St Michael’s Church in Stoke Gifford, which dates back to the 14th Century, is launching a £5.8m project to build a new multi-purpose church and community centre.
The Heart of the Community project is raising funds to refurbish St Michael’s Church and the former village school – known as the Old School Rooms – at The Green, Stoke Gifford, and build a 600 seat auditorium with meeting rooms and other facilities on the site of The Barns in North Road.
The project, which has been described as “audacious” by the Bishop of Bristol, the Right Reverend Mike Hill, is also setting aside a tenth of the project costs to fund similar building projects overseas.
While the number of people in England and Wales recording their religion as “Christian” dropped by 13% between 2001 and 2011, St Michael’s congregation has grown by 70% over the last 10 years. The congregation is now over 300 – and growing – and is too large to fit in the church, forcing the main 10.30am service to start in two separate venues.
Up to 1,000 people a week use the community rooms provided by the church, the Old School Rooms coffee shop serves hundreds of hot meals, snacks and drinks each week and the pre-school and nursery – based in the Old Vicarage – is over subscribed.
The church building – a familiar sight locally as well as to passengers passing through Parkway Station – has a Norman font and was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Records suggest there may well have been an earlier Saxon church on the site.
The Rev. Simon Jones, Rector of St Michael’s said: “St Michael’s has a very long history of serving the local community. We are an ancient church but our aim is to meet the needs of people today.
“There is a real shortage of community facilities in Stoke Gifford. The Heart of the Community project is about continuing to make a difference to the lives of local people every day of the week.”
With more than 3,000 homes due to be built in the parish over the next decade, there will be a pressing need for local amenities, particularly where the wider community can join together.
The new centre will provide up-to-date conference facilities for schools, charities and local businesses as well as rooms to hire for wedding receptions and other celebrations. It will also serve as a resource for the wider region, within easy access of the M4 and M5 motorways and next door to Bristol Parkway Station.
The congregation’s commitment to the project is clear – a gift day last summer raised £2 million in one-off donations and regular pledges over the next five years. The church plans to raise the rest of the money from fundraising events, grants and the generosity of individual and corporate donors.
Bishop Hill, the project’s patron said: “I think God loves audacity. I think He loves people to think up projects which mean their only hope of achieving them would be to trust in Him. And I think that’s what this project is all about.”