In 2009, Tobias Jones turned his home into a retreat for troubled people, a process he documented in a series of articles for the Observer magazine. In an extract from a book about his experiences he tells how his children reacted to some of their new housemates
In 2009, my wife, Francesca, and I set up a woodland sanctuary in Somerset with the sole purpose of offering refuge to people going through a period of crisis in their lives. We hoped to emulate a community we knew down in Dorset, a place that was a haven for those struggling with addiction, bereavement, separation, depression, penury, eating disorders, homelessness, PTSD and all the other ailments, illnesses and misfortunes that beset us in life.
It’s over five years now since we came to live in the woods and in that time there have been so many mishaps and miracles, so many characters and escapades, that it seems a lifetime ago. Those years have been gruelling, exhilarating, exhausting, uplifting, exciting, depressing, joyful, rewarding and, always, eye-opening. The learning curve has been so steep that it has often seemed almost vertical. Human nature is constantly fascinating and over the years we’ve seen all sorts, from the very admirable to the far less so. When you have an open-door policy the whole spectrum of humanity will roll up: rough diamonds and smooth talkers, the overbearing and the underwhelming. We’ve had well over a hundred strangers living in our woodland shelter, some staying for just one night, but most for many months and a few for more than a year.
We saw that children growing up in radical groups appeared less susceptible to the seductions of drink and drugs