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04 March 2011

Churches seizing opportunities to create community gathering places

Churches seizing opportunities to create community gathering places

Sensory gardens, coffee shops, theatres - these are just a few ways that churches around the UK have started to use their spaces creatively to open up to their surrounding communities.

Evangelical Alliance member Community Church Sheppey bought an old Methodist Church last year and, armed with plans to develop the property into a worship space, theatre, coffee shop and crèche, was featured on BBC One's "Homes under the Hammer". Members of the church have offered their time and skills freely to renovate the building which is now nearing completion.

Stockland Green Methodist Church in Erdington, Birmingham, started work to transform their building in January 2010. As in Sheppey, it is church volunteers who are the primary drivers behind the project. The project will refurbish and repair the church's interior to create a worship area with multi-purpose space for community activities, a fully equipped meeting space and a sensory garden. It is expected that the work will be complete by August 2011.

"It has been great to see it take shape over recent months," said the church's minister, Rev Nichola Jones. "We have already used the new worship area for meals and a film evening and we cannot wait to see the café opened."

Once complete the café will be open to everyone, and will provide healthy and affordable food and a place for people to meet. It will be staffed by different teams each day including adults with special learning needs. It will also be a venue for special events such as Caribbean community suppers and Sunday lunches for people living on their own.

One Baptist church in Droitwich Spa used the misfortune of a flood from a burst water pipe last year to rebuild their space to include a coffee shop open to the community. It took a full year to do the renovations, but the café, dubbed Olive Branch, is now open and is run by volunteers and is open three days a week including Saturdays.

The church's minister, Rev Marion Pengelly-Phillips said: "We wanted the name to represent our vision for engaging with our local community in Droitwich…Olive Branch is of course a recognised sign of friendship peace and good will. That is what we want to offer everyone who comes in for refreshment. "

In each case, these churches recognised opportunities to provide a gathering spot for the local community, but also to make the most of under-used space.

Rev Jones from Erdington said: "There is a real need for a facility such as this in the area, providing a place where people, including the vulnerable of all ages and those with little or no support, can meet, have fun and receive advice and support.

"This project will enable us to get the best out of this building and also reduce our energy costs and carbon footprint."