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Sacred Yew

Sacred Yew - The Ancient Roots of Beltingham
by Roe Baker

The Sacred Yew project is a collaborative project between Volunteering Tynedale and local people. Local writer Pam Grant had the idea of pairing visually impaired people with sighted volunteers in a poetry and prose written and recorded project based on their perceptions and feelings for the Ancient Yew Tree that stands in the Beltingham church yard and the sacred space around it.

This will lead to a published booklet and audio CD in association with the Right to Read Campaign containing the poetry and prose together with local history and a section on dowsing and archery.

Historically Yew Trees were planted in sacred locations, the Yews in Beltingham could date back to Druid times and it has been suggested that St Cuthbert himself may have preached under the Yew or even perhaps planted it. It is thought that cuttings from Sacred Yews were taken to different sites all over the world, could the Yew at Beltingham be one of these? National Yew Tree expert Paul Greenwood is very supportive of the project and has helped with historical information and contacts for DNA testing.

Respected local horticulturalist/environmentalist Libby Scott has taken cuttings from the Yew which have been sent over to Germany for DNA analysis, it is hoped this will in time establish the origin of the Yew. Currently Dr Monika Konnert a plant DNA expert in Germany is testing the samples to establish whether the three yews in the church yard are related or come from different parentage. All exciting stuff!

Mandi Harris volunteer administrator on the project organised a dowsing day in March 2006 at the church and tree at which four members of the British Society of Dowsers were present and seven volunteers. This dowsing had remarkable results suggesting an ancient building probably wooden standing six feet under the current site of the church, a plan of the building dimensions is being drawn up. Dowsers also tried to establish the age of the Yew, which drew varied results ranging between 1300 and 2400 years old. A dowsing workshop for the visually impaired is planned as part of the project, experienced dowsers don't always work with rods and pendulums, many work simply using their hands with remarkable results.

The project will also involve an archery element, yew is traditionally used in the making of bows and arrows and there are significant arrow head sharpening marks on the church walls. Henshaw first school has kindly agreed to take part in the project and archery workshops and it is hoped that the children will make illustrations for the book.

A book launch in connection with the Right to Read Campaign is planned for the libraries together with a summer evening concert in the Beltingham Church supported by international conservationist David Bellamy and renowned longbow expert Robert Hardy.

This is a remarkable project with so many different dimensions in which people can become involved. The historical aspect of the tree, church and place, archaeology, written word and artistic expression, dowsing, archery, a linking and building of relationships between sighted and visually impaired volunteers, music, recording and publishing to name but a few.

Volunteers are needed to help with all aspects of the project to work with visually impaired participants producing poetry and prose, with both dowsing and archery workshops.

A sponsored walk to raise awareness of Visual Impairment and to raise funds for the project whilst awaiting decisions on funding applications was organised by Volunteering Tynedale on 13th May 06. Since then confirmation has been received that the project’s application for funding has been successful with particlular help from the Community Foundation.

Our current thinking is that proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the local Hexham Visually Impaired Craft Group for the Visually Impaired.

About Volunteering Tynedale

Funding for the project was sought for this project through Volunteering Tynedale.

Volunteering Tynedale is an independent local volunteering development agency providing support, guidance, advice and practical assistance to voluntary / community organisations and individual volunteers throughout Tynedale. One of our six core functions is to develop volunteering opportunities. We work in close partnership with statutory, voluntary and private sector agencies as well as community groups and faith groups to develop local volunteering opportunities. We understand the potential offered by the local communities and work with them to realise this potential. We will target specific groups, which face barriers to volunteering. We work creatively to develop imaginative, non-formal opportunities for potential volunteers.

Brief Overview of the Project and Planned Activities

A creative writing project with visually impaired participants partnered with sighted volunteers, producing poetry and prose based on the ancient yew tree in Beltingham churchyard. Work will be collated into a booklet form with illustrations by local first school children. An audio tape / CD with music and readings will also be recorded in association with the ‘Right to Read Campaign.’

We will hold archaeological dowsing workshops for the visually impaired participants and volunteers to discover more about the past history of tree and place and archery workshops with local first school children to demonstrate the yew wood bows and arrows so influential in English history. There will be a concert of folk music and readings to celebrate the completion of the booklet, the hard work and creativity of participants and the yew trees place in local history.

Need within the community and the difference this project will make.

This project has been initiated by local people and is led and run by volunteers. It involves the local school, parish, visually impaired craft group and sighted volunteers. The local newspaper is anxious to have continued coverage of the project which they deem to be of great local interest.

This very rural area offers volunteers and the disabled few strong locally based projects focussing on local history, creativity and heritage. This project links the visually impaired, volunteers and local children in the production of a beautifully crafted publication for the whole community.

Benefit to specific groups and to the community as a whole

By encouraging marginalized visually impaired groups to involve in a supported creative project alongside sighted volunteers. There will undoubtedly be an increase in skills and experience in the written poetry and prose and dowsing project leading to publication. This in turn will build the confidence and self esteem of a group excluded both through rural isolation and disability.

Volunteers will also benefit from learning new skills and working alongside the visually impaired these new skills will lead to improved opportunities in the future. All will benefit from the publication and the concert celebrating the end of the project.

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