The Bridge Retreat, England
Emotional healing retreat led by expert facilitators in an inspirational rural setting
Best for: Emotional release and learning to live authentically – alone, or with friends or family over 18. Couples are welcome.
Not for: Those squeamish about self expression in groups, or who are not willing to explore and question old patterns and habits.
Takes 8-14 guests
The Bridge is a highly cathartic 5 day personal development experience that offers life transformation through deep healing. Led by former Hoffman Process facilitator Donna Lancaster and clinical psychologist Frederique Bicker, it takes place eight times a year at 42 Acres, a smart country wellbeing estate in Somerset. Both an emotional detox and a chance to rediscover your zest for life, it will help you let go of loss, painful betrayals and old wounds, heal childhood trauma and shift away from faulty beliefs that are holding you back. You’ll leave with a fresh and positive outlook.
The highly individual attention, in spite of the group format, means you feel 100 per cent understood. You’ll learn alternative ways to cope with feelings without cutting off or hiding behind defensive ‘masks’ like sarcasm, blame, caretaking others, or booze.
Sharing a room can be pretty hard work on an emotionally charged retreat like this. It’s worth paying a little more for a single room if you can to guarantee some privacy.
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The idea of The Bridge is that you complete the course ready to cross a metaphorical bridge, leaving the past in the past, to step into the future unburdened. You’ll have a carefully curated schedule each day.
Take time to fill in the preparatory written work thoughtfully and carefully – it will stand you in good stead. This is also a digital detox, so clear your inbox before you leave and send your farewell missives before you get there, as you’ll be asked to hand in all laptops, tablets and mobiles at the door. Ideally allow yourself clear, work-free time after your retreat to rest and integrate your experience. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to have treatments during The Bridge as logistics make it impossible. You’re advised to have a massage or some form of bodywork as soon as possible on returning home.
Donna Lancaster and Frederique Bicker are empathic and sensitively attuned therapists, albeit with different and slightly unusual trainings, who have decades of healing experience between them. Both are highly skilled facilitators, who manage to make the whole process feel both safe and effective, without ever losing a sense of humour and playfulness, which is important to mitigate the deep work they engender.
Donna originally trained in social work and has worked in women’s refuges, prisons and schools. She was a facilitator for the Hoffman Process for many years (including head of training for three years) and is trained in Advanced Facilitation, as well as Imago Relationship training and System Constellations. Frederique is a clinical psychologist who has worked at the Priory Hospital in London, specialising in depression, anxiety, addictions and stress prevention. She has also studied many additional therapeutic approaches including positive psychology and CBT, as well as Eastern wisdom such as yoga, mindfulness and hypnotherapy which she integrates with her western psychological knowledge.
You’ll be led through an impressive array of healing exercises during your week. Mornings start either with a talk or with various forms of therapeutic movement to music. Co-founder Donna has cherry picked the best activities (in her considerable experience) to clear blocked emotions and live a more fulfilled life. The intense emotional programme of sessions includes visualisation, guided meditation and breath work, alongside constellation work, Imago therapy and Grief Recovery Method (a specific form of letter-writing and enquiry).
The Bridge believes passionately in the power of community, of being witnessed and held by your “tribe”. So a large proportion of the work is done collectively. There are daily chances to stand up and be seen and heard by the whole group in a caring, non-judgmental way (it’s less scary than it sounds). However you are also split into two smaller groups (one led by Donna; one by Frederique) for a chance to go deeper into the emotional work. Equally, you will find yourself paired off or working in threes for some exercises.
The Bridge Retreat has predominantly solo guests but couples, family members over 18 and friends are welcomed and encouraged on the retreat. People who know one another are placed in different work groups but also have the opportunity to do some exercises together which can prove to be very powerful.
The Bridge excels at combining the cognitive and the cathartic. Each element of the work is carefully explained, in lively didactic sessions. Your individual workbook sets out the key principles and you have a chance to make your own notes to add to your understanding of the underlying principles. The idea is that you first understand the work in your mind before processing it through your body. Cathartic sessions can bring up feelings of grief, anger and pain (physical and emotional) – you’re encouraged to allow these feelings to come up and move through you for deep inner healing.
Group rituals are a powerful part of the Bridge. Donna and Frederique are convinced by the healing power of collective ceremony but make it clear that these are not religious – they are emotional and spiritual. You don’t need to believe in them: you simply need to turn up and be willing to participate. Some are very simple; others are more complex and often very beautiful and moving. We won’t share the details as part of the power of these rituals lies in the surprise factor (but, be assured, there is nothing scary or dangerous about them).
You’ll be asked to respect an 80/20 rule, splitting downtime between sharing your experience with fellow Bridge acolytes and silent contemplation, when you can. Every afternoon you have around three hours for personal enquiry (written work) and (equally importantly) rest. This is spent on your own in silence. This isn’t just a digital detox – you’ll be asked not to read or listen to music. You’ll even be expected to forego any yoga or meditation practice, and any stringent exercise. So a leisurely stroll is fine; a pounding run isn’t advised. It sounds draconian but it’s to ensure you have no distractions from your self-enquiry. Yes, even meditation can be a distraction!
When the weather permits, the team hold sessions in the grounds of 42 acres, and during these times and your own downtime you can immerse yourself in the healing power of nature around the estate. The house is nestled in a secluded Somerset valley, completely hidden away at the end of a winding track, running adjacent to fields frequently occupied only by horses, sheep, and occasionally two resident pigs. Beyond the 42 acres of private land is access to 700 further acres of ancient forest, and 42 Acres is home to deer, owls, small birds of prey, bats, pheasants and woodpeckers.
You will need an alarm clock, ear plugs and eye mask especially if you’re sharing, but none of the rooms are particularly sound-proofed and this is an old, creaky building inside, with chatty local bird life outside. Bring loose, comfortable clothes that you can move freely in, and lots of them because you will get quite sweaty in some of the movement exercises. Slippers are a good idea. Bring a waterproof and boots in case of inclement weather.
Snuggly wraps are provided, as are large umbrellas. If you regularly exercise, try to break this down so when you’re on the retreat you don’t feel the urge to complete an exercise regime. There will be plenty of exercise and energetic activity.
When to Go
42 Acres is beautiful whatever the time of year. There is ample time to get out into nature and explore the woods and fields, so you won’t experience that sinking feeling of being cooped up if the weather is beautiful. Equally, the retreat responds well to poor weather and lashing rain or tempestuous storms might suit your emotional mood.
Meals are eaten in the family style kitchen, which can comfortably sit up to 24 people and where you can also watch the chefs at work and learn bucketloads from their preparation. In the summer there is also an option of dining al-fresco on the suntrap outside patio. Generally you take a plate and cutlery and help yourself.
The chefs clearly adore their work and pour experimentation and love into each dish. They try to source all ingredients organically and seasonally from within 20 miles of the centre, from small-scale artisan growers and producers, and have just started experimenting with growing their own, to reduce the travel miles even further.
Their home cooked meals use biodynamic fruit and vegetables, goat, sheep and cow dairy products, pasture-fed meat and wild venison and other game from local estates. There’s also fresh line-caught fish from the UK coast, sourdough and gluten free bread, cold-pressed oils and the chef ’s own sauerkrauts, ferments and pickles.
All of this gets whipped up into delicious creations, and vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diets can be accommodated. Specific diets and allergies may be catered for if given advance warning.
Breakfast usually involves home-prepared muesli, soaked overnight and served with a warm fruit compote and yoghurt. Boiled eggs can be tailored to your requirements and you can toast your own (delicious) home made choice of breads and slather them with fresh butter and sugar-free compotes.
Lunch tends to be a selection of highly imaginative salads, all bursting with flavor (we detected some Ottolenghi influences). Usually they are chosen to work together so you can create a differentiated plate or amalgamate them into a mixed-up Buddha bowl of delight.
Supper could be a warming chicken, fish or venison stew; risotto; or a selection of Thai curries. Vegetarians and vegans never feel like the poor relations here – meat-eaters often look hopefully at their choices and hang around hoping for leftovers. Puddings follow supper – once again home-made and always divine (for example, banoffee pie, chocolate and cherry mousse, chocolate cake with raw, unpasteurized cream from the next farm along – you probably meet the cows who provided the milk on your afternoon ramble).
Fruit is always available and in the breaks between sessions you will be surprised by a selection of healthy snacks – slivers of bread pudding, home-made hummus and crudités, tortilla chips, raspberry chocolate nibbles.
Coffee, tea and a wide range of herbal teas (Pukka, Yogi) are available (hot and cold milk is available, as are vegan options). There is a strict no alcohol policy. Smoking is tolerated – smokers are asked to use a small area outside.
42 Acres work with the land and its natural resources. They’ve used reclaimed materials to outfit the interiors of the property and all of the power is renewable and self generated through biomass and solar. 5% of profits are donated each year to charity, and 50% of the profits are recycled back into the space.
42 Acres, Witham Friary, Frome, Somerset, BA11 5HL
Frome or Gillingham (Dorset)
Transfer Time: 45 minutes from Bristol airport, or 20-25 minutes from the train stations