Laura is house leader of the Ark in L’Arche Ipswich. Experiencing a culture of radical welcome and acceptance at L’Arche has helped her to become braver, confident and kinder to herself. 

'For better and for worse, living in L’Arche is about the people. When you’re living with people, you don’t have a protective distance. Sometimes that can be difficult, but it can be positive at the same time. In a conventional workplace you don’t necessarily know anything about anyone, whereas here people know a lot about each other. We can all read each other so well that sometimes we don’t even have to say anything to each other to know that something is wrong.

You learn and accept things about each other like ‘this person doesn’t like this food texture’ and ‘this person becomes anxious of x’ and you’re not trying to mould people into anything else. Instead you make this weird jigsaw out of pieces from so many different puzzles and it somehow fits together. You’re not trying to make a jigsaw out of pieces that actually fit.

L’Arche is a lot about acceptance. I think the tide is turning a little bit in that people used to want to be entirely independent and now I think more people are looking for different forms of community. People often search for communities of other people who are just like themselves. So everything becomes cut into smaller and smaller pieces until people feel safe in very small bubbles. But L’Arche is different in that it is looking for togetherness, but not because everybody is the same.

Instead of looking for a very small space of acceptance, in L’Arche acceptance is the entry fee. Here you have to be accepting and, in return, people will be accepting of you. There isn’t space for intolerance in L’Arche, which makes it wider. Everyone is here to accept each other. All the team and the core members are from different countries and of different ages. The core members have very different levels of needs and different communication styles, and you all sit around the dinner table and you just get on with it.

Sometimes I think our understanding of life can become too intellectual and we feel like we have to understand the people around us and intellectually understand their struggles and their background. But through L’Arche I’ve learnt that I don’t need to fully understand someone to respect them or welcome them. I think so much time can be wasted when, actually, you’re never going to fully understand someone’s struggle because you haven’t experienced it. And maybe you haven’t experienced anything like it, but you can still appreciate the person and welcome them and love them as they are and for what they give you. 

I’ve always been quite a critical person and L’Arche has helped me to become so much softer and more forgiving of myself.  If in an entire room of people of different backgrounds and different experiences and different levels of disability I can see the good in them and I can love them, why would I give myself such a hard time? If there’s space for everyone then there’s space for me and therefore there’s space for me how I am. It doesn’t have to be me on top form. It can just be me.

The people here inspire me to be brave. You can be inspired by their confidence and bravery, and that can change how you act. Then your actions of confidence and bravery encourage them to be confident and brave.  James, one of our core members, will walk into Costa and approach complete strangers and shout ‘Hey buddy, how’s it going?’ He always gets a positive reaction because he’s so happy and people are so happy to be with him. I see core members being brave in the way that they help each other and stand up for people. Watching this informs and inspires my own confidence and bravery every day.'