When she was 21, Louise left her job and lived for a year as part of the L’Arche community in Ipswich. Here she found something remarkable in a community ‘where people can love well, and disagree well, and live together well’.

Being a part of L’Arche has prepared her for many aspects of her life: for parenthood, for her career, and for fostering children. She, her partner and their daughter (pictured) are now members of L’Arche in Nottingham.

‘A long time ago, when I was 7 or 8, I was involved in Faith and Light, L’Arche’s sister community. When I was about 16 I heard Jean Vanier speak about L’Arche. It was at this point I decided that when the time was right I would join a L’Arche community.

One of the really important things that I found L’Arche has to offer is being known. I mean being known not by what we do or what we can bring, but actually just who we are. I think so often particularly people with learning disabilities become paper in a sense. They have a lot of systems that organise their lives for them and everything is reviewed and monitored and evaluated.  But actually L’Arche, in its essence, puts importance in the human – in addition to all of the other things that have to happen.

But also as a person without a learning disability life can be really lonely. I think particularly having had a baby, it’s wonderful to be involved in a community that loves my children, but also who give them so much and give me so much. It’s meant that on maternity leave when typically a lot of people find themselves very isolated, actually I haven’t. I have found myself more surrounded by people that I love because they’re so invested in our family.

I’ve learnt more from my friends with learning disabilities than I have from many, many others. I’ve learnt to be more patient, I’ve learnt to be more gentle. It’s prepared me for lots of different parts of my life: for parenthood, for lots of my jobs. If it hadn’t been for some of the people with learning disabilities that I have befriended I would have been really rubbish at lots of those jobs. I’ve also learnt how to laugh more and how to have more joy. 

I was on my way here this evening thinking that nothing had gone right today at all. It’s been one of those days where I’ve missed everything that I was supposed to do. I was driving here and I couldn’t remember if I had left the oven on and it was just a bit of a mess. I was starting to think ‘I cant be bothered to go. It’s such an effort. Why have I had such a rubbish day? Nothing’s gone to plan. I’ve not done anything I was supposed to do and I’m late for this too.’

And then I walk in and I’m instantly loved. I had said to myself on the way here ‘Even if I didn’t go, no one would notice.’ But actually I know people would. And there aren’t many places in my life where I know if I didn’t turn up to a big gathering like this, people would notice. Tonight we have noticed who isn’t here. We notice that about each other. And we notice because we are special to one another and because we love one another.’