THE nuns of All Hallows Convent, Ditchingham, in Norfolk, are giving away the buildings and the nine-acre grounds to whoever can successfully reimagine the site as a place of Christian community for the 21st century.
The seven Sisters of All Hallows announced on Monday that they are to leave the gardens, chapel, and cluster of houses which they have occupied for more than 150 years, to become a dispersed religious community.
Instead of selling, however, the Sisters have agreed to offer the site for free to any individual, church, or group who can successfully propose how it might best be repurposed as a new resource for the Church.
Canon Andrew Bryant, of Norwich Cathedral, was asked by the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, to meet the Sisters to explore their future. He explained on Tuesday: “The Community is in the very fortunate position of not needing to sell at this moment in time. The Sisters are keen that the site should continue to be of service to the work of the Church. They want the site reimagined in the service of the Church rather than merely sold to the highest bidder.”
Candidates with the best ideas will be invited to attend an event to be held in the summer, in the style of the BBC reality TV programme Dragons’ Den, in which entrepreneurs pitch an idea for a new business to a panel of judges.
Candidates will present their plans to the co-leaders of the community, Sister Sheila and Sister Elizabeth; Canon Bryant; and Bishop James. A business adviser will also be on the panel to ensure that the winning plans are financially sustainable.
Bishop James said: “The Community have shown great vision in making such a generous offer of their present buildings for a new chapter in Christian mission and ministry at Ditchingham. They are much kinder than the panel on Dragons’ Den, and I hope there will be an imaginative response.”
Maintaining a large site had become a burden for the ageing Community.
A new smaller Mother House has been purchased for the Sisters in the town of Bungay near by, where they will worship at the parish church. Two of the older Sisters will move into supported accommodation at All Hallows Nursing Home, which was formerly run by the Community but is now run by an independent charity. Another Sister has moved to undertake a solitary life on the Isle of Mull.
Sister Sheila said: “Our community has been richly blessed by using this beautiful site over many years. Now we want to pass it on so that others can serve God in this place.”
It is not the first time that the Sisters have handed over their buildings while maintaining ownership. The former school run by the Community closed in 1990, and was later converted to the Belsey Bridge Conference Centre, run by the Christian Conference Trust. Part of the convent buildings has been occupied by the international homelessness charity Emmaus Norfolk and Waveney since 2012.
“I have greatly enjoyed getting to know the Sisters,” Canon Bryant said, “and have great respect for them in wanting to offer the site in the service of the Church rather than wanting to sell the site. Their generosity means that the site hopefully can continue to be a place of prayer and service, witnessing to the work of God’s Kingdom.”
Details of the chapel, houses, and gardens of the convent, and a proposal for the competition, can be found in a brochure on the website: www.all-hallows.org.
To register an interest in this site, email Canon Bryant at firstname.lastname@example.org.