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Community connections help to breathe new life into parish church

A church has become a more visibly “active and happening” place in its community following a series of successful outreach projects.

St Andrew’s Church in Blackhall, in the Deanery of Easington, now offers a monthly warm space where people can call in for hot drinks, social interaction and even a game of bingo.

A community garden has been created within the heart of the village, while links have been strengthened with other groups and organisations. This culminated in November when the church was involved with a community poppy display inspired by the artwork at the Tower of London, which commemorates the outbreak of the First World War.

Father Kyle McNeil, Vicar of Horden, together with Blackhall, Castle Eden and Hesleden, said the initiatives over the past two years have breathed new life into the church.

He explained: “People no longer ask if the church is still open. These projects have helped give us an outward focus and the community is aware that this is an active and happening place. We’ve seen a gentle growth in terms of worship and very much strengthened links with the whole community.”

Developments at St Andrew’s have moved quickly since an opportunity was identified to obtain funding for the creation of a warm space in 2022. With support from the local authority, parish council and the County Durham Community Foundation, the warm space opens on Mondays once a month, serving tea, coffee and a chance to play bingo.

Father Kyle added: “We have dedicated volunteers and I didn’t want them to get their hopes up initially, but when this first opened 50 people turned up and it has continued to attract between 50 and 70 people.

“Once a month works well. It’s not too much of a commitment for our volunteers and they give their time joyfully. It has been a remarkable success. We are thankful for the funding the scheme has received and to everyone who has been involved in making it all work so well.”

One of the organisations which now works closely with the church is the Blackhall branch of the Women’s Institute (WI), which approached St Andrew’s and other churches in the benefice with the idea for the poppy display.

In Blackhall, a section of the former vicarage garden has been retained and revitalised as a community garden, where church and other members of the community can spend time in what has become a place of tranquillity in the heart of the village. A special service to launch the garden in July was very well attended.

First published on: 3rd January 2024
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