Guest blog by Bia Helvetti
Bring your blanket, bring your brew, I will spin a yarn for you, the moon rides high, the stars are bright, gather around the flame tonight…
The harvest is nearly over, “the veil grows thin and the dark draws in” as they say and we simple folks we huddle inside, draw the curtains, and fill our halls with light and warmth and laughter and try to forget, right? We try to forget that the dark and the cold, that space beyond our fire’s gleam, exist.
We turn up the central heating, snuggle deep down under duvets with microwaved popcorn and our favourite film, we loiter in the kitchen by the kettle’s perpetual froth of steam and we cook soups and stews and hot apple pie. We cling to the hope and comfort of the flame just as our ancestors have always done and no matter that our flames are hidden now inside electric ovens or combi-boilers or the flickering simulation of the plasma screen.
In times gone by the winter was a dark and lonely time for most. Rural life was the status quo and when snow and rain and biting cold made the country lanes impassable families and friends would be cut off from each other for weeks; the flickering window lights across the valleys providing the only reminder of life outside the circle of your own hearth.
Travellers forced out into the cold would rely upon those lights to guide them safely across miles of uninhabited heath, forest or farmland to places where they might, possibly, if folks were kind, find shelter or warmth or the opportunity to barter food.
Sometimes the young or irresponsible would think it sport to carve out turnip lanterns and hide them in the hedgerows as dusk began to fall. These false lights must at first have seemed a bright hope for a road-weary traveller. Imagine their horror and dismay as they drew near, only to find a lurid demon, grinning mockingly down on them from the black branches of a briar patch.
Sometimes modern life can seem like this can’t it? An uncertain trek through a cold, dark and often lonely wilderness. We are drawn instinctively to the bright and hopeful flames of love, family, career, success… but sometimes these flames that we have invested so much of our energy and will pursuing turn out to be false – the love who leaves us, the family who turn away or are stolen from us by circumstance, the company for whom we put in all those extra hours of commitment and toil that suddenly deems us expendable, or crashes to the ground taking us down with it – and we are left alone in the dark, uncertain where to turn or which new and distant flickering flame we may trust.
SHELTER is a charity which helps people who find themselves in just such a situation; people from all cultures, backgrounds and demographics who suddenly find that their basic needs for warmth, shelter and security are being threatened.
Every year SHELTER helps millions of people who are facing homelessness or housing difficulties by providing free, expert advice through helplines and face-to-face services which are freely available to everyone. Their team of solicitors offer expert legal advice, help fight possession and eviction, and can attend court to defend people who are at risk of losing their home. They can challenge local authority homelessness decisions, and step in when councils aren’t doing enough to support those in housing need. They also defend tenants by helping to pursue claims against landlords where disrepair is causing a serious risk of harm or in cases of unlawful eviction.
Where families are concerned, SHELTER has a specialist support network to offer services to families who need more in-depth help to keep their home, or to settle into a new one after being homeless. These teams work with families over time, giving them the full, practical support they need to get back on their feet. As well as working face to face with those affected by housing problems, SHELTER also campaigns for changes in the law which will tackle the root causes of the housing crisis.
Homelessness can happen to anyone. In 2013 more than 81,000 households in England were found to be homeless, but an estimated 67% of homeless people are thought to have ‘slipped through the net’ of statistical collation. These figures highlight the importance and relevance of the work that SHELTER does, not only helping to re-house people but working to prevent homelessness in the first place.
Gather Around The Flame is a collection of short stories – folk tales, fairy tales, stories of myth and magic, wisdom and wonder – which has been put together in order to raise funds for SHELTER. Most of the contributors have experienced homelessness and housing problems first hand and so it is an issue about which we feel passionately and hope to do all we can to support. The book is divided into seasonal sections and is designed to be an ideal anthology of amusing and inspiring tales for friends and family to share around the campfire or hearth – or just with a nice cup of cocoa at bedtime!
Water can keep us alive but fire sustains the soul – by purchasing a copy of Gather Around The Flame you will be helping SHELTER to continue its vital work in making sure that all those who feel lost and alone have a place of bright hope and comfort to turn to for support.
Wishing you blessings as you gather around your own flame this season,
Gather Around The Flame is available in paperback from Amazon, priced £5.99