God at the centre of The Oakes

The Oakes, a Christian residential activity centre for young people on the southern edge of Sheffield, is a faith venture right down to its roots. Sharon Barnard reports ...

Inspired by their time as volunteers at Teen Ranch, a Christian residential centre near Sydney, Australia, PE teachers Dan and Billie Thaw were keen to set up a similar venture back home in the UK.

“Young people heard the Gospel in an interesting, relevant, engaging way in the context of enjoying a great holiday. It was a special place,” says Billie.

When the couple clapped eyes on a Georgian mansion near Sheffield one miserable January day in 1996, they knew it was the answer to their prayers – even though the 36-roomed house was in serious need of repair.

Two years later, the mansion, set in 10 acres, was purchased by The Oakes Trust.

Following another two years of major renovations and “many incredible answers to prayer”, The Oakes opened on 1 July 2000 as a 60-bed residential activity centre for eight to 18-year-olds.

As well as enjoying a fun-filled holiday, young people can hear the Christian message and are encouraged in their faith. The centre is also open for church weekends, school residentials and holiday camps, and parent-child weekends.

The 25-strong staff team are all volunteers and the work is funded by gifts.

“The Oakes is a faith venture,” explains Billie, a mum of four. “The centre exists to glorify God and introduce young people to Jesus.

“We rely on God to provide for all our needs and He continues to do so in amazing ways on a daily basis.”

Major highlights so far include being able to share the Gospel with more than 25,000 young people and welcoming an increasing number of school groups.

“The Oakes lies within an incredible site. We have already developed a ropes course in the woods, established archery in the walled garden, built a climbing wall, cleared the lake for rafting and installed a Tough Mudder assault course.

“Plans for the future include an underground maze and excavations have already begun. But what we look forward to more than anything else is the wonderful privilege of sharing Jesus with more young people,” says Billie. “‘Great is thy faithfulness.’”    


PHOTO: Top: The Thaw family
Above: Plenty of adventure for youngsters onsite

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