claire morganRecent articles in this magazine by Bronwen Calvert highlighting the benefits of quietness to spirituality, led me to think that readers might be interested in hearing about Minsteracres Retreat Centre and recent developments there.

Minsteracres Retreat Centre is a Grade 11 listed property set in 110 acres of gardens, woodland and pastureland in the hills above Riding Mill,  close to the A 68. Belonging to the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ (the Passionists), it has in the past 60 years been a monastery, a seminary and a retreat centre. The Passionist ethos is to reach out to people on the margins of church and society and help them in their daily lives.

In recent years the Passionist vision for Minsteracres has been to hand the centre over to independent governance to allow the resident community of mixed professed, lay, married, unmarried, full-time and part-time members, to discern a viable future for the centre and its work. The vision is to provide a place where people can come to be themselves and to find wholeness and healing in their relationship with God, creation and each other.

I was approached to join the shadow Board of trustees because my profession as a lawyer dealing in property development and charitable company formation and establishment, meant that I had the experience needed to help the Board establish itself as an independent charity.

In 2012 the new charitable company took over the running of the retreat centre with charitable objectives which, building on the Passionist tradition, are to further the Christian religion by providing a retreat centre for individuals and groups, to reach out to those on the margins of church and society and to nurture and care for the environment of Minsteracres for the public benefit.

What sets Minsteracres apart is the resident community lying at its heart. This praying community forms the context and sets the unmistakeable tone of warmth and hospitality for which Minsteracres is renowned.

The retreat programme includes retreats run by the resident community as well as quiet days, walking retreats, individually guided retreats and parish retreats, along with visiting speakers and other bespoke events. This year there are two events related to the Lindisfarne Gospels to mark the arrival of the original gospels at Durham Cathedral. Full details of the programme and these events can be found on the web site or by calling the Retreat Centre and speaking to Jo Bramley who will be pleased to deal with your queries.

In reaching out to those on the margins, strong ties have been developed with another other charity, Freedom from Torture, whose clients are able, for a time at least, to leave behind their often considerable problems and enjoy the peace and quiet of the old buildings and the beautiful surroundings.

Weekends are also offered to families and friends of substances misusers, and their carers who can find respite there. No one needs to feel excluded because there is a bursary fund to assist with the cost for those who would otherwise find it difficult.

More recently, working with other partner organisations, Minsteracres has become involved in the area of social prescribing which helps people to improve their physical and mental wellbeing by working outdoors. In the old shrubbery and ancient woodland around the house, each week The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) bring young and old, fit and not entirely fit, volunteers to work in and restore the grounds.

TCV can also provide qualifications, recently starting a practical diploma in conservation for young unemployed people to help them gain skills which may lead to paid work.

Another partner, Let’s Get Growing, is working to improve the health of a group of patients referred by a local GP practice and clients from the Alzheimer’s Society. Two days a week they come to the centre’s Peace Garden (a two acre space dug by hand from unpromising grazing land), where fruit and vegetables are grown for the centre. The garden also provides a quiet, contemplative space for retreatants and visitors.

The youth centre, too, is receiving attention. The existing building dates back to the second world war when it was built to train fire fighters. These days it is used for weekend and week-long visits by scouts, brownies, beavers and other youth groups. The simple accommodation is the subject of an active fundraising programme to refurbish it while plans progress to replace it with a new building.

There is a well developed environmental programme which includes the current installation of a biomass boiler to reduce CO2 emissions and improve heating in the main house and in the adjacent St Elizabeth’s Church, for the benefit of visitors and  the fabric of the buildings.

Minsteracres is available to people of all faiths and none to come as individuals or groups as part of the retreat programme on offer or to use the facilities for their own organised, compatible events. The experience offered is one of simplicity, giving space to reconnect with life’s essentials. Anyone interested in our work or in using our facilities can visit our web site, call or find us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/MinsteracresRetreatCentre ) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/Minsteracresrc)

There are opportunities to visit, to volunteer and in all cases to feel welcome.

Claire Morgan is a member of the Cathedral Congregation, a Eucharistic Minister and the appointed representative on the board of management of the City Centre Chaplaincy which is an initiative of the City Centre Churches Together.