From north London to Minsteracres in Northumberland is a six hour drive – and a world apart.
The contrast between inner city life and the rural retreat could not be have more marked for a group from a sister Passionist house when they visited recently.
The Passionist community bought Martha House in Tottenham last November to increase accommodation for migrants in London, providing food and shelter for people needing accommodation for short periods.
“Since we opened 27 people have come through our doors, some staying only a couple of nights while they wait for other accommodation, and others waiting for their documents to return to their home country,” says Connor, who with his partner Jo is coordinator of the house.
The house runs as a community where everyone participates in household tasks. There are six beds available and everyone shares a room, plus emergency accommodation in their front room, called the Christ room, currently occupied by a young homeless woman who was facing life on the streets while seven months pregnant.
“We work hard to make sure everyone gets along,” says Connor. It seems to work, “We’ve got a good group who get on well,” says Jo.
“When we opened we invited our neighbours in to meet us. We have an open meal every Wednesday and many of them come to eat with us and bring food. They’ve been really supportive,” says Connor. “We have helped to develop their knowledge of what it’s like to be a refugee.”
Their stay at Minsteracres was inspired by rector Fr Jeroen who invited them to bring their guests out of London for a few days respite.
“There is something to be said for doors to be opened for you.” Says Connor. “None of our guests are Catholic, so it’s culturally very different for them.
“Often people come to us shut down, frightened, not knowing what is going to happen to them. It takes a few weeks for them to come alive again. You see it happening, and see them begin to trust people again.
“The lovely thing about staying here is everything is taken care of. Not that we’re indulged, but there’s a very simple offering of hospitality and fellowship in a beautiful setting which gives a sense of peace.”
“Just seeing people visibly enjoying the sunshine, walking on grass and seeing a big landscape – it’s a big stress reliever,” says Jo.