Former lap dancing club “redeemed for the Gospel”

A FORMER lap dancing club has been “redeemed for the Gospel” after being leased and renovated by a neighbouring church.

The Revd Vaughan Roberts outside the Pennyfarthing. Photo: Jo Duckles

The Pennyfarthing, as it is now known, is being used for children’s and youth activities, and an international student ministry training course. It is hoped that over time it will be used more and more for community events.

Historically the building, which is outside the city’s dramatically re-developed Westgate Centre, was a pub and more recently a nightclub known as the Lodge. In 2010 it became a lap dancing venue. Church leaders, among others, lobbied the city council, asking for it to re-think amid concerns for churchgoers, particularly families, children and students.

Before it became the Lodge, the Revd Vaughan Roberts, the Rector of St Ebbe’s, had fond memories of evangelistic events in the pub, formerly known as the Parrot.

“The Parrot was overflowing with people, mainly non-Christians. They could buy a drink, smoke, listen to Christian talks and lots of people came to faith,” says Vaughan. He remembered the pub eventually becoming a nightclub which he described as “a bit dodgy.”

“Eventually they turned it into a lap dancing club. We tried to fight it but in the end the legislation was such that it was no more difficult to get a licence for a lap dancing club than to get a licence for a tea dance,” says Vaughan.

People participating in the Ministry Training Course for people working in churches or Christian organisations. Photo: Jo Duckles

Since then, St Ebbe’s has set up the Littlegate Trust, a charity which is raising funds for the Building for Growth project – set up to support the thriving church as the size of the congregation increases. In a video on the Building for Growth section of the St Ebbe’s website, Vaughan had urged people to pray that the Lodge be “redeemed for the Gospel.”

“Once the Westgate re-opened this became a main route into the city. This building gives us a much better opportunity to show warmth, hospitality and Christian service to people in Oxford,” Vaughan added.

“It’s very moving to be back in there, remembering the great days when it was a pub, and the sad days when it wasn’t a place of light.”

Building for Growth has also seen a new gallery built in the church itself, to accommodate 180 extra people as the previous capacity of 350 was too small. The grand-reopening of the church following the work took place just before Christmas.