about the former

koorana centre

About the former Koorana Centre written by its founder Gabrielle Anya Rafello.

I created the Koorana Centre in Ardingly in 2011. It served a community within the area of mid Sussex and beyond. After 11 years, in 2022 I left the space to develop ‘Koorana Wellbeing’ and my focus on work as a vibrational medicine specialist.

Many people ask about the story of the Koorana Centre and how it came into being, so here I am sharing a few details.

When I came across a rather sad and lonely building early in 2011 I had no idea about the journey I was about to encounter.

In the early part of that year I began to feel that my retail business of ten years no longer held the same resonance and I was opening to a change in direction. Having taught Reiki part-time for a couple of years, I enjoyed bringing groups of like-minded people together. Clearly I was being drawn to the world of self-development and felt ready to delve a little deeper.

‘I would love my own space’ was a phrase that ran through my head one day.

Around that time two things happened. In February 2011 I attended a week long retreat at the Arthur Findlay College to develop my mediumistic work. It was an incredible experience. Our group of 120 or so participants often sat in meditation for two to three hours and we became fully immersed in the world of Spirit. During the first day there was a strange, but somehow familiar feeling. I ‘recognized’ every single person at that event. I then experienced a reading with one of the course teachers, during which he described a vision of me working in a very old church with red walls and dark wooden beams, and, to my surprise, he said that members of ‘the congregation’ were my clients!

The retreat was transformative. When I left, I must have held such a high vibration that momentarily I didn’t recognise the world outside. The journey home felt peculiar, it felt like the car belonged to someone else. I certainly needed to ground myself and remember how to drive! Traffic on the M25 was typically slow and we came to a standstill just before Dartford. I found myself contemplating an idea in my mind and then posing the question out loud. ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a centre like that in mid Sussex?’ My friend and I seized the moment. We sat quietly and then sent out an intention for that to happen. Little did we know how quickly it would arrive!

Returning home, I didn’t think much about the idea until a week or two later, whilst on a walk in a beautiful area of woodland. Within that quiet and still space, and surrounded by huge redwoods, I had a strong feeling that I needed to take action. The next day I put my retail business on the market. I was learning about the whole concept of ‘letting go’, and that time of surrendering served its purpose as a way to ‘create space’ for the new to come in.

Fortunately, selling the business became my main focus. I didn’t allow thoughts of ‘how’ the centre would come about to take hold in my mind. I just had a feeling plus a ‘knowing’ it would happen. I knew that I needed to step aside, get out of my own way, and allow the Universe to do its work.

Within two months I had a text from a friend who lived in Ardingly. She mentioned that the local Victorian chapel had a ‘for sale’ sign outside. I shared this news with a friend and he suggested we take a look. At the time I had no idea he was looking for an investment.

It certainly felt like I was in my ‘flow’. Things were happening quite naturally and at a speed that really surprised me. The work I had done at Arthur Findlay must have prepared me to experience a space where things could and would manifest quickly.

I’ve always been sensitive. I’ve always felt energy and connected with people and spaces through the subtle realms. That ability was about to increase quite dramatically when the centre and I first met.

We walked into the space. Although it felt very cool and rather unloved, I could hear the sound of young children playing. There had been a fire some years before, caused by an electrical fault, which meant the central heating system didn’t work. Gradually the congregation had left and because attendance had been low the vicar had been moved to another post and the building had been placed on the market.

A sitting tenant, the Montessori playgroup, occupied the 1950s extension, and they used the main Victorian hall as their playground. There was a stack of children’s toys at the entrance, maybe in an effort to keep the space insulated! It was so cold in the building you could literally ‘see’ your breath. When we poked a little pencil through a rather damp window frame it went right through to the other side. It was clear from that moment, this was going to be a project!

In July 2011 I secured a buyer for my retail business, letting go of two remaining gift and lifestyle stores in the village of Lindfield. It was at this time the name for the centre came in. I heard the name ‘Koorana’ three times during a workshop, and was encouraged to look it up. I found a connection to the Aboriginal people. The word apparently meant ‘to bring forward the children’.  

‘That’, I said, ‘is perfect!’

Incidentally, I have another story to share about Koorana, an Eygptian sun god, but that may likely need to wait for another time.

The space spoke. I could feel the emotions it wanted to express. Through sounds, pictures and words it revealed how it wanted to come back to life, to heal and to express itself. Fortunately it must have also spoken to my colleague who accompanied me on that first visit. As the owner of a local joinery business, he also felt a desire to restore the Victorian space to its former glory and keep it open to the public. His offer to buy it was accepted and after the usual round of negotiations and surveys had been carried out, we took hold of the keys on December 7th  2011. Incidentally, he said the number 7 had always been his lucky number so it came as no surprise that we completed on that day.

The restoration commenced and it took three dark and cold winter months to see progress. It was like the space needed to be turned inside out and then wrapped in her very own comfort blanket of warmth, love and protection. The walls and roof were insulated and the stained glass windows inserted into double glazed units. Replica chandeliers were created off site using just a simple photo. Suddenly there was more light.

Slowly I could feel the space thaw out and as the spring bulbs began to flower in the garden I began to feel the space come to life. I was allowed the briefest of visits, whilst always wearing a hard hat, after all most of the space was still a building site. The playgroup continued in the extension.

One evening I was invited to see how things were coming along. Little could have prepared me for how raw it felt and my whole body responded. Knowing just how sensitive I was, I first heard the words, ‘Brace yourself’, just moments before I opened the heavy wooden doors to see that the floor had been completely ripped out. All I could see was bare earth. The chapel had no foundations!

My stomach hurt. In that moment my connection had truly been established. We were one and the same energy.

When the electric blue carpet had been pulled back a few days before, it revealed that woodworm had damaged the floor and the pulpit, so it all needed to come out. We discovered the old Victorian furnace, which would have heated the church when it was first built. A piece of wood, inscribed with the name of the original builder, was another find. It also had the date when the church had been built.

The raw feeling gently subsided. The coldness left and I felt a sense of warmth, gratitude and hope. Plans moved along well. The only time I experienced a disagreement with those leading the restoration project was in choosing a colour for the feature walls. The space wanted red, but that took six coats and many man hours to accomplish. In those final stages everyone felt tired.

Huge sums had been invested and when I over-reacted to the suggestion of pink, the decorator must have thought I had lost the plot. I knew exactly what the space required.

‘We need a deep coral red to help our visitors feel grounded’ the space said. I took inspiration from the deeply rich and earthy colours from Aboriginal pictures in ‘dreamtime’, and started to work on the branding.

I ran a few workshops in the space before our official opening, which took place on 30 March 2012. It was a proud moment and the beginning of a whole new chapter in my life. 

Over the course of 11 years I met some amazing people and hosted a huge number of vitality days, wellbeing markets, friends days, group workshops and one-to-one client sessions. The centre supported a large community of teachers, therapists, and visitors, who all loved the space and the gentle, nurturing energy it was able to provide. We all felt deeply held. I myself had a wide range of experiences during that time, and I learnt so much. It was part of my journey that I will never forget.

Gabrielle Anya Rafello, 2023.