The Day I Photographed a Rodeo by Nigel Rumsey

 Watching the rodeo, Hayesville, North Carolina

Earlier this year when planning our trip to North Carolina, I saw the ideal opportunity to fulfil my ambition to photograph a rodeo. 

After much time spent with Google, I settled on the Bar W Rodeo. My decision was based in no small part on the fact it is held at the brilliantly named Cutworms Corral, a proper actual corral! The Cutworms Corral is close to Hayesville, NC, we found a chalet to rent on Chatuge Lake, just outside Hiawassee which is about 15 miles away across the border in Georgia.

 Friends at the Rodeo, Hayesville, NC

North Carolina is an incredibly beautiful part of the country bounded to the west by the Appalachian mountains and the east by the Atlantic ocean. As you fly into Raleigh/Durham airport, the landscape all the way to the horizon is entirely carpeted with trees. The buildings and roads are on land neatly carved from the forest. 

Shooting the rodeo was an amazingly exhilarating experience and something I’d love to do again. My one mistake was to go on Saturday evening. The rodeo is held across two days; if I'd gone on Friday I would have been back on Saturday night to shoot again. 

I’ve made a small book featuring some of my favourite shoots including the ones you see here. 

My introduction to the book:
Finding Hayesville, North Carolina (pop. 311), on the map is not easy. If you do, look to the northeast and the green of the Nantahala National Forest. It’s early evening you are travelling along the Tusquittee Creek Road, heading deeper into the forest. Before the sun goes down, you can glimpse the beautiful Hiwassee River on your left. Sections of the river have local names reminiscent of earlier times, Schoolhouse branch, Mull Cove and just ahead is Greasy Creek. Go through Tusquittee, take the bridge on the left over the river and the Cutworms Corral will be in sight. If you’re lucky, and it's rodeo time, a cowboy will be at the gate to welcome you.
                    
This literal dot on the map is where I nd myself. It’s May 2017, and this is my first rodeo. We park our rental - almost the only vehicle that isn’t either a truck or an SUV - in the eld next to the corral. I’m feeling just a little out of my comfort zone.
                    
The show starts as it always does here with the singing of the National Anthem and a heartfelt thank you to the members of the military in the crowd. From then to the end of the night I am strangely in my element.

 Riding the bull at a rodeo

Steer wrestling, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding hadn’t played much of a part in my experience growing up in South London. Apart from TV, I don’t think I’d even seen a bull until I was out of my teenage years, so the prospect of riding one seems crazy to me. To be fair, it soon became apparent it seems pretty crazy to most of the crowd. But ride them they did - even if, in most cases, it wasn’t for very long.
                    
Much of the time I don’t have a clue what was going on. But the imagery is wonderful. I feel as though I’ve found a seam of gold in these North Carolina hills and I just can't stop digging. This is the second day of a two-day meet, and I'm kicking myself for not being there on day one.

 Rodeo cowboy

I take my hat off to the brave women and men who take part; they put on an amazing show. This certainly won't be my only visit to a rodeo, and it’s unlikely to be the last time I navigate the Tusquittee Creek Road.

 After the rodeo

You can find more of my rodeo shots here and the book here.

Blogging and (not) Sleeping by Nigel Rumsey

 Pen and Notebook, Tate Modern, London

For some time I’ve wanted to blog more. I used to write regularly, and although I don’t find it easy, I do enjoy it. Like everything it needs to become a habit, if you fall out of the habit, it’s tough to restart.

Bizarrely the impetus I need may have come in my difficulty sleeping. Apparently, one of the keys to getting a good night's sleep is 'sleep hygiene' - going to bed at the same time each night, no reading in bed, then getting up at the same time in the morning.

During the week I get up just before 6 am to take my wife to the local station. My new hygienic approach to sleep means I need to be up by 6 am every day - although weekends may be tough! I usually go for a walk after I’ve dropped my wife off, but after that, until I need to do some work my time is my own.

The plan is to write a little each day and to publish at least one blog post each week, so watch this space. You can be the judge of how that goes.

Have a great week.
 

Mecca-on-Thames by Nigel Rumsey

 Marks & Spencer, Bluewater shopping centre

Gravesend like so many towns is caught between the twin threats of online shopping and the out-of-town mall. In our case that is Bluewater. 

Built in a former chalk quarry the Bluewater site occupies 240 acres and has 154,000m2  of sales area, making it the fourth-largest shopping centre in the UK and the sixth largest in Europe. It has 330 stores, 40 cafés and restaurants, a 13-screen cinema and parking for 13,000 cars. This is a shopping destination.

It’s something of a blessing and a curse employing 7,000 people many of whom live in Gravesend.  Yet the overwhelming majority of the stores are national or international chains so the bulk of that revenue heads of elsewhere. Bluewater serves over 27 million visitors a year, that’s a huge number of drivers on local roads, very few spending other than at the centre itself.

What to do? Gravesend certainly can’t ignore the behemoth only 5 miles west. I for one would hate to see it become a ‘theme town’ resting on its history and connection to the Thames, but I’m not sure I know the alternative.

Sanctuary: talking with Steve Nolan by Nigel Rumsey

 Steve Nolan, Sanctuary Project Manager

Steve Nolan, Sanctuary Project Manager

“Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, come to the community and share the gospel”. I’m sitting in the small very busy office at Sanctuary, the night shelter for the homeless in Gravesend, talking to Steve Nolan. Steve and his wife Lorna are the unpaid Project Managers for Sanctuary. Steve is explaining the mission of their church the City Praise Centre. An ex-policeman Steve is a big guy, although quietly spoken I can imagine him being quite imposing in a police uniform. Today he looks tired, really tired. This is no easy retirement.

Steve spent 30 years serving with the Police and then working for a local authority, much of that time justifying for one reason or another why he couldn’t help the people Sanctuary now exists to care for. Lorna worked in education and in 2015 after a year Steve describes as their ‘year of hell’ they both found themselves out of work.

 Guests at Sanctuary night hostel, waiting for opening time

At that time the lead pastor of their church Tom Griffiths and his wife were going out onto the streets in the evening to help people sleeping rough. Steve said at times he’d go with them “we found people sleeping in doorways, sleeping behind bins, people sleeping in tents. We’d chat to them, share a cup of coffee.” In October that year, Tom asked them if they’d like to go to a meeting in a local town where the organisers of the night shelter there were talking about their experiences. Steve jokes, he answered, “not really”. “It was on a Friday evening and we had a regular meeting with friends which we didn’t want to miss.” At 6 o’clock that evening the friends called to say they couldn’t make it. “We took that as a sign that God wanted us to go to that meeting in Dartford.”

Steve and Lorna came back determined they had to do something similar in Gravesend. They met with their church, ”within five weeks of that first meeting Sanctuary was birthed.” 

 Getting beds ready for the night, Sanctuary night hostel

“We called a meeting to ask for volunteers, we put out chairs for 60 people, we thought 60 would turn up and we got 180. Everybody was up for it.” It seemed incredible timing, the community centre in which we’re sitting, part of the Methodist Church, was being refurbished. Steve and Lorna were out of work and they had more volunteers than they expected. “We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. We had no idea how to run a night shelter, we just made it up as we went along.”

 Hostel volunteers and guests chatting over dinner

In a way it’s a contradiction to refer to a homeless shelter as a success - the best success would mean not needing the shelter in the first place. However, by any measure, this is a success. Last year, Sanctuary had 104 individual guests, they prevented hundreds of nights spent on the streets.

“We had no idea how to run a night shelter, we just made it up as we went along.”

In the first six weeks of this winter they’ve had 95 guests, they have washed 334 bundles of laundry, 302 showers taken, 822 meals served and 481 items of clothing have been given out. Those 95 guests would have spent 202 nights in cars, tents or on the streets. Most importantly, with the help of other agencies including Porchlight and the Home Office, 23 people are no longer guests, they have been rehomed.

 Volunteers pray at the start of each evening

Volunteers pray at the start of each evening

All the time we’re talking volunteers are coming in the office asking questions. One of the volunteers asks Steve if he wants dinner, Lorna thinks he ought to eat. 

sanctuary-rest.jog

During 2016 a drop-in shelter was launched. Steve explains, “It seemed wrong to run from January to March and then say ‘bye, you’re on your own’. So we extended to a drop-in centre that would only provide meals.” Now the Methodist church opens the centre during the day so that the guests can access the showers.

 Dinner for one of the guests

I ask about the future. I can’t help thinking that without Steve and Lorna Sanctuary could easily come to an end. It takes a special person to dedicate so much of their life like this. For people with such a social conscience that must be a weight to bear.

It’s not until after I realise he doesn’t really answer the question. He does say he’d like to see the shelter open more than three nights a week. There are currently 130/140 volunteers, he estimates to open seven nights a week they’d need more than double that number. “We see Sanctuary as an advocate for the homeless. We are on the frontline and help where we can. Lorna and I are supposed to be retired, we don’t get paid to do what we do. We get by on my pension and Lorna’s small pension.”

 Sanctuary guest resting before dinner

Steve’s dinner arrives. Meatballs with a tomato sauce, pasta and salad followed by a dessert. It looks great.

“We see God as making us available, our meeting was cancelled on the Friday night so we could go to Dartford, we had 180 volunteers when we expected 60, at the same time this building was available. I don’t believe in coincidence, I like to think of it as God-incidence. I think that God prepares you for times such as this. If this is all God intended me to do in my life that’s fantastic.”

 A guest eating corned beef

Each shift at Sanctuary is run by a coordinator and several volunteers that in theory is so Steve and Lorna don’t need to be there all the time. However, every time I’ve been there so are they.

We are interrupted by the Sanctuary phone with it’s Superman ringtone. Steve laughs, “When I first started this I thought I was Superman. I soon realised I wasn’t. I can’t do this on my own. We come here because we like the interaction with the guests. If we were just project Managers and we never came here that wouldn’t work for us. We do it because we love it.”

There are more images from Sanctuary here.

Sanctuary is completely funded by donation - if you’d like to help.