I am aware that it has been two years since our last newsletter but we have not been idle at the Coach House. Along with continuing the regular work here, we have been exploring various ways to develop for the future. It has taken a while for us to reach a position where we can share our news. This has not been helped by the pandemic which has had a major impact on all of us. Nevertheless we now have some major pieces of news we are keen to share with you concerning the future growth and development of the Coach House.
As from the beginning of April this year Ruth will be retiring from her role as Co-ordinator of the Coach House, although planning to remain a trustee on the Board. She has held this post since 2016, but previously from 2001 onwards had assisted Joyce Ferne in running the retreat centre. As the person on the ground at Kilmuir she has, sometimes single-handedly, had to deal with all matters concerning the Coach House - maintenance, administrative and housekeeping as well as its core activities of retreats and spiritual direction. At all times she has liaised with the Board of Trustees, who wish to extend their heartfelt gratitude to her for her devotion to the vision and work of the Coach House over so many years. (A word of thanks also to her husband, Mike, who often behind the scenes has been a strong support to both Ruth and the Coach House.) Many Friends of the Coach House will have experienced the gentle and professional way in which Ruth has addressed their needs. So, a bouquet of thanks to you, Ruth, along with our prayers and best wishes for the future.
We are very happy to be welcoming Claire Starr as the new Co-Ordinator. Some of you will already have met Claire as she first came here over 12 years ago, first as a retreatant including making a 30 day retreat with us, then as a volunteer on our team, leading to becoming Assistant Co-ordinator 2 years ago. Caring deeply about offering hospitality in its broadest sense, Claire brings a wealth of experience that will inform and enrich the life and work of the Coach House. We will be seeking to appoint a new Assistant Co-Ordinator to work alongside her when the current circumstances created by the pandemic ease up and the way ahead is clearer.
During the pandemic along with working as Assistant Co-ordinator, Claire has been shadowing Ruth and finding out more of what the role of Co-ordinator entails. To make this possible she has been living on site in the staff flat. This has been a temporary arrangement, as the flat was only intended for short-term volunteers and is unsuitable for long-term occupation. For some time the Board has recognised the need for more permanent accommodation for the Co-ordinator (as many will know, Ruth and Mike live in their own house), and with the co-operation of our partner charity, the Society of Retreat Conductors (SRC), plans are at an advanced stage for a new house to be built on part of the Steading site.
This is an exciting venture for the Coach House Trust, one which we hope will help the current work to continue and enable further growth to evolve.
Planning permission has already been obtained, but we are awaiting detailed costings for the new build and ancillary services, as progress has been severely pushed back by the pandemic. SRC, who are co-owners of the Coach House properties with us, (in the ratio of SRC 67%:CHKT 33%) will of course be sharing the costs, and the bulk of the funding is already secured. However, the Coach House trustees anticipate we will still need to raise £35,000 to complete our share.
The new house will be built on the grassy area in the foreground of this photo (right). The most dilapidated part of the original steadings at the back will be demolished, but the twin gable front and side which are shown in this photograph will be kept for future development.
We are most aware that the current financial situation is a difficult one for many, and that this is not an ideal time to be seeking donations, however if you would like to make a gift now, this would be a great encouragement and tremendously appreciated. This is a link to our page on CAF Donate which provides a facility for secure online donations. We intend to launch a formal appeal in the next few months once we have definite costings. In addition, if any of you have particular skills or ideas on fund-raising, please do not hesitate to contact us.
These last two years have looked so different from each other, with the pandemic having a big impact on our ability to offer any residential retreats or group events for most of the year. This has meant a substantial reduction in our income, and whilst we were able to curtail expenditure associated with hospitality, the everyday overheads have continued. The initial government support grant, and an increase in donations from our supporters for which we are so grateful, have enabled us to come through the pandemic economic storm to this point. In this difficult period we are very thankful for the gifts, thoughts, messages and prayers of our friends which have been, and are, such an encouragement.
Since the first lockdown in March we have adapted to provide some work online with individuals and groups. As with so many others, our zoom skills have shot up. It has generally been a steep learning curve. It was not what we expected, but new insights and opportunities for online work have emerged, which we hope to continue in some way. From August to end of November we managed to offer a small number of retreats for a very limited number of people, following the government guidelines and restrictions.
As I write this there are many restrictions still in place caused by Covid-19, but we intend to offer some retreats this year as and when it becomes possible. Further information about the programme will be on our redesigned website shortly. 2021 will be a year of transition in many ways; as we emerge from the pandemic and it becomes possible to reopen the Coach House doors; as the building work goes forward to provide more accommodation; as Claire moves into her new role and as in time we appoint an Assistant Co-Ordinator to work closely with her and our volunteers.
A big thank you to those who generously volunteer here, whether that has been for a shorter or longer period of time. Your help has always been a vital factor in the life of the Coach House.
We hope you share our excitement about these developments, and invite you to keep an eye on our website www.coachhousekilmuir.org where we will provide further updates about both the progress with the building work and the opportunities on our programme.
Sending every blessing,
Chairman on behalf of the Board of Trustees
p.s. Still serving breakfast – just not to humans!