What the volunteers say

Like many small charities, Minsteracres relies heavily on the contribution of volunteers to help us do our work. So much so that last year in 2016 we recorded more than 17,000 volunteer hours! Those hours were spent right across the organisation in the kitchen and dining room, housekeeping, office, estate and gardens as well as supporting our outreach programme and providing hospitality.

We’ve been delighted with the results of several recent recruitment drives and it seems like almost every week we are interviewing applicants or welcoming volunteers into their new roles.

As part of our commitment to them, we hold a host of different events throughout the year, from the Christmas ceilidh and summer event, to our friends’ weekend in February.

We hold meetings in the spring and autumn where volunteers can hear about what’s happening at the retreat centre and share their experiences. We encourage volunteers themselves to talk about what brought them to Minsteracres and what they do when they’re here and it’s great to hear their stories.

“What is striking is that volunteers often felt called to Minsteracres: some came as children on retreat; some had relatives on the Manpower Services scheme in the 80s. Others recall their dads working to convert the stables in the 60s,” says Nuala O’Brien, Minsteracres’ communications manager, who with volunteer coordinator Jean Haldane (above) plans the meetings.

“We’re anxious to make the meetings relevant to everyone, but with such a diverse group we weren’t sure how we could. I needn’t have worried though, they get on like a house on fire and everyone seems genuinely interested in the diversity of volunteering opportunities,”

“You meet lots of really interesting people and find out interesting things,” says Colette Wilson (above) who has been a dining room volunteer for a couple of years.

“I found out about it from a notice in our parish magazine and I love coming here. It’s tiring, but when the day is finished you know you’ve done a good job. I’ve made friends with other volunteers too.

“I love the peace and quiet and the beautiful surroundings. If you’re working week days or weekends there’s overnight accommodation if you need it. When you’re not needed in the dining room there are great local walks from the grounds immediately around the house, to Derwent reservoir, the North Pennines and further afield.”

Marie Rice (above) told us that some years ago she decided not to wait until she retired to join the dining room volunteers, “Life is very short and very precious and we have to make a conscious decision where to find our inspiration to enter into God’s love. It is in giving that we receive,” she said. Among the many things she loves about volunteering – having her own room when she stays; the sequoias; the welcome she gets from the Minsteracres team – it’s the privilege of serving the visitors she singles out, “They enjoy the food and are so appreciative. I have met so many different people over the years and it’s great that they can just leave their troubles behind, rest awhile and be looked after.”

Tony Donaghy (pictured right above) is our first dedicated housekeeping volunteer. Tony had thought he would volunteer for outdoor work, but then decided to do indoors instead. “I do two days a week – it’s a happy balance,” he says. “It’s no hardship – there’s plenty time for other hobbies outside.

“Retirement isn’t what I expected.  It sneaks up on you start thinking what am I going to do?  Days blend together and you need to get out. It keeps you going, keeps your mind and body active. You’re not sitting in the house wondering what to do.

“It would suit a lot of retired people if they knew about it,” he says.

Malcolm Railton, (pictured right) one of the conservation volunteers, talks about how much he likes to work in the open air. He and the conservation team have over the years laid footpaths, cleared ditches, improved drainage, cleared ponds and cut down trees. Malcolm has even brought along his young grandson Dylan. “It’s really important that youngsters learn the skills we’ve been using or there will come a time when people don’t know how to do them anymore”, he said.

One highlight for Malcolm is their dedicated priest, “Wherever we’re working on any given day Fr Mark will find us! He wants to know all about what we’re doing. He calls the estate his open air cathedral. I know exactly what he means.”

Minsteracres also hosts a therapeutic gardening project run by Let’s Get growing who have a small, dedicated group of volunteers to help them. Read what some of them had to say about what they get up to.

Here are some of the stories about our volunteers from the news section:

You’ll get more than you give!

50 years of volunteers

Meet the hospitality team

Student priests volunteer for summer

Gap year student to the rescue

New role in hospitality

Many hands make light work

DIY SOS

If you’ve got time, we can use it!

The story of the cross of hope

Tony’s clean sweep

Sage Foundation volunteers make an impression

Dining room volunteers urgently needed

Finnish couple sign up for the summer

Battling addiction frees the way

Alnwick Castle garden party for volunteer Vera

Help needed in the Peace Garden

A super volunteer!

Gap year student Barbara’s six months at Minsteracres

Help needed for housekeepers

A place of peace and prayer