The January Day Retreat

Day retreat in Faversham with Hannah Bullivant and Ray Dodd.

“To set some gentle achievable intentions for the year. Lets start the new year as we mean to go on, and by that I mean in community, with delicious, nourishing food, You’re invited to show up as you are right now, look back and plan forward.” - Hannah Bullivant.


Photo credit - Hannah Bullivant.

On January 5th 2019 under a grey sky I drove to Faversham in Kent to the home of stylist Hannah Bullivant. who, together with her sister-in-law Ray Dodd were hosting a Day Retreat to help us start the year as we mean to go on, reviewing the past year and setting some intentions for the coming days.

To be perfectly honest as soon as I stepped through the front door of Hannah’s beautiful home I knew one of my intentions was going to be to rush home and paint everything white…..

But first I was going to meet one of my long time Instagram friends whom I had only found out was also attending the previous day - Makiko Hastings. I speak to Maki virtually every day online and so I was very excited to be able to have a conversation face to face. We helped ourselves to a cup of tea in the kitchen and then went through to the living room talking constantly as if we saw each other every day….. The sounds of women chatting filled the air, some people knew each other and some people knew nobody at all. I had met Hannah before and had spoken to Ray online but other than the hosts I only knew Makiko.

We all sat in a circle and shared our names and what we do and why we had come to the day. Most people had children, many very small children. It struck me how once we are “Mothers” we define ourselves first by our children “Hello, I am …… and I have …. children ages ….. and I work as……” some people had babies they had never left before and spoke of leaving husbands lists upon lists and then had a little nervous glance at their phones….. We all so desperately wanted to be present and attentive and needed this time to be “ourselves” but I remember very well that time in the early stages of Motherhood when your baby is just an extension of your being and suddenly leaving the house without them can feel like you have left a leg or a vital organ at home!…… I was more worried about the potential chaos my dogs were causing but try and adopt an “Out of sight out of mInd policy” to anything not in arms reach…..

Many people spoke of needing more sleep and I did wonder whether we might find a couple curled up having a nap after lunch! To my horror I nearly cried whilst introducing myself and it was only then I really realised how much I needed a day to myself with no work, children, dogs or just life… just to press “reset” on yourself. It also made me realise how much time I spend on my own in my studio. Yes, I talk to people online all day long and over the Christmas holiday I have had many many wonderful face to face interactions. But even though I imagine myself as extremely sociable I realised there and then how much I prefer being able to see peoples faces and having human contact than the sometimes-hard-to-read-and-often-isolating-online-world. It sounds utterly bonkers to even have to write this but everything is so much more Real in Real Life!!

Hannah talked to us first about The January Book and journalling and how she uses these processes to help herself with everything from financial planning to mental health. I am doing Hannahs January Book e course I am such a practical and pragmatic person I am looking forward to taking the time to actually stop, plan, analyse and have tasks set for me whilst also creating a book to look back over to learn from.

Ray talked us through some exercises to process the past year. I have watched Ray’s online “Instagram Lives” many many times and absolutely love her style and honesty. I love her open nature and her enthusiasm. As I think many of us were so used to watching Ray “live” online we patiently sat and listened as if she were on our screens at first absorbed by her wildly gesticulating hands and listening to her experiences. Gradually we all began to share our experiences in life, of going back to work after children, money, Mothers ( sorry Mum you did feature quite a bit here!!) and Mother- in laws ( some of whom sounded terrifying) ……. We were set some exercises to work through in pairs and another where we looked at why “resolutions” often don’t happen and looked around breaking cycles and habits.

It occurred to me several times how hard it is for younger women these days with social media ever present in their lives. For some reason I haven’t applied this ever to myself. I think it because I had all of my babies before Instagram was invented and so I haven’t had to have them grow up with the picture perfect life. A couple of the women at the day retreat spoke of the pressures not only to raise “Instagram ready” children but also feel they are expected to have an amazing career/ home/ side schtick in photography/cooking the perfect cakes/ styling a beautiful home…… It must be exhausting if you are in your thirties these days with all of those added expectations. I simply don’t think I would have coped with all of those pressures when my children were small …(Although I do remember my friend and I discussing starting up a comic for Tractor Mad toddlers when our boys were very very small and it just seemed completely fanciful so we didn’t do it. Maybe if social media had been around we would have been able to take it further….. )

Photo Credit - Hannah Bullivant.

Photo Credit - Hannah Bullivant.

We then went through to Hannah’s kitchen where the lunch table had been beautifully styled by Hannah and the delicious smell of Vegan Perks Butternut squash and peanut stew filled the room. We sat together around the table and discussed our “word” for our felt banners we were to make later that afternoon. There was also talk of cake……

It was also at this point that I noticed that, on possibly one of the most Instagrammble days of my life ( Hannah isn’t a wonderful stylist for nothing you know) I had been having so much fun and been so absorbed I hadn’t taken my phone out of my bag once so had to ask Hannah of I could use some of her photos on the blog!!

After lunch had been cleared away and the kitchen transformed into the Craft Room we began in earnest to make our felt banners. Hannah demonstrated one first and chatted about her word for last year, Brave, and how it had come in handy in areas she hadn’t imagined when she had chosen it. I had been looking forward and dreading this part in equal measures. Looking forward to it because it was crafting which I love, in felt which I am very keen on and even though I make things all day every day it was lovely to make something “just because” and not for a commercial end. Dreading because …… “ the word” …… I have an absolute hatred of anything with words of affirmations on it. I can’t stand it on Instagram when people fill their squares with positive words in cursive writing. I am not sure why I feel this way, after all I am more than happy to string a load of words together for storytelling and I talk enough so I use more than my fair share of words there too…….

A friend asked me last night by text if I had enjoyed the day and she had wondered how I had handled the ‘Life affirming’ parts as she said my approach to life ( which she admires) is more “straightforward and pragmatic’ than some…. maybe thats just it….. Maybe I just want to “get on with it” than have a word to hang my hopes off…….

Anyway after a lot of procrastination and laughing with Ray I narrowed my words down from my list of “Magic, First Aid, Bonkers and Fuck Off” to just First Aid. Everybody else made lovely banners with lovely words that meant some thing to them - Breathe, Calm, Kindness and Ease were all popular choices. I think my First Aid banner suits me just fine though and is just on the “me” side of life affirmations.

My reasons for choosing it aren’t only personal to me so it’s not fair to share them here but I know I will be needed as a supportive friend to several of my dear friends whose year may not have got off to the easiest of starts and I want them to know I am here….. Also I need to improve my own health as I am now on cold number 3 since November and not feeling at all my best so some personal First Aid is definitely in order. Plus I think our home could do with a little First Aid this year as we have a small hole in the roof and seem to have mislaid a bathroom a couple of years ago that I feel it’s high time we reclaimed. Life affirmations must also be transferable to DIY I’m sure!

Photo credit Amanda Banham - Arm Model Anna Banham.

Photo credit Amanda Banham - Arm Model Anna Banham.

We then finished the day with tea and cake and I am sure none of us really wanted to leave the warmth of the kitchen and new friends we had made. All the way home I felt energised and positive having spent a happy few hours with lovely women. Finally meeting Makiko and just spending time in Hannah’s beautiful home with her would have been enough of a lift to start the year…… but combined with Ray and her enthusiasm and wisdom, delicious food, new friends and The January Book I feel I shall be floating on my own cloud of positivity until about March ( when I hope there may be a Spring day retreat around the corner to have a tingly top up of joy…..)