Friends’ Weekend October 2017
by Jane Hellings
Last weekend the Friends of St Beuno’s had their biannual Friends’ Weekend. Twenty friends from all walks of life gathered at their spiritual home to socialise, enjoy the house and grounds and listen to a series of talks and prayer inputs from the resident St Beuno’s team.
This time the Friends were asked to participate in a consultation with architects Purcell who have just been appointed to undertake a review and redevelopment of St Beuno’s. Fr Roger Dawson SJ, Director of St Beuno’s, explained “There has never been a comprehensive look at the building and the grounds since it became a retreat house in the early 1980s. As a team we are aware that the building has adapted piecemeal in the last forty years to meet changing needs of retreatants and programme, and there are lots of things about the site which now don’t make much sense.”
Robert Chambers and Elgan Jones from Purcell showed a series of plan drawings of the building and grounds as they are now, pointing out strengths and weaknesses, and asked for feedback from friends as to what works well and where change might be needed. “It is really valuable to have the input of a group who know the buildings so well over a number of years and feel such a deep connection with it”, commented Robert.
Discussion focussed on the location of parking at the front and arrival experience for those travelling by car, as well as routes for getting luggage to the bedrooms, making the “hidden” central courtyard more welcoming and accessible, and looking at the access to and aesthetic of the chapel. New prayer spaces making use of some of the spectacular views were also considered.
As Fr Roger said, “We want above all to create conditions where people can encounter God. The architecture must support that rather than detract from it.”
One Friend commented, “The stillness here is quite unique, supported by art and sculpture and also the landscape”. Another agreed: “You really feel the sense of history here, the spirituality of the building. You are very aware of those who have been here before.”
It was agreed that change needed to be respectful of the spirituality of the place but also that some change was indeed overdue. As one Friend put it, “Faith is all about tradition and change – but we have to embrace it with care and love, not fear”.
Following the talk Friends were asked to mark up the plan drawings with the comments and suggestions on Post-It notes. Purcell will respond with proposals for phased building development early in the New Year. It is not expected that St Beuno’s will close at any stage but Fr Roger said that, while the team would plan for minimum disruption, there might well be building works ongoing for the next few years.