In 2016, the Rotterdam BV Avant Spirit settled in the Emmaus Monastery of the Capuchins in Velp. The monastery was put into use together with a new community to start. Avant Spirit had a program that offered shelter to people with stress and burnout. They could relax nicely in the monastery. The living group would work as a facilitating team for the activities of the company: hostess, cook, meditation counselor, etc.
The burnout program never got off the ground because the clients simply did not want to come from Rotterdam to Velp: too far away from home, too high a barrier from their own couch to the monastery. We then started looking for other activities that were more in line with the ideas of the Capuchins: retreats and courses and training. However, that also takes time. That slowly got off the ground, because as a monastery and as an organization we were of course still unknown in the professional field.
But sometimes it was already so busy that the community felt overwhelmed. They worked long hours for the benefit of the guests. This also sometimes led to irritation, through which one literally chased away our hard-won customers. And their conclusion was: in this way we don’t get close to ourselves and our community. In doing so we surpass our own goal.
That meant a farewell for the community. A community that we as leadership also considered important for maintaining the monastery rhythm with prayers of the hours, the monastery energy and the atmosphere. That all contributes to our main goal: to maintain the quietest place in the Netherlands, so that people can go there for peace and reflection.
After 2 years, the company from Rotterdam stopped its activities in Velp, also because the monastery was then sold to a project developer. I then had the choice to leave with the owner and start a new job. But I still saw possibilities with what we started. Together with our external adviser from the company at the time, Arjen van Kalsbeek, we then went to the new owner of the monastery with the message: either you have an empty monastery tomorrow where you can have it your own way, or you give us the opportunity to further develop our plan further and to exploit the monastery in a newly established foundation. The owner gave us the benefit of the doubt and even a small guarantee: after all, we had to continue with 0 euros in the bank: no money, no more entrepreneur who supported us, as in the company. We then quickly started looking for new customers and users to secure a small coverage of the cost. Salaries and energy simply have to be paid.
In the first year we were able to break even. At the end of the year, the owner of the monastery suddenly came up with a potential tenant who wanted to push us out and promised a hefty amount of rent. We went against the grain and in the end the choice remained on us. This year, I have arrived in 2019, we pay rent to the owner. However, our growth is still (too) slow, said the manager, which means that there is regular contact with the owner about the rent to be paid. Moreover, we are constantly looking for new opportunities and possibilities; a must for an organization under construction.
Such as the pilgrims of the Walk of Wisdom around Nijmegen. Very nice to receive and to facilitate them with meals and bed. But that ultimately yields too little. As an organization, you must also be able to add things to your facilities to make it profitable. Make your own programs that generate money.
The pilgrim is gone after one night. We looked for ways to let the pilgrim stay more nights. We found these with our own programs such as Learning Pilgrimage and Pilgrim Weekends. These pilgrims now stay at least two nights and have a completely different experience. Moreover, you streamline the numbers: a pilgrim often comes alone, unannounced, every day at your door. But you also have to facilitate everything for 1 pilgrim: reception, meals (in the evening and in the morning). With programs you immediately create groups. Then you can make an increase in scale. How often did it happen that, when I wanted to go home, I still had to take care of a pilgrim, cook for him/her, keep company in the evening and return to the monastery early in the morning for his / her breakfast for the next day. With a group you can have paid people do this. Benefit from proprietary programs.