‘With’ launching new retreat centre for young people at former Convent
A group of youth workers are launching a new retreat centre focused on young people in Ditchingham, after winning the Dragons’ Den style bidding process to the former Convent members. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has expressed his support for the plans to develop the former Convent, saying they are some of the most exciting proposals he has seen since becoming Archbishop.
With their decision to become a dispersed Order, in August 2018 the Community of All Hallows held a Dragon’s-Den-style event to find a new occupier for their former buildings. The Community is now delighted to announce that the convent will become the home of a new religious community, retreat centre and prayer space for young people.
The group, known as “With”, will plant a religious community on site, with a life of prayer, service and community for and with the young people of the UK. This community will hold the spirituality of the site, inviting young people, and those who work with them, into retreats centring around spiritual practices and daily offices. Alongside this, the community will welcome non-residential members who will be able to connect with the daily rhythms online; this same online platform will allow young people to continue their journey after leaving the site. The team believe this will be not only life giving for the young people, but life changing offering a way of living that will sustain them for life.
Commenting on these plans the Archbishop Justin said,
“All the evidence that I have seen indicates there is no renewal in the church apart from a renewal of the Religious Life. Since becoming Archbishop I have worked, prayed and longed to see new forms of prayer communities within the tradition of monasticism. So this project thrills my heart. The plans for All Hallows Ditchingham are amongst some of the most exciting proposals I have heard since I have been Archbishop. I commend the faith, the risk, the sacrifice and the tenacity of the team. And I can’t wait to see this community up and praying. I commend this step of faith for the sake of the renewal of the church and the glory of God.”
With, comprised of a group of youth workers from across the south of England, represents a range of denominations and organisations and plans to work with many others. The new project will be supported by the Church Army, helping to oversee the initial development of the project until the new charity is formed, and offering specialised support and back-office services.
Jamie Cutteridge, With’s Director and Project Manager said:
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel in terms of the history of All Hallows, but rather just picking up the baton from those who have served Jesus so faithfully in Ditchingham over the past 160 years and re-imagine it for a new generation. With all that teenagers are bombarded with in the 21st Century, we believe that space to retreat and reflect is more important than ever before, and we know from our experience in working with young people who transformative times away can be. We’re overwhelmingly excited about the future of the site and so grateful to the Trustees and Sisters for trusting us with what happens next.”
They have launched a huge fundraising campaign in order to renovate the site.
The Convent’s Backstory
For over 160 years, the Community of All Hallows has been reaching out to vulnerable young people and for many years ran its own school, alongside the Sisters’ life of worship, prayer and service. As they considered leaving the site, the Sisters wanted to enable the site to be re-imagined as a resource for the Church in the 21st century, to continue to be a place of Christian community and service, a sign of God’s Kingdom in the world.
As their numbers were dwindling, the Sisters made the decision to become a dispersed Community. Rather than sell the site, the Community took the decision to offer the site to a new user. Applications were received from across the country and following a rigorous assessment and selection process, four organisations were invited to a “Dragons’ Den” style event, chaired by the then Bishop of Norwich, the Right Reverend Graham James, to make their pitch for taking over the use of the site.
Bishop Graham had asked Canon Andy Bryant from Norwich Cathedral to support the Sisters as they explored their options for the future of the Community. Canon Andy said: “We are all very excited by these proposals for the site. It will be a wonderful resource to support young people and Christian youth work across the country whilst continuing the Community’s own tradition of work with young people”.
Sister Sheila, the Community Co-Leader said:
“Our Community has been richly blessed by using this beautiful site over many years. Now we are delighted to be able to pass it on so that others can serve God in this place”.