Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre
Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre was founded in 1903. It offers many opportunities for the study of Quakerism through courses, retreats, private study, and a postgraduate programme. Quaker groups regularly come for ‘away days’ or weekends to work on issues together. Many groups and organisations hire its facilities for their own meetings and events, and regularly report how conducive the Woodbrooke environment is to peaceful and constructive thought and discussion.
Woodbrooke’s foundation owes much to the generosity of two Quaker chocolate families, the Rowntrees and the Cadburys. John Wilhelm Rowntree developed the concept of a centre for study of Quaker thought and Quaker action. George Cadbury gave his old home as its new premises. Charities founded by the Cadbury and Rowntree families continue to support Woodbrooke’s work, along with donations and project grants, and earned income from lettings.
Woodbrooke is the only full-fledged Quaker Study Centre in Europe. Other Quaker centres offer retreat and short course programmes, and let their facilities, but all are small scale by comparison with Woodbrooke. The nearest parallel to Woodbrooke is Pendle Hill, in Pennsylvania. The main difference is that Woodbrooke has a postgraduate programme, whereas Pendle Hill decided this was not appropriate for them.
The Centre for Quaker Studies is affiliated to the University of Birmingham, and offers masters (taught and research) and doctorate programmes. Some of this work feeds into the broader programme of Woodbrooke courses as well as being a valuable contribution to Quaker thinking more generally.
Woodbrooke courses cover many topics. Some courses are introductions to Quakerism, such as ‘Becoming Friends’ and ‘Quaker in Europe’. Some cover aspects of Quakerism and/or Quaker history such as ‘100 years of the peace testimony’, and ‘forgotten Friends’. Some focus on spirituality, through arts and crafts, meditative and other techniques, and explorations of other faith traditions. Some provide training for Quaker roles - prison chaplains, clerks, elders, overseers, treasurers and trustees, and a course on Quaker leadership for Young (adult) Friends. Some courses explore contemporary issues from a Quaker perspective, such as ‘Good Lives’, which challenges us to consider what this means in the context of the environmental challenges we face, and the enormous inequalities there are in the world.
Many of these courses no longer depend on coming to Woodbrooke. In the past courses were all residential, and quite lengthy, lasting perhaps for a term, but now they vary enormously in length and mode of delivery. Some take place over a residential weekend. Some are a mix of individual study combined with residential sessions at Woodbrooke and may last for a year or more. Some are offered through ‘Woodbrooke on the Road’ whereby tutors travel to Quaker meetings in different parts of the UK and run courses in their Meeting Houses. Some are offered entirely on line, such as the Quaker in Europe programme. Woodbrooke has a team of tutors who support and facilitate all these different modes of study.
Workshops on particular topics are a regular feature. Sometimes Woodbrooke hosts other Quaker groups, and sometimes Woodbrooke is in the lead. Criminal justice, economic justice, environmental issues and peace and nonviolence, are ongoing themes.
In 1908, Woodbrooke initiated ‘The Swarthmore Lecture’. It has been an annual event ever since, and is given during Britain Yearly Meeting, the annual gathering of British Quakers. The lecture has always had two intended audiences – Quakers and the wider public - and topics and lecturers are chosen after much careful thought.
Over more than a century, Woodbrooke has hosted many different groups, working on many topics. In October 1931, Horace Alexander, tutor in international relations, and described by Gandhi as a ‘Friend of India’, brought Gandhi and colleagues to Woodbrooke for a weekend, after the ‘round table’ conference on Indian independence in London.
Woodbrooke’s motto is ‘Quality service, Quaker values’, and all employed staff work hard to make this a reality. Many volunteers help too. Some are ‘Resident Friends’, who live at Woodbrooke for a time, and others come in to undertake specific tasks. Environmental impact is a central concern – Woodbrooke grows much of its own food, organically, and encourages all comers to be as ‘green’ as they can, including transport to and from Woodbrooke.
Quaker trustees oversee Woodbrooke’s work.