Liverpool might seem a long way from Minsteracres Retreat Centre near Consett, but Lya Vollering is making the journey to establish a new community, taking with her the skills she has developed during ten years as a lay member at Minsteracres.
She leaves behind her a legacy of hard work and determination.
Her early involvement in outreach work through visits to centres in Benwell and Byker led to new partnerships with Freedom from Torture, families and friends of substance misusers.
It also led to the development of the Peace Garden at Minsteracres. “It was good to be part of the start of the garden and to see it develop. I know it’s in good hands now and that others will take it further.” she says.
Living in a community is not without is challenges, as Lya freely admits. “It’s not always easy to live with people you haven’t chosen. There is the challenge of finding your own space, and of accepting those you live with, and for them to accept you!”
She is clearly undeterred though, as she and her friend Pru Shepherd, and Prus’ dog Seren set about building a new community in a former Carmelite monastery, offering hospitality for those in need.
Lya acknowledges that the experience she has gained in ten years at Minsteracres has given her the confidence to start over on a new city. Never one to blow her own trumpet, she credits these achievements of those years to the many people who have worked alongside her.
“I learned gardening from Ross Menzies and Katrina Padmore of Let’s Get Growing who worked with me as we planned and dug; I learned DIY from Brian Alderson, another community member; and I learned how to truly pray from the community.” she says.
“My interest for the environment has also developed – from how to start a compost heap, to producing organic food for the table; and from using eco-friendly paint, to installing a biomass boiler.”
The latter might have been a sore point, but for Lya’s graciousness. The process from first discussion to installation has been a long one, dogged by problems from planning permission to roosting bats. Lya’s legendary determination kept it going, and just as the vision becomes a reality, she has to go!
The Cross of Hope, which you see as you approach the house from the A68, is typical of Lya’s work. It grew from her own design, but became reality with help from wood workers, glass makers and volunteers who gave their time freely to produce a piece of beauty which is fast becoming a landmark.
Her new home also “needs work” as Lya puts it. It is hard to think of anyone more up for the challenge.