No place like home

9th October 2015 at 00:00

It’s the season of the wanderers. Lost souls patrol college corridors in small packs, looking hopefully at timetables posted on each door, trying to figure out where they should be. They try to catch a glimpse of someone they recognise through the tiny pane of glass; when everyone in the room looks up, they hurry away, embarrassed, to the next door. Students sometimes get lost, too.

Some staff have established bases, while others are educational nomads, lugging resources from room to room in the strongest boxes Ikea sells, looking for a place to call home.

The college itself is a mish-mash of buildings. There’s the temple to the progressive education of 1950s technical colleges (most of my parishioners still call it “The Tech”). There are the extensions that were built in the 1970s and ’80s, as well as a couple of prefabs. Even the old principal’s house, a grand home from a previous century, is used for a department. The programme of updating, building and demolishing is never-ending. We are, like the grandest cathedrals, rarely without scaffolding on our facade.

Each department has its own territory, its own place to call home. Some staff rarely wander off their own turf: even if you’ve worked here for years, you occasionally find a member of staff you’ve never seen before. Part of the college chaplain’s role is to wander, but some turfs are easier to drift into than others.

There has been some movement in my favourite corridor: the media department. Before summer it was easily the most identifiable. Cinema posters generously gifted by our local picture house covered every surface, the films as eclectic and varied as our college community. But they have all gone: the media department has moved and the corridors are bare, with nothing but the odd bit of Blu-Tack to tell the story of what used to be there.

The tutor seems to have settled into his new home, but he does have a slightly lost look. “It’ll be OK,” he tells me, but I’m not sure who he’s trying to convince.

Some learners have struggling to find places to call home, too, after being kicked out by parents, falling out with housemates, or becoming victims of other changes in circumstance. The empty media corridor echoes their empty bedroom walls, where posters of deep-seated passions once hung. They arrive at the door of the mentoring service and at the chaplaincy, seeking advice and help, some with nothing but the clothes they are standing in.

Of course, it’s easier for some than others to find a home. Some go back to where they have been, but others could never do that and have to sofa-surf for a little longer. Most have never lived more than a few miles from where they were born, so to move seems impossible and adds to feelings of uncertainty and fear.

This story is mirrored on a global scale, of course. Whether teenagers are in Worksop or Syria, they want the same thing: a place to call home; a wall to put their posters on, knowing they won’t have to take them down again soon; and to be able to say with certainty, “It’ll be OK.”

Rev Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College. @revkatebottley

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