An extension to a Morpeth church is already making a big difference.
The new purpose-built community facility – known as The Beacon Project – consists of a large hall, kitchen, office and toilets.
The exterior at St Aidan’s Church in Stobhill has been transformed as part of the Anglican parish of Morpeth’s initiative and a new car park is also in place.
Work is under way to make the building on Shields Road, which was constructed in the 1950s, a hub for a plethora of groups and activities that will appeal to various age ranges.
Funds for the scheme came from agreeing to demolish the former parish hall on Grange Road and sell off the land for housing, as well as various donations.
The new team at St Aidan’s Church has set up sessions in the new hall such as Grandparents and Giggles – a group that meets every second Wednesday of the month where the adults can do some crafts and messy play is organised for the children.
As well as the social sessions and activities such as tai chi, groups including Brownies, WRVS and the North East Dance Company are using the community facility.
It is available for meetings and family parties, a carers support group is starting at St Aidan’s at the end of March and yoga and bingo are coming soon.
Community development worker Fliss Tunnard started her role in the autumn. It involves encouraging people to get involved with the church and engaging with local schools.
She said: “It’s nice to have a modern facility like this that is available to everyone in the community.
“It has underfloor heating and there is a television we can use for videos and presentations.
“Everyone here has been very welcoming and friendly and they are very excited about me being here and the new sessions and projects that are being established. Local residents are full of ideas and suggestions and that’s how Grandparents and Giggles and the carers support group came about.
“My intention is to set up a toddler group and an after-school youth club and meetings are going to take place over the next few months where we will hopefully make progress.”
She added that she is a member of the Stobhill regeneration group and she does regular assemblies at Stobhillgate First School.
The school is the venue for community lunches on the last Wednesday of every month. Those who sign up get a roast chicken dinner and pudding served by groups of pupils and find out about the latest school activities. Rev Beth Rookwood, an ordained pioneer minister, also started her role in the autumn.
It involves helping those who presently distance themselves from traditional church to explore their own spirituality in ways that they will find helpful and relevant.
An example of this is the less formal teatime church on the second Sunday of the month.
Rev Rookwood said: “Teatime church includes things like activities and stories. God is at the centre of it, but it’s a different way of sharing the message.
“We also have the Alpha course – these are faith-related discussions in participants’ homes and they are encouraged to speak honestly about such issues. Another important aspect of my work is to visit people who can’t get out of their house or find it difficult to do so and engage with them.
“Residents are very impressed with the new facilities at St Aidan’s. We also have more room to manoeuvre in the part of the building where church services take place and this worked really well for the Christingle service last month.”
The hall on Grange Road has now been demolished. Morpeth Parochial Church Council made the decision to sell the land as major funds were needed to improve the building to modern standards and it did not meet the required energy efficiency regulations, so a new heating system and panels would have had to be installed.
Significant donations for The Beacon Project came from various organisations, including the Sir James Knott Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, Northumberland County Council and Diocese of Newcastle’s Partners in Community Action Fund.
Stobhill resident Pauline Ferguson, who received a Northumberland Local Heroes award last year, has volunteered her time to run or help out with a range of groups and activities in the area for more than 20 years. She is a former church warden at St Aidan’s and is still a prominent volunteer at the church.
She said: “We’ve been getting the message out about the new facilities and slowly but surely, we’re getting more people here and setting up new groups.
“Those who have been along like the changes and are delighted with the heating in the new community room.
“I’m so pleased that we were able to raise the money for the refurbishment and it has energised me as well.”
The regular weekly groups and sessions at St Aidan’s include Cuppa Club (Monday morning), Playtime Plus (Tuesday morning) a coffee morning (Thursday) and Baby Signing (Friday afternoon).
For more information about any of the activities, call the parish office on 01670 503326.