Retreat to emerge from demolition and rebuild
2012: The guesthouse at The Community of All Hallows in South Norfolk is being rebuilt and refurbished to provide a place for retreat and quiet reflection. Sister Barbara Pascali reports on progress so far.
`The builders are coming' was a caption that immediately sprang to mind for an early photograph I took during the latter part of April 2012. Ahead lay several months of change and development. Quite early on, I asked the site manager from the building contractors if he was enjoying the work. He replied, "Yes - I have both a new-build and the development of an existing building to work on."
Timing seems to have been very prevalent during these changes.
As soon as the Easter guests had completed their stay, preparations began. Within a few days, furniture was removed, laundry washed and replaced in the cupboards and soft furnishings stored away.
Demolition day for the garage was fast approaching. Yet, there was one concern. A family of robins was being reared - amazingly at eye level - just inside an outdoor cupboard attached to the garage. We kept a watchful eye, rather anxiously. However, shortly before demolition day, three wide open mouths had turned into three perfectly formed little birds and, soon afterwards, the nest was empty. (Phew!)
Watching huge, straight lorries negotiating their way along our curved, hedge lined driveways was quite something. All the skill of the drivers was needed, especially as they had to back up in order for the rubble to be loaded on and then driven away. But their skills were equal to the task and soon the garage was no more.
Afterwards, as the site manager and I stood looking at the ground where the garage had been, a robin flew down and settled for a few seconds in front of us before flying on. It was as if it was saying "Thank you for caring about us but it's alright - we're fine." Of course, it might have been thinking `I'm sure my nest was around here somewhere!' Either way, it was a nice moment.
One morning soon afterwards, at about seven a.m., I found a lone workman sitting quietly in his van, having some breakfast. He had been asked to come and dig the foundations for the new-build. We chatted briefly and then I left him to his time of quiet before starting work.
Other workmen, machines and deliveries followed, of course, and it was at this point that I began to notice how `dove-tailed' each person's work was into that of others; also, how effective the organisation of the contractors had been and what a lot of responsibility their site manager has. As I write this, the roof rafters for the new-build have just been lifted on and fixed. Meanwhile, the re-shaping and re-configuring of the main house has been going on a-pace.
When completed, the ground floor of the new-build will include the Guest Sister's Office, an adjacent bedroom with en-suite and a second disabled bedroom with its own wet room. The floor above will be completely given over to a Poustinia - accommodation for guests who wish to completely withdraw into silence. This accommodation will include a bedroom/sitting area with its own kitchen facilities and bathroom. In the main house, all bedrooms will be en-suite. The kitchen is being improved and there will be an additional downstairs toilet, built to disabled standards. New doors and windows have been fitted.
The reason for the changes to the Guest House is to further support guests in their various needs, as they come seeking a time apart. What guests already find here is expressed by two of our regular guests. With their permission, I reproduce their comments below:
"As always, the welcome tranquility and restful atmosphere that typifies Ditchingham slowly works its way into my battered senses and emotions, and soothes my soul ... whether here in this room or elsewhere at All Hallows, I shall constantly be giving thanks for this place of refuge and recuperation."
"It has been a week of joyful and needed silence, rejuvenation and reflection of the many special moments experienced during my retreats in St Mary's (bedroom) -- this special place of privacy and safety at one end and contemplation, comfort and nature at the other - a sanctuary I have found no-where else during my life. I have grown here spiritually in gentle ways."
When making decisions regarding changes and developments of the house, we have endeavoured to listen to the suggestions of guests in addition to our own observations. Something that has always struck me is the number of times guests - on walking through the door - say, with obvious relief and pleasure, "Home again!" It is clear they feel safe, accepted and - we very much hope -- welcomed.
Essentially, All Hallows is a place that guests feel drawn to ... and it is God our Father who draws us all to `elsewhere places' ... to places where our inner being feels able to relax and respond more freely to our Father's voice - whether for rest, restoration or guidance. In this sense, it is not for us here to be prescriptive but simply to help provide an atmosphere, environment and facilities -- whether in the house, its surroundings or the chapels - for our guests to `tap into' as they feel drawn. In reality, of course, they are not our guests but those of God our Father.
Guests have expressed pleasure in the homeliness of the house, and this has guided us in our choices once the building work is finished. It was felt that most carpets needed replacing. However, soft furnishings, furniture and other equipment have already been `decluttered' over recent years and so, although there will be some `fine-tuning', most items will be returned to the house to ensure the same homely atmosphere as before. Any gaps will be filled by approaching the Emmaus community on site here. This approach will also be in line with the ethos of stewardship which is an important part of our community living.
Our architect, who visits the site regularly, has said that he feels the reason the building works are going so well is because it is a happy site, and he said that he has no worries about the project. As part of a separate project, the gardens beside the Convent Chapel are being rejuvenated which should further enhance the healing atmosphere.
It is a fitting tribute, we believe, to the person who founded the Community so many years ago, in 1855, that - when everything is completed - the house will be re-named `Lavinia House'.
Read more about All Hallows on this website