Frequently Asked Questions - Coach House Retreats - volunteers

  • What is the difference between Sharpham's various retreats?

    The Barn Retreat offers meditation retreats throughout the year in a wonderful converted old Devon Linhay. Retreats are based on a contemporary approach to Western Buddhism and participants have the chance to experience a schedule of meditations, teacher-led inquiry and working meditation in the organic garden.

    Sharpham House offers secular mindfulness retreats with the opportunity to stay in a beautiful Grade I-listed Georgian mansion house at the centre of the Estate and surrounded by superb gardens. Retreats at Sharpham House are fully catered for with cooks and house-keeping staff in attendance. Retreats include Mindfulness for Beginners, as well as a variety of themed retreats such as seasonal, walking, silent and retreats for stress/burn-out.

    The Coach House offers retreats with accommodation in a converted stable courtyard in the grounds of Sharpham House. The retreats have an ecological focus and offer an opportunity to live in community and explore the benefits of nature-based mindfulness. The daily rhythm of the retreats revolve around mindfulness, gardening and nature connection, including experience of our rewilding land.

    Woodland Retreats offer a chance to stay under canvas in our woodland campsite in the grounds of Sharpham House with a focus on mindfulness and connecting to nature. Guided by our experienced leaders, participants will explore mindfulness in the inspirational setting offered by the Estate’s woodlands, gardens and parkland.

    Solo retreats are for experienced meditators and take place in The Cabin, within the grounds of The Barn Retreat Centre. They offer the chance to take a personal retreat and be immersed in solitude and nature, with daily work on the land.

    All of the above retreats are set at different locations across the beautiful 550-acre Sharpham Estate with views over the River Dart in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

  • Why are Sharpham retreats so cheap?

    The Sharpham Trust is a registered charity (number: 285767) and a social enterprise which endeavours to keep the costs as low as possible by subsidising various aspects of the courses and retreats.

  • What is a Mindfulness Meditation Retreat?

    What is a mindfulness meditation retreat?

    Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally (Jon Kabat Zinn)

    A mindfulness meditation retreat offers a valuable opportunity to step out of everyday life to focus on being rather than doing. Without our usual distractions and diversions we meet our experience as it arises with a sense of spaciousness, care and compassion.


    When we sit in meditation we begin with developing mindfulness of our breathing to help us to steady our minds. Each time our mind wanders and we become distracted (which naturally happens), we bring our attention back to our breath. This practice of focus and awareness can be extended to encompass all of our experience including our physical sensations, thoughts, feelings and emotions. Being with our direct experience in this way can allow us insight into the nature of our lives, which in turn can lead to self-knowledge and wisdom.

    Mindfulness and retreating can sometime be portrayed in the wellness industry as being all about generating a sense of calm and relaxation. Although this can sometimes be the case, another perhaps more helpful way of seeing mindfulness practice is the way in which it can support our capacity to be with and transform our difficult feelings, emotions and life challenges. In this way we can live out of awareness rather than reactivity and make better choices for our lives; cultivate positive rather than negative thoughts and feelings states and be better placed to contribute and be of benefit to the beings we share with this planet with.

    What happens on a Sharpham Mindfulness Retreat?

    When you come on a mindfulness retreat at Sharpham you will experience the following across all of our retreat venues:

    • Three 30-40 minute formal meditation sessions per day. This is mainly sitting meditation, some silent, some guided. Leaders can help with sitting posture which can be on a chair, stool or matt or even lying down where people might have physical difficulties.
    • Nature-based mindfulness practice either through gardening or nature-connection and nature-sensing activities on the land
    • Self-compassion or metta-based practices
    • Some mindful movement or embodiment practice
    • Periods of silence to help you deepen into mindfulness practice
    • The chance to bring mindfulness into some everyday tasks and activities
    • The opportunity to share your mindfulness experience in the supportive company of fellow retreatants (sometimes we learn the most from listening to each others experience)
    • Guidance about how to integrate mindfulness practice into your everyday life
  • What is the ethos of the Coach House?

    The Coach House retreat centre aims to connect people with the natural world through mindfulness.

    Participants will spend time living in community and doing mindful work or activities on the land.

    We also aim to connect people with our rewilding project on the Sharpham Estate.

  • Is it the same as the Barn Retreat?

    No, but there are similarities in that weekly retreats are facilitated by long-term volunteers.

    The Coach House is not Buddhist but its ethos is underpinned by Buddhist philosophy.

    There is a strong ecological focus for Coach House retreats.

    Unlike The Barn, The Coach House programme may include some external groups running their own programmes.

    More participants stay at The Coach House than at The Barn at one time, but there are additional staff to support them including a cook and gardeners.

  • Does the Manager lead the retreats?

    No. The Manager is there to oversee the operation of the centre and support the Volunteer Coordinators.

    They may be directly involved at times during a retreat but the majority of facilitation is done by the Volunteer Coordinators.

    The Manager may have to step in if, for any reason, a Coordinator was indisposed.

  • Who comes to the Coach House?

    The Sharpham Trust has a well-established and loyal audience so many people who have already been on our other retreats are likely to book into the Coach House.

    Many people come to us on retreat because they may have poor mental health. On our website we indicate that although meditation and mindfulness can be helpful in managing stress, depression and anxiety our retreats may not be suitable for those who are experiencing major depression or other clinically-diagnosed psychiatric illnesses such as bipolar disorder, psychosis or current self-harming. 

    We have processes in place to assess this prior to attendance.  

  • What support do the coordinators get?

    Volunteer Coordinators are supported by The Coach House Manager and various members of The Sharpham Trust staff team who are responsible for programming, finance, marketing, bookings, health and safety, property management, gardening and catering.

    The Sharpham Trust is governed by a board of volunteer trustees who set the overall direction and strategy.

  • Where do the Volunteer Coordinators live?

    Volunteer Coordinators are recruited to facilitate retreats for a year, living onsite, in a bungalow close to the Coach House.

    Usually, there are two Coordinators facilitating, one supporting and one off.

  • What does mindfulness mean at Sharpham?

    We teach experiential mindfulness that is not aligned with any specific philosophy or tradition but which tries to embrace many different approaches.

    Please view our Mindfulness at Sharpham document here

  • Is the Coach House Buddhist?

    The Coach House offers contemplative mindfulness practice that is underpinned by the teachings of secular mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy as well as the modern science of psychology and neuroscience.

  • Will it be the same every week?

    The Coach House runs regular weekly retreats for 18 participants interspersed with external groups who are hiring the facilities.

    These external groups will be running retreats or courses and their numbers may be slightly higher.

    Coordinators need to be flexible and prepared for the programme to evolve.

  • Who oversees the gardening?

    The gardening team organises retreatant tasks in the gardens, but with support from the Volunteer Coordinators.

    Find out more about Sharpham's gardens here

  • Do Coordinators need to drive?

    Not necessarily as we will not be picking retreatants up from the station and food is delivered.

  • What is the time commitment?

    When supporting a retreat, coordinators will be involved from Sunday afternoon to Saturday morning. There will be some periods of time in the afternoon and evening for breaks each day. 

    The initial commitment is for a 12-month period as a full-time coordinator as described above. After this there maybe the opportunity to stay on for a further four months in a Support Coordinator role with fewer hours of service commitment.

    Further details regarding this can be provided by the Manager on request. Email her here: [email protected]


  • Do we fund volunteer expenses?

    Yes. We provide:

    • expenses of £45 per week 
    • a relocation allowance of £500 at the end of the 12-month (or longer) service period (or pro rata if a shorter period)
    • monthly group support sessions
    • bi-monthly support from a dharma teacher or therapist
    • free food and accommodation
    • after 3 months of service, coordinators can participate in a Sharpham Trust retreat on their rostered week off or up to 3 months later upon completion of service period 
    • Full-time coordinators receive a share of any dana offered by retreatants.