John Keats ‘To Autumn’ – 1820

Keats’ familiar poem, written in an earlier time and perhaps more agrarian context, nevertheless beautifully sums up the season.  The season when the ground is permitted a brief respite before shielding the winter sown seeds from the coming frosts; when the trees shed their summer beauty after a  few brief weeks of technicolour splendour and the last of the summer fruit is gathered. The Norfolk beech woods stagger us with their glorious autumnal colour chart and here at Letton, they mingle with oak, sycamore, and horse chestnut to give us a last brilliant display before they finally drop their leaves for good. Here, we have stripped the last of the apples from our ‘moss’d cottage trees’ and harvested the last of our vegetables and the ‘gathering swallows’ have already gone. The garden rakes are out and leaf piles multiply around the grounds. In the evenings, we are often treated to beautiful sunsets, like the one above.

Today, as I write, the brisk westerly wind is doing it’s best to hasten the fall and, despite the chill, the sun is out, low in the sky, casting deep shadows across the surrounding farmland. There we have had our share of ‘full-grown lambs’ too, along with herds of beef cattle. It is quiet here today, no guests expected until tomorrow, but there is a buzz of activity! The season marks a slight change for us – quieter in the week, although still busy at weekends; and gives us an opportunity to attend to some of the practical tasks around the site, that can be difficult to deal with when the buildings are full of guests. (Or to write long overdue posts and update the website!)

The Courtyard has had a facelift in recent weeks as you can see in the image above, with the new paintwork complementing the gutters that were repaired earlier in the year. The builders are in this week to repair the flat roof over the drawing room stage in The Hall. They are rebuilding a section of the garden wall too, where an over-friendly bull leaned on it a little too heavily a few weeks ago!

In the next few weeks we will install the new fire escape staircase at The Stables, having just commissioned the new alarm. We will be working on indoor fire precautions (doors, lighting and signage) during the coming weeks; all part of the ongoing requirements of ever growing legislation aimed at keeping us and our guests safe. A few days with the buildings empty have allowed us to re-fit several windows that have been under repair.

Like most of you I’m sure, we are counting down to Christmas, looking forward to our Carols evening on Thursday 14th December and a short break for the team over the festive season itself. Then, before we know it, winter will be in full fling!  Keats wrote in 1820 – and we look forward to all that 2018 has to bring!

 

Today especially it feels like winter, still. It is cold and we work outside wrapped up against the elements and inside are blessed by our new and very effective biomass heating system!

Even so, as we walk around the grounds of Letton Hall the damp decay and bare winter dress of the woodland is giving way to new signs of life, defiant pointers to the Spring to come! Snowdrops, those most encouraging harbingers of warmer days ahead, are springing up in the woods, around the prayer house, in our gardens and along the driveways; daffodils are not far behind, with flower heads beginning to plump up and slender leaves reaching for any low winter sun that manages to sneak past the grey clothed guards of the skies.  Some of our non-resident feathered friends are already putting in an appearance, jostling for space at our bird feeders and, just this week we heard the sound of our woodpeckers drumming.  Last year we may have had three nesting pairs, along with several nuthatches and tree-creepers.  Squirrels are active and lively, searching out the hidden treasures they tucked away just a few weeks ago and getting ready for the new season.

We see this pattern of life from death unfold every year as the hardness and gloom of winter gives way to the joy of spring.  No wonder this has become such a profound a vital spiritual image and parable in our faith, revealing perennial truths, that only by dying to self can we truly live; only as a seed falls into the ground and dies can it bear fruit; suffering is transformed by grace into growth in character – and so on.

Here’s a tip though… While it still feels and looks like winter all around it can be hard to hold out in faith for a Spring.  You have to look carefully and search in unlikely places to see the signs of new life; you need to be still and listen carefully to hear the surprising sounds of hope.  You may be going through a winter right now, a hard season, a time of loss or dying, but look around for the buds, the early shoots appearing; listen for the sound of something new and wait in faith for it to break through!

It has been a little while since we last blogged – but life has been rather full!

After a long period of prayerfully exploring options for renewable energy, involving several false starts and some trips up blind alleys, we have finally embarked on the installation of a biomass plant for Letton Hall.  This is a large and expensive project, but will be significantly enabled by the Government’s renewable heat incentives (RHI).

Right now, as I write, I can hear the heavy equipment, diggers, dumpers and tele-handlers, moving around outside, where the team are digging trenches to lay ‘heat main’ pipes to the existing boiler rooms in our various buildings, as the heating and hot water supply for almost the whole site will come from one point.  Two large biomass boilers, burning wood pellets, will be situated in a plant room in the sheds. Our grounds and car park look a bit like a building site at the moment, but once this phase is complete, the boiler room can be put together and connected up. The scars will take a little while to heal, but hopefully, before long it will be hard to see where the diggers have been!

It has been quite an upheaval so far and our resident groups have been very patient with the inevitable interruptions and background noise but, thankfully, all has progressed well and no-one has come to harm.

We are excited about this opportunity to move away from fossil fuels, to be as ‘green’ as we can and to be better stewards of our resources. Please pray for the success and safety of the project and a smooth transition from oil to pellet power!

It has been a delight to welcome some volunteers from New Zealand to Letton Hall recently!

Calvyn and Alice Jonker, together with their daughter Claire have joined the team for two months, staying until the end of June.  It has been a joy to see how well the family have integrated with us – serving with such enthusiasm and generosity.

Calvyn is Pastor of Wanganui East Baptist Church in New Zealand (See: http://www.webc.org.nz/ ) and is taking a sabbatical break, but these three are not the kind of people to just sit on their hands or sun themselves on a beach somewhere! They have had a real impact at Letton, tackling a number of projects that we have not found the time to move forward and helping with ongoing maintenance and serving our guests. Their lovely, cheerful Christian witness is a blessing both to the Letton team, and to our guests

Calvyn pitches in with all areas of maintenance and work in the grounds, is very practical and capable (he also runs a small-holding at home in NZ!) while Alice and Claire have been a big support to in house-keeping and catering as well as being tireless gardeners. As a result of their efforts, our hanging baskets look good, we have a new chicken run complete with 6 chickens, beautifully restored benches and numerous other lovely improvements around the house and grounds.

Just recently, they stepped in as Duty Managers for the weekend, allowing the resident staff to all take a break, which was a real blessing.

Here are some pictures of our new Chooks, settling in to life at Letton …

Chickens1

Chickens2

Do you want to bring your church or young people’s group away for a weekend, or summer camp in 2016? Then it is not too late to book at Letton Hall… Why not give us a call?

2016 looks like being a busy year at Letton Hall;  We are busy and full through much of the year, but we do have some great dates available for groups which we would be delighted to fill!

In the Hall, we have a weekend available 15th – 17th July and then free dates between 22nd July and 5th August – offering space for weekend groups, or longer summer camps.  Call us soon to discuss attractive terms for these available dates.

 

HP3

In the Stables there is space between 7th – 21st August and then several weekends available in September and November which we would be glad to fill.  Again, we would be pleased to discuss attractive terms for the summer holiday dates.

 

SH3

For more information or to reserve dates, please contact us at the Letton Hall Office on 01362 820717 or by email: info@lettonhall.org

As we explained in an earlier post, the last few weeks has been a season of improvements at Letton Hall.  We are grateful to God for the financial resources to decorate, lay carpets and re-furnish various areas of the Hall and Stables – and for a quieter few weeks in which to progress the work!

The redecoration of the Stables Meeting Room was completed by a lovely team of volunteers, including several of our trustees, led by our good friend Jane Clamp. The room looks fresh, bright and attractive in its new livery. It was such a successful project that John Currey, our Trustee Director, is already making plans for a similar volunteer project next year!

On the top floor of the Hall every bedroom has been re-carpeted as well as the corridors. It looks so much better, is quieter and feels cosier. Several rooms have been decorated. Downstairs, the flooring improvements have continued in the office, rear hall and stairs. Residential guests will also feel the benefit of new beds and mattresses in several of the rooms over the next few weeks.

These are some of the things we have been doing behind the scenes; and in the coming year we aim to improve and increase bathroom facilities in both the Hall and Stables as well as moving on with the refurbishment of our windows and continuing to improve and replace furniture around the buildings. In all of this, our aim is to preserve and maintain the buildings to a high standard and to the glory of God and, of course, to provide increasingly comfortable and enjoyable facilities for our guests.

It is the winter solstice (so they tell me); the time in the year when the sun is at it’s lowest point in the sky and we experience the shortest day and longest night. (If you know all the technical terms, celestial equator and sphere, excursion etc. please bear with this somewhat simple description!)

The darkness is winning – or so it seems.  Our evenings start early and it all feels a bit gloomy and, for those of us who are early risers, we get up whilst it is still dark!  Then, gradually, the days will lengthen to the spring (or vernal) equinox and further until  the longest day in June.

In our world, does it sometimes feel as though the darkness is winning?  This year has seen an escalation of violence and tragedy throughout the world; with atrocities occurring daily in the Middle East, millions displaced across the globe and the horror of migrant deaths never out of the news.  Poverty still afflicts millions and is not absent from our own shores, where all too many struggle to survive from day to day and homelessness is on the increase.  All around we see evidence of moral and ethical decline, at every level and area of society, including the churches.  The daily bombardment of our senses with such things can easily lead to us become depressed and to believe indeed that spiritual darkness is growing and overcoming the light, but in this season, of all seasons we are encouraged to have hope!

Is the darkness now greater than it was when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem around 2000 years ago?  The headlines would have been different, but the impact on the individual lives of the people of Judea was no doubt much the same. The people we are told ‘walked in darkness’; they dwelt in the ‘land of the shadow of death’ and yet, the prophet had proclaimed that light would break into that darkness in the person of a child: ‘Unto us a child is born, to us a son is given’ (Isaiah 9) and Matthew makes it clear to us that Jesus, the baby in the feeding trough, was and is the fulfilment of that ancient promise!

John’s Gospel tells us in the first chapter ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’.  It’s still true!  Despite all the darkness around, a light is shining; the light of Christ.  It shines in us, from us, through us and is still available to all mankind.  Darkness speaks of the absence of light, rather than of anything substantial, and even the tiniest light can dispel the dark!  Let’s rekindle our hope this Christmas and believe again that this Gospel light cannot be extinguished.  Receive the light, proclaim the light… and, wherever you can, be the light.

Love and blessings from all at Letton Hall this Christmas!

Last week the carpet fitter came to Letton Hall. Now that might not seem a big deal to you, but then you probably don’t have 22 bedrooms in your house! He came to measure up for the next phase of new carpets, for the top floor bedrooms and corridors of The Hall, as well as some stairs and hallways downstairs – and the flooring for a toilet.

The challenge we always face at Letton Hall is when to undertake projects like this; do we tackle them little by little, decorate or re-carpet a room here or there when we can, or do we seize the moment and take on a large task once in a while? The answer is, of course, a bit of both! Right now there are doors being repaired and painted and a few more windows finished and we have just installed a staff toilet! However, during the winter, we will be making the most of some ‘down time’, when there are few guests in, to move some of larger practical projects forward. Several rooms will be re-decorated; the upstairs rooms will all get their new carpets and there are some new curtains coming too. In January, we are hosting a lovely crowd of volunteers for a week, working alongside the resident team to redecorate the meeting room in The Stables (Dolphin Court).

We don’t like to have a lot of down time at Letton Hall, as we love to see people here enjoying God’s blessings and a chance for closer fellowship and a full diary is good for the sustainability of the Trust. Even so, every now and then, a break in the busy programme gives us the time and space we need to really make improvements. Down time for us is not a period of inactivity, but it is about a different kind of activity – a break from the norm, which releases a fresh productivity and energy in the team. It becomes a time of renewal and refreshing both for the premises and the team.

In our personal lives, down time can offer a similar opportunity; perhaps just to rest, which many of us will enjoy doing over the next few weeks, but also time to take stock and to reflect on areas of our life and being that get all too little attention, or have been neglected in the busyness of our day-to-day lives. It can be a time to invest in important relationships with family and friends, in our community, in our own health and well being. Whether we are spending quality time with friends or family, or in contemplation and reflection; reading or watching something new, walking or riding and enjoying the beauty of Creation; exercising body and mind or taking part in hobbies, sport or any number of other possibilities, these opportunities can be very beneficial for us.  Many of us have to resist the temptation to simply pack our down time with more of the same, or the tendency to feel guilty if we aren’t doing anything, or that nagging anxiety about the tasks that will be waiting for us at some point! Down time doesn’t have to mean idleness, but it can and perhaps should mean doing something different!

For us, down time at Letton Hall during the coming weeks will involve carpets, curtains and a fair amount of paint and we hope our guests will see the difference! What will you do with your personal down time and what difference will it make?

Looking after Letton Hall and running the ministry involves quite a lot of people.  The resident team are familiar to many of you as you see them when you visit but there are many others, working in the background, staff, volunteers, trustees and friends, whose commitment and service make your enjoyment of Letton Hall possible.  From time to time, we will post a short profile of a member of our team, to introduce them to you and to honour their hard work.

In this blog, we introduce David Walmsley, who first came to work at Letton as a volunteer well over twenty years ago and then was invited to join the staff team.  He is now one of our longest serving members of staff!  The picture above shows David, fitting a new door frame to the cellars, with our good friend and regular volunteer, John Irwin.

David works at Letton three days a week and his main role is the day to day maintenance of the facilities, making sure everything is working as it should be.  On Monday mornings, there is usually a list of repairs to be attended to or problems to solve and, if not, he has plenty of ongoing tasks to work on.  On Tuesdays, David often works with our volunteers in the buildings and grounds (there is nothing David likes more than getting out the old grey Ferguson tractor for some work in the woods!) working on a seemingly endless list of projects.  A typical Friday would involve helping to set up the buildings and facilities for the enjoyment of our weekend groups.

Although we sometimes have to call in the professionals, there aren’t many tasks that defeat David, who can turn his hands to almost anything and often saves us much unnecessary expense and frustration with his wide experience!  Plumbing, woodwork, electrics, motors and machines, drains and gutters, inside and out, all benefit from David’s extensive knowledge and experience.  If there are jobs that David is not so keen on doing, it is usually because they involve heights, but he is always happy to hold the ladder for someone else!

David probably knows Letton Hall, inside and out, better than any of us and even turns out on occasions in an emergency to help the resident team prevent a crisis. He is a truly valuable member of our team and always serves willingly and cheerfully. There are not many things that upset David, but we do try to remember to put the tools back where they came from, put the tractor battery back on charge and put two sugars in his tea!

When he is not working at Letton Hall, David is often involved, together with his wife Helen, at Dereham Baptist Church, visiting their growing family or taking care of the grandchildren!

We are delighted that our new website has been shortlisted in the Network Norfolk and Norwich : Digital Media Awards, in the category ‘Best Christian Organisation Website’.  Whilst we are pleased that our efforts have received even this much recognition and would be delighted to win the award, any praise should be shared with the remarkable people who helped put it together.

We never met our designers at Storkey Media, but based on one exploratory interview with Caleb Storkey, to establish our hopes and ideas for the site, they managed to interpret our needs and requirements brilliantly and have created a truly functional and attractive site.  A few details of that functionality are still to come, including an interface with our online database and bookings system, but most is up and running.

Although most of the written content is our responsibility, their design, coupled with Kirsty Cussens‘ stunning photography has produced a very pleasing result from our point of view but, ultimately, the website is for the benefit of our guests, enquirers and customers.  This obvious but often neglected principle has shaped the style of the site, which aims to offer a positive customer journey from first enquiry to final visit.  Eventually, the site will connect people to our bookings system and provide access to help at every stage of the relationship, including eBooks and resources to help plan a stay.

We are committed to continual improvement of the website and welcome feedback, so do let us know if you have any thoughts or observations.  It was somewhat ironic that on the day we heard we were shortlisted, our host’s server went down (through no fault of their own I might add!) meaning that no-one could access the site but, thankfully, we are up and running again!  We are very grateful to Richard Green at Tricky Web for his continued support of Letton Hall.

If you are so inclined, you can vote for our site by visiting the awards page!