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Benchmark created for retreats

07 February 2014

by a staff reporter

Facing closure: Ivy House retreat centre, in War­minster, Wiltshire

Facing closure: Ivy House retreat centre, in War­minster, Wiltshire

CLOSER working relationships between the wardens of retreat houses and the trustees who oversee them might result in fewer closures, an association of Christian retreat-house wardens, Archway, has said.

Liz Pearson, who chairs Archway, said that often trustees did not listen to their wardens, and, instead, regarded retreat houses as hotels.

A conference was organised by Archway last week for wardens to talk about experiences, and create a "benchmark" system against which retreat houses could measure their bookings and expenditure.

Mrs Pearson said that the mood among wardens was "reasonably happy" despite news of closures; the trustees of the Community of St Denys have confirmed their plans to close the retreat centre at Ivy House in Warminster next year.

She said that Archway hoped to be able to offer an audit service for retreat houses that were beginning to experience difficulties. She said: "It might help those facing difficulties to explore other areas, throw them a lifeline."

Many retreat houses were already experiencing a high level of bookings for 2014. Those that tended to have more difficulties included diocesan retreat houses, she said. Two of them - Offa House, in Coventry diocese, and Glenfall, in Gloucester - closed last year. The closures were blamed on the high running and maintenance costs (News, 1 November).

The director of the Retreat Association, Alison MacTier, said that their new retreats guidebook had a record number of entries for 2014. "This is really encouraging news for retreat houses and the many thousands of people they support," she said.

"It has been very sad to see the closure of a small number of some of our best-loved retreat houses, but the increase in the number listed in our handbook indicates that, overall, we are seeing a changing rather than diminishing ministry of retreats.

"In tough economic times, many people are either starting up small retreat centres, or finding ways to sustain their work."

The recent closures were not due to a decline in popularity for retreats, she said. "It is more about sustainability, at a time when overheads and the cost of living have seen such a dramatic increase in the last few years.

"I have spoken to retreat-house wardens where future bookings are extremely healthy, and I believe this is why the ministry of retreats will not only survive, but continue to flourish in the future."

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