AFTER holding a rigorous Dragons’ Den-style contest to determine the future of All Hallows’ Convent, Ditchingham, in Norfolk, the nuns have chosen to hand over their home to a new generation seeking the religious life.
The seven Sisters of All Hallows’ announced in February of last year that they would be leaving 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 agreed to offer the buildings and the nine-acre grounds for free to any individual, church or group who could successfully reimagine the site as a place of Christian community for the 21st century (News, February 2018).
FarrowsThe gardens at All Hallows Convent
In August 2018, four projects, shortlisted from dozens of applications, pitched their ideas to a panel chaired by the then Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, in the style of the BBC reality TV programme Dragons’ Den.
The winning proposal came from four youth workers, who plan to form a new religious community — known as “With” — to support and work with young people (aged ten to 25) in the UK.
From September 2020, a small residential community of six to ten people will live by a rule of life,
similar to that of the Community of St Anselm at Lambeth Palace, for between six months and three years. From January 2021, the group will work with teachers and youth workers to organise spiritual retreats and away-days for groups of young people on the site. Its rule will also be reflected in an app that will enable those who are unable to go on retreats to follow prayers and livestream daily offices remotely.
The co-leader of All Hallows’, Sister Sheila, who was on the judging panel, said that the nuns wanted to continue their history of supporting vulnerable young people. “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.”
After a year of planning, the newly formed With community is launching a fund-raising campaign to raise between £500,000 and £700,000 to repair the roofs and sensitively modernise All Hallows’ Convent to meet the requirements of young people.
FarrowsThe chapel at All Hallows Convent
The director and project manager, Jamie Cutteridge, who resigned from his job to form With, said on Wednesday: “The vision that we have been communicating to the Sisters all along is: ‘We want to keep doing what you are doing.’ It is a beautiful space which has been prayed in for 160 years: we do not want to go in, rip it apart, and do with it what we want.”
He continued: “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 how 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.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the project. “All the evidence that I have seen indicates there is no renewal in the Church apart from a renewal of the religious life,” he said. “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 among 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.”