Mice on the March in Westminster


It turned out to be an afternoon of magic, fantasy and colour as 300 children from across London, including Westminster, gathered for the first ‘Heartstone Odyssey Procession’ in Westminster Cathedral Piazza on July 12, 2018 to mark the start of International Story Circles, the start of Heartstone projects beyond schools reaching libraries, community centres and for the first time, overseas locations. Opened by Bishop John Wilson, Ms Laura Haynes, Head of the UK Committee for UN Women and Dame Louise Ellman, MP, together with special guests marking the partnership with China and India, and a host of other VIPs, this was a memorable occasion.

Using masks, facepaint, colourful banners and plenty of imagination, the children represented the mouse characters and themes in ‘The Heartstone Odyssey’. Alongside the children, representatives of the many different communities resident in Westminster also took part in the procession celebrating the wide cultural diversity of the borough and making this event an extraordinry ‘coming together’.

Above: some of the participating children getting ready for the procession and special guests British Council Head of Development (Arts) and Director of Development
Above: The event started with a joint photograph on the Cathedral steps with VIP guests, including Bishop John Wilson, Ms Laura Haynes, Head of the UK Committee for UN Women Dame Louise Ellman, MP and Mr Virendra Sharma, MP on the top step together with the many different community organisations and the children taking part.
Above: Bishop John Wilson officially opened the event reflecting on the beauty of our uniqueness before praying for harmony and peace in the world.

‘As you know, a mosaic is a picture made up of many different tiny coloured tiles,’ said Bishop John.

‘Each one of them is unique and each one of them is essential. Today we are a mosaic. Together we are a beautiful picture of humanity, all of us created in God’s image and called to love God and each other.

‘Lord our God, for everything you give us, we thank you. And we ask for your blessing upon each and all of us today as we share and grow in the ways of harmony and peace, discovering each other as friends and waking together in unity. Lord, we thank you. Amen.’

Above: Ms Laura Haynes followed and spoke of Chandra, the heroine of The Heartstone Odyssey, her strength, independence and tenacity to reach her goals despite being a victim of racial prejudice

Ms Laura Haynes said:

‘We work in part of the UN to try and change the world for the better but you know what I think, when I look at you here, I think the real people that are going to help us change the world for the better are sitting here, not standing back there, because you are going to help us find a new way to work together. We set up UN Women because we said it is no longer acceptable for boys and girls and men and women to not be equal, because we are all equal, aren’t we, we should all have the same opportunities, shouldn’t we, and we should all be able to achieve what we want to do and make a difference in the world. And that’s what we are here to celebrate and what we are here to support. We are so happy to support The Heartstone Odyssey. The reason for that is that I look at Chandra and I think to myself, this is a young woman who had a dream and it was her aim to achieve something special. She said, no matter what obstacles get in my way, I am going to achieve that, I am going to learn, I’m going to work with others, I am going to push down the barriers, I am going to help those who need help and I am going to achieve my dream. So my job and your job, in a few years, is to help make that happen even more and the reason for that is that every girl and every boy should be able to dream and everybody should have the opportunity to achieve those dreams. And you know why else, it’s because it’s time, so help me make that change. Thank you.’

Above: Dame Louise Ellman MP, presented how the project has developed since 2000, when she first came to know of Heartstone, reaching where it is today.

Dame Louise Ellman MP said:

I am very happy to be here today and to see how enthusiastic and excited you all are about this really important project you are all part of. I have known the Heartstone project for a long time. in fact i first knew about Heartstone in its very early days in 2000, that’s 18 years ago. That’s when Sitakumari first brought Heartstone to Liverpool, the area I represent in Parliament. Sita invited me to come and it was very different from anything I had ever seen before. It was an exhibition of stories, pictures and journeys, some created by young people, about their hopes, about what lives they wanted to have. I have seen Heartstone grow since those early days. That includes seeing a performance of The Heartstone Odyssey at Liverpool Cathedral, a very special occasion, and also seeing schools from across the country come together in the House of Commons in Parliament. You are united in being together and working for one world where everyone is valued. I hope you enjoy today, keep working together, keep working for a better world. That is what we are all about and you are the people who can make it happen.’

Above: Mr B K Guhare, Deputy Director of the Nehru Centre, the home of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations in London, also spoke to open the event, highlighting how everything had started from the Nehru Centre exhibition and performance in 2014 thus bringing the support of India for the book and project.


Deputy Director of Nehru Centre, Mr B K Guhare said:
‘Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It is a great privilege for me to be here.  It is a special occasion. The theme of today is of great concern to human society – how to get rid of prejudice and intolerance. In my opinion, no man can be a good citizen who is not honest in his dealings, with other men, women and children, faithful to his friends, and who does not have a good heart. This is a message for all of us – every human being has an important role which must be carried forward by our children, the message being carried forward today. Thank you.’
Above: The event was also a first in another direction. It marked the start of the partnership between Heartstone and the Chinese National Healthy Living Centre (CNHLC), the UK’s foremost charity specialising in providing health and social services to the Chinese community, and the introduction of the project with their assistance into China and Hong Kong.

Eddie Chan, Director of the CNHLC (above) said:

‘We are honoured to be part of the launch of International Story Circles and great to see so many of you here. I would like to thank Sita and her team for having the vision and passion to bring this story to people’s hearts across the globe and to all our special guests who are joining us for this occasion. The Chinese community everywhere are no stranger to living in foreign lands and have often faced dthe same issues that young Chandra faces so we are proud to spread the message of ‘The Heartstone Odyssey’ all over the world.’

Above: To highlight the role of young women in this project, the event was undertaken with the help of Westminster based organisation, Hear Women.which works to enable women and girls in fragile countries in Africa and diaspora communities in the UK to improve their physical and mental wellbeing and to advocate for themselves. Vittoria De Meo, from Hear Women, took part in the opening ceremony to present the organisation and their role.
Above: The procession was led by Sitakumari together with two dhol drummers and set off around the Piazza.

Above: the procession ended with Sitakumari leading the children in a rousing joint ‘mudra’ storytelling performance of the story of Sailvoyage arriving in Britain in 1796 with the single piece of the broken Heartstone leading to a chain of events culminating in the story of Chandra in our time.

Above: the Colombian musicians with Bishop John Wilson
The Colombian artists are part of the company Fonorwood Eventos y Espectáculos S.A.S based in Barranquilla, Colombia. They were in London representing the Carnaval del Suroccidente for Plaza Latina and the London New Year’s Day entry of Carnaval del Pueblo (Cdp) from Barranquilla.
The artists performing were:
Nelson De Jesus Fontalvo Norwood
Elver David Medina Vizcaino
Thita Arjona
Ayra Riddell-Morales
This is a band formed in Baranoa, Colombia in February 2018 with the purpose of developing in both countries and leading to international exchange organised by Cdp.

Above: the event provided a ‘meeting point’ for different groups who would otherwise not have come together
Above: Laura Haynes with Bishop John Wilson
Above: Mr Robin Misir, Home Office China lead, Mr Eddie Chan, Director of the Chinese National Healthy Living Centre, with Director of Development, Lucy Littlewood of the British Council.
Above: another group who participated, the Abbey Centre, brought women they reach from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine.
Above: the VIP guests at the event included front row Mr B K Guhare – Nehru Centre, Dame Louise Ellman, MP, Mr Mohammed Janal – Westminster Bangladesh Association, Mr Robin Misir, Home Office, Sitakumari – Heartstone, Ms Ilaria Ventrone – Mobike, Ms Jackie Rosenberg – CEO, One Westminster, Mr Eddie Chan – Director, CNHLC, Ms Laura Haynes – UN Women. Back row left to right: Mr Ben Mason, CNHLC, Bishop John Wilson, Ms Wendy Emberson – Heartstone Advisory Council.


The event was livestreamed worldwide and included live interaction with childen gathered in Maun, Botswana who had come together to watch the event and start their own International Story Circle.

Here is what some of the children who participated said about the event and ‘The Heartstone Odyssey’ which they have been reading:
“The best part about the Heartstone Project was the finale event because we all came together and the drumming was amazing.”
“I LOVED this book because I found it inspiring and interesting.”
“This story was amazing. Chandra is a beautiful character and I liked how she became friends with the mice and they helped each other.”
“This book was really good and I learnt a lot of new things, like how to treat others to make them feel welcome.”
“The Heartstone Odyssey is a moving, magical book that brings fiction and non-fiction together. I like how it is a fantasy story that talks about important issues.”
“The Heartstone Odyssey is a lovely, magical story and I loved the Colombian singers because I am from Colombia. I especially liked the amount of people that came and the very talented drummers.”
“The event was interesting because we learned about why the book was made and learned more about the characters personalities.”
“I liked the Heartstone procession because we got together with other cultures and shared an experience. I enjoyed reading the Heartstone Odyssey because we learned how we should behave to treat everyone with respect, understanding and acceptance.”
“I have never felt safer and I am glad I have a better understanding on what is going on in the world. It feels great to know that I can see things from different perspectives and help to make the world a more accepting place.”
“I loved the book because it relates to real life issues such as racism. I thought it was a smart idea to mix fantasy with real life.

Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Education and Community Cllr David Harvey said:

“I want Westminster to be a community where anyone feels included, regardless of race, background or religion.  I hope this event inspires young people to be optimistic and ambitious about their future in this city.”

Sarah Dorman, who came with the children from Campsbourne said:
‘The students in my class have absolutely loved this project! I can’t put into words how effective it has been in creating an environment of acceptance and tolerance. The children have loved reading the book and we have spent hours and hours discussing all of the different issues and ideas that arise throughout each chapter. One of the biggest differences I have seen since the start of the year is the ability these children have to debate and challenge each other’s ideas in a respectful and mature way. We have also been able to incorporate some very meaningful art and poetry into the project! The finale event was the perfect way to celebrate all of their hard work and bring the story together. It has been so successful that we will continue to run the Heartstone Project in Year 5 next year!!’

The day was made possible thanks to the involvement of Heartstone Advisory Council and Team members Wendy Emberson, Elena Noel, Alex Emberson, Shannon Emberson, Mariam Aiteouakrim and volunteers from Hear Women including Ellie Angus and Vittoria De Meo.

 The journey of The Heartstone Odyssey continues!

 All photographs in this post were taken by

Alan Smith Photography

Elena Noel

Carnaval del Pueblo

We are grateful for the support of the following in the staging of this event:


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