Leaside Church and Community Centre in Ware, Hertfordshire, recently marked the completion of its £800,000 building project with a weekend of celebrations. People came from near and far to admire the improvements which have transformed the existing buildings, creating the opportunity for more activities for children, the elderly and other community groups.
A crowd gathered to watch Mark Prisk MP officially open the Centre on the Saturday afternoon. In declaring the Centre open, Mr Prisk said "This is a brilliant link between Church and Community for everyone in Ware."
A packed congregation attended a service of Dedication and Thanksgiving on the Sunday led by Rev Kathryn Taylor.
The Centre, which is just off Ware High Street, now has a brand new reception area which links the existing Church and Hall buildings, incorporating a new kitchen, disabled access and toilets. The 1930s Hall and meeting rooms have been completely refurbished providing a range of modern accommodation for Church and community activities.
Leaside is already home to more than a dozen local community groups, who are delighted with their new accommodation. Several set up displays in the Hall to publicise their activities, including Leaside Under Fives Kindergarten, Dance Jam Academy, Art of Course, National Trust Craft Group, the Listening Place, Herts Welcomes Syrian Families, BeBody Gentle Exercise Classes and East Herts Nordic Walking – the latter two as part of East Herts District Council's "Forever Active" programme for the over-50s.
Leaside's mission is to reach out into the community and connect with people in all walks of life, inviting them in and meeting their needs. By making its buildings more open and accessible, the aim of the improvement project is to bring more people over the threshold every day of the week and to offer a welcome to all.
The project is already having a tremendous impact. The new entrance with its integral ramp means that those with mobility problems no longer have to struggle to get in – scooter and wheelchair users can now get straight into the Church. The Kindergarten has been able to increase its opening from six to ten sessions a week, providing places for an additional 4 x 34 children. Giving the Kindergarten its own secure area was a key objective of the project as it means that the rest of the premises can now be used during the day. This which was not previously possible as the only toilets and kitchen were in the Hall, to which there was no access while the children were there.
Now that the Church has its own kitchen and toilets it is already being used increasingly during weekdays, including for fitness classes and meetings.
The Listening Place, with its coffee morning and bric-a-brac sale every Tuesday morning is busier than ever, with well over 40 people regularly dropping in. Students with special needs from Ware College help out serving coffee as part of their work experience. The Listening Place volunteers appreciate their help and the students benefit from the opportunity. Other young people with special needs come in for coffee and appreciate the welcome they receive.
The new kitchen in the vestibule means that more people stay for tea and coffee after Sunday services. And other groups meeting in the Church during the week are now able to have refreshments – which is much appreciated, for example, by the Gentle Exercise Class. Many of 20 or so regulars live on their own and enjoy the social contact of coming to the class as much as the physical benefits.
Leaside now has the capacity to welcome new groups and activities and has already received several new bookings, including from a children's music group and a U3A photography class. And the existing Dance Academy is going to bring its Youth Theatre to Leaside from September.
The improvements have been made possible through a combination of grants, loans, donations and other fundraising. Over £242,000 has been raised through grants, including the generous contribution from HAEBEA. The project could not have gone ahead without this support. As a thank you and acknowledgement to all the organisations who have supported Leaside with grant funding, a plaque listing those who have contributed is on permanent display in the new entrance.
More information about the project can be found on Leaside's website – www.leasidechurch.org.uk. You can also find Leaside Church and Community Centre on Facebook.