Excited families welcomed the opening of a new community café and soft play area inside a Portsmouth church, eager children raced into the new soft play area in St Margaret’s Community Church, Southsea, as the ribbon was cut to mark its official opening. They careered down slides, bounced around oversized balls, and ran around with balloons.
It came just a couple of weeks after the official opening of their brand new coffee shop, which is serving tea, coffee, cake and hot food at reasonable prices. As you enter the refurbished church, it now contains the café and community shop to the left of the worship area, and the Foodbank and soft play area to the right.
The Foodbank has been open throughout the pandemic, collecting thousands of food donations and distributing them to needy families. The community shop aims to sell second-hand clothes, shoes, furniture and ornaments at affordable prices, to serve local residents. It caps a remarkable transformation for the Church of England church in Highland Road. In 2015, its existing congregation decided to stop meeting for worship, partly because major refurbishment of the church building would be so expensive.
In 2017, a small group from nearby St Jude’s Church started meeting for prayer and worship in the neighbouring church hall. Their vision to transform the building to be a hub for the local community – at the same time as using it regularly for Church of England worship –
attracted funding and enabled them to move back into the church building in 2019.
The official opening of the soft play area last week (Friday 25 June) marked the end of a major development that has included re-roofing the church, refurbishing the inside, and installing heating and a new floor.
Cllr Suzy Horton, deputy leader of the city council and cabinet member for children, families and education, and former councillor Steve Pitt cut the ribbon in front of a specially-invited group of parents and children.
Amie Jenrick, whose children Rudi, aged five, and Milo, 18 months, were among the first to sample the soft play area, said: “My youngest has never actually seen a soft play area before, because of the pandemic, so he was very excited. It’s a nice place to come, because you can sit in the café and see the whole thing, so you can keep an eye on your children. They’ve done an amazing job. It’s just the right distance for us to get here, and we’ll definitely be popping in after school.”
And Maisie Daniels, whose children are aged three and one, said: “I think it’s brilliant. It’s a great place to go after school and it helps their social interactions, especially after the lockdowns we’ve had.”
The soft play area was partly funded by £15,000 from Portsmouth City Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy. Cllr Hugh Mason, cabinet member for planning, policy and city development, said: “We’re so pleased that we were able to fund this much-needed community asset. It will allow local children to experience the benefits of playing together after what has been a very difficult time for families in our city.
“Each ward area of Portsmouth is entitled to apply for community infrastructure levy funding to be spent to make changes that will benefit the whole community, and this is a great example of the process working to help children and parents in the city.”
The church’s Foodbank is open two mornings a week, its café and community shop are open from 10am-2pm on Thursdays and Fridays, and the soft play area (including cafe) is open from 2.30pm-4.30pm on Thursdays and Fridays. Each soft play session costs only £3 per child. It also holds its main worship service in the building at 4pm every Sunday.
Café, shop and Foodbank manager Amy Grindlay looks after a team of volunteers, and she has a wide-ranging list of opportunities that people can get involved with. There’s always people around in the café and shop to make you feel welcome, have a chat with you, or offer prayer. She said: “For me, this is what church is all about – not just the worship on Sundays, although that’s exciting too! But church should be a place where there is a real community, looking to help each other and those who are most vulnerable, and providing somewhere that is safe and secure. “It is now part of our DNA here to look out for people. We’ve been really privileged throughout the lockdowns and afterwards that people trust us enough to come into the building, tell us their stories, and allow us to help them.
More details about the church and its community facilities are on www.stmagscc.uk. If you have an idea for a change to your local area that could be funded by community money, email the city council on firstname.lastname@example.org