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Transformed UK Conference Centre Celebrates ‘Century to be proud of’

TERRY WAITE last week (Fri 27 May) joined some 200 people to celebrate the centenary of The Hayes Christian conference centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire, England.

‘I’ve been coming to this wonderful place for 50 years,’ said Waite, former special envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury. ‘There is a very special, homely atmosphere here – yet it can easily cater for groups as large as 400. The staff are all local, so you get to know them well. Fabulous new additions – ensuite bedrooms and conference facilities – have taken the venue to a new level without losing that personal touch. I am delighted to say thank you to all who make us so welcome, every time.’

DIGGING UP THE PAST: Former special envoy Terry Waite reflects on the tunnel made by German PoWs at the Hayes

Like most of the 40,000 people who stay at the Hayes each year, Waite had no idea it had been requisitioned as a Prisoner of War camp during World War II. Five PoWs famously tunnelled out of the place in December 1940. All were re-captured but the legendary Franz von Werra escaped again – from Canada – and made it back to Germany, the only PoW to do so throughout WWII. Intriguingly, most of the tunnel is still intact.

‘Our PoWs may have been unwilling “guests” but visit any community in the UK and you’ll find people who have enjoyed a time of refreshment here,’ said general manager Brian Cupples. ‘We have constantly developed to meet the changing needs of our visitors – a key to our success.’

RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: (l-to-r) employees at The Hayes – Chris Roberts, Barry Hayes, Sharon Hanbury – celebrate the conference centre’s centenary

According to recent research, one million people in the UK get away on a residential religious-orientated holiday, conference or course each year. With more than 30 meeting rooms, many equipped with the latest audio-visual equipment and wireless internet, the centre has kept up with the demands of today’s guests. It is also available for day and residential conferences for local businesses, charities and public sector organisations of all kinds, catering for groups large and small.

Dozens and dozens of thankful visitors have written to the centre in recent weeks, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who said: ‘The Hayes has been a valuable resource for quiet reflection and recharging of batteries. I hope it will continue to play its important role in Christian life.’

‘Swanwick has been a place of regular pilgrimage for me since the 1970s,’ said the Bishop of Oxford, Rt Rev John Pritchard. ‘I’ve been a learner, a speaker, a participant, an observer and an exhausted recoverer! Always I have found stimulation, friendship and hope – and the facilities have been transformed. It’s a century to be proud of.’

‘Through all the modernisation one thing has remained constant – The Hayes is a place where people meet God and have their lives enriched,’ said Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

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