Last month, Sixth Form pupils at St Catherine’s School, Twickenham, participated in a wonderfully enlightening two night retreat in Pinner.


SPEC’s aim is to provide Catholic retreats for school children and young people in the Diocese of Westminster. The name ‘SPEC’ stands for ‘Spiritual and Personal Encounter with Christ.’ SPEC describe themselves as being ‘dedicated to providing the perfect opportunity for young people to retreat from the busyness of daily life in order to reflect on and possibly experience the presence of God in their lives.’ The centre is located in Pinner on an area previously known as Waxwell Farm which is not only a beautiful, but also a tranquil, plot.


During our retreat, pupils of St Catherine’s Sixth Form were welcomed to explore the theme of ‘what is love?’ Many of us found this to be quite engaging, particularly as we were able to consider the theme within a biblical context. The theme also allowed us to relate how love is shown in our daily lives by elaborating on the ideas of self love and vocations. Afterwards I spoke to Tara Altaiee, in Year 12, about her experience of the retreat. She described how she felt that ‘the trip was enlightening; it was interesting to understand how there are different types of love that we experience even though they are often overlooked by us.’

While some activities involved the entire sixth form, we also completed some sessions in smaller groups, where we further explored our ideas. I found this to be very helpful as it not only allowed us as a whole sixth form to bond but also enabled us to participate in many thought-provoking discussions sharing our own personal experiences. For example, on our last day we all participated in a group activity where we learnt to work together collaboratively in order to solve a problem as a team. During this activity the majority of the group had been blindfolded leaving only two people to guide the rest of the team. Many of us sixth formers enjoyed this; Tara said that many of the activities that were completed on our retreat were ‘not only engaging but also beneficial as they allowed for us all to reflect on how small activities such as the blindfolded team-building exercise can be related to real issues that we may face in life.’


The group members at SPEC were particularly welcoming. We spent a lot of time discussing our views with them while also learning about their own personal experiences of how God’s love had helped them in their lives. As all the staff kept such an open mind it was wonderful that we were always able to ask them any questions that we may have had. This was very comforting especially for those on the retreat who were either non religious or belonging to a different faith.


While we did spend a lot of time discussing issues together, our team leaders also made it possible to experience times of self reflection. The time that my peers and I spent in the chapel was an overall favourite. The chapel was a beautifully designed space which provided a place of serenity and stillness, where we were able to take some time alone to contemplate our thoughts away from the stresses of life.

Tara Altaiee, like many other sixth formers, particularly enjoyed their time in the chapel. Tara described that ‘being in the chapel was the perfect opportunity to reach a moment of quiet and reflection. I really enjoyed the time that we spent here, particularly as on our last night Father Mark held a mass where we all felt so welcome. This was definitely a memorable way to spend our last night at SPEC.’


Overall, this trip provided all of us with memories that will last for years to come. Tara stated that ‘this retreat was a refreshing experience as not only did I have time to focus on religion but I also found a sense of peace and care through love that is shown by God.’ For me, this retreat was a wonderful opportunity to not only learn more about the Catholic faith but also to have a very much needed time of reflection. The atmosphere at SPEC provided a perfect place of tranquility where many of us were able to get away from the daily distractions of life and gain a better understanding of faith. We all hope to visit again next year!