On 1st February 2019 the St Martin’s Church in Allenton will be putting on an 18 hour re-launch extravaganza to celebrate its 18 month long transformation. A limited amount of money achieved a significant change, by the selfless acts of dozens of people in the community and the perfect chemistry of a few key people who shared the same vision. £1m worth of work, from £200k funding, with no cost to the tax payer.
A remarkable achievement!
Just a few years ago, Mairi Radcliffe, a lay pastor in the Methodist Church, was enjoying her time in Chipping Norton when the time came to uproot herself, as her husband’s job took them to Derby. After a few quiet weeks in her new house, contemplating the future, she received a call from the Derby Methodist Church Circuit asking if she would like to go to St Martin’s Church, in Allenton….and help out.
Her first impressions?
“The Church had been persecuted by vandalism – it looked like a fortress”.
The church windows were bricked in, others were reinforced with steel mesh, bars, and doors fit for prison cells…and the roof was leaking. The small congregation had great passion for their church, but had limited finances and were fighting a losing battle.
Mairi, a woman with a great faith in God, very positive conviction, and firmly focussed on social justice, was philosophical.
“It was an amazing opportunity. It was a tired church, with a small elderly congregation, which would have undoubtedly closed down in a few years”
She arrived in Allenton at the right time. The Church had had a vision for years to improve the facilities but no money or skills to do it. The local Big Lottery Funded organisation, “Allenton Big Local” had the money, shared the vision, but had no one who they could work with in the Church. Carl Willis, Community Development Manager at Derby City Council ( and formerly of Derby Homes), had the experience of similar projects, and all of the contacts….bar one. Then Mairi walked through the door and the final piece of the jigsaw fell into place.
Since then Carl and Mairi have made a formidable team.
They would be the first to recognise that the professional support of architects, local builders, a wide variety of tradesmen with many people working at cost, or for free, and countless other volunteers has delivered this “dream”.
Carl and Mairi tell of acts of generosity from many people who are not interested in “glory”. It was in the spirit of the TV show “DIY SOS”. Carl says:
“They’re not doing it for PR, they don’t need the work because they’re so busy anyway. They’re doing it because they’re genuinely coming from a good place”
Funds were released piecemeal by the Methodist Church, and Allenton Big Local and it was testament to their faith in Mairi and Carl, that they would continue to support the project even though fully costed detailed plans weren’t in place.
The transformation has been profound and stunning.
The centrepiece is the bright and welcoming Chatterbox Café which is run by Rachel Hill and Jayne Brett, who operate it independently, but in partnership with the Church. This arrangement gave them the opportunity to establish a group for adults with learning difficulties – STEPS.
A new Mother’s and Tots group has started up, and very recently the “Bus Stop” Night Café has opened, run by Head High – a late night facility for people with mental health problems. This is in addition to the existing drama group, brownies and youth group.
“ I didn’t think in a million years that all of this was possible. It’s been a long time, but it’s been incredible”.
For Mairi it’s not about increasing the numbers of people who go to Church on Sunday; everyone in the locality is her congregation. She follows the teachings of John Wesley, the 18th Century founder of Methodism which encourages people “ to do their utmost to improve their lives of everybody” – for social justice.
Mairi is always around in the Café to talk – “many people want to share problems and I’m there if they want”. Whether people choose to come to the church on a Sunday is not a concern, she believes that that will happen “through God’s will”
Many people have baggage about the Church, and stereotypes, which would discourage them even setting foot inside the café. Mairi has seen this – “ people have had some horrible experiences”
“I want everbody in this community to see this building as a 1st port of call when they have a need, a safe place, a place where they can come and not be judged but be valued. That’s always been my vision – it’s a community resource”
The launch on the 1st February will be the start of a journey , Mairi, says with some glee, and hope
“ We don’t know where it will lead to”.
It is that inclusive optimism which is inspiring, and Mairi sums it up simply:
“All people regardless of colour, political party, religion are welcome – I just want them to be loved – and that is very powerful”.
Categories: Charity issues