Over the last two years Gaia House trustees and directors have been working with architects, heritage advisors, ecologists and the local council planning team to explore how best to make our centre fit for the 21st century, and enable us to meet the emerging and future demands placed on us.
You can read about our building plans in detail below.
Since being founded in 1983, Gaia House has earned an international reputation as one of the world’s leading Insight Meditation retreat centres.
Among the things that make us unique are our beautiful location in the peaceful South Devon countryside, and the breadth and richness of our annual programme, which encompasses meditation instruction and teachings drawn from a wide variety of Buddhist traditions. The fact that Gaia House is not tied solely to any one Buddhist tradition brings a quality of openness and celebrates diversity.
A spiritual refuge for many centuries
Gaia House’s unique location has a long history as a place of spiritual refuge, going back to the founding of the 13th-century church (now a Grade 1 listed building). The oldest part of the Gaia House building dates back to 1588, and the house and grounds still echo with the work and lives of the nuns who resided here for half a century before Gaia House Trust bought the property.
The Gaia House community joins many generations of people who have cared for this place of refuge over the centuries and we are honoured to be responsible for the site’s continued preservation and development.
The benefits of coming on retreat at Gaia House
As the world faces significant challenges and upheaval, Gaia House offers a unique refuge from life’s stresses, providing a supportive environment in which people from all backgrounds can learn how to make the practice of mindful and compassionate awareness the basis of their lives.
Through promoting practices which help cultivate an attitude of wise attention, loving-kindness, compassion and ethical conduct, we offer each person the opportunity to transform their relationship to life by learning to live more wisely and kindly, for the benefit of both themselves and others.
The feedback we receive from our retreatants regularly and eloquently expresses the benefits most commonly drawn from coming on retreat at Gaia House:
- A greater sense of inner peace
- Respite from the pace of daily life
- Feeling more collected in the mind
- A decreased sense of emotional turmoil
- More awareness of the way things are for oneself
- An increased capacity for loving-kindness and compassion for oneself and others
- A greater understanding of and ability to practise forgiveness
Since Gaia House moved to its beautiful, peaceful site in West Ogwell in 1996, there have been no major structural improvements made to the building. In fact, the house remains pretty much the same as it did 50 years ago, with the last major upgrade in 1967 when the Garden Wing was built.
In its days as a convent, the building housed a maximum of 45 nuns at any one time. Today, we regularly find ourselves at full capacity accommodating 90 people!
Retreatant feedback consistently highlights the need for more toilets and showers, and more single rooms. Our current provision of nine toilets and seven showers for up to 53 group retreatants is inadequate. We currently have just one room available for wheelchair users. Our staff team are housed on the top floor of the main building with no dedicated meeting rooms. This results in larger meetings having to take place in the lounge or library, which causes disruption to the retreat space. Furthermore, we are currently unable to offer resident teacher accommodation that feels appropriate for the level of commitment to Gaia House that this role contributes.
To address the challenges that we are experiencing, the time has come to extend our building and deliver a transformational development project that will enable us to meet the emerging and future demands placed on us, enhance our ability to fulfil our mission and be more accessible to a greater range of people.
After more than two years’ of discussions with architects, advisors and the local council, we have developed a carefully phased programme of works to commence in 2019, which will enable us to make better use of our site in order to meet the growing demand for what Gaia House offers, and improve the house for the benefit of present and future generations.
Stage 1 of our plan is to convert the garages at the back of Gaia House and construct a bathroom link adjoining the Garden Wing. This will enable us to improve facilities for group retreatants by:
- Doubling the number of single rooms we can offer from 10 to 20
- Increasing the number of showers available full time from 7 to 12
- Doubling the number of toilets available full time from 9 to 19
In addition, we will be able to:
- Create an additional ground-floor single bedroom and bathroom for wheelchair users
- Improve our coordinator accommodation
- Create a self-contained resident teacher living area
- Move our offices outside of the main house so that they cease to be disruptive of the retreat space
The aim of these plans is not to increase our capacity but to provide a better environment for all those who visit, reside and work at Gaia House.
Construction work for Stage 1 is scheduled to take place during the latter half of 2019, with retreats being offered off-site during this period.
If we are successful in achieving funding to fulfil our first stage objectives, a second stage plan will:
- Refurbish the Garden Wing and transform it into a new Hermitage
- Sensitively deliver a modest renovation of the entire retreat space, which has not been modernised in 20 years
- Replace the Garden Wing windows, doors, floors and roof
- Construct an outdoor walking area
(click on the image to enlarge)
Our funding appeal for transforming Gaia House
The total cost of our Stage 1 improvements is £1.3 million, £450,000 of which has already been raised. We are grateful to everybody who has contributed towards this and your help is now needed to raise the remaining £850,000 by September 2018.
There is no doubt that we are living through complex and challenging times, and it’s more urgent than ever to continue providing access to teachings and practices which support the development of awareness, calm, kindness, compassion and generosity.
There is certainly evidence of an increased demand for what Gaia House offers. Every year now, more than a thousand people access the life-enhancing experience of a retreat at Gaia House.
The spirit of Dana is at the very heart of Gaia House, and we ask you to support our Building Appeal as generously as you are able, whether through donations or fundraising activities.
If you work for or know people who work for or are involved with trusts or companies that might be able to make donations to our capital appeal, please email Michelle on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will follow this up. It is so important that we explore every angle to ensure the success of this vital project and we would be delighted to hear from any businesses or organisations that might be able to help us.
We extend heartfelt gratitude for your generosity and help.
“Gaia House has become very precious to me over the past twenty years. If I didn’t attend a retreat at least once during the year I would feel bereft. The stillness calls to me and I often yearn for it. The accumulated effect of countless hours of sincere practice is palpable when you step through the door. It is a place that affects me deeply.”
“Gaia House has been a wonderful refuge for me, and a place of growth, self-knowledge and transformation. It is a place that has healed me in its gentle, supportive silence. The staff and volunteers at Gaia House make one feel enormously welcome, and feelings of unworthiness are soothed and fade away while one lives there. I feel truly rested after a stay at Gaia House, and in touch with what feels like an authentic direction and calling in life. I’m so grateful that Gaia House exists and is so open to everyone who needs it.”