IF YOU'RE stuck for a Mother's Day present this year, how about sending your mum off to a nunnery?

As part of a bid to attract new members, an Oxfordshire convent is inviting women to come and spend there day this Saturday.

The day will start with tea and coffee at 11am, then 'sharing' until lunchtime.

In the afternoon guests will be able to look around the convent and chat to some of the sisters.

Visitors have to be 'committed Christians', but apart from that there are no requirements.

The Community of St Mary the Virgin in Wantage said it wanted to offer women 'a taste of the daily life of a sister'.

It also just happens to be the day before Mothering Sunday.

Sister in charge Sister Stella said: "We want to encourage any committed Christian woman, who might want to express her faith in new ways, to come and be with us.

"We run a number of programmes for friends of the community to pray and be alongside us.

"I hope that this taster say will attract you and others who may feel a calling to spend more time with God in your everyday lives."

The St Mary's open day is the latest step in a major program of modernisation at the Victorian religious retreat.

The convent was founded in 1848 by Wantage vicar and philanthropist William John Butler.

It sprang out of the so-called Oxford Movement of the mid-19th century, which sought to revive religious communities and also gave birth to All Saints in Cowley.

The residents at Wantage are called sisters, not nuns, because nuns technically live in an enclosed community, shut off from the outside world.

By the early 20th century the convent had a population of more than 300, but that began to decline alongside the number of Christians in the country.

In 2014, the 14 sisters who now live at the sprawling complex built for 300 announced they planned to sell the estate and move somewhere smaller and more suited to their needs.

However, after spending more than a year searching for a new home, they failed to find anywhere suitable and decided instead to stay in Wantage but completely overhaul how the community worked.

The group has since invited Wantage school board the Vale Academy Trust and the Church of England's Oxfordshire school board to move into bespoke new offices at the site to make better use of the space.

The community also started inviting women to come and live at the convent – not necessarily as fully-fledged sisters, but as what they called 'alongsiders' who would join in with life and help with chores and in return get free accommodation in a peaceful, loving environment.

The sisters are also now renting cheap rooms to local teachers.

Much of this modernisation is actually restoring the convent's once-significant educational role in the community, dating from a time when it helped to found and run St Mary's School in Wantage and St Helen and St Katharine in Abingdon.

Inviting women to come and spend the day as a sister may equally prove an education for all involved.

Anyone who would like to join the fun on Saturday can ring the convent to find out more on 01235 763141, call one of the community's official Friends Marion Pyke, on 0118 947 5834, or simply turn up on the day.

Sister Stella, who has lived at St Mary's since 1979, added: "We want to hear from you. Come and talk to us."