Ashwell House, Shepherdess Walk, Old Street, London

Hello, this site is about Ashwell House, an Opus Dei university hall of residence for women situated in Shepherdess Walk, Old Street, London.  This site is a warning to those thinking of staying there.

Ashwell House is different from a normal residence hall in a frightening number of ways. The culture inside Ashwell is radically different from what students normally expect from a residence hall.

First, it is misleading to call it a residence hall as 25-30% of the residents there are permanent residents and opus dei members in the age of 30-50 (there are about 40 residents in Ashwell in total). These residents are called numeraries and Ashwell is a special residential centre for them. They give all their income to Opus Dei, must remain celibate (never marry), and pray intensively (see 'a day in the life of a numerary'). Their lives are strictly supervised and they have to follow orders from their superior within opus dei. Ashwell is the place where their communal lives take place. As a result, Ashwell has many unusual and complicated rules which students may find hard to accept. Ashwell is designed to be an alternative home for the numeraries and they see it is their 'home', and this gives rises to a 'us v them' culture, where they see student residents as inferior subordinates because students are not 'part of the family'.

Now, the issue of recruitment arises. Ashwell House is used in part as a recruitment hall for Opus Dei. Opus Dei residents there see students as potential recruits and often use manipulative ways to lure them into Opus Dei. For example, they would not disclose the details of the religious nature of the meetings and camps when they are inviting residents to take part in them. Also, they often use friendship as bait to lure you into joining. If you show no interest in joining Opus Dei after taking part in the activities, they usually drop friendship, or become hostile toward you.

Living in Ashwell means you will have a lot less freedom, privacy or personal space then you would in a normal residence hall.

There are no room keys so the rooms cannot be locked from the outside. There is a bolt you can lock the room with from inside the room. Prior to room cleaning every morning, the director goes to every room to inspect the rooms. Residents are not given a front door key, as only the director possesses it. Every night after 12pm the front door is locked with keys and bolts, and no one can leave or enter the building. On top of that, Ashwell is guarded by a huge gate which is always closed and only opened when a resident is leaving or entering.

Also worth noting is that there is no contract. This means that the residents have no legal rights to stay in Ashwell. During my stay in Ashwell, one girl was asked to leave in the middle of a term for kissing another girl in a pub and this was found out by the Opus Dei members. The director threatened to expel another girl because she kept coming back before the curfew but after 9-10 pm.

Ashwell House is a lot like a foster home with ten ultra strict and occasionally hostile parents, and thirty kids. Opus Dei members feel that it is their right to interfere with the personal lives of the other student residents and have the power to scold, teach, punish, control us, remove us from room, send police to search our room (happened once!), scold us for something as small as leaving food on plate or door slamming, returning late. Residents are supposed to feel grateful toward them and have to obey them, e.g. when they ask you to perform an errand, help in a birthday party they would be offended if residents refused. They attach to us emotionally and if residents do not reciprocate those feelings, Opus Dei members could be offended.