What’s been happening at Nanpantan Hall during Covid? This is one of the UK School’s residential buildings in the north of England. Mark and his partner Ann Francis are the stewards at Nanpantan Hall and also senior students in the School. Read on to find out about unusual developments; the rehabilitation of the habitat as well as the wonderful volunteers.
Mark Dutton, Midlands, UK
What makes Nanpantan Hall such a rare and special environment? Go back 700 million years, to a place 4 ½ miles northeast of Nanpantan Hall to where an underwater volcano erupted! The resulting lava flow and sedimentary layers of ash and sea muds now form the complex landscape of the Charnwood forest.
And there’s more! Just 1 ½ miles from Nanpantan Hall is the site of the first-ever recorded discovery, in 1957, of Charnia masoni, the earliest-known large, complex fossilised species on record. The rocks of Charnwood Forest remain the only place in Western Europe where these Precambrian fossils have been found.
Nanpantan Hall is set in 31 acres of this special environment, but the ecology has suffered due to invasive species. It now needs careful management to recover its biodiversity. It was our aim to form, somehow, a volunteer group to undertake the labour-intensive work.
From a casual conversation in a shop, we found the perfect solution in a man called Scott and his band of volunteers from a local rehabilitation centre. He brought the needs of man and nature together.
A man called Scott
The improbable chain of cause and effect that led us to Scott started with a diseased beech tree. Regretfully it had to be felled.
We received a quote to fell the tree for £1000, a daunting cost. Ann then recalled a conversation she had earlier with ‘a nice man’ who spoke passionately about trees. He had given Ann his card with details of his ‘community interest’ company.
The ‘nice man’ was Scott Wheatly, and he agreed to fell our tree for a fraction of our previous quote. When Scott came to fell the tree, he brought 7 volunteers who were on a rehabilitation programme after being homeless and living on the streets. The volunteers obviously loved working in the forest; in turn we were impressed at how much work was done. And so started a symbiotic relationship that would benefit both man and nature.
We soon learned that Scott is a remarkable man who had a moment of redemption. Scott explains:
‘As a young man, I must have had 40 jobs and was sacked from them all. Restlessness, frustration, and violent behaviour plagued me. I didn’t like myself and I used alcohol and drugs to escape from my self-loathing. I always needed more money. Thai boxing relieved me of my aggressive and violent feelings, and I could pocket some cash. In 1987, I was fighting in the ring when I had an epiphany. I had badly beaten up and knocked out my opponent.
‘As I walked back to my corner, my self-loathing returned; amidst the chaos of cheering and booing, I saw myself as a loathsome violent bully. It was at that moment I heard a voice utter just one-word: ‘eternity’. Over the next three days, I understood the voice to be a clear calling from God to serve homeless people. It was a moment of redemption that turned my life.’
Over the last 24 years, Scott has formed several charities, with Christian-based values, that provide shelter and mental health support for homeless people.
The volunteers who help us at Nanpantan Hall are part-way through a rehabilitation programme. Most have suffered some damaging life events, such as family breakdown, trauma from the armed forces or periods of depression. Poor mental health often leads to addiction to alcohol and drugs, trying to escape the mental anguish and suffering.
The rehabilitation programme supports men and women to overcome their mental health and addiction issues. And, through Scott’s community interest company, it offers meaningful work.
Over time the relationship has developed. Scott is now our contracted gardener, and he brings with him up to 12 volunteers every Saturday from the rehabilitation centre.
Our special landscape consists of thin peat and sand soils over the sedimentary rock on which rare lichen and acid-loving plants thrive. We have a summer roost of rare long-eared brown bats in the loft over room 2. Europe’s largest bat, the noctule, with a wingspan up to 50cm flies above the tree canopy. We regularly see and hear fawn and Muntjac deer which bark at night. Red kites, buzzards and ravens are testimony to the rich fauna and flora of the estate. But we have too many introduced rhododendron and laurel. In the absence of large grazing animals, trees threaten to block out the sun from wildflowers and lichen. With support from Leicestershire’s ecology officer, we are following a plan to preserve and increase the biodiversity of our special environment.
We are now caring properly for this exceptional landscape. Volunteers undertake tasks including felling, clearing of trees, maintaining the lawns, flower beds and woodland paths, and the carving of benches from felled trees. In their work, the volunteers find peace, ask questions and perhaps more importantly, seek answers from their own wise silence.
Healing and rehabilitation
Brian explains the tyranny of his addiction and the healing experience of Nanpantan Hall.
“It wasn’t about drinking every day or getting drunk. For me it was about losing who I was over a long period of time. It was desperate isolation. It was shutting down my personal life. Using a drug or alcohol, to feel better but ultimately to escape and give up on living. I now know God’s love working through people like Scott. Not everyone makes it. When working at Nanpantan Hall I can see God’s love. It fills me and I feel a new energy and hope. I aim to complete the course and then do missionary work to support others in the same way I have been helped.“
Alex, a recovering alcoholic and supporter of Scott and his work explains the impact Nanpantan Hall has.
“The forest environment and beautiful countryside invariably lead to open dialogue, on subjects unlikely to be broached in a formal setting of bricks, concrete, and the barrier of a table. The physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing produced is tangible. Surely, the joy that a volunteer may draw on from these positive experiences, when facing a test in the future, is not something that can be captured on a spreadsheet. Aside from the physical work, these benefits are mutual and shared by all involved. Gatherings of the whole team, including Ann and Mark, for a fish and chips lunch, in the forest, provide the backdrop for conversation, with time for reflection.“
Impact on us
Scott and his gang of volunteers have had a profound impact on Ann and me also. Each Saturday I work with and listen to Gary, Brian, Dilan, Trevor and all. I feel this deep power in which we all exist. I feel the camaraderie, in the shared experience and I know we are all one.
Ch. 7, vv 8-10 in the Bhagavad Gita summarises this perfectly for me: “I am the sapidity in water. I am the light in the moon and the sun… I am the humanity in man… I am the intelligence of the intelligent, the bravery of the brave.”
Nanpantan Hall is also available for hire for private events, retreats, weddings, conferences etc. Go to Nanpantan Hall for information.