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Reach for new life

22 August 2014

THERE was just one nun left when the Convent of St Laurence, Southwell, finally closed. The Community of St Laurence had been founded in Norwich, in 1874, and had done much devoted work through the years, but it had lived out its natural life. Soon after its foundation, it had settled in Belper, in Derbyshire, and the last five elderly nuns had moved to Southwell only in 2001.

The house they lived in was cathedral property, and the Dean of Southwell, the Very Revd John Guille, said that the Dean and Chapter would greatly prefer some community group to benefit from the building rather than a commercial venture.

This was an opportunity seized by Steve Shatwell, a former businessman now running the Reach Learning Disability, a charity that provides trained care-workers for adults with learning disabilities. Since Mr Shatwell took it over, it had expanded from just himself and two part-timers to nearly 50 staff and care-workers, with bases in Southwell, Mansfield, and Newark, between them serving some 160 clients.

Mr Shatwell, who has a brother with Down syndrome, says that he can empathise with the needs of adults with learning disabilities. He believes that their move to independence should be encouraged at an earlier age than is usual, probably when people are in their twenties rather than their forties as has been the case.

Funding for the charity comes from many different sources, but they also need to raise £100,000 a year. This helps to pay the rent of an old convent that has now been converted, and where the staff of Reach Learning Disability have moved in.

The nuns have not completely lost touch. Sister Dorothea and her cat, who live locally, still occasionally visit (above).

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