In the 1960s Othona's original campsite was overflowing with people every summer. It was time to find a second home. We were offered a big house overlooking the sea in Dorset – as a gift. (Nobody said "Location, location, location" in the 60s.) It was deserted and dilapidated, but full of potential.
In those days the house had no electricity or gas, no mains water, no flush toilets. It had been built that way for a community of women – known as the White Ladies – back in the 1920s. Their chosen lifestyle had combined extreme simplicity, contemplative prayer and growing all they needed for their vegetarian diet. But their community had eventually died out.
Othona people set to work with gusto, cleaning and painting, hacking back the brambles, loving the old house back into active life. Aspects of those pioneering days seem romantic in retrospect, but meant a lot of work: from filling the oil lamps to emptying the soil closets. As the years passed, we found the resources to connect electricity, gas, water and sewage.
The key thing was that Othona now had a centre which could operate and welcome visitors all the year round. We have done so ever since. The way the place is run and the programme we offer has developed, of course. But the sense of a welcoming community, offering a simpler life than the world at large, is the same as ever.
We have enlarged the old house to give more bedrooms. We've added an art and craft room and an excellent library. The chapel was a rather cold and austere building; now thanks to various changes it has a greater warmth in every sense.
So this Othona centre has 50 year's pedigree. Not only have our buildings evolved, but also our community life. A resident core group of 7 is now supported by numerous volunteers and part-timers. Together we try to balance two important callings; to be an extended family of strangers becoming friends, and to be a seedbed for the spirituality of the future.