In my mid twenties I worked as a Children’s and Families Worker for a group of churches in the suburban towns of Gerrards Cross and Chalfont St Peter, not far from London. Generally, it was an area of privilege, the kind of place with well-regarded schools, good train links, green spaces and a lot of large, fancy cars. When we moved there, I was given a generous salary and a 4 bedroom parsonage to live in, and I seem to remember the vicar laughed out loud when he saw our tiny folding table plonked in the middle of the dining room and one, solitary sofa bed in the lounge, brought from our damp but homely flat in Peckham.
We settled there surprisingly quickly in many ways, getting stuck in to our work there, walking around the villages and finding the best routes to the shops. I quickly got to know the children I was working with and they called out to me when I passed them in the street, making me feel known and loved in this new community. After a year we moved to another church house in the village, and not long after that we got a dog. It became our home, though we would never have thought that two unambitious coast-lovers from Devon could settle in such a success-oriented commuter culture.
There were several people who befriended us and helped us to feel we belonged there and one of them was Jo Swinney. I can’t remember how we met but I can remember how quickly she got alongside me. Her home was always open to me and I remember sitting in her kitchen with the sun coming in through the patio doors, putting the world to rights while she got her girls some tea. The girls would show me their toys and books and pictures and Jo allowed me to step right into their lives as well as hers. Her house was a family home. There were toys out and tea on the go, and she’d get me involved in folding clothes or reading stories. I loved it. Hers was a place I could go to rest, to be myself, and, yes, to be at home.
When I heard that Jo was writing a whole book dedicated to the concept of home, I was excited. It’s such a compelling subject for a modern audience, at a time when so many of us have moved away from the places we were born and so often, families are scattered in all directions for all kinds of reasons. And I knew that if anyone should write a book about home, it should be Jo, in whose house I had felt so welcome, so included and so at rest.
Since my copy of Home arrived on my doormat, I have read avidly. It has been fascinating to get to know Jo better through it, to fill in little gaps in the story I knew of her and to find out more about all the places she has lived and how she reached the point at which I met her. What is more, her life experiences – having lived in places and cultures as far flung as Portugal, France, England, Africa and Canada – have equipped her perfectly to explore the big questions about what home is and how we make it.
She reflects throughout the book on issues of family, place, culture, faith, identity and work, weaving her questions and thoughts skilfully through her own story and linking them with characters from the Bible. As a reader I almost felt I was back in her kitchen having a conversation with her as I began to reflect on my own experiences, too.
The book couldn’t have come at a better time for me as Andrew and I begin to explore adoption and the kind of home we would like ours to be for any future children. I identify with Jo’s story in many ways, having had many ‘homes’ myself, so the time spent reading her warm, considered and often funny words was time well-invested. The subtitle of the book is ‘The Quest to Belong’ and isn’t that so much of what life is? We all need and search for the security of belonging and the springboard it gives us. Reading Jo’s book has not only challenged me to consider where and how I find that belonging, but also to think about how we can facilitate that sense of home for others, too.
Home is due to be released on the 29th June: next week! To find out more, click here.