Cecile Roberts is the CEO of homelessness charity, Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney, based in the former All Hallows Convent in Ditchingham. Ahead of a new renovation project, restoring the Grade II refectory back to a dining room, and accompanying exhibition, she explains the plans for the ‘beautiful space’
This September, Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney, a homelessness charity based in the former All Hallows Convent in Ditchingham, is opening an exhibition in conjunction with Norfolk Heritage Week, to celebrate the heritage of the site and to launch the charity’s plans. The exhibition, created with the support of the All Hallows Community and The Heritage Lottery Fund, will follow the life and work of the order of Anglican nuns who once lived in the convent.
The heritage of All Hallows Convent began in 1859 when the All Hallows sisters moved to the site in Ditchingham, they remained there for 160 years and together they ran a House of Mercy for vulnerable women, a school, and an orphanage.
Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney, a secular organisation, took on the building in 2011 and it is now a community and home for 32 people, who have experienced homelessness. The residents, known as companions by Emmaus, have their own bedrooms and work in the charity’s café and shops to gain skills, and rebuild self-esteem. Much like the sisters of the Community of All Hallow’s supported vulnerable women, Emmaus has a separate women’s wing in their community house to support women who have been affected by homelessness and domestic and sexual abuse.
This exhibition comes as Emmaus has exciting plans to develop the site. The charity has recently received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore the former grade II listed refectory, where the exhibition this September will be hosted, and re-open it as a dining room.
The refectory, which is currently in need of renovation, will service the public, Emmaus companions, and guests staying at the unique 32-bedroom B&B that the charity is also developing on-site.
The refectory project will support Emmaus companions to develop skills in hospitality, gain confidence in customer service and prepare them to re-enter work. The refectory and associated social enterprise will raise vital funds to assist the charity in supporting more people who have experienced homelessness and trauma to rebuild their lives.
Cecile Roberts, CEO of Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney, says: ‘We’re incredibly honoured to work with the sisters of All Hallows to explore the heritage of the site, specifically the refectory, and we can’t wait to showcase this to the public. We’ll be sharing the memories of the sisters who lived here, and it’s thanks to their generosity that we’re able to put the exhibition on. The refectory is going to be a beautiful space, where companions, visitors, and guests all come together to share meals and appreciate the heritage of the site that we call home. The new enterprise will create amazing opportunities for companions to grow and learn new skills and we can’t wait to welcome the public back to eat with us.’
The Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney All Hallows Convent & Refectory Exhibition takes place on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 September, from 10am-4pm, at Besley Bridge Road, Ditchingham, NR35 2DT. Visitors to the event will also have the unique chance to go on a tour of the site, exploring the chapels, buildings, and floors of the convent which are usually off limits, and learn more about the order of nuns and how they lived. There’ll also be a historical treasure hunt for children and visitors can enjoy the charity’s Old Orchard Café for coffee, cake, and lunch as well as browse the second-hand shop. Entry to the exhibition is free. Learn more about Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney and the restoration of the refectory by visiting emmaus.org.uk.
Featured image: Cecile Roberts, CEO of Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney