Among those who helped so much to get the venture off the ground were two families, Stuart and Ellsye Rowell and Dave and Helena Stevens. Each couple moved into a caravan on the site in 1974 from where they carried out the early major renovations. Working in a largely derelict building with the windows all boarded up, they used up paint by the gallon, sandpaper by the ream and elbow grease by the bucketful! Muscles ached in places where they did not even know they existed! Dave and Helena stayed until 1977 when they went to Peru on missionary service. Stuart and Ellsye stayed to welcome many of the first guests and remained in charge until December 1979. Although the official opening was not until June 1976 the first group came to stay in August 1975.
Mrs Netta Halyburton, who was the manageress until 1994, came originally from Cambuslang in Scotland, and joined the rest of the staff in January 1980. Netta was a women of many talents, and had a huge impact upon guests and staff during her faithful tenure.
The current management team of Andrew & Lorna Forson have been in place since 1994. They work mainly in the background, along with their team of full and part-time staff, seeking to ensure guests are comfortable, well fed and enjoy ‘Space to Grow’.
If you were to ask Winston, who has been there since 1981, what his job was then, he might reply ‘grass cutter, wood chopper, bed mender, painter, decorator, carpenter, dish washer and so on’ depending on the time of day you enquired. If you asked him, now, it would probably be exactly the same … a general factotum!
It has been a blessing for the Castle staff to observe the impact God has made on so many people over the years. Many have accepted God’s offer of salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Others have been strengthened in their faith and some have felt called to serve in Christian ministry throughout the world.
(Richard Wallace’s ‘History of Castlewellan Castle’ is available to purchase in the Castle Gift Shop.)