A place where the lights are always on

Emmanuel Church in Woodley, Reading, was awarded a Development Fund grant of £25,000 back in December 2019 to support the build of a much-needed community centre including access to additional kitchen, meeting and storage space.

We revisited the Emmanuel church project and spoke to the Revd Sean Riordan, vicar of the church, to find out about the progress of the construction of the extension to the church building for the neighbourhood centre and what’s been happening in the local community.

Construction of the £350,000 extension was completed at the end of September and the church marked the opening of the neighbourhood centre with a 24-7 prayer and dedication event. The building is now in use by the church and a range of community groups including youth work and after-school drop-ins, dance, fitness, kid’s parties, other church groups and even dog training.

Over many years, the church identified a need for better community facilities to foster strong community cohesion and provide a multifunctional space for local groups. One of the original proposed uses of the building was to house the local foodbank, in addition to providing debt and budgeting advice, supporting previous residents of a local drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, and serving the surrounding relatively deprived community.

The Woodley Town foodbank has now moved into a dedicated space at the centre as its permanent central base within easy walking distance for people in the community. The church is located in Loddon Ward, which comprises one of the most deprived areas in the Wokingham Borough. The centre also provides a space to prepare meals for local families in need during the school holidays through a partnership with local the local organisation Lunch Bunch Woodley.

The Revd Sean, speaking about the build and its completion, said:

“We are so delighted that the build is finished, and that the space is being used by so many in the local community, sharing life and faith with local people exactly as we had envisaged.

“Seeing the centre under construction generated a lot of excitement and was a real ray of hope for the congregation during lockdown. Sunday service attendance is now at around 85% of pre-lockdown, and we are looking forward to inviting more members of the local community to future church events.”

Single storey church building with grass lawn in foreground and blue sky background

The Revd Sean also shared his hopes for the future of the centre:

“We are so excited to see the transformation the centre will make to people in our community, the opportunities it will bring for us to nurture relationships in new and creative ways, and help us to become a more Christ-like church.”

“We were given a word about the purpose of the facility, and this has inspired our outlook on the future of the space to be a place ‘where the lights are always on’. It’s so important that people feel welcome in the church and know that it is their space to use.”

Find out more about the Emmanuel Neighbourhood Centre project on the church website.

Applications are now open for the next round of the Development Fund and close on 31 October 2021, find out more and apply on the Development Fund page. It is open to all parishes and benefices in the Diocese of Oxford and especially those with limited financial resources to invest in missional activity.

The Development Fund was launched in 2019 to enable missional creativity and assist churches in the Diocese of Oxford with their visions to become more Christ-like and support their communities. Since its launch, the fund has donated almost £2 million to more than 100 church projects across the diocese.