They’re back! Seaham-based Free the Way, a charity helping addicts in recovery, has become a regular on our outreach programme and it is fair to say that Minsteracres benefits every bit as much as they do from their visits.

In exchange for comfortable beds and plentiful food (they are famed for their enthusiastic consumption of cooked breakfasts) they commit to several days of hard labour.

On their first visit last year they amazed us all by digging over a huge bed in the walled garden with hard, compacted soil overgrown with weeds. Next time they dug in several tons of compost. The beds are now lined with footpaths, with fruit bushes planted in rich, crumbly soil ready to deliver us our first crop later in the year.

“They are a sort of DIY SOS,” says Liz Holmes, Minsteracres outreach coordinator. “The first time they came I gather they had to be persuaded, but now they are apparently queueing to come!”  It must be true – this time, at 19 strong, the group was the biggest ever. “I know what to expect,” says one participant, back for a second time, “but I like it!”

The lads have a phenomenal work rate. In just a few days, as well as digging over a bed in the Peace Garden, they have painted the corridor and stairs by the new outreach offices, the upstairs corridor and landing in the retreat house ready for the new carpets to be laid and given a lick of paint to the stones lining the footpath to the cemetery.

On top of that, much To Fr Mark’s delight, they have re-varnished the benches dotted around the house.

When they return in the summer, their next project is to put in a human sundial in the park north of the house so we will have a lasting memory of the continuing contribution they are making here.