Why has nobody told me about the Peak district before? All I knew about it was that Elizabeth Bennett was travelling in Derbyshire when she bumped into Mr Darcy at Pemberley, and I remember all those romantic shots of Kiera Knightley standing on a big rock looking at the hills. But even those happy connotations failed to do justice to how flippin beautiful it is.
I dragged myself out of bed on Monday morning *before 6am* to get the first train of the day to Buxton, and spent the first hour of the journey asleep. But then, oh my, how beautiful the countryside became. And, even more excitingly, we went out to a real farm when we arrived – one with 500 chickens (I didn’t mention my minor chicken phobia, which is actually more of a beak phobia) and 3 horses. And no running water or electricity.
We were there because the farm is part of a project called Good News Family Care. People from the local community can do skills training there in animal husbandry, woodwork, woodland management, drystone walling (all of these would be new skills for me, although of varying levels of usefulness in the city). But the main vision of the place is to provide space for healing and growth (and I feel like I experience a bit of that myself being in such amazing surroundings). A lot of the people who come along, who connect with the project, have been battered and bruised by life (and some by their partners). Most of them have no experience of being outside of an urban context. So whether someone wants to come and acquire new life skills, or just watch the horses, they’re more than welcome.
The other site they own which we visited was Charis House, a converted hotel now offering supported housing for vulnerable women and children, and families who need help in working through serious problems.
We spend the day with Hazel who set the project up with her husband about 18 years ago, having dreamt about it for the 14 years before that. For all of the past 18 years they have lived in a flat on the top floor of Charis House, alongside all of the vulnerable and chaotic families who have passed through. Before that they lived in the countryside. I’m seriously impressed by their commitment, and their stamina, but they’re adamant that there have been more highs than lows. (Hazel tells us the hardest thing to give up was her goats).
I meet a 47 year old woman who everybody tells me has changed beyond recognition since being at Charis House. Some 17 years ago she came with her husband and four children. Her husband had a drug habit and would sell her to his friends for sex to make money to support it. She had such problems with anger she would lock up her children and refuse to feed them. But today she is bubbling over with enthusiasm, telling me how her life has changed, and how Jesus has changed it. She tells me an incredible story of how God healed her blindness (she’d been blind in one eye since birth).
What I love about this place, and in fact so many of the UK projects I’ve visited recently, is the depth of spirituality underpinning and threading through them. They’re not just people doing great social work which is motivated by their Christian faith. They are people who are deeply committed to giving others more than a helping hand. They want to express the depth and breadth of God’s love to people, believing that it is the only thing that is enough to meet them in the deepest place of need. Nothing is forced on their guests but there is an integrity and honesty about the fact that they believe that there is more to life than just meeting physical needs. Every morning the team meets and prays for everyone staying in the house and for everything they will be engaging with that day. It’s not something most people see, but you notice the effect. There is a sense of peace and trust and faith and togetherness in the midst of all the chaos and pain that they encounter.
So Derbyshire isn’t just good for a holiday and literary sightseeing, it’s also good for the soul. I’m now trying to plan another trip…