COMMUNITY LEDGE #5: Rachel Holtom
We’ve had Community Ledges who make waves in the community. This month we have someone who makes ripples. Having experienced the top-down approach of social work, Rachel Holtom found herself more comfortable with the unintended consequences of small kindnesses, something we often forget in this ‘We can fix it’ society.
Rachel believes that a sense of purpose can help people overcome many of the difficulties they face in life and tries to inspire this through simple things such as her work organising volunteers at the Hastings Arts Forum or caring for a 98-year-old.
Our thanks to the Albion for helping us showcase some of the legends of the town as well as giving each of them an opportunity to taste one of their nine traditional pies – and hopefully go back for more.
Rachel came to Hastings from a far corner of Wales near Cardigan where she had lived in a ten-bedroom house set in 4 acres with her family, running courses in painting. This was an escape from the pressures of London that worked – until their daughter left home and distances took on more importance.
Rachel had trained both as a social worker and as a homeopath, two professions that involved helping people but with a very different approach. While social work is well known for high stress and low job satisfaction, homeopathy could be seen as the polar opposite. Commenting on social work, Rachel said she didn’t feel she had ever made much of a difference: “It was just papering over the cracks, patching things up – and not in a good way.”
Rachel arrived in Hastings at that crossroads time of life, in her fifties, with choices to be made. Life experience had made her realise she needed to “make a difference” and she chose to go back to work, applying to Hastings College to teach basket making. On being told she needed to qualify first, Rachel retrained It was while studying she realised that she was more interested in teaching adults and was later inspired to teach people with learning difficulties.
“I did a couple of observations in the supported learning department,” she said, “and just felt at home with students there.” But after five years, the college relocated to Station Plaza and Rachel moved on to other things.
Fast forward to 2019 and she pops up in the news with the knitting group she helped set up in 2017, partly to help people get out of the house and make connections. Making connections is what Hastings is all about and this is how Rachel came to be approached by Hattie Spice on behalf of Google to make two panels representing lichen for a conference on climate change, raising £1,200 for charity in the process (See HIP Issue 133 Knitting for Google)
It all started with a callout for knitters to take part in World Wide Knit in Public Day organised in Hastings by Rachel and her friend Aimi. The response was so overwhelming that they set up Hastings Knitters as a permanent group with the main aim of providing “a safe and welcoming environment to knit items to send to charities including Knit for Peace and The Big Sleep” (at the bargain price of £1 per session with refreshment provided).
The group has turned into a real support for people who are facing difficulties in their lives and need a sense of community and belonging. The group has given people the motivation to “get out and do something”. And the reason they like it? Because they feel they have a sense of purpose that helps give meaning to their lives.
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