Crossways: a vision for a new community and faith centre in Brierley Hill

A partnership between faith and community groups have issued their first statement outlining their vision for a new centre in the heart of Brierley Hill.  The statement sets out how groups have come together to share a common vision for the new centre and outlines the next steps on the path to making the dream a reality.

The statement reads:

The churches in a small part of the Black Country have had a vision for over 20 years. It is a dream that has not died. The dream emerged from a small place called Brierley Hill, an old steel town but now to be a new Strategic Centre for the Black Country.  A group of churches in Brierley Hill, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans and Pentecostals have forged an ecumenical partnership that is enviable nationally. The partnership has grown and strengthened to include emerging and successful house churches. The dream is essentially of an ecumenical Christian Centre relevant for the 21st century, with a missional focus with which to engage meaningfully with churched or unchurched people. The centre will be a centre of excellence but used by local people, high profile but sustainable. The existing churches are on the edge of the new town centre. This would place them back at the centre “A Sacred Space in a Public Place”. It will become a natural centre of the New Brierley Hill associated with the spiritual and well-being of all; the church in non traditional role, a place of spiritual regeneration and a fresh expression of church as a flagship of architectural excellence. It will support initially Christian education and youth outreach, and be staffed collectively with shared administration and resources. The centre will be a sub regional centre with buy-in from the wider church.

A parallel dream emerged within the voluntary sector for a centre that would house the organizations that give information, advice and guidance and debt counselling. Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), AgeUK and Aquarius have already opted into the process and are part of the partnership. The National Youth Theatre need a place for performance and the Brierley Hill Civic Society have also joined the partnership. The chief executive of Brierley Hill LIFT  has given his practical support to us. Currently there is very little real community space in Brierley Hill, easily available to the local community for meeting and celebration, and for moments of local and national importance. The centre needs to be a centre of the Arts, with a large auditorium. Nearby there are 600 people a day visiting LIFT, a Health and Social Care Centre that is the biggest in Europe, and a new Art Centre for Stourbridge College in the process of being built.  300 employees at LIFT and students at the emerging Stourbridge College will need coffee shops, with the best coffee for miles and independent advice. The centre will have a joint reception area and multi-rooms housing social enterprises, counseling. A centre manager will be needed and many staff will be needed to run the centre.

So the Crossways/ Sacred Space Centre has been born, a forging together of two dreams to form something that addresses the social regeneration of Brierley Hill and will be energising and life giving. There have been meetings with civic leaders and the local council, as well as church leaders. The conversations have focused on a building that would not only be a centre for worship for the denominations, but also a resource for the community, voluntary and faith sector in Brierley Hill which is very much needed. The expansion of Westfield Merry Hill by 50%, the new LIFT Health and Social CareCentre and the emerging Stourbridge College will present a completely different atmosphere in Brierley Hill with over 2,500 students.  This assumes a project some 2-3 years in the future. It requires some steady committed work from a wide number of partners with a strategy for the next 30 years. To this end we have produced a feasibility study funded by Dudley Councill. We have focused on two locations form the work done already done with the Brierley Hill Regeneration Partnership in the master plan for the new strategic centre, with social enterprises, the coffee bar and shops, in a central adjoining hub. It needs to be a public space for performance, celebration, meeting, an umbrella building, inter-faith, community cohesion for the old Brierley Hill, Merry Hill and the Waterfront together.  It should become the natural centre of the New Brierley Hill.

We are at the point of consolidating our organization and governance, creating a funding package, and finding partners with long term leases, organizations that share our multipurpose vision and those wanting a short term partnership, as well as anchor tenants to create an income stream to be commercially viable. We have met with two potential developers Chapter 1 and One Church a Hundred Uses. There are also other developers who are interested. Worcester Diocese have put funding in over three years for a project manager. We need other denominations and organizations to do likewise. It seems an impossible dream in a context of recession but the configurations of visions and energies makes it highly achievable in the long term.

Pat Nimmo-Project Leader February 2011

Crossways/Sacred Space

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