Community Rocks — L’Arche London

If you’re local to West Norwood, you’ve most likely come across L’Arche, a local charity which provides community and support for people with learning disabilities. With its beautiful residential house based in Gothic Lodge on Idmiston road, its craft workshop and shop on Norwood High Street, and the stalls you often see at Feast and the West Dulwich Fairs, L’Arche is well and truly embedded in our community. I wanted to find out more, so I caught up with Community Leader and Director, Lucy Winter.

1) Tell me a bit about L’Arche London. How did it start and when?

L’Arche London is a Community of more than 100 people with and without learning disabilities. We live, work and celebrate together. We give time to practical, emotional and spiritual needs.

L’Arche London was founded in 1977 and we have been based in West Norwood since this date. We are part of a much bigger picture as L’Arche is an international federation that was founded in France over fifty years ago. L’Arche want for each person with a learning disability to be able to shape their own unique role in the world.

2) What sort of things do you do with people with learning disabilities to help enrich their lives?

We offer many opportunities for the people with learning disabilities in our Community that help them develop and grow as individuals. A key part of L’Arche values is to support people to lead at the point of their gifts.

We have a vibrant craft workshop, where people make beautiful crafts products and we also have a lovely garden workshop where people are supported to harvest and grow fruit, vegetables and flowers. We sell our produce to the local and wider community and share the rest between our Community houses and friends.

We have many talented artists who are supported to nurture and develop their gifts and have great links with established galleries, such as the Royal Academy, who have facilitated workshops and provided opportunities for people’s work to be exhibited.

We are blessed with the talents of incredible art facilitators who work in our day services. They facilitate sessions with our member’s with a disability and encourage them to use their gifts in music and drama. They are supported to devise and perform their own performances, which most recently have been shown at local theatre venues in South London.

Most importantly we offer a space where mutual relationships can grow. Each person in the Community, whether with or without a learning disability are celebrated as individuals with their own gifts to share with the world. Parties are a huge part of our culture here in L’Arche London; these celebrations offer a chance for people to come together and celebrate the life of the individual and what wonderful things they offer to those around them. Earlier this year, we opened our doors to the Lambeth Community for Learning Disability week. In collaboration with the Lambeth Learning Disability forum, we had a pizza party using our brand new pizza oven in the courtyard of our main site, where we also have a beautiful craft workshop. It was a wonderful opportunity to relax and have fun together with so many people from the Community of Lambeth.

3) Is the craft workshop part of the shop you have on Norwood High Street?

Yes, we are open 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday and all are welcome. The products are made by the people in our craft workshop, which is joined on to the shop, the products we make are ornaments, candles, cards, jewellery and artwork from our people with a learning disability. There are other products from local artists in the area and products from L’Arche communities across to world. We have nativity scenes made from felt from our community in Bethlehem and bags from Burkina Faso.

4) Great! I’ll make sure I pop into your shop. It sounds like there could be some great gift ideas for Christmas. How else do you work with the local community?

We have excellent links with the local churches, and work with them to host special events and celebrations, such as Community retreat days, Easter and Christmas celebrations and Community parties. We are particularly connected with All Saints church, West Dulwich and helped them out with their stall at The Lambeth Country Show, where we have had our own stall in previous years.

We have also been fortunate to be hosted by Lambeth Palace for several Community Retreat celebrations and have welcomed volunteers from the St Anselms Community over the past couple of years, who have brought absolute joy and life to the Community.

The fun and friendly pub, Knowles of Norwood, have worked with us to fundraise for the Community by hosting 2 fundraising evenings in support of L’Arche. These nights were a lot of fun and we were so grateful to be a part of them.

We are also happy to engage and work with our local community in new and exciting ways.

5) What do you love most about the local area and community?

What is most wonderful about our local area and community of West Norwood is the incredible diversity of the area and sense of togetherness. L’Arche London itself is a very diverse and international Community, with assistants coming from all over the world. West Norwood offers a space where people can be accepted and celebrated for their diversity and difference.

The people with learning disabilities in L’Arche London feel welcomed by our local community. Cafes, shops and pubs are always offering a friendly and welcoming space for people to socialise and spend time with friends.

6) I completely agree, the diversity of our local community is one of its best features. Can local people get involved by volunteering or fundraising?

Absolutely!! We never refuse an extra pair of helping hands. If people are interested in volunteering or fundraising for L’Arche London then please get in touch with either myself at lucy.winter@larche.org.uk or sarah.dean@larche.org.uk

We are in desperate need for a new van to help continue to provide exciting day and holiday opportunities for our people with learning disabilities, especially those with increasing mobility needs. Any donations would be greatly received and can be done so through our L’Arche London website. Alternatively, if anyone can offer any advice and support on where we may be able to acquire a top quality, second hand van then that would be greatly appreciated and to please contact me directly.

7) I loved visiting your gardens at the Summer Fayre. Have you got any similar events coming up?

We have some exciting events coming up in December and we’d love to see you there:

  • 11th of December — An “inclusive for everyone” carol Service at All Saints Church, West Dulwich. Fundraising for L’Arche London. Starts at 7pm.
  • 20th of December — Screening of “Summer in the Forest”. A film about L’Arche and living Community. Showing at the New West Norwood Picturehouse at 6pm. Again. Fundraising for L’Arche London
  • 22nd of December — An “inclusive for everyone” Nativity Play. From 3pm-5pm taking place at All Saints church West Dulwich.

8) How do we find out more about L’Arche?

You can follow us on twitter at @larchelondon_uk or find us on Facebook, we are at www.facebook.com/larchelondonuk

We are also recruiting, so whatever your stage of life, background, age or experience, come join us as a L’Arche Assistant, supporting those with learning disabilities to build a Community where EVERYONE belongs. All you have to do is visit our website to find out more, you can find us at www.larchelondon.org.uk