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28 October 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Inside Out - North East: Monday 9th September, 2002

LIFE IN A CONVENT

Anna Nolan in Whitby

Making a film about nuns with former Big Brother star Anna Nolan proved to be a fascinating experience for the Inside Out team.

It started just minutes after arriving at Teesside Airport..."Can I have your autograph, please. It’s for my little sister."

There we were tucking into meat and two veg and Anna’s autograph hunters had spotted their prey.

It may be a couple of years since the ground-breaking first series of Big Brother but clearly its celebrity lingers.

Big Sister

You’ll remember Anna Nolan. The former nun. The one with the guitar.

The one who’s built up a successful career for herself as a television presenter. Others remember her too.

Anna Nolan
Meet Big Sister Anna

She willingly signs autographs, talks happily about her time in that house and gives a cheery wave when greeted with a quizzical look.

After all, some obviously recognise the face but can’t quite put a name to it.

A nun's story

Anna was on her way to Whitby to see for herself how convent life has changed since she left ten years ago.

And if you want to see what the life of a nun is like, then Whitby has to be the place to do it.

Anna and the film crew were invited into a religious order of Orthodox nuns.

Anna Nolan in window
Anna contemplates life inside a convent and decides it's not for her.

The monastery here has just two members who keep themselves locked away from the outside world.

Although they do have a poodle for company if they find time between up to ten hours a day of praying.

Anna warmed to the nuns. And, it has to be said, they warmed to her.

She chatted, she listened and was able to give an insiders insight into this unusual world which few see.

Inside stories

Before filming started there was a chance to have her first taste of Whitby fish and chips, stroll along the harbour walls and contemplate her life outside of two closed institutions.

Although she did tell me that both the Big Brother house and her own convent would have willingly allowed her to leave - when she was ready.

Being inside the convent was a strange experience for Anna.

"Little did I think when I left ten years ago that I'd be inside a convent again"
Anna Nolan

"It's odd but it kind of reminds me of being back in the Big Brother house.

"But one of the women inside this place hasn't left for 50 years".

So, did her time back inside Whitby’s convents make her change her mind?

Would she be tempted to hide under the habit again?

"Even though I perhaps understand better than others why they've chosen this way of life, I could never do it again. It's not for me" says Anna.

A nun's day

The Holy Order of the Paraclete is an Anglican religious community with 35 sisters.

Anna Nolan and the nuns
The Orthodox nuns of Whitby are looking for new recruits

Sister Lynn is a novice who has taken ten years to decide about her vocation as a nun.

"It's like getting engaged and married. You're looking for something and it's fulfilling when it comes along. It gels and feels right".

As well as their religious and teaching duties, the nuns find time to relax.

They like to watch video films on Friday nights - anything with a murder in it is a favourite!

Fasting and praying

The Greek Orthodox convent in Whitby has only two nuns, and has a particularly strict regime.

The Orthodox nuns wear a very simple all-black outfit with a veil.

"People in Whitby used to look at us in a funny way but now they've got used to us and they say hello" says Mother Hilda.

A nun praying
The nuns spend much of the day in quiet prayer in their church.

During fasting weeks, the nuns have a very austere regime with up to ten hours of prayer.

The rest of the time is taken up with translation, painting icons, cooking and tending to the garden.

Each nun has a cell where she works alone, sometimes on tapestries, drawings or paintings.

The nuns have no television, radio or CD players.

Lucky for them that they've not been exposed to the joys of Big Brother, Pop Idol or Eastenders!

Looking for new recruits

The Whitby nuns would love to recruit new members to their order.

They are sad about the lack of recruits but firmly believe that getting the correct person is more important than recruiting just anyone.

"The right person will stay" says Mother Hilda who is now getting on in years.

With only two nuns, the convent is one of the smallest in England.

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