part of the TI team. For Rachel J (currently) buying a home close by; for Jo getting a home of her own after many years. For Cathers’ job with Made in Marylebone and for the Design Camps being so successful that they are no longer needed.

We are thankful for new members of the community: for Phil & Sarah, Naomi and Nills. For every new friend. For every successful meeting. We are thankful for the many new ties across the Atlantic between American friends and Brits. We are thankful for those who want to join us here, especially for Carl and Regina and their family who hope to be part of the London family by next Thanksgiving.

If there is any symbol of hope and joy in our community, if there is any one thing that we can all agree with are overwhelmingly thankful for, it is for Jacob. At our Thanksgiving gathering last year he was barely a week old and only 2 days out of the hospital. He captured our hearts that day and has held them very soundly ever since.

Jacob at 11 months old

Jacob is the most good-natured baby I have ever met. He genuinely loves everyone he meets and warms to new people quickly. He has a winning smile and a marvellously dirty chuckle. In short, he is the perfect embodiment of what our community hopes to be to each other, and what we hope Matryoshka Haus can be to the world.

Happy Thanksgiving.

This thing called Chateau Duffy…

So here’s a question: would you pay £300 for the privilege of being a manual labourer for a week? Would you travel to a foreign country with a bunch of people you don’t know to renovate a house belonging to someone you haven’t met? Would you work hard, stretch muscles, gain bruises, lose sleep all for the possibility of a real holiday some time in the distant future?

And, having done all of that, would you enthusiastically sign up to do it all over again?

As crazy as it might seem, that’s the story of Chateau Duffy, Matryoshka Haus’ oddest project yet. Over the last year a rag-tag bunch of disparate Americans and Brits have trekked off to rural France to work on renovating a 400-year-old French farmhouse and barn; one that has been derelict for the last 150 years!

So far 26 of us have made the trip (27 if you count baby J!), every one of us volunteering our time as a builder and labourer. And most of us paying for that privilege! We have worked and sweated to rig scaffolding, move tiles, point walls, raise beams, cut grass and generally (wo)manned-up to the task. Even though the vast majority of us have had no clue what we were doing…

Yes, Rachel is sweeping the roof.

It might sound crazy to you, but it has been a lot of fun. Having made the trip three times myself, I can say there is a huge sense of achievement when looking at the barn roof, now rebuilt and water-tight (for the 1st time in many a long year). Even if I get nothing more from Chateau Duffy, being able to say “we did that” is pretty-darned-awesome…

Chateau Duffy is ready & waiting for more work

But of course we get a lot more from Chateau Duffy than that.

We get a week in the French sunshine (and rain). We get copious amounts of wine, bread and cheese. We get long days of hard work yes, but days full of laughter and real fellowship. Just read back at some of the stories in this blog if you don’t believe me…

We will all also get the right to stay in the completed Chateau Duffy in the future, as a reward for our labours. Chris Duffy, owner of this romantic pile of old French rock and tile, is promising us all weeks in this future holiday home in return for our weeks of work. And having enjoyed the delights of St Denis des Murs a few times now, I have to say I’m looking forward to that!

Call it madness or method, we are heading back to Chateau Duffy next spring. We have a large gite reserved and a website ready to take bookings. With the barn roof finished, this time we hope will bring a real sense of progress – the beginnings of the transformation from barn to (holiday) home.

Eric, our builder, and Carl, our architect – two crazily-committed Texan professionals, are keen to return. So is Mr Richard, the amazing chef from our adventures last Easter. But that still gives us plenty of space for friends old and new. Will you join us?

Food, friends and France - what's not to like?