Caravan Defined

  • A towed vehicle for staying in, a vehicle for living in;
  • a convoy, a group, a procession, a parade, a column, a line, a cavalcade;
  • a group of desert merchants with camels: a group of traders, especially in northern Africa and Asia, crossing the desert together for safety, usually with a train of camels
  • A group of travellers – a group of people, vehicles, or supervised animals that are travelling together for security.

Well, it’s a vehicle, if you must.

But just as we humans present our mask to the world, we mustn’t be fooled by first impressions.

The Caravan is, and has been, a haven through which a convoy, a group, a parade of individuals in various stages of suffering, bewilderment, soul-searching, despair – or perhaps that universal ailment, loneliness – have  taken a breath and stepped through the door of the Caravan into a quieter place. A place where they could explore their problems, make contact with another human, ‘travel together’ for a while, seek security and solace for a few precious moments until they could face the world again before going on their journey. Caravans travel from oasis to oasis, and the Caravan at St. James’s has been an oasis for many.

And now the famous old Caravan is to transform into a Shepherds Hut! It’s putting down its roots. And how wonderful that we can stay with the connection to nature. The Good Shepherd. Lamb of God. The joy lambs bring to us as they herald the start of spring and new life each year.

I never had a placement there, but as a student at CCPE, I heard of the transformational experiences my peers underwent while working there. So many hearts touched and so many people transformed forever – clients and counsellors-in-training alike – by their experiences in the Caravan in St. James’s, Piccadilly.

My very best wishes to Zak Waterman and all students past and present who contributed to this little bit of heaven in the middle of Piccadilly, London.

Lynn Somerfield

Wild woods of the psyche

Working in the caravan for 18 months was one of the great privileges of my life so far. Witnessing clients’ personal battles. The courage of human endeavour in the face of disaster and loss. The constraints of thought patterns that keep our thinking and our lives on a narrow painful path. Watching people commit the same crime to themselves week after week. Whatever the crime, the strength of the feelings that kept them ‘re-offending’ was very human, very painful, very hard to change – harder sometimes than living.

Perhaps it was sitting knee to knee, untrained and unbiased with outpatients from some of the surrounding psychiatric wings. Or the Friday concerts in the Church or the walk through Mayfair past designer shops and the galleries of Cork street and the Royal Academy.

So I did this drawing of some of the clients I saw at the Caravan, depicting them as animals. And I drew the Caravan in the woods, which is how it felt sometimes. Though it was in the middle of a market, in the middle of Piccadilly, it often felt we were in the wild woods. The wild woods of the psyche.

The woods of the Caravan surrounded by animal depictions of the clients. Lovingly remembered and drawn by Judy Pascoe.

The fox represented all the homeless who drifted past. They came into the Caravan occasionally, but they were hard to pin down to a time and place. Surviving on the streets of London for sometimes 10, 15 years. Living on the fringe of society: no bed, in winter, in summer. Some of them had found their way onto the streets because of marriage break ups, mental illness, or an inability to find any other place in society.

The pigeon was a client I saw for most of my 18 months at the caravan. He had a young mental age and really just came to talk. He met his forensic psychiatrist every six months and social services looked after some aspects of his care, so I felt part of a team looking after him. I didn’t like sitting with him, but he spoke so movingly once about not wanting to die and how it upset him to think of not being. He was very alone. He reminded me of a bewildered pigeon.

There was the robin, Client J. The badger, a borderline client, T. And the owl which represents Zak overseeing and supervising this incredible service and thing of beauty, which is a free drop-in centre in a churchyard at St. James’s Piccadilly in the middle of London.

I recall one or two clients who came to the Caravan to pray. They could have gone into the Church, but I guess they wanted to know their prayer was really being heard. These were delicate moments where the clients prayed to God asking for help. I sat in silence, respectful of their faith and their need to be heard.

On my last day at the Caravan, after my last session, I went into the Church and I wrote a note and put it on the prayer board and lit a candle. I wanted to thank the Caravan and the Church of St. James and the market and everyone I had met there for all I had experienced. I am not religious but I believe in the power of altruism and kindness to heal and change the world.

Happy Birthday to The Caravan.

Judy Pascoe

Catching a falling star

My fondest memories of the Caravan centre around my meet-up with ‘Brad’ (not his real name…) on a cloudy, rainy Sunday morning.

I remember that day as being a typical London cold day. Brad doesn’t want to come into the Caravan, but invites me outside to join him in a rendition of Catch a Falling Star. So there we are singing and dancing to “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket. Save it for a rainy day. Never let it fade away.”

Truth is, Brad gave me a lot more than I gave him on that cold, cloudy, rainy morning. And, of course, that is true of the encounters at the Caravan.

Now this song still brings joy to my heart and memories of my time at the Caravan.

Pauline Medice

A lesson in life, love and laughter

I had a wonderful client when I worked at the Caravan who insisted on giving me lessons on classical music as he felt I needed educating. Without a doubt the Caravan is an education: I learnt more there than any other placement. It put me in good stead to be ready for whatever our profession can throw at us, be it pain, fear, sorrow, laughter or simple need of human contact.
I also remember attending a Caravan party in 2003. Here’s a photo from back in the day…

The Caravan was a real education for Sandra Schmool (centre)

Sandra Schmool

The magical uniqueness of therapy

I worked in the Caravan from 1998-2000 and was struggling to recall specific memories of my time in the little green ‘Van.
What those Friday afternoon shifts left me with, though, is the ability to sit with a wide range of people and to just be open to whoever showed up when I happened to be there. It seemed so magical to sit waiting for an encounter with a complete stranger that I would otherwise never meet.
This experience early on in my therapeutic training stood me in great stead for my 12 years in primary care, where 800+ people from all different backgrounds have walked through my door. I suppose it fostered in me an unending curiosity about human beings in their uniqueness and in their universality.
Cornelia Dobb

A mirror to myself

I’ll never forget doing my first slot at the Caravan. It was daunting to say the least. But walking away from it that evening, I was struck by a tremendous sense of love and open heart.

There is something very precious to be there for another person who seeks to be heard, who is willing to risk opening up to a complete stranger, to share their burden so that they can go lighter.

The Caravan teaches humility and humanity. It’s a humbling and enriching experience, and it is a road of self-discovery, for many of the clients hold mirrors to ourselves.

Elena Shaftan

Connecting on a different level

I spent an extraordinary three years at the Caravan. This placement lives on in memory – and folklore – long after other aspects of the training have begun to dim.

Why? Well, it was certainly a baptism by fire, particularly as the whole business of therapy was completely new to me. But it was the extraordinary range of visitors that made it so special, memorable and much discussed. Even though it rapidly became apparent that many regular visitors were not seriously seeking therapy, this did not detract at all from the deep-end learning.

One ‘professional client’ remains at the forefront of my mind throughout my time at the ‘Van. He was as entertaining as he was melancholic, with wonderful artistic skills. It was apparent at one point that he was ‘seeing’ almost every Caravan volunteer. But there were many other notables over those years, from those living on the street to everyday people, from schizophrenics to musicians.

It was, and remains, one of the most profound experiences of my life, and such a privilege. I learned so much, so quickly – especially about myself.

However, the most wonderful aspect of the Caravan was the supervision, carried out at that time (back in 1995) by the late John Fentiman. I looked forward to these sessions with such eagerness. Again, why? This man was unique in my experience and brought so many skills to bear. He was able to ‘give permission’ to us to open up completely, to overturn conditioned responses, to illuminate the much deeper processes taking place – and all in such a spontaneous, light, insightful way. He also taught me what love is, and for that l can never thank him enough.

Leaving there was extremely sad for me. So, some time later, when l was asked to help maintain electrical and other aspects of the ‘Van’s welfare, l was thrilled. Reconnection! (no pun intended – or is there . . .? )

With grateful thanks,

Keith Wolstenholme

Memories of love and new life

The Caravan has been – and is – important to us for many reasons, not least because it was after Caravan supervision that we met, fell in love, got married and gave birth to our lovely daughter Lily, who is now two years old!

We got much more out of the Caravan than we ever put in, and are eternally grateful both for the opportunity to learn that it gave us both, and the gifts we have taken from it.

Long may she/it flourish.

Simon & Michelle Matthews

My time at the Caravan

My time at the Caravan, a friendly chat and cup of tea with a regular,

My time at the Caravan, someone from the North down in London in crisis,

Time on my own to reflect on life.

My time at the Caravan, big group Supervision once a month with my peers,

My time at the Caravan, my first befriending and counselling clients,

Time to present a client.

My time at the Caravan, Fridays from 11am to 2pm,

My time at the Caravan, three hours of counselling work,

Time to fill in the hours on the time sheet.

My time at the Caravan, nearly two years,

My time at the Caravan, a safe place for people to come,

Time to grow as a therapist.

My time at the Caravan came to an end

My time at the Caravan, so much more than I can say here

Time to remember it now.

Happy 30th Celebration,

Thank you for having me, and wishing you all the best for the future.

I hope you continue for many years. . .

 Sabi (past volunteer counsellor)

Tales from the Caravan

It is over 10 years since I worked at the Caravan, a very green therapist who was only matched in intensity by the dark green hue of the Caravan itself.

My appointed slot was Sunday, 12 noon to 3pm. An unusual time, habitually associated with long lazy brunches or traditional Sunday lunches, as a time when friends and family come together to share the most convivial of times.

As the good student that I was, I had faithfully absorbed the instruction that the Caravan was not intended to be a tearoom dispensing free drinks. Of course, in my very first session, one of the resident homeless who slept in the courtyard of St. James’s knocked at the door with the words: “May I have a cup of coffee?”

My chronic ingrained inability to say ‘No’ (inherited from my absent father syndrome) overruled the good student in me. I dutifully made the coffee. And so a pattern formed. As soon as I arrived at the Caravan, the man would soon knock at the door and in he would come for five minutes. Often we would sit in awkward silence, as I brooded on my guilt at giving him the coffee, and he nervously drinking it as soon as possible as if he somehow knew the unspoken rules too. Nothing could have been further removed from the therapeutic encounter.

Approximately two months into my ‘counselling training’ I arrived at the Caravan at 12 noon and no knock came. By the time it came to quarter to three, I was really becoming quite concerned when I saw him scurrying across waving his arms towards me.

“I’m late” he said. “I’ve slept in. I’ve only just woken up? Can I still have my coffee?” The mother hen in me smiled with relief, and made the forbidden cup of coffee. His words came tumbling out of his smiling animated face. “You see, I have had a great week. I took loads of money last week, nearly £40. So, I sent £15 home to my daughter. That’s why I do this job to help look after her. I went to the charity shop and bought some new shoes, trousers and a shirt for £3.” He proudly pointed to his new attire. “So I decided to take my friend out on a night out. She sleeps outside Green Park Tube. So we went out clubbing last night. We had a great time, so that’s why I am late.”

The tall, dark walls of all the prejudices and hideous assumptions I had built up around the homeless were torn down in a millisecond. We smiled, we laughed, our convivial brunch time meeting flowed, and the least understood aspect of therapy emerged.  Shared good humour eliminated the obstructions between ourselves and the Absolute, God, Goddess, Allah, Tao, the Universe. The barriers between us that were never there to begin with simply fell apart.

Even now, it was the best and most enduring 15-minute therapy session I have ever had.

Thank you, Caravan. Thank you, Zak. Thank you, Nigel.

Janet C Love