A group of nuns in Norfolk are to give away their convent and its grounds to any individual, church or group who can re-imagine the site as a place of Christian community for the 21st century.
The seven nuns of All Hallows Convent in Ditchingham announced this week that they are giving away the buildings and the nine-acre grounds including gardens, a chapel, and a cluster of houses which they have occupied for more than 150 years. The Sisters will become a dispersed religious community.
The Church Times reported that 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. Canon Bryant said: '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 pitch their visions at an event in the summer, in the style of the BBC reality TV programme Dragons' Den.
The 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 make sure 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 such a large site had become a burden for the ageing Community, according to the Church Times.
Instead, a new, smaller Mother House has been bought for the Sisters in the nearby town of Bungay, where they will worship at the parish church, while 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 will 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.'
Canon Bryant said: 'I have greatly enjoyed getting to know the Sisters 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, along with a proposal for the competition, can be found in a brochure on the website: www.all-hallows.org.