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Coming home to Hawkwood

PUBLISHED: 15:51 10 September 2014 | UPDATED: 14:41 07 April 2015

Hawkwood College, near Stroud, Gloucestershire

Hawkwood College, near Stroud, Gloucestershire

Archant

Candia McKormack visits the nurturing environment of 19th-century Hawkwood College

Sitting beneath the sequoia at Hawkwood CollegeSitting beneath the sequoia at Hawkwood College

There’s no getting away from it, the Cotswold countryside is a deeply nurturing environment to be in. Without wishing to come across as smug, we really are blessed to be nestled in the bosom of one of Britain’s most verdantly glorious curves, where creative minds have been drawn for countless years to feed the soul with the creative Muse.

Rudolf Steiner advocated a form of ethical individualism, believing “Thinking… is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colours and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas.” He knew that there are no real limits to human knowledge and that, with the right conditions, the possibilities of what the human mind can achieve are almost boundless.

Set within 42 acres of sustainably managed grounds is the glorious 19th-century manor which houses Hawkwood College, a registered charity and independent centre for education, which incorporates many of Steiner’s anthroposophical teachings.

Hawkwood’s principal, Alicia Carey, says, “We really do try to corral it into certain areas of work; we do a lot in the Arts, particularly around practical crafts, and music, and we have many courses focusing on the environment, as well as health and wellbeing. These are the sorts of areas we work in.”

Hawkwood College, near Stroud, GloucestershireHawkwood College, near Stroud, Gloucestershire

The college, which is well known and respected both locally and internationally, is currently redeveloping the music side of its programming, offering weekends where people can sing, and just recently they held a masterclass with one of the best sopranos in the world, Dame Emma Kirkby, who travelled to their Stroud base to teach young singers her craft.

“I think what Hawkwood allows,” Alicia continues, “is a residential, immersive experience. Normally as a singer, say, you’d have an hour’s class, and I think you learn so much more when you’re in a residential setting.”

This has been backed up by comments from students who have attended previous singing workshops, saying it was an absolutely “transformational” experience. They also have a small bursary scheme as part of the charity that allows those who can’t afford it to attend the courses. Last year alone, they provided around 25 to 30 bursaries, offering the opportunity of the Hawkwood experience to those who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to attend.

Programme and Communications Manager, Katie Lloyd-Nunn, who’s been with Hawkwood College for 11 years, agrees, “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to offer young people, and actually older ones, too. We had someone just yesterday apply, who’s nearly 80, and she’s going to join one of our life-drawing courses. Her son is the model, so that’s going to be a new and interesting edge!” she laughs.

Hawkwood College, GloucestershireHawkwood College, Gloucestershire

The work they do at Hawkwood is as much to do with hospitality as education, as Katie is keen to stress. “Every transaction, every encounter is about another person, and everyone is our customer, in a way, whether it’s a colleague, a person booking in, or a tutor.”

And that ethic runs through everything they do here at Hawkwood; the overall sense of nurture here is glorious, from the smile as you arrive at reception to those working in the grounds, positively glowing with satisfaction, almost pinching themselves to believe in their good fortune to be working in such an environment. And there’s no getting away from the fact that Hawkwood is glorious. The 19th-century country house is a beautiful building, and it is set in a stunning site overlooking the Stroud Valley, with sustainably managed woodland, gardens and farmland set in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. On the day I visit to meet with Alicia and Katie, we take a break for lunch and are treated to a salad, freshly cropped from their organic gardens, with a wickedly delicious rhubarb pudding to follow. I’m thankful that a tour of the grounds follows so that I can both see where the crop has been lovingly tended, and also walk off the generous helping of pudding I couldn’t refuse.

Many attending the courses take full advantage of the location and facilities Hawkwood has to offer, with 30 bedrooms able to accommodate up to 50, five meeting rooms in the main house, plus two art studios in the converted stable block. There is also a dedicated Meditation Space set within the woodland, offering somewhere for visitors, staff and people from the local community to go to retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life. And the open policy to their grounds is testament that they are truly all-inclusive and community friendly. The Victorian half-walled kitchen garden grows organic fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs for the house and their award-winning ponds and wetlands system, utilising ‘flow forms’ (set up by Nailsworth-based company Ebb & Flow), processes household output, further showing off their impressive green credentials. There is also an orchard, beehives, and a natural spring on the site, feeding a magnificent sycamore.

“There’s a real care for the land,” Katie asserts. “The whole estate has always been organic; there has never been any conventional farming on the 42 acres. The narrow strip of mixed woodland here forms a horseshoe shape around the land and makes it feel very protected, giving a ‘holding’ quality to it.”

Ten years ago a community farm was set up on the site, which now has around 200 members. The subscriptions that people give pay the farmers, who then don’t have to worry about their livelihood, and members are able to go on site and collect their vegetables.

Last year over 5,000 people visited Hawkwood; attending courses, various events (including Seed, the one-day festival on ecology, art and change – www.seedfestivals.co.uk), and as a conference centre hosting organisations such as The National Trust, Good Energy, the NHS and The Soil Association.

“We’re really looking to build our mid-week business,” says Alicia. “Our weekends are packed with our own courses and events, so where our focus is currently is working with other organisations to provide a space in which they can perhaps think differently to how they would if they were in a corporate hotel or training centre.”

Katie agrees wholeheartedly, “People say that just coming in through the gates and up the sweeping drive is worth two hours of introduction time with a training group or conflict resolution. Hawkwood really does have so much charm.”

*******

• Hawkwood College, Painswick Old Road, Stroud GL6 7QW, tel: 01453 759034, www.hawkwoodcollege.co.uk

• To hire Hawkwood as a venue, call Anita on 01453 759034 or email anita@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk

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