The History of Nicholaston House Christian Retreat and Conference Centre
Nicholaston House was birthed in a dream/vision in the mid 1980s. Derrick and Sue Hancock had been working for a long time with a person who had suffered severe abuse. It became apparent to them, and the psychiatrist now working with them, that any healing that was going to take place could be significantly hurried up if the therapy could be more than simply sessional. Established centres were approached, but, (a) there was always a lengthy waiting time, and (b) the centre wanted to use their own staff, thus going over much of what had already been covered. The vision of a safe house was thus born.
The problem with visions is that they seldom happen overnight; that is why many God-given visions don’t materialise - people give up too soon. The vision was carried to Swansea in a quite remarkable way. A fleece was put out on a train going into Waterloo Station on a cold Monday morning in January 1990. After many months of searching as to where this vision could be realised, Swansea appeared on the screen quite out of the blue. Derrick and Sue had been in Swansea on the Sunday visiting their daughter and God spoke to them at an evening church service. The Monday morning fleece prayer was a result, and it was simply ‘if you want them to move to Swansea, they will go, but you will need to find a buyer for their house without their putting it on the market’. That was 7.50 in the morning. At 7.30 in the evening, someone called to ask if they were selling their house. The caller’s wife had that day discovered she was pregnant and they now needed a 4-bedroomed house – so they bought it.
Derrick and Sue became linked up with a charity in the city – Swansea City Mission – and soon became involved in running a residential unit for homeless men. Then three years later they were instrumental in commencing a counselling service. Many years on, this service is still operating. Well over 1,000 people have used the service, which remains donation-based. The vision, however, was for a residential place of safety and much prayer was made over many years. £75,000 had become available, and though helpful, this was by no means enough. Prayer continued and every session commenced with the reading of Habakkuk Ch. 2 v.2&3, part of which reads, ‘though the vision tarry, it will not be overdue a single day’.
In June 1998, a private hotel on the Gower peninsula came up for auction. It was withdrawn at the last minute and sealed bids were invited. The trustees decided to bid £295,000. Only one other bidder was present - the survey on the property had put many people off. The bid was opened and then the other, which was for £291,500. After the bidders had left, the estate agent said, ‘I can’t understand this – those people have an awful lot of money and really wanted it’. There was just 12 weeks between the bid and the purchase to raise £250,000. The trustees had decided in faith to purchase the property. £320,000 came in.
Three years after Nicholaston House was purchased, a lady made it known that she and her family camped at a nearby farm for a number of years in the late 1980s. They used to go to Nicholaston, which was then a hotel, for an evening drink. She said one day after her husband and children had returned to the campsite, as she sat looking out to sea, she heard God say, ‘this is My house’. Some eight years later, it was.
Healing, spirituality and help in ‘God’s House’: How Nicholaston House can serve for the next 20 years
Healing, spirituality and help in ‘God’s House’: How Nicholaston House can serve for the next 20 years...
“I feel loved here. I feel safe. People are prepared to listen to me here and make me feel like I have worth after all.”
These heart-tugging confessions from people who are staring directly down into the abyss, or are even in that hellish space, are what make Nicholaston House a true retreat, beautiful haven and answer to prayer.
The noise, crowds and smoggy roadworks of Swansea start to fade out as you drive west towards the Gower. Suddenly you feel the bump of a cattlegrid and the scenery dramatically changes to that of Pembrokeshire or Cornwall. The roads narrow, the trees fatten until they are like arches above the car and, just like the pictures in all the tourist leaflets, the sunshine dapples against stone and stream. Already you feel this place is special. And then you arrive at Nicholaston House.
The whole place is steeped in prayer, beauty and love. It is easy to say that when the sun is shining but what makes it so apparent is the welcome from everyone you meet and the stories behind the warm smiles and kind eyes.
Nicholaston House is a place where our everyday stresses, anxieties, worries and illnesses meet calm, fourth dimensional prayerful solutions.
It is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and one of the original masterminds, who is writing a book to tell the story, tells me of its fascinating beginnings.
“We had a vision from the start and it has been an extraordinary journey,” says Derrick Hancock. “When this house came up for auction it was for sealed bids. Our trustees agreed to bid £295,251. The unusual figure arose because I had suggested adding £250 to the £295,000. Our solicitor then suggested the extra £1 in case someone else bid £295,250.
“Only two bidders turned up – us and a smartly-dressed young couple. They had bid just over £291,000. We later found out that their string of travel shops had been bought for £40 million. They had really wanted the house so I have no idea why they didn’t bid more, but it worked out perfectly for us.”
For 20 years, volunteers play a huge part in the running of Nicholaston, a place where funds are limited and the good work of the Christian community is heavily relied upon.
David and Jane Closs have been volunteering here for a number of years. One of their particular roles is in Prayer Ministry, they explain, as we stand outside a beautiful former hermitage in the grounds which looks like a really beautiful writing room, rather than a counselling suite.
“Prayer Ministry is a really important part of Nicholaston House,” says David. “Unlike counselling which, at the end of each session, directs the patient to take some sort of action, Prayer Ministry is about asking God to do His work. People come with a particular weight on their hearts but often find themselves unravelling several other layers during the session.
“They often say that they feel loved and safe here and are amazed that people are prepared to listen to them. What bigger compliment is there than that?”
Norma Gray comes one day a week to get through piles of ironing. The former cancer nurse says it is something she would never have dreamt of doing but she does it because she is a disciple of Christ, by whatever means.
“I am working to be the doorkeeper in the House of the Lord. This is a good discipline for me and I will wait to see where I am needed next.”
The stories of healing here are both intense and numerous. Helena Wilkinson, who has been running courses for more than 20 years to help people with eating disorders, has many a moving tale to tell.
“We use equine therapy because horses reflect human emotion. They give tangible help to people who have never felt love and acceptance. We had an autistic person on one course who was a bit nervous of horses and, when it came to the end of the course, the horse bowed to her, keeping a safe distance.”
One of these people who has been helped is Sarah. She is clear that, from first setting foot in Nicholaston last year, this was ‘the place for my healing.’
“I didn’t feel I had a purpose before. But, through the daily rhythm of this place, it has been amazing to discover myself and to mature my faith. I am discovering my purpose, who I am in Christ and where I belong in the world. The equine work, in particular, has helped me as my horse has been with me, beside me and holding me.”
Over the last 20 years, Nicholaston House has been privileged to help people from all walks of life with a host of different needs. But, in today’s pressurized world, where so many are in need of spiritual and mental healing, a huge re-development is desperately needed.
Trustees have launched an exciting initiative to help to raise £2million for a life-changing re-development. The aim is to be able to accommodate additional people, yet have more private ‘breakout’ spaces, as well as bedrooms with balconies and self-contained eco-pods in the garden.
For most individuals and companies, a £2million bill for the works would be a serious undertaking, but, for a charity, it is a very significant challenge. Funding will come from a number of different streams but the owners, Swansea City Mission and Educational Trust, need to raise at least 25% of the total cost.
With your help, we can do this – and achieve even more – over the next 20 years.
The peaceful atmosphere at Nicholaston House invites reflection and many people experience a special encounter with God.