I couldn’t think a more appropriate post to break my accidental blog holiday over this summer. In fact I’m not sure I’ve been quite the same since this weekend back in May. It opened my eyes in a way that no other conference or event has before. And it wasn’t because of the heavenly styling or that the “sister” guest list read like a who's who of the impossibly cool Instagram gang, with their ability to capture a muted moment and turn it into something magical on their phones, it was for no other reason that I remembered who I was and not a single one of them made me feel as though I had to be anyone else.
In the age of being a millennial mum, a Facebook friend and a text fiend, so much of what we do everyday is shared online. And in so many ways we all lived charmed lives. We share the pretty, the "oh I'm keeping it real - but life is still pretty cool", the holidays, Sunday lunches, new outfits, kids' sports days and everything in between.
And when you get immersed in the blogging world where sharing your family life and work becomes second nature, if not your livelihood, it's really easy to think that the real life that is curated and published isn't that real at all. And it goes on, events seem too perfectly styled to have any sense of realness, but one does.
From the moment I booked my ticket to the Sisterhood Camp I knew it was going to be a special experience. Time with people I admire, respect, photo opportunities galore and in all honesty one the things I was most looking forward to, was proper time with one of my closest friends I've met online Lowri. We had been counting down the sleeps, planned our car snacks for the journey from her house in Cardiff and I knew I could cling to her if there was a moment my nerves got the better of me. And I felt the same about her husband as he bundled her wicker wine carrier and straw hat into my boot (I did lots of ooh that's lovely noises as we packed up) and I genuinely think if we lived down the road our families would be best friends.
I had shared with her over late night messages that I had built up in my mind that this was going to be a weekend with the cool crowd. An elite group who would be overwhelming and unapproachable in the flesh. A room or rather camp fire full of people with more noughts after their social media handles than most of the UK High Street brands, illustrious Instagram suggested users and I would feel completely out of my depth and out of place in my bright yellow mac and red wellies.
Turns out I'd wasted hours of energy worrying about whether I'd fit in, there were at least 4 others in canary yellow, but more than that, this group was more intent about celebrating the differences between us than I could have imagined.
Gentle is the way I would describe the weekend. There was an itinerary but no rushing. There was a pace, but we were ushered slowly. No one had to get up for anything, there were sleepy faces and blankets over shoulders. It was like stepping into a Pinterest cuddle. Inexplicably gorgeous little details, that showed that behind the now carefree smiles of our hosts, that there had been an immense amount of planning in the months beforehand. And a camp full of people who appreciated every single one.
People mingled over breakfast, saying new hellos to those they missed at the dinner the night before. Picture the scene. Twinkling lights strung from the ceiling of an old barn, rows of wooden trestle tables and mis matched fold up chairs sandwiched between flickering candles and huge vintage enamel pots and bowls bursting with hearty, homemade food. There was too much for us all to finish and jugs of water and bottles of wine were passed around over a roar of laughter and excitement. That sort of giggly excitement that takes over a room and you find yourself leaning right over the table to hear what the person opposite is telling you because the place has filled with a cacophony of wonderful noise. I took two photos that night, because once you were sat down all you wanted to do was enjoy it.
We knew the next morning the weather wasn't going to be kind. But no one cared about wandering the hedgerows with raindrops dripping down their fringes, we pottered, vessels and scissors in arms collecting foliage for the floral demonstration with Erin later that morning. No one really batted an eyelid at the rain lashing down on the canvas roof as we were taught the art of making a small arrangement, all our petals getting battered and the less than seasonal chill in the air on the Saturday morning.
And that was the theme for me for the whole weekend. No one gave two hoots what you were wearing, whether you had a face full of make up and had blow dried your hair or whether you've never worn a scrap of make up in your whole life. No one gave a monkeys how many followers you have, nor could those with life changing numbers have spoken more humbly. Not a whiff of superiority.
It was a revelation. And I wanted to slap myself for even letting myself think for a second that anyone would be anything other than welcoming.
All of the women I had the pleasure of spending time with seemed content in their own skin. They had ambition, fears and questions like anyone else that were bandied around the campfire over glasses of Prosecco and enamel mugs of steaming tea, but they were honest, empathetic and real. No one has it all completely figured out, but it was a real relief to me that this group I had put on a pedestal were my kind of people.
A group of supportive women who want to put as much distance between them and the competitive world of blogging as possible. And not everyone was a blogger, I listened to several insanely talented photographers, crafters, writers, painters, stylists and met some wonderful women who had no interest in social media for anything more than a hobby really, they were there for the experience.
Lunch was cooked on a campfire by one of my very favourite food bloggers Elinor from Beach Hut Cook. Elinor is someone I aspire to be like. She has two pretty much grown up boys and the way she talks about them and the barrage of text messages she received from them and her husband to find out how her workshop session had gone was heart warming. I hugged her tightly as she tapped on her phone, with tears of relief in her eyes. Elinor is a natural in front and behind the camera and we could see that this weekend gave her the boost of confidence to create videos and present to camera. Plus she makes ridiculously amazing cocktails, in pretty jars. I love her.
Afternoon tea was another feast after a full schedule of workshops in the afternoon. People dipped in and out, some took an hour to compose some still life photographs, others made videos, some did every workshop available and I was happy joining in with Kate and the ceramics session and then sat chatting over tea.
Everyone did their own thing but together.
At one point it did feel a little dreamy, as silly as that might sound as I tap away on my keyboard, but there was this aura on the decking, which made you breathe a huge sigh of relief.
I learnt more about being part of a community in one weekend and what I want to do with my space on the internet than I have in a long time. It's easy at conferences to hide your vulnerability in the haze of excitable hugs and big kisses,
I'd been desperate to wander to the beach and planned a little saunter after the tea break in the afternoon. Turned out everyone had thought the same and without any real rallying of troops we all just headed for the sea. I walked down the windy but wide path with Xanthe, watching the light bounce between the trees as she effortlessly wafted her camera from side to side, capturing the very real moments of the weekend in one of her impressive videos. There are people I don't see very often but who I trust and she is one of them. We debated the pros and cons of sponsored content, monetising your Instagram feed and as always, I found her advice invaluable. She is someone who teaches me to really think about the long term, the relationships you build rather than a quick pound. That authenticity always wins, even if it might take you a little longer to get there.
Blogging feels incestuous. Mostly because it can be just that. There's sometimes school ground politics, infighting over opportunities, and unhelpful comments left in Facebook groups and on twitter. 99% of which I am sure are regretted the next morning. Having a considered opinion is a strength, harbouring resentment is a weight on your shoulders and it will grind you down. The best thing we can all be is ourselves and look for a new opportunity rather than going over the ones you miss out on.
I laughed when I took this photo. Can you guess which stone was mine?! As we waited for lunch everyone passed round stones led by Emma and helped themselves to brushes and a makeshift palette. No one coordinated their brushes they just painted, and this tranquil theme of golds and blues transcended over the session. All pretty much except one. Mine.
For me it totally summed up my experience. That you can still fit in being different. That you can have more in common than you can possibly realise. That when you find the right group of inclusive, open minded people you will feel more inspired than being in a room full of people you think are exactly like you. Getting out of my comfort zone is the only way I really challenge myself and create something more exciting to offer you. Not just to read or like but for the future. Something that grows with my family, an idea that I can develop with my sister Natalie and a way that I can better behind the camera and more confident in front of it (this was pretty much the only photo I took that I was in). In tiny amounts...!
Sisterhood is so much more than just pretty pictures and whimsical stories. There was not one ounce of pretence just a collection of creative, some exhausted (like me), determined, supportive individuals all with something to share. Lou's vision and Hannah's execution is a sight to behold. Make sure you get your ticket for the next one.