Celebrating a Decade of Dedication: Liz Holmes and the Outreach Programme

As the Minsteracres Retreat Centre marks the 10th anniversary of its Outreach Programme, spearheaded by the dedicated work of Liz Holmes, so it’s a perfect time to reflect on the impact and evolution of this initiative. Over the past decade, Liz’s dedication has not only been a beacon of hope but also a substantial contribution to the community’s well-being.

From Social Work to Outreach Excellence

Liz Holmes began her journey at Minsteracres with a background in social work, primarily working within Northumberland County Council Children Services.  Despite an abrupt end to her social work career due to illness, Liz transitioned into the role of Outreach Coordinator in January 2014, prompted by encouragement from the retreat centre’s trustees. Her extensive experience and compassionate approach laid a solid foundation for the development of a successful outreach strategy tailored to the unique needs of various groups such as carers, asylum seekers, people escaping violence, those with physical illnesses to people facing mental health challenges.  

Portrait of girl hiding in garden den

A Decade of Diverse Service

Minsteracres Retreat Centre has 3 charitable aims, one of which is outreaching to people who need support.  It is this outreach programme which Liz co-ordinates.  Reflecting on the past ten years, Liz recalls numerous memorable and heart-warming moments with so many groups.  Memories of groups that instantly spring to mind are many of the family groups. Even a few hours at Minsteracres supported by the Outreach Team has a huge impact. One carer commented:

‘I came to Minsteracres with nothing, feeling empty, and felt I left with everything’. (Props Carer).

The activities allow parents and carers time to themselves, while the volunteers look after the children / young people and provide a really great time in the beautiful grounds of Minsteracres.  As Liz states ‘ I can picture in my head the lovely moments of children and volunteers peeping out of dens which they’d made in the grounds – such a lovely image’.  Such initiatives underscore the programme’s holistic approach to outreach, emphasising emotional and psychological rejuvenation alongside physical activities.

Staff from the Blue Sky Trust feel that their group annual residential stay at Minsteracres:  ‘has a profound impact, which ripple out far beyond Minsteracres, and the positive effect is long lasting; teh shared experience creates community’.
‘I cannot overstate how important Minsteracres Outreach project is for our clients whose lives are limited by ill-health, poverty, stigma and injustice’. (Helen Anderson CEO Blue Sky Trust)

The Outreach Programme’s success is also a testament to the seamless collaboration within the retreat centre. From the catering team adapting to diverse culinary preferences to working with the housekeeping staff for residentials.  The administrative team underpin every part of Minsteracres so everyone contributes to the enriched experience of the guests.

Looking Ahead with Hope and Vision

As Liz looks to the future, she is enthusiastic about expanding the Outreach Programme to serve even more people. Although capacity and funding present challenges, the team’s commitment to innovation and community service promises continued growth and enhanced support for all participants.

A Legacy of Empathy and Effectiveness

As we celebrate this significant milestone, it’s clear that Liz Holmes has not only managed a programme; she has nurtured a community lifeline that extends far beyond the picturesque boundaries of Minsteracres Retreat Centre. Her work, characterized by empathy, innovation, and unwavering commitment, has left an indelible mark on countless lives.

Liz Holmes’ decade-long stewardship of the Outreach Programme at Minsteracres is a profound reminder of how dedicated individuals can drive change and foster community spirit. Here’s to many more years of impactful service, touching more lives and continuing to be a pillar of support and rejuvenation for those in need.

An Interview with Liz

Liz Holmes’ decade-long stewardship of the Outreach Programme at Minsteracres is a profound reminder of how dedicated individuals can drive change and foster community spirit. Here’s to many more years of impactful service, touching more lives and continuing to be a pillar of support and rejuvenation for those in need.

What's your job title and role at Minsteracres?

My job title is Outreach Coordinator here at Ministeracres.

And how did you get into this line of work?

I was a social worker for about 30 years, mainly for Northumberland County Council Children Services, working initially in child protection then latterly with children with disabilities.

My career was unexpectedly cut short by a serious illness. I decided with medical advice not to return to Social Work. I was invited to apply to be Outreach Coordinator by some of the trustees – applied and started the job in January 2014. The Passionist Order, was founded on outreach to people on the margins of society, and this remains the case today.
Minsteracres Retreat Centre charity has 3 charitable aims, outreaching to people who need support is one of the charitable aims; and I am fortunate to have the role of coordinating outreach on behalf of the charity.

What is a typical day for you at Minsteracres?

There isn’t a typical day here at Minsteracres. It is very varied depending on what’s going on. We’re a very small team, so it’s whatever needs to be done sometimes. To fill in for other people or just to meet a need that arises unexpectedly.  For example, tomorrow, I’m helping out the retreat team. I am taking a group to the Faith Museum in Bishop Auckland. For my own work, it depends very much whether I have a group here.  

If I do then it’s all about delivery and giving people a really lovely experience of Minsteracres. Whether those are adults or children, young people, Carers or Asylum Seekers or people with mental health issues.  I work with a group of volunteers to provide hospitality and a relaxing space where people can come and have some time away from the challenging circumstances of their daily lives. And to step away to hopefully be spoiled for a few hours. To relax in our safe space too. And to receive rather than, you know, to give out. Then to go away feeling restored and relaxed and feeling they can carry on.

How big is your team?

We have ten volunteers – some regular volunteers, some come occasionally.
They are all from health, teaching,  social work backgrounds, and bring amazing skills, care, and compassion, and energy to our visitors,  whether adults or children. 

And in particular, Who or what type of groups do you help?

We have lots of carers groups from across the region. All different kinds of carers. People who care for family members who have mental health issues, who perhaps have dementia.  People with physical disabilities, people who care for a family member with a substance misuse, which is a very challenging caring responsibility. We also work with asylum seekers, people with mental health issues, people escaping violence. Also  people who have issues of homelessness, those with physical illness issues and kinship carers. So a very wide range. 

Has your work here, changed much over the last decade.

Yes, when I started in January 2014, it was pretty much with a blank sheet of paper and I started by researching need. One of the main groups of people are carers. And as we know, from what we hear in the news, and personal experiences – carers are a very under resourced group and if it wasn’t for the carers caring, mainly for family members free of charge, it would cost the country billions of pounds. So we want to support them. In any way that we can.

Memorable moments in the past 10 years at Minsteracres.

We’ve had some lovely times with all groups- peaceful, deep, and creative sessions with adult groups, when people relax into the space. 

The groups that immediately spring to mind are sessions with the children and young people in the woods building dens and foraging.  We tend to look after the children and young people and give them a really good time so that the adults can have time to themselves. So, we take the children out, we’ve got these beautiful 110, acres of grounds. We work closely with the team from Let’s Get Growing in the Peace Garden. The team provides a range of creative sessions for adults and children in their beautiful garden and wooden building. 

Using as much of the grounds as we can and we tend to go into the woods and do Den building. I can picture in my head the lovely moment of the children and the volunteers peeping out of the dens. 

You have your own team, but what's it like, working with the rest of the team, at Minsteracres? Do you have much interaction?

Yes, we have a lot of interaction.Because the groups are so diverse, we’ve got to provide information to the to the rest of the Team at Minsteracres. The catering team are absolutely wonderful in that they provide such a wide range of foods for the diverse groups we work with.  We consult a lot with the catering team and similarly with housekeeping team.

If we’re having a residential group we work closely with them.  Obviously the admin team underpin everything and help with all the bookings and arrangements. So yes, lots and lots of collaboration.

What motivates you to continue working here?

I really enjoy it. It’s such a diverse role. Every day is different, every group is different and people are just interesting. I love being here and delivering for the groups. Whether that’s either serving a cup of coffee or leading the group in a Tai Chi session. I also do visualization and meditation with the groups. So I get a lot out of it, a lot of job satisfaction. I also have a fabulous team of volunteers, and again, it’s just such a pleasure to be with them and, you know, part of that team.

Are there any new plans for the future of the Outreach program?

We don’t have any shortage of ideas!  We’d love to expand and benefit more groups and more people.  Like everyone else, it’s raising money to offer the support but we do apply and look for grants etc. The thing that limits the expansion is capacity too.  We’ve also got Retreats and Venue users who rent the space and deliver their own.

I've got a few fun questions on the end. So, here we go. What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

That’s the hardest question!  The best piece of advice I ever received would be

the best jobs are those that you enjoy and are fun.

What is the last book you read?

Satsuma Complex  by Bob Mortimer.

Name one thing on your bucket list if you have one.

I would very much like to go to Japan. I’m just fascinated by the culture.  And the food.  It looks like a very beautiful country.  The art, the style, the wonderful clothes!

Favourite movie?

It’s hard choice. I’ve got such diverse taste. But “The Blues Brothers” would have to be my favourite.

How do you relax?

Occasionally I have a massage which helps me to relax.  I also relax by going to the cinema or  theatre mainly. 

How do you let go of that stress after a busy week?

I would go for a walk. 

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

An extrovert.  I like to interact with people. 

How would you like to be remembered?

I’d like to be remembered as somebody that was effective – who had done some positive things, left a positive legacy. Someone who actually made an impact – a positive one. 

Minsteracres Retreat Centre is a Christian place of prayer

Would You Like to become a Volunteer at Minsteracres?

If you fancied joining this dedicated band  you’ll get the satisfaction of being a valued part of a vibrant community and working in a fabulous setting. You’ll be offered support and training, and the opportunity to meet and mix with other volunteers. You’ll also get a taste of the peace and tranquility that Minsteracres is famous for.

You won’t be out of pocket – we’ll reimburse mileage and other expenses, though you will need your own transport as we are not well served by public transport here.

We’ll take care of the practical details: you will be properly insured, have training in health and safety, and will be treated fairly.  We will also carry out the necessary background checks before you start.