The pandemic has changed Woodbrooke irrevocably. New challenges have brought long-standing issues of financial sustainability into sharp focus. Woodbrooke has responded to a changing world by expanding its online learning and providing online worship to thousands. Meanwhile the Woodbrooke Centre (our Birmingham site) has been host to new local groups and activities.
Over the last two years, Woodbrooke trustees have sought to discern – what, in this changing world, is the best way for Woodbrooke to continue fulfilling its purpose to ‘foster a vital Friends’ ministry’ now and in the future? We are grateful to Friends and partner organisations for their thoughts and questions as part of that process, including at sessions we ran at Yearly Meeting 2021 and 2022. In June this year, Trustees decided that it was best to consider the Learning & Research and the Woodbrooke Centre separately when resolving the questions around the long-term sustainability of each of the two entities. This will help us focus on ensuring Woodbrooke remains at the cutting edge of Quaker thinking and learning, whilst allowing clear discernment to take place on the best use of the Centre moving forward.
To help them shape Woodbrooke’s future, trustees are delighted to have appointed Martin Ford as interim Co-CEO at Woodbrooke. Martin will focus on the Learning & Research side of Woodbrooke. The current Director, Sandra Berry, will develop the strategy for the Woodbrooke Centre. Martin has considerable experience as a consultant and non-executive director, largely within the health sector. He holds an MA in Management and Leadership. He is a trustee of The Retreat in York, where he has direct experience of the complexities of a period of considerable change. He was also part of the Vibrancy in Meetings steering group and is an advocate of local development workers and how Woodbrooke can work with them to deliver learning where most needed.
Separating Learning & Research from the Centre does not mean an end to in-person learning and neither does it signal the closure of the Woodbrooke Centre. Woodbrooke is offering a series of retreats at the Centre which you can currently book on our website. ‘Woodbrooke Where You Are’ learning in person is available across Britain Yearly Meeting and beyond, and we will be offering learning at other venues in future. The Woodbrooke Centre has self-catering flats available to book and is hosting many groups, Quaker and non-Quaker. Sadly, we have less residential capacity than previously due to the closure of nearby overflow accommodation.
This all means a period of significant change for Woodbrooke. It will affect all aspects of our work in visible and in less obvious ways. We ask Friends to uphold everyone involved in Woodbrooke as we go through this transition. Change brings opportunities but it can also entail letting go. We know how important all aspects of Woodbrooke are to many people. As stewards of Woodbrooke, trustees and staff take their responsibility seriously. By going through this transition, we are working to give Woodbrooke the best chance to thrive in the years to come. Together, we want to fulfil the vision on which it was founded in 1903 with so much hope and trust.
Ingrid Greenhow, Clerk to Woodbrooke Trustees
Sandra Berry, Director of Woodbrooke
- By considering the Learning & Research separately from the Woodbrooke Centre, does this mean that the site will be sold?
Woodbrooke Trustees are considering many options for the future of the site and any future decisions around the Woodbrooke Centre will be made with great care. We know how important all aspects of Woodbrooke are to many people, and that change brings opportunities but it can also entail letting go. As stewards of Woodbrooke, trustees and staff take their responsibility seriously, and together we want to fulfil the vision on which it was founded in 1903 with so much hope and trust.
- Why can’t Britain Yearly Meeting fund Woodbrooke? / I heard BYM is funding Woodbrooke?
Woodbrooke is an independent charity and does not currently get a core grant from Britain Yearly Meeting – yet it provides many services that are extremely important to Quakers across Britain. Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees, with the approval of Meeting for Sufferings, have recently decided it is right for BYM to help Woodbrooke Learning financially so we can continue to support and strengthen thriving Quaker Communities in partnership with the work of Quaker Life. We are thankful for the engagement and support of British Friends which makes the future of our learning possible. The nature of this grant and the ongoing working relationship between Woodbrooke Learning and BYM will take time to work out.
- Will there still be residential courses? Will other residential events be able to take place?
We plan to offer residential learning for many years to come. We currently have a series of Retreats at the Woodbrooke Centre which you can find here: https://www.woodbrooke.org.uk/our-courses/?_sft_product_cat=spirituality-retreats. We have offered Woodbrooke residential learning at other venues prior to 2020, such as at Swarthmoor Hall, and looking at how we can create the special atmosphere of in-person Woodbrooke learning in other places.
Like many conference centres, Woodbrooke has not resumed offering B&B, and this is because it isn’t cost-effective. Although day conferences have picked up well, residential events and meetings haven’t, and so we have many nights when there are no residential guests. If we let people just book for a night, and they happened to be the only person who had booked for that night, we would still need the same staffing as for 15 or 20 people. The cost of one person staying for one night would be around £550.
- Can my Meeting come to the Woodbrooke Centre?
We would be delighted to see Meetings and Quaker groups here at Woodbrooke, and we have already seen that happening this year. Email Enquiries@woodbrooke.org.uk to find out more.
- What will happen to the two libraries – will this be covered by the Memorandum of Understanding?
The library of Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre and The Library of the Society of Friends at Friends House are each part of the charitable work of Woodbrooke and BYM as two separate charities. Neither library exists as an institution in its own right. The two libraries have different aims; the purpose of the Woodbrooke library is to provide resources to support our learning and research programmes, and the primary aim of Friends House Library is to support the life of BYM and promote a wider understanding of Quaker faith and practice.
The two libraries have worked collaboratively for a number of years and will continue to do so, as well as working with other Quaker libraries in Ireland and the US.If and when it is needed any formal partnership will be part of a written agreement. The future of the Woodbrooke library and collections is linked to both the learning we offer and the future of the centre. We are working on the future needs of the learning and research programmes relating to the library, particularly with regard to material that is only held in Woodbrooke’s collection, or that is closely linked to our work such as the Swarthmore Lectures.
- How can Friends get answers to their questions about all of this and understand what’s happening?
You are welcome to email Trustees@woodbrooke.org.uk to get in touch, with your thoughts, ideas and questions.
- Minute from Meeting for Sufferings
MfS/22/07/10 BYM Trustees
We receive MfS 2022 07 10 introduced to us by Caroline Nursey, Linda Batten and Danielle Walker Palmour, and also the annual report and accounts for 2021. Trustees have met twice since our last Meeting for Sufferings, including in Leeds at the Quakers in Britain Yorkshire Centre. Friends heard about the range of business Trustees have covered, and were able to ask questions. We are glad to know of their engagement with Woodbrooke Trustees about how the two organisations can best work together to complement each other.Minutes from Meeting for Sufferings are available on the Quakers in Britain website.