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In September I was one of the lucky PhD students selected, after application, for a space on an academic writing retreat at Chapelgarth Estate. The space was provided by ICHRE visiting scholar Dr Marcella Sutcliffe. This was the first time I had been on a writing retreat and although I was not sure what to expect, I knew intuitively that I needed to get away from the pressures of everyday life and to have the time to focus on my academic writing. The pressures of undertaking a part-time PhD are enormous and the biggest challenge for me was finding the time to think and to write as thus far I had been trying to write to meet deadlines – before supervisions or for a publication.
The writing was a facilitated retreat with a group of academic staff and doctoral students, nine in total, from different higher education institutions. I had read about Rowena Murray’s work on writing retreats and wanted to experience the type of structured writing retreat that she has been so successful at implementing. The retreat at Chapelgarth used Murray’s structure and was facilitated by Dr. Marisela Mendoza from Nottingham Trent University who was trained with Murray.
The retreat began on Tuesday late afternoon when we, as a group, set our writing goals for the first session of Day 1. I have been using HMI reports to get evidence of pedagogical practice in interwar London elementary schools and my goal was to look at how arithmetic and mathematics was taught during this period. This would constitute a section in one of my ‘findings’ chapter. On Wednesday morning, we began writing for 1.5 hrs, after which we had a 30-minute break. This pattern of writing for 1.5 hours and taking a break (half-an-hour or more depending on the time of day) carried on throughout the retreat. In total, we had 7 writing sessions following Murray’s structure (see plan below).
The retreat allowed me ‘head space’ in an environment that was conducive to reflection, whilst at the same time, providing a communal writing space which ensured that maximum use was made of the available time. The community of scholars that I became part of was itself supportive as it allowed for the sharing of ideas and an exchange of information – and the size helped in this respect as we got to know each other quite quickly.
Additionally, and just as importantly, the physical environment at Chapelgarth Estate contributed to a sense of peace and well-being as the anxiety one usually associates with deadlines was forgotten about during this short stay. Chapelgarth was a home-from-home experience without all the hassle of everyday life. The chef and Marcella provided some wonderfully nutritious and delicious meals and Marcella’s care of our every need added to the experience. Of course, the beautiful woodland walks, the wonderful garden, the sunny weather, and the woolly lamas were all a delight and also contributed to my experience. The end result was coming back with written content that I am happier with in terms of quality. I am very grateful to ICHRE and Marcella Sutcliffe for making this possible for me.