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Cromer church’s vision for change to provide day centre

PUBLISHED: 09:27 09 October 2015 | UPDATED: 09:27 09 October 2015

Cromer Methodist church wants to convert part of the main hall into a homeless pod, day centre and part church after the congregation drops to less than 30 people using the large main hall. Pictured is Christine Goodman and Rev Sharon Willimott. 

Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Cromer Methodist church wants to convert part of the main hall into a homeless pod, day centre and part church after the congregation drops to less than 30 people using the large main hall. Pictured is Christine Goodman and Rev Sharon Willimott. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Archant Norfolk 2015

An historic north Norfolk church is looking to make major changes to help deal with its community’s modern-day needs.

Cromer Methodist church wants to convert part of the main hall into a homeless pod, day centre and part church after the congregation drops to less than 30 people using the large main hall. Pictured is Christine Goodman and Rev Sharon Willimott. 

Picture: MARK BULLIMORECromer Methodist church wants to convert part of the main hall into a homeless pod, day centre and part church after the congregation drops to less than 30 people using the large main hall. Pictured is Christine Goodman and Rev Sharon Willimott. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Cromer Methodist Church wants to convert its under-used 300-seater main worship hall to provide day care for people in need - from the homeless and needy to the isolated and lonely.

It would mean dividing the church to create a smaller space for worship, then adding drop-in community resource rooms.

The balcony would be extended into a mezzanine floor with direct access accommodation for the homeless.

Minister, the Rev Sharon Willimott, said the church was going back to its roots of taking its work to the people.

Cromer Methodist church wants to convert part of the main hall into a homeless pod, day centre and part church after the congregation drops to less than 30 people using the large main hall. Pictured from left 

Picture: MARK BULLIMORECromer Methodist church wants to convert part of the main hall into a homeless pod, day centre and part church after the congregation drops to less than 30 people using the large main hall. Pictured from left Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

But it would need alterations to the 1910 building on West Street - including some new access doors off its side garden.

The scheme, just agreed by church council, would seek grant help to fund the transformation.

But first they were in talks with Historic England, following a request for the building to be “listed” to preserve its historic character.

Mrs Willimott said: “We need to make the church sustainable beyond the exiting generation - by going back to our roots of taking the faith to the people.

The church in action -  Cromer Methodist church's cafe.  The Rev Sharon Willimott with guests Charlie and Maureen. 

Picture: MARK BULLIMOREThe church in action - Cromer Methodist church's cafe. The Rev Sharon Willimott with guests Charlie and Maureen. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

“There has been a general decline in churchgoing since the 1960s with many other agencies doing the social work people used to come to church for.

“That leaves us with just worship - which is fab - but we are about serving the community,” she added.

Sunday congregations now numbered about 30 people.

But the church’s community work was reaching out to many more people.

Hosting the district Foodbank had provided a window into the problems people were suffering and underpinning their need - from the financially stretched to the homeless, isolated and lonely.

Its Thursday free bacon butty sessions were attacting 24-30 people. And hot meal sessions on Mondays another 40.

Closure this summer of the Junction facility in Cromer helping people with addiction problems had also thrown some people back into the community support on their doorstep.

“Cromer appears to be a happy town, but there is a lot of hidden unhappiness,” said Mrs Willimott.

“We recognised there is a need for a drop-in centre, to take people off the streets, to access services and support on mental health and financial matters or and just to find companionship - and there is a constant if small stream of people who are homeless.”

The church already helped where it could - with advice, psychology and practical support - such as providing clothes and furniture - but its facilities were “ad hoc” and not ideal.

The new community resource centre would have services provided by other agencies, as well as the church, five or six days a week.

It was also planned to upgrade the hall which doubles as the cafe, as well as its kitchen, where the church also does cookery classes to improve people’s wellbeing and diet on a budget.

The revamped church complex would be “somewhere for people to drop in, be comfortable, watch television and enjoy food and companionship” while getting support for their problems.

But it all hangs on being able to make changes to the building.

“We must be brave and see how best it can be used. We are not just here to preserve a nice old building. We are trying to look at what Methodism will look like at the end of the 21st century.”

The next step was to talk to Historic England over the listings issue, and hopefully have a firm plan by Easter to enable grant applications to be made.

“If the listing issue scuppers it, we will have to find a new way to carry on our work - but people’s needs wont go away.

“It will be harder and frustrating - because we have the space here which we want to turn into a community resource,” she added.

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