Throughout June, it’s a great pleasure to be collaborating with Dr Marcella Sutcliffe and Chapelgarth Writing Retreats to offer The Thriving Researcher community five full-day Virtual Writing Retreats. I’d like to thank Marcella for her generosity in facilitating these.

I love Marcella’s ethos of being firmly rooted in beautiful North Yorkshire and the local community, and inviting researchers into that space, while also reaching out around the world through the Virtual Retreats. Our participants are finding the time and structure to write invaluable, and her empathetic, clear stewardship of the retreats enormously helpful.

I invited Marcella to share with us a little more about Chapelgarth pre-pandemic, and how she’s adapted to meet academics’ changing needs and circumstances.

Marcella writes:

If there is one bit of silver lining in our experience of lockdown, this has to be the new world that has opened up to us thanks to our Virtual Writing Retreats. Lockdown came to us, as to many other businesses, as a bolt from the blue, just as our spring residential writing retreats were getting under way in earnest.

Chapelgarth photo

At Chapelgarth we had three residential writing retreats booked in for March: early March saw a Group of lecturers and senior lecturers from different UK HE institutions get their heads together to do some serious writing in our Writing Room; Mid-March saw six academic women and creative writers (plus one woman scientist!) meet for the first time at Chapelgarth with one common objective: getting the writing done… something that as facilitator I took very seriously.

Some of them had bravely agreed to also take part in an event – one of our regular ‘Public Engagement’ evenings, where researchers do a 10-minute presentation of their findings to our local community. Hand-san at hand – it was the 12th of March – we invited the locals who found our version of ‘TED’ Talks very inspiring. Indeed, we literally had to push the audience out of the house to get the retreaters back into the house where veggie food, wine and everyone’s high spirits added to the celebratory mood.

What a privilege it is for me – I thought – to regularly be surrounded by curious, stimulating, fantastic women, all with their different disciplinary passion and drive. I felt properly blessed and loved having them all round our table.

As I waved good-bye to them, I was getting ready for my next Groups: a Voluntary Network of writers;  a group of History of Art historians from the Tate; and a group of PhD students from Sheffield University….  They all had to be postponed due to Covid-19.

The house seemed eerily quiet. It was all set up for retreats: the drawing room was the ‘common room’ for coffees and teas; our dining room the Writing Room; our Artist’s Studio the ‘Public Talks’ room.


With lockdown Chapelgarth reverted to becoming our family home, but with three adult children, there seemed far too much space now for everyone. I missed the retreaters’ conversations, challenges, chats and the inevitable celebration at the end of each productive writing retreat!

It was then that Zoom came to the rescue. As most HE institutions moved their courses online and we all had to suddenly grapple with the new challenges of online teaching, I became aware that lockdown was having a deleterious effect on academics’ ability to write.

The lack of structure and routine was affecting people’s wellbeing, and moreover, women in particular felt overly burdened with the additional domestic chores and childcare which came with schools closing.

It was then that I decided to start my free Virtual Writing Retreats for women only, which I called WellWriteWednesdays. These started at the beginning of April and have been a regular weekly feature for nearly three months – they will come to an end in June. It’s been a pleasure meeting virtually so many committed women academics, from PhD students to lecturers, and I have also loved reconnecting with some previous retreaters – many in Ireland – who could now be back at Chapelgarth – at least virtually! 

More recently I became aware of the Thriving Researcher Group and decided to extend the Virtual Writing Retreats experience to the Group so valiantly organised by Eleanor. I love its global feel – men and women connect from all corners of the world – it has been a pleasure to facilitate this group and I look forward to our next Writing Retreats this month.

‘Thank you for the retreats, I’ve produced the first draft of a chapter I’ve been avoiding for a long time!  It was good to meet other academics from around the world, and feel like I’m not alone’ Participant, Leiden

If you would like to organise a Group of lecturers / Phd Students to come on a residential Writing Retreat at Chapelgarth, North Yorkshire, please get in touch.

We also organise regular women only writing retreats for women who want to book a place individually. 

Click here for further information and contact details

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