My Centre wasn’t the only thing embarking on a new life. As the building slowly took shape inside its chrysalis, I think I was undergoing a renewal and re-ordering too. The menopause was introducing hormonal change. But I think there was also a chrysalis inside me that was turning past experience into future capacity – and figuring out what skills would soon be needed.
In fact those skills were needed right now as I was already project managing several different contractors, furnishing and equipping the place on a very tight budget of £35,000, and satisfying the demands of Planning, Building Regulations, English Heritage, the Fire Officer and other interested parties.
These officials turned out to be real allies. They realized that I wasn’t trying to dupe them – that like them I wanted to preserve the Georgian fabric while ensuring the safety of the public – and they became really constructive and helpful. There were compromises – it proved impossible to install a lift without damaging the character of the building – but we mostly found a way to keep everyone on board and the project just about on schedule.
I’d assembled a group of Elders – six friends whose professional opinions I valued – and I brought them together to celebrate the granting of planning consent. Their reactions told me how far I’d come – how far I’d travelled from the care-free freelance June they knew so well. I walked them through every inch of the building, explaining exactly how each room and cupboard would look, and how it would work when the great day came. They were amazed by the place – but some of them, I’m sure, felt I’d taken leave of my senses and bitten off way more than I could chew. The place was a wreck! Half the floor-boards were up! But where they saw building site, I could see butterfly because I’d spent months plotting the path between the two.
Planning skills were vital – but so was seat-of-the-pants, where’s-Plan-B improvisation. The number of loos, for instance, was crucial because it’s one of the factors that limits your capacity – there’s a strict ratio of toilets to bodies in the building (or bums-on-seats!). So the two toilets we planned for the basement were critical. However when Mike the builder was drilling through the floor to install the drains he stumbled on something that sent all our plans down the pan. Stumbled into would be more exact, because the ground dropped away under his feet to reveal a beautiful 20 foot brick-lined well!
Mike wondered if he should chuck our growing pile of rubble down it – you know, kill two birds with one stone? But he knew perfectly well what my answer would be. Back to the drawing board! The well would become one of the features of the building – and the toilets would squeeze into the boiler room next door. The evicted boiler in its turn would have to be tucked into the fireplace in the Old Kitchen. But, hey, plans were made to adapt! – and the planners were brilliantly supportive.
The well’s wrought iron railings were still being installed the day before we opened. The months of planning still somehow ended in a mad scramble. My elderly parents from Norfolk and my best friends from Australia were dragooned into service. Henry the Hoover was being stuffed out of sight as the first guests stepped over the threshold – and on Midsummer’s Day 2002 at 4pm we opened with a terrific gathering of friends, ending late in the evening with Mark Vaughan’s Tibetan chanting echoing through the building.
The strength of my calling had been the decisive thing. It had conjured up an image of the Centre I wanted to build. It had thrown light forward to help me find my way there. And it had drawn from my past the resources to make this dream come true. But its work wasn’t over. The challenges I would face in the next few years would make it a guide I would rely on. It lay at the heart of my Centre and the heart of my fulfilment. When its voice was lost, I was in trouble!