A ONCE failing church could become the focal point for one of Sunderland’s most deprived communities.
The Sunderland Chapel Of Light International took over the crumbling former St Columba’s Church, in Cornhill Road, Southwick, in 2012, after it had been closed by the Church of England two years before.
Since then, the charity has begun to run different activities for people in the community, including toddler groups, music clubs and training, a food bank and a gym, as well as a computer suite and internet access to help support start-up businesses.
But now the Southwick Restore campaign is being launched to help the charity achieve even more, with ambitious plans including opening a new cafe/restaurant, after school club, basic skills improvement courses and an oral history resource centre, which will record and archive people’s memories of the area’s history and heritage.
Reverend Dr Peter Adegbie, of the Chapel of Light who came to Wearside with his wife Theodora six years ago, said: “This centre is for everyone in our community, not just those that come to church, and we want it to act as a beacon for raising everyone’s aspirations towards achieving better things for themselves and for the area, as we know that, given the right motivation and opportunity, people here can succeed.
“When we first came to Southwick, we went out to talk to local people about what they would want from a community centre such as this, and as time has gone on, more and more of them have got involved with our work to both help with and use the facilities we offer.
“We want to maximise the potential of both the building and the surrounding community, especially of the young people that live here, and to help them become the ‘agents of change’ who will be equipped to take Southwick forward in the years to come.”
The installation of solar panelling on the large church roof is also being investigated as well as the addition of a new glass front to the building.
The charity is working with RMT Accountants to develop a business plan which it is hoped will take the project forward and help identify and access sources of funding.
Southwick councillors Christine Shattock, Rosalind Copeland and Norma Wright have all given their backing to the plans.
Coun Wright, who was raised in the area, said: “As a former mining and shipbuilding community, Southwick has suffered its fair share of hardships in recent times, with many of the community resources that we used to have being closed down, and families are facing an awful lot of very difficult challenges in the current economic climate.
“The Church was always at the centre of our community, so it’s wonderful to see what’s already been achieved by Peter, Theodora and their team to help put this magnificent building back into this position.
“Their plans for the future are even more exciting, and they add to the excellent work being done by other churches in the area.”