A project to extend a Morpeth church for the benefit of the community is making excellent progress.
The initiative by St Aidan’s Church in Stobhill to demolish the parish hall on Grange Road, sell off the land for housing and build a new community room onto the church building has received planning permission.
And work will start on the first phase in the spring as £60,000 has been donated by various organisations, including the Sir James Knott Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation and Northumberland County Council, as well as the Diocese of Newcastle’s Partners in Community Action Fund.
Those behind the scheme are looking to provide a facility that will act as a beacon for the community, reflecting the common image of St Aidan holding a beacon to shine a light wherever he went.
When the parish hall is closed, the church will become a hub for groups and activities and it is hoped that groups which already meet at the church, such as the Stobhill Senior Citizens’ Cuppa Club each Monday morning, will expand and thrive.
As well as meetings, the community room will cater for a creche, holiday clubs and various events. It will include an accessible kitchen and toilets.
The Rector of Morpeth, Simon White, said: “We were pleased to be granted planning permission and thrilled with the amount of grant funding that has been awarded to us in a relatively short space of time.
“This means we can go on site – located at the back of the church – in the spring to do stage one of the community room, which involves constructing the shell of the building and the car park.
“We need about another £70,000 for the second phase, the interior works, which we hope to start in early summer. But if we only have part of the funding, we can take a piecemeal approach to the works.
“This project will enable many community activities in Stobhill to be run more effectively and it’s about giving the small groups that are up and running in the area the resources to thrive.
“We’re also working with the community to develop some out-of-the-box ideas such as installing wi-fi in the church.
“In partnership with Barnabas Safe and Sound, we have funding for three years for a community worker who will help groups make the most of the new facility.
“This person can help them with funding applications for things like trips and special events.”
The parish hall was gifted by Leech Homes in 1969. Mr White has previously said that the Grange Road building has been more costly to run in recent years because it needs a lot of maintenance.
The Stobhill Senior Citizens’ Cuppa Club, which started earlier this year, meets between 10am and noon. Those who attend get a cup of tea or coffee and cake.
Once a month, NHS health trainer Hanna Whincup comes along to run some gentle exercises to music. This promotes the type of physical activity that is good for senior citizens’ health and well-being.
Club founder Alison Byard, a Morpeth town councillor for Stobhill, said: “We’re a warm and friendly group and although it takes time to become fully established, hopefully we can get more people coming along in the coming months.
“The plans for the church community room are exciting and they will help to get senior citizens out of the house. It is particularly important to get those living on their own involved in community activities.
“We have been made very welcome by church warden Pauline Ferguson, who does a tremendous amount of work for Stobhill. She recently led a coffee morning that raised £377.30 for Macmillan Cancer Support.”