A church saved from the brink of closure is being transformed so it can welcome people from throughout the community to use a range of services.
Easington Colliery Methodist Church, in County Durham, was declared at risk in 2022 and seemed destined to close due to maintenance costs and a dwindling congregation. That was until a new community benefit society, Focus Easington, stepped in to lease the church and support its reopening as a community asset called The Welcome Centre.
Focus Easington plans to modernise the building so the current youth provision, CAFÉ Together lunch club, and regular worship can continue alongside new activities.
This could include a community larder offering cooking lessons and healthy food packages, a community launderette, support for veterans, digital access, a garden, and advice, employability and health and wellbeing sessions. Rooms will be available for local groups and businesses to hire which will generate income to sustain the facility.
North East housing association believe housing has partnered with regeneration and construction specialist RE:GEN Group, to help give the centre a new lease of life. A £30,000 capital community grant from believe housing is going towards renovation work including new windows, an upgraded heating system, and planting in the garden.
RE:GEN Group has donated £10,000 to redesign and landscape the community garden, with an additional £5,000 from believe housing. And RE:GEN Group has committed labour and materials to transform the outdated kitchen with state-of-the-art facilities.
Faye Gordon, Executive Director Investment, Growth and Performance at believe housing, said: “At believe housing, we work hard to create thriving, safe and sustainable places and homes that people want to live in.
“By supporting The Welcome Centre, we are not only helping to save it as place of worship but also helping it to grow as a valuable community facility, creating opportunities to support and engage local residents for generations.
“Members of the RE:GEN team have worked with believe housing colleagues to identify ongoing support we can offer this project. Their generosity with funding, time and expertise continues to be of huge benefit and is a sign of how our strong working relationships with regional businesses can deliver considerable social value and make a positive impact in our communities.”
Lee Francis, CEO of RE:GEN Group, commented: “As a long-term partner of believe housing, we were only too happy to get involved in this project having been inspired by the mission and passion from both Councillor Surtees and Rev Bev Hollings to support and revitalise this community.
“Beyond our financial support, our commitment has extended to offering our teams’ expertise across design, planning and commercial as well as the full strip out and rebuild of the centre’s kitchen as part of the first phase of work.
“We’re all very much bought into the mission of Focus Easington and are proud to be helping rebuild a vibrant community space that epitomises a collective spirit of growth and resilience.”
A grant from the Benefact Trust, via the Plunkett Foundation, supported earlier work to get the project up and running and funding has been provided by Durham County Council’s Towns and Villages programme and councillors’ neighbourhood budgets. Several local organisations have offered professional services, supplies, equipment, and labour free of charge.
Durham County Councillor Angela Surtees, who is leading the project, said: “Easington is an area of deprivation, and we desperately need regeneration to improve the area and make it a better place for people who live here — this is a priority.
“Ensuring our community becomes resilient and building community cohesion and pride is important.
“Saving this building from closure was important and, as long as it is needed, I will continue to put all my energy and focus into serving our local community.
“Supporting people in the current climate with advice and guidance, food and energy help, youth provision, and maintaining worship for people of all ages are among the many priorities here.
“The Welcome Centre will go a long way to supporting all those people and more, it will be a place for everyone.”
The Methodist Minister, Rev Bev Hollings, added: “We’ve always wanted to put the Methodist Church at the heart of Easington. Partnering with Focus Easington will enable the development of our building in a way which supports our community and our commitment to be an inclusive and justice seeking church.
“It will also provide a secure base for a worshipping presence in Easington for the next generation and somewhere people can come to for baptisms, weddings (including same sex couples) and funerals.
“We hope that lots of people in the community will come and share with us in this adventure.”
Header image: Brinsley Sheridan, Chief Operating Officer of RE:GEN Group, Durham County Councillor Angela Surtees, and Faye Gordon, Executive Director Investment, Growth and Performance at believe housing, at The Welcome Centre in Easington Colliery.