Welcome to the Woodbrooke Centre
On Tuesday 28 February 2023 it was announced that The Woodbrooke Centre would sadly be closing to the public by 31 October 2023.
We are now at capacity for the bookings we can take until our closure and are unable to take any further bookings.
The Trustee’s statement can be read here. https://www.woodbrooke.org.uk/woodbrooke-centre-statement-feb-23/
The Woodbrooke print by Milan Topalovic will be available to buy soon from - https://www.milanillustrator.com/
Woodbrooke has welcomed guests through its doors for nearly 120 years. Once the family home of George Cadbury whilst nearby Bournville village was built, Woodbrooke has welcomed and nurtured guests for generations including Mahatma Gandhi in 1931.
Our safety charter
As you would expect, Woodbrooke takes the health and safety of its guests and staff extremely seriously. To help explain what Woodbrooke has done in relation to this, we have put together the Woodbrooke Safety Charter.
THE FUTURE OF THE WOODBROOKE CENTRE – TRUSTEE STATEMENT
In its 120-year history Woodbrooke has grown and changed to meet the changing needs of Quakers both in Britain and further afield. From its initial conception as a one-year experiment, Woodbrooke has enabled thousands of Quakers to learn together as part of a much-valued Quaker community, supported by a dedicated team of staff, associate tutors and volunteers.
After careful discernment Woodbrooke Trustees have decided the time is now right for a new chapter in Woodbrooke’s history. Our intention is to allow Woodbrooke to focus on its founding purpose of fostering the vital ministry of Friends and transition responsibility for the buildings and grounds of The Woodbrooke Centre to our trusted partners at Bournville Village Trust.
In the late 1990s a decision was made to end the traditional model of term-long programmes of learning and move towards a much broader offering of shorter courses, while at the same time continuing to accommodate Quaker bodies, such as Quaker Life Representative Council and Meeting for Sufferings and other Quaker committees.
Throughout its existence Woodbrooke has struggled financially. The aim of offering courses that Quakers felt they could afford has always conflicted with the costs of running, upgrading and maintaining a grade 2 listed building. Over the years, numbers attending courses began to decline, and in 2019 trustees commissioned a survey as to why this was.
The main reasons were cost, time and travel. Other factors also came into play, including raising the retirement age to 66, multi-generational family commitments, and an unwillingness to contribute to climate change through travel. As a result Woodbrooke had begun to move some of its provision on-line, making it more affordable and more accessible.
The emergence of the devastating Covid 19 pandemic in early 2020 had a huge impact on the Woodbrooke Centre. Across the country the hospitality industry came to a complete halt, and all courses and conferences at Woodbrooke had to be cancelled with the ensuing impact on income. The decision was taken to furlough the hospitality staff and move all course provision swiftly on-line. Learning staff have continued to work delivering online courses and offering opportunities to worship online as meeting houses were closed.
The response to on-line learning was very positive and has continued as the pandemic wanes. Unfortunately, the demand for in-person events, Quaker and non-Quaker, has not returned. The huge increase in the cost of living, fuel prices, train strikes and other socio-economic factors continue to have an impact and we also need to accept that the way people meet has changed. Furthermore the closure of both The Beeches hotel and, Wallis House Baptist Mission residential centre, long-used by Woodbrooke as overflow accommodation, has meant that larger Quaker groups such as Quaker Life Representative Council would not be able to be accommodated at Woodbrooke.
Our provision for guests with requirements for accessible facilities at the Woodbrooke Centre is not as inclusive as we need it to be. An old building requires not only maintenance but upgrading, and we do not have the capital to do this. We have been made aware that the cost of bringing the existing buildings up to a good, environmentally sustainable, accessible standard would be in excess of £6 million, and to expand the site in order for it to become profitable would require a similar level of investment.
Bournville, Cadbury and Woodbrooke
Over the last three years staff and trustees have worked tirelessly to look for alternative solutions for the Woodbrooke Centre, while at the same time focusing on developing the learning and research work which we see as our core charitable purpose. Our efforts with regard to the Centre have been limited by uncertainty over the wording of the founding document, which appears to suggest that if Woodbrooke were no longer to operate from the site then the trustees would no longer have a right to use it or dispose of it. It has taken until February this year to achieve clarity on this.
The Bournville Village Trust’s position is that Woodbrooke should revert to their care if it is no longer to be used as a centre for Quaker learning. Quakers are called to work collaboratively, and we are mindful of what might have been behind George Cadbury’s thinking when he included this clause in the founding document in 1903, and his desire to protect the stewardship of the Bournville Estate. In light this we have focused on working constructively with the Bournville Village Trust to ensure the best possible outcome for the site and believe that such a course of action is also in the best interests of the Woodbrooke charity.
Pete Richmond, Chief Executive of Bournville Village Trust, has said:
“The Woodbrooke Centre has been an important part of the Bournville community for 120 years and thanks to our shared Quaker values, we have had a successful and much-valued relationship with the Centre and its dedicated team of staff for many years. Whilst the Centre will be sorely missed, we fully support Woodbrooke’s new chapter in its history and its renewed focus on its founding purpose. We will be actively working alongside the Trustees of Woodbrooke to secure the best future for the site, recognising its importance to the Bournville and Quaker communities, its heritage, and the role it has played in the wider Quaker landscape in Birmingham.”
The Centre’s Future
Woodbrooke trustees have considered in depth our current financial position and the level of bookings for 2023. In the light of this, trustees have decided that the Woodbrooke Centre shall close to the public by 31 October 2023.
This has been a difficult process and we want to be as transparent as we can with everyone as we work through the challenges ahead. Publishing this statement and our minute well ahead of October is part of this process. We do not know the full consequences of the transition of the Woodbrooke Centre to this next phase in its history, but we will continue working with staff throughout to be clear about the impact on them and will be holding a formal consultation with them when appropriate.
We are aware that this decision will be met with sadness by the many Friends whose lives have been enriched spiritually, educationally and socially by the opportunities offered at Woodbrooke. However, we would like Friends and local communities to be able to celebrate all that has been possible at the Woodbrooke Centre. Woodbrooke Trustees will be working with the Director, Sandra Berry, to make arrangements for marking the Woodbrooke Centre’s history through opportunities and events that will be publicised in the coming months.
We believe that the decision to close the Woodbrooke Centre will best enable Woodbrooke learning and research to continue to thrive. The vision of our charity is to be a “learning organisation which supports and informs Quakers, as individuals and as a community, to enable our work in the world and in local communities from a place of understanding and spiritual renewal”.
As well as continuing our programme of learning we have agreed with the University of Birmingham Special Collections to transfer significant parts of Woodbrooke's Library collections on a permanent loan basis. This will ensure they will be accessible for research and learning in the future - including by Friends conducting their own research as well as our students who are part of our joint PhD programme with the University of Birmingham.
We are grateful for funding from Britain Yearly Meeting, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and other funders who support our growing learning and research activities. We are also thankful for the many Friends who support Woodbrooke financially, as well as by giving their time and prayerful support to our work.
The world has changed radically in the last 120 years. We are confident that Woodbrooke’s value and purpose remain vital to Quakers today and that its founders’ vision is met through our programme of online learning, as well as a growing number of in-person learning activities delivered through-out Britain Yearly Meeting and beyond.
We thank Friends who have upheld us through difficult times and in making hard decisions. We have felt your love and care as we have explored all possibilities and we hope you will uphold all those affected as we continue to move forward together. Woodbrooke Trustees and Senior staff will be holding Woodbrooke Future sessions around Britain Yearly Meeting in April, as we have over the past three years to listen to Friends and answer questions.