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Building a Quaker-inspired retreat Centre in Portugal

Lizzie Collman describes a life-changing move to Portugal and an ambitious project to create an environmentally-sensitive development underpinned by Quaker values:

It’s still hard to believe that we have moved to a mountain village in Portugal to create a centre for Ecological living. We discovered Sobral Pichorro in a remote region of the Beira Alta in February 2009 and on the 7th October we left our home in Somerset, England to embark on a new life in Portugal.

Our 400 year old Quinta and Solar (manor house) was once a centre for production for olive oil and wine. The terraces of olive trees and vineyards have been neglected in recent years as most of the young people have left the countryside for life in the cities or abroad. Yet the plants are still full of vitality and intact, just waiting for new guardians to clear away the brambles, open up the springs and restore the land back to its former glory. The Solar is home to a 16th century chapel, with renaissance paintings in the ceiling panels, all in need of restoration. Once restored, the Solar will be a centre for natural medicine, and the focal point for visitors to Vale das Lobas.

The project will combine organic agriculture with natural healthcare and ecological architecture. We want to learn from our new neighbours in Sobral Pichorro, who have been very welcoming and supportive of our plans, and the project will grow organically incorporating their wisdom – they have a deep knowledge of the land and know how to work with it.

Vale das Lobas will be a centre for organic production, and it will provide education and inspiration for people who wish to live sustainably. It will be a centre for peace, in all aspects. We will demonstrate here that living sustainably, with low impact dwellings, in harmony with our environment is possible, practical and viable. We plan to build 20 eco-dwellings, for people who come to live in the valley. There will be a further six eco-dwellings for shared ownership by regular visitors. Nine retreat houses will be designed through a global competition. The aim will be to demonstrate a variety of organic creative solutions.

I joined the Quakers in 1998 after attending Bedford Meeting (England) for a while; I was quickly at home with the deep, prayerful silence. What really struck me was that although here was a diverse group of people, there was also such unity and openness in the Quaker testimonies. I became involved particularly in the peace and outreach work over the years and both of my children grew up in Meeting. There will be a Meeting House for worship in Vale das Lobas, and for hosting conferences, courses and workshops on spiritual ecology and all aspects of living in harmony.

There are only three Quakers in Portugal, and I am already feeling the pioneering spirit. I have found many places on this land where a deep silence and reverence for nature and spirituality naturally occur – nature’s Meeting for Worship.

To become fully realised, Vale das Lobas requires financial support, in the form of public grants, private loans, donations and investment.
Please get in touch if you would like to know more.

Contact name: Lizzie Collman

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