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

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

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