Happy Sixtieth For Pilsdon

by Gerry Lynch last modified 07 Jun, 2018 02:56 PM

West Dorset community celebrates six decades of providing prayer, hospitality, and work

A community in West Dorset that provides a Christian place of refuge and transformation in the heart of the countryside is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

Since 1958, the Pilsdon Community, set in the hills above Bridport, has been offering a refuge to people in crisis, welcoming those from all backgrounds and from many different walks of life – whether young or old, rich or poor. Pilsdon is a community that shares a common life of prayer, hospitality and work, providing an environment of acceptance and friendship where people can begin to rebuild their lives.

Pilsdon’s worship and spirituality are Anglican by foundation but ecumenical in expression. People of any faith, or none, and of any race, culture or sexual orientation are made welcome. Hospitality is offered to those who find themselves in need, either simply for a meal and overnight accommodation for wayfarers, or for more long term assistance following a crisis point in life.

As part of the Community’s 60th Anniversary celebrations, it is seeking to record experiences from anyone who has come into contact with it, as members, volunteers or guests.

At the heart of the project is a ‘Memory Shed’ on the grounds of the community, inspired by the BBC’s Listening Project, where conversations between people can be recorded.

A key person is Mary Davies, who has been a volunteer with the community for two years. Mary suggested the project as she has been a historian and researcher with a background in recording oral history.

“We’re keen to hear from anyone who has had any contact with Pilsdon over the last six decades – as members, wayfarers and guests.

“We’d like to help people mark their experiences here without it being an enormous chore. People can e-mail me at mdavies@pilsdon.org.uk to find out how. We’ve trained a group of former guests and members to do the interviews.

“We have a dedicated website for the stories at www.stories.pilsdon.org.uk.

“What is captured will be deposited with the Dorset County Archive.”

Pilsdon 60th- MattMatt Swan is one person who’s life has been changed by volunteering at Pilsdon. After 14 years living in London and working in software, it was getting to the point where he wasn’t interested. His marriage was going badly and he needed a fresh start.

“I heard about Pilsdon through a chapter in Tobias Jones’ book, Utopian Dreams”, he says, “which is about both religious and non-religious communities.

“I’d really enjoyed visiting a sustainable community in Monkton Wyld, and had started thinking seriously about what I could do to mitigate what humanity is doing to the planet. I stopped flying, and started growing my own veg.

“I started off by staying as a volunteer in Pilsdon for a year. It was like being in a family, giving a great sense of peace and belonging in a beautiful place.

“After that, I bought a little bit of land in Wales, off the grid, and started a small market gardening operation with 24 beds and a 15 metre polytunnel. As I’ve been living in a caravan there, I came back to Pilsdon as a volunteer every winter for six months.

“In 2015, while spending the winter here, I met another volunteer. She later moved to Wales, and we’re getting married in the summer!”

The Pilsdon Community is made up of 25-30 people at any given time, who live and work together on a small farm, based around a Jacobean manor house and its converted stables and barns. They enjoy home baked bread, fresh vegetables from the garden and milk, butter and cream from their small dairy herd. 

The Chapel and Church are open all the time and services are held four times a day. Its services are central to the rhythm of life at Pilsdon although they are not compulsory for guests or wayfarers.

Alongside the Warden, Community Members make up the core team who take responsibility for the overall running, organisation and ethos of Pilsdon. At any one time there may be up to 7 community members. As well as the day to day jobs of cooking, looking after livestock, leading prayers, washing and cleaning – where members take equal part to others living at Pilsdon – Community Members also look after key areas such as health and safety, the gardens, the vehicles and applications process, to name just a few.

Volunteers are also key to the success of the community, and many live at Pilsdon for a period of between 6-12 months, whilst others who live locally come and support community life as ‘day’ volunteers.

Guests at Pilsdon may be people recovering from alcoholism or addiction, or perhaps living with fragile mental health, or have recently experienced a bereavement, marital breakdown or other life crisis. The Community offers a safe space for rebuilding confidence and a sense of purpose. Guests at Pilsdon come for a period of several months or even years and in this time community members and volunteers aim to walk alongside and support them through a challenging period in their lives.

Wayfarers are another group who play an important part of life at Pilsdon. They can stay overnight during the week or for the weekend: arriving on Friday afternoon and leaving on Monday morning. Visits can only be repeated on a six week cycle. They share in meals, work and leisure as well as having the opportunity to make use of the other community facilities which include a laundry and the ’boutique’ of second hand clothes.

Pilsdon 60th- AaronAaron came to Pilsdon as a guest and still visits regularly as a wayfarer.

“I had been living at Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight, when they told me about Pilsdon”, says Aaron, “I wanted to work with animals, especially pigs. I got the chance to raise a sow called Saffron from she was a baby.

“Pilsdon helped me to benefit from community life, and then found me a flat in Lyme Regis.

“You are always faced with yourself in community! There’s nowhere to hide and I did have a few misunderstandings. I was taught here when that happened to always make it up by the end of the day.

“Serenity is something people can get here. I find a sense of serenity through the religious side here, which gives guests the chance to participate as they choose.

“I’ve been in my own flat for a year. I can read the offices and the Bible along with the community from there. It’s still great to come up here every six weeks or so for a night or a weekend. In community there is a great sense of joy you get from other people.”

People are also welcome to visit Pilsdon for retreat visits, an opportunity to relax and join the common life of prayer, hospitality and work, and enjoying the tranquillity of this unspoiled part of Dorset. More info here.

The Pilsdon Community is currently seeking both volunteers and community members. Find out more about becoming a community member here and about becoming a volunteer here.

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