Welcoming the Texans to London

Sitting together in the beautiful sunshine on Jesus Green, laughing off another threat of snow with Sangria and orange pasta, and waiting for the Texans to arrive. I can think of no more suitable an introduction to London than this. We don’t have a normal meeting place, day or time as a community, but food, coffee and the promise of new friends never fail to draw us together.

Carl and Regina arrive later than planned, their jet lag (along with our excitement) no doubt increased by a terrorist scare on the plane. We make them relive the tale several times as new people arrive, interrupted with questions about the Terrorism Act, and what inciteful words could have been written on the bathroom mirror?

As we settle into the picnic, sharing spoons and wine glasses, I observe them from across the checked blanket. This couple, just off the plane, new to London weather and ways, seem relaxed and happy to take life in their stride. As prospective inhabitants of this city they already seem at home. And I feel proud to be part of the welcoming committee.

– Helen Gilbert


Prayers for a proposal

Since Christmas, the working group has been meeting in a cafe in the heart of the City of London, discussing and devising a proposal to the Church of England for the building that could be Matroyshka Haus’ home.

Hours have been spent writing drafts, concocting spreadsheets and sending emails – this weekend will see the final proof-reading of the document, ready to be sent to the Diocese of London on Monday morning. Please pray for energy, wisdom and agreement amongst the volunteers working on this! We would really like the document to be the best reflection of who we are, why we feel this building could be our home and why the Church of England should support us.

Please also pray for what happens next:

  • For wisdom and understanding on the part of those who will receive the proposal and pass it on to others.
  • For a favourable response to its contents.
  • For a speedy response and an opportunity to meet with the key individuals in the very near future.
  • For the funds we need to make this project possible.
It’s at times like this when our community ties are most evident. Even though we’re not all in the same country, we’re still working hard on this together – today there have been phone calls from Alaska and emails from Boston, as well as communication between those in London. It feels as though this journey towards a home is bringing the community closer together…

The meaning of Matryoshka Haus – on a tree

Looking back over 2011, a definite highlight for me has been becoming part of the Matryoshka Haus community. This time last year I’d discovered Sweet Notions thanks to some happy coincidences, and had been to a couple of events. I’d heard a lot about someone called Shannon, but had only met her once, briefly, and at a freezing (literally) cold Christmas market. But, in the last year I’ve found myself carrying pink and black furniture along busy London streets; loaded transit vans outside swanky hotels; baked cakes late at night; and re-connected with my sales-woman side – all in the name of Sweet Notions.

In my family, it’s become a tradition that things of significance in our lives are marked by the acquisition of Christmas tree ornaments. I can tell you the story behind pretty much every decoration on my tree – which overseas trip it’s from; which friend gave it to me; or who made it. As I decorated my tree this year, I realised that several of this year’s new additions had connections with Matryoshka Haus.

The first came from an art shop in Chichester, bought while in the town with a group of people I have only got to know thanks to MH. Several of us had spent time together renovating an old house in France over the summer. Close friendships had developed and we’d spent a weekend at a film festival. In a matter of months, one of my most important support networks in London had become a group of people that I’d barely known 12 months earlier.

Little did I know, when I accepted a dinner invite from Shannon, that it would result in a series of trips to France, some fantastic new friends, my first ever Thanksgiving and getting involved in an exciting missional project. Thus, in years to come when my grandchildren ask for the story behind the heart shaped glass bauble, I’ll be able to tell them about the strange collection of great people I lived life with in my early thirties.

Appropriately, the others were bought from a Sweet Notions pop-up shop, and, even more appropriately, one held at the Marylebone Project where the Design Camps take place. These ornaments really sum up Sweet Notions for me – like the jewellery the women make, they’re made from reclaimed beads and reflect their individual personalities.

Although I’ve only met the women a few times, I learnt early on that one with a particular flair for jewellery design especially liked to create things using turquoise and blue beads, so as soon as I saw a couple of turquoise decorations I knew they were Adele creations. In fact, as I was admiring the tree on which they were displayed, I had a chat with Adele who pointed out which ones she’d made and then proceeded to teach me how to make them (several people are receiving my versions this Christmas). The other two that I acquired were made by Cathers, which is also appropriate, given as I can probably credit her with getting me properly involved with Sweet Notions in the first place!

Planning and Skating

Plans continue for a home for Matroyshka Haus…after our last gathering, a working group was established to look after the whole area of business plans and proposals. It’s a group of varied skills and gifts (reflecting the diversity of the MH community) who are working together to try and smooth the way for a building that could become home.

We met just before Christmas to start work on a proposal for the Church of England, but were able to combine some hard work with a weekend of fun, saying goodbye to Shannon as she headed back to the States.

What better way to spend your last day in London than at its Tower, on ice skates?

We’ll miss Shannon while she’s on the other side of the Atlantic, but the community continues gathering. Plus, with Skype and email, it’s almost as if she’s still in London!

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.