Margaret Marren is not a woman to be ignored. As a long term visitor to Minsteracres and, for the last 15 years, organiser of the annual visit of her own and neighbouring parishes, she could see that the accommodation in the retreat house was not going to work for her ageing friends.
She noticed that people weren’t booking because there weren’t enough downstairs rooms and with no lift to the first floor many people felt they just couldn’t manage the stairs. So Margaret swung into action and a few years back instigated our lift fund.
Margaret organised monthly raffles among her local Irish group in St Helens near Liverpool. She persuaded people to donate prizes, and she ran stalls at car boot sales.
“My idea was although we knew it would take years, if we could start it off, others might help.” She was right, and this year she saw the longed for lift installed.
Of course the lift is only part of her passion – what she really loves is the annual summer retreat which she has been coming on for 26 years. “It really matters to me. I always feel like I’ve come home,” she says, “and when I have problems in my life, I always try to place myself at Minsteracres in my mind.
“Sometimes the idea of a holiday retreat puts people off, but you just have to come here to see how peaceful and joyous it is.
“It really involves you – it’s not just us listening to someone preaching. It’s more like therapy sessions! Of course it’s optional what you join in. Some people come for the peace, the camaraderie and the fun and they always find something here. You don’t have to be tea total either – we have a bar.
“My sister in law wasn’t a catholic. About 10 years ago I persuaded her to come. She said she couldn’t believe how much laughing she’d done. She died last year and we had a tree planted for her here. It’s a place she loved so much.”
The format mixes retreat sessions in the morning with trips in the afternoons and one full day out. The trips vary from year to year, but the date is set to coincide with the annual Alnwick Folk Festival.
“Northumberland is such a beautiful county with castles and lovely places to visit in such abundance up here. People are so friendly and hospitable everywhere you go.”
Relentlessly upbeat, Margaret’s approach is simple, “You’re doing God’s work when you make people happy – faith’s not all about doom and gloom.” It seems to work too, “Most people come back once they’ve been.”
She has already set her sights on her next goal, “The toilets upstairs are a real priority,” she says. Not surprisingly, they have been scheduled as the next phase in the restoration programme.