“Once an Ashwellian, always an Ashwellian” is the sentiment young women take away from their experience of living in the DHEF student residence Ashwell House. And that certainly seems to be true for Femi, Ashley, Katherine and Marta who left Ashwell in summer 2023, having finished their studies in London.
Aged 18, Femi arrived at Ashwell House from her home in Bahrain in September 2018, “confused and anxious about navigating the future”. In July 2023, she felt “more mature, more comfortable with life” and her mind “at ease”. “Ashwell played a big part in that,” she says.
Ashley is now starting work as a Junior Doctor in Suffolk, after studying at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
She lived in Ashwell for two years. What made Ashley want to live in Ashwell? “I loved the location, the fact that it was catered accommodation and the website showed pictures of a friendly environment.” For Ashley shared mealtimes were a great help in overcoming her nervousness about meeting new people. “Having Ashwell as a base was really special,” says Ashely. “There were always friendly faces to come home to after a long day at placements.”
Coming to London from Italy in 2019 was a big step for Marta. “This was the first time I had left my family. But just living in Ashwell, being surrounded by other wonderful people, during mealtimes and get-togethers, helped me overcome the homesickness I felt at the beginning.” Having completed an MSci in Applied Medical Sciences at UCL, Marta is now heading off to Cambridge University to start a PhD.
From her home in Connecticut, USA, Katherine googled places to live in London before starting a one-year MA in Financial Journalism. “I wanted to be in a Christian, female-only environment,” she says. “And Ashwell House showed up first.” Katherine is a practising Protestant and she found the spiritual formation at Ashwell helpful. She also especially appreciated the mentoring opportunities. “I loved all the staff and got to know them well,” she says.
All four Ashwellians speak enthusiastically about the fun they had during their time in Ashwell House. Marta enjoyed the Ashwell outings known as “Ashtrips”. Hiking across the Seven Sisters in Sussex was a highlight for her. “That trip was my first get-away from London after a stressful few months studying for exams,” she says. “The landscape was beautiful and we had such a fun time together.”
Ashley has happy memories of a trip to Canterbury Cathedral, taking the pilgrim’s route – by car, not on foot! “It was a beautiful sunny day,” she recalls. “And I really enjoyed going to a new place and making friends along the way.”
The concerts, Halloween and Christmas parties as well as the pub trips, were all part of the fun of living in Ashwell House for Katherine. The Christmas dinners at Ashwell stand out for Ashley. “I loved dressing in formal attire and seeing the dining room all dressed up for Christmas too!” she says.
Femi helped to organise the last Christmas concert during her time in Ashwell. “I also sang in the choir,” she says. “That is a special memory for me. Everyone coming together for the concert.”
Nobody’s birthday is forgotten at Ashwell. Marta’s last birthday in Ashwell was “super special”. “We celebrated four birthdays with a brilliant Ashwell pub quiz and dinner. The dining room was decorated and the tables set out as for a pub quiz. Some of the questions were about the birthday girls!” she says. For Ashley this was “the BEST event!”
Life in London
Living in London was certainly a positive experience for all four former Ashwell residents. “As the financial capital of Europe, London was a very good environment for me to be studying in,” says Katherine, who is now working as a producer for CNBC, an American business news channel. Femi loved the green spaces in London. “Greenwich was my favourite place; the park and the museum,” she says. Ashley enjoys the literary classics, so exploring Dickensian landmarks was part of her London experience.
Growing closer to God
Having access to the oratory in Ashwell House was also important. “This is a special place in the house,” says Femi, a Syrian Orthodox. “It was one of the first places I was shown when I arrived. It was helpful to go there in good times and bad and to sit for a while and write down my thoughts.” Femi found that the spiritual formation she received at Ashwell “helped me to grow closer to God.”
Ashley doesn’t belong to any religion, but she does believe in God. When a fellow resident was baptised, Ashley remembers that “I felt this overwhelming happiness for her. I felt very privileged to be part of her special day.”
Marta is a Catholic and she says: “I think moving into Ashwell’s last free room in November 2019 was providential. I would never have grown so much in my faith if I hadn’t lived in Ashwell. I found it very encouraging to see so many people so devout and yet living in the middle of the world.”
Growing as a person
How did Ashwell help Femi, Ashley, Marta and Katherine to grow? A pivotal moment for Ashley came when she failed her final medical exams in April 2023, with only five weeks until her resit. “I was in dire straits,” she recalls. “But so many people at Ashwell were supportive. And when I was told ‘this not only teaches you about finding new ways to pass exams, it also teaches you how to cope with failure’, that opened a whole new perspective for me. That really helped me grow as a person; to cope with disappointment so close to the finishing line. I was very lucky to be in a safe and kind environment during such a troubling time.”
Meeting new people from different cultures each year, helped Femi. “You open your eyes and move past your own boundaries,” she says. Marta feels she knows herself more after four years in Ashwell. “It’s hard to explain, but I think such self-knowledge comes from living closely with many wonderful and very different people.”
Your second home
Is there a message they have for anyone thinking about living in Ashwell? “You’ll soon find your second home here,” says Femi. “It’s home away from home,” says Katherine. “When you have long days at university and you want to come home to a friendly place, Ashwell is very welcoming,” says Ashley. “If you are looking for a family, Ashwell is the place for you,” says Marta. “Imagine yourself coming back home for dinner and sharing your day.”
If there’s one word to sum up Ashwell, it’s “home”.
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