Now that summer has returned, our environmental consultant Andrew Pennington and his band of conservation volunteers are in full swing maintaining our 110 acre estate.

Although one member down (Rob Lee left us in May to move to Cumbria), we have been delighted welcome two other volunteers back to the team. Johnnie Coyne has returned after spells of illness and Michael McSparron hopes to come back soon following major surgery to his ankle.

In their absence regulars Rob, Kevin Page and Alan Staines have performed Herculean tasks to turn the compacted overgrown soil in the walled garden into well manured loam ready for the fruit and vegetables to stock the retreat centre’s kitchen. Along the way they have been helped by members of the Seaham based charity Free the Way in the hard graft of digging in compost and shifting gravel for the new footpaths.

Now, however, it’s time to turn their attention back to the wider estate. “The footpath in the shrubbery needs another topcoat after the damage inflicted by the winter storms,” says operations manager Geoff Bockett., “And the bridges over the culvert need to be completed. They’re also collecting the fallen and felled trees to dry and store both for sale and as firewood for the wood burning stoves, as well as continuing the Forestry Commission sponsored work to remove the laurel and rhododendron which was choking the woodland.”

“This year we’re delighted to welcome Emmanuel College in Gateshead, sister school to Bede Academy at Blyth, with whom we have had a longstanding relationship. Both schools will help us with this work as part of their annual environment day,” says Andrew, who is passionate about bringing different age groups together in shared tasks to create conversations between them and share experience.

The conservation team also regularly hosts groups from corporate organisations such as Sage UK, the Department of Work and Pensions and others who give up time to help local charities, and are indispensable with our management of the estate grounds.