Sharing families

Last month we had the honor of taking our lovely English friends to our favorite river spot on the Guadalupe. It was such an enjoyable weekend, catching up with all that is going on with everyone from London.

Justin and I have truly enjoyed being able to spend this time with everyone and even getting to introduce our children to the people with “funny” accents! We love what God is doing with and through this wonderful community and are so grateful we have been able to be a part of it.

My journey began when Shannon invited the Jill Reno Collection in May 2011 to host a Sweet Notions design camp with the women at the Marylebone Project…what an amazing group of women and a life changing experience for me!

Then Justin and I were invited on the Chateau Duffy adventure in France…an unforgettable adventure with men hanging off the roof and the women working like little ants stacking clay tiles.  We loved being there with you all and know that we have made friends for life and can’t wait to do it all again!!!

– Lisa Carpenter

Brad with Justin & Lisa at the Chateau Duffy reunion

Beer for Belts

For weeks, Cathers has been asking anyone and everyone if they had belts knocking around that they no longer needed. It might sound like an odd request, but it was part of Sweet Notions’ vision of repurposing unwanted accessories. Jason Fletcher – a furniture designer – had designed a chair using unwanted belts, because Sweet Notions gets given a lot of them, but they needed enough belts to make a proto-type. (You can read more about this on the Sweet Notions’ blog.) After much thought and not enough belts being forthcoming, an idea was born…an evening of ‘beer for belts’.

The premise was simple. We needed belts – lots of them. Men have belts – lots of them. (So do women.) What do men like? Beer. (So do women.) Thanks to generous donations from two breweries, we had a great set of raffle prizes – for every belt donated, a raffle ticket was given.

Usually, I have to trek from King’s Cross to the East End to participate in Matryoshka Haus events, but this time I was literally round the corner. We gathered in the Queen’s Head where friends and strangers alike gathered to give belts, drink beer and hopefully win beer. It’s not often that you have a legitimate reason to ask a total stranger to take off the belt they’re currently wearing!

The winner of a keg of East London brewery ale seemed delighted with the acquisition of 72 pints of beer – but there were several disappointed faces. It’s a good job there’s plans afoot for future Beer for Belts evenings over the summer…

A word of warning: this project can affect you in strange ways. Last week I found myself picking up a discarded belt from the pavement outside my house…clearly I’ll stop at nothing for another chance at some free beer!

Some beer, and some belts

A new term begins at the Design Camp

As the posters around The Marylebone Project say, ‘We’re back’. This is our sixth ‘term’ at the project which means, as Shannon reminded me yesterday, September will be the second anniversary of the Design Camp. Expect something involving cake!

Even though I hated school, and the start of a new term used to fill me with dread, I actually quite like the rhythm of activity followed by rest, followed by activity. It allows space to reflect and re-focus, try something new over a limited period of time, ring the changes or just respond to seasonal opportunities like Christmas.

Over the Easter break we reviewed the Design Camp and decided to try some new ideas this term. This may come as a surprise to some of the women who love their weekly fix of beads and wire but we hope they will also embrace the opportunity to try something else and, as we found with making jewellery, I’m sure we’ll discover hidden talents.

So we started this term, making earrings, an old favourite, but with plans to try out a few new ideas; lampshades, gift bags and tags, and sweet smelling, pretty lavender bags. All made using some of the scarfs that have been collected. We will be grateful for the sewing skills of Katie Sampson and Shi Dolor, two of our regular volunteers who take time out from their own businesses and family life to help with the sessions.

It was good to see some familiar faces returning last week, and three new women to welcome. We’ve met around 15 new women at the design camps since January, over just 10 sessions, which reflects the turnover at the hostel but is also a challenge for us as we seek to build relationships and develop the women’s skills.

The rhythm, terms and seasons; rest and creativity, reminds me of one of my favourite hymns:

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pray with me that this term we would have our eyes open so that we can witness and celebrate God’s faithfulness, mercy and love at work in the lives of all involved with the design camps.

– Polly

Saying goodbye to Marylebone

Last Thursday was my last day to spend at the Marylebone Project during my time living in London. I am so sad that it is over, but I feel so incredibly blessed by the fact that I was given the opportunity to spend any time there at all. Shannon made the overly kind gesture of bringing cupcakes for everyone during the last 30 minutes of the Design Camp to celebrate the return of a past volunteer – Katie Sampson – as well as a goodbye treat. Everyone was super thrilled about the adorable cupcakes and it was so fun to celebrate with the community that has been created at Marylebone over the past few weeks, as well as months.


In addition to the exciting news that Katie will be helping out more often with the Design Camps, Polly and I met last Thursday morning with a ‘proper’ jewelry designer from the Fairtrade jewelry company, Cred and she has volunteered to give some of her time to come talk about, and explain what she does at one of our Design Camps in November!! I am MOST disappointed that I will be missing out on her visit – it was lovely to spend some time chatting with her over coffee and to hear about what led her to designing jewelry specifically in the context of Fairtrade. Another upcoming event I am disappointed about missing, but am thrilled others are getting the opportunity to experience is the trip the Design Camps are taking to the Victoria & Albert Museum December 1st!

As my last  Design Camp came to an end, I was saying goodbye’s to all of the women present and they kept thanking me. While this isn’t a strange thing for them to say I kept thinking, and saying back to them, ‘No thank YOU,’ for allowing me to come hang out with you, and for the graciousness and gentleness you have consistently shown me every Thursday for eight weeks. Despite the reality that initially I was a complete stranger to these women, they have genuinely embraced me from the get-go. Unfortunately this is not exactly a social cannon these days and while over time there is a trust that has to be gained to form any sort of real relationship with the women at Marylebone, I was given the chance to do so from the beginning; I was ‘let in’ so to speak. I have learned so much from the women at the Marylebone Project by the way in which they continue to be open to new people and new things, and continue to wear a smile and remain positive in the face of serious adversity – adversity that I cannot even begin to understand or imagine. They have humbly reminded me that Christ alone is sufficient and that, ‘the Joy of the Lord,’ provides an awesome and abundant strength. What’s more, the delight that the act of crafting jewelry brought to everyone present at the Design Camps each week restored my belief in the healing effects of creating something beautiful – of actually taking the time to enjoy what is beautiful, and seeing the beauty of God even in repurposed jewelry. As I have mentioned before, I believe that God is doing very special things through the Design Camps that occur every Thursday at The Marylebone Project and that He alone is changing the lives of the women who are participating. It has been a true true joy and honor to have the opportunity to experience His work in that context.












Happy Birthday Sweet Notions!!

There is certainly a buzz in the air this Friday morning as we are all preparing for the Sweet Notions event tonight at Drink Shop & Do. We have fabulous designs by Jill Reno, Kendra Scott and Chris Duffy as raffle prizes in addition to a delicious ‘pudding’ – also known as dessert for those living across the pond – to celebrate the 1st birthday of Sweet Notions London. Wow, what amazing things it has done in one year!!

Being part of the process of preparing for the Sweet Notions event today while just less than 24 hours ago I was given, once again, the opportunity to experience the amazing effects it is having has enabled me to get a clear view of the cyclical nature of the Sweet Notions project itself. Like every Thursday, I spent yesterday at the Marylebone Project helping to facilitate the Design Camps that the money from Sweet Notions helps to fund. I will say with the utmost sincerity that every penny that comes out of Sweet Notions is producing blessings in the lives of the women at the Marylebone Project which exceed that penny’s value ten-fold. An analogy that comes to mind is Jesus feeding the 5,000 with 2 fish and five loaves of bread.   One of the coolest things about it is the way by which Sweet Notions and the Design Camps have affected women in such diverse ways. For example, for some of them, repurposing and creating new jewelry has truly become a skill and a craft that is going to enable them to be employed and earn an income, while giving them an actual vocation that they can be proud of and enjoy. For others, having a means by which to exercise their creative side gives them confidence and a reprieve from the less relaxing and pleasant thoughts that pervade our day – to – day lives. In addition, whether you are creative or not, or cannot craft pieces of jewelry to save your life (people such as myself) taking 2 hours out of the afternoon to engage with other people in a quiet, peaceful, and positive environment lifts the soul for a period of time and encourages all of those involved to believe that there is still some good in this broken world.

Yesterday and last week women were showing up to the Design Camp 30 minutes early because they were so eager and excited to come and participate. One of the women who comes regularly now has a job at a hospital in London and told us yesterday that she has rearranged her work schedule so that she will have every Thursday off in order to attend the Design Camps.  Happy Birthday Sweet Notions!!