How a church in Speke has changed so it could continue serving its community during lockdown

In this week’s Bigger Difference article, we find out how a church in Speke has changed so it could continue serving its community during lockdown.

Angela Jones and Rev Phil Saltmarsh explain how their church was able to adapt because of the journey they’d ventured on before. After St. Aidan’s Church fell into a state of disrepair and with its congregation number dwindling to a dozen or so, a decision was made with its sister church All Saints, to close the building.

Now based in a repurposed Chemist Shop and called St. Aidan’s at The Place To Be Angela Jones a volunteer elaborates,
“Our first stop for a while was at our local Primary School who were happy to rent their hall out to us for an hour or two on a Sunday morning whilst we used their annexe on a Thursday morning for our Coffee Morning.

“We decided that if our local community was not coming to us then we would make ourselves more accessible to them. “Our old St. Aidan’s building had very high windows, so, our new shopfront windows were deliberately left fairly clear so that our community could see us and would not feel too awkward about joining us.”

Their aim was ‘TO KNOW JESUS AND TO MAKE HIS NAME KNOWN’. Changing their name to St. Aidan’s at The Place To Be, they opened as a café church in 2010.

Angela said, “We live in a deprived area of Liverpool which has drug/alcohol and some mental health issues.”

Before the pandemic struck, alongside a café the church ran regular activities during the week such as ‘Crafty Café’ where a group would sit and craft - card making, knitting. During ‘Memory Box’ items concealed in small boxes reveal something from maybe the 50s or 60s. Angela says the contents were a talking point to their older folk, adding “All food and drinks were sold at very affordable prices. Community and church volunteers work alongside each other which on the whole has worked quite well.

“We have had cookery courses in The Place To Be from STEC which Mark Ord has organised. The Citizens Advice Bureaux held a surgery weekly for those who needed their expertise until they were closed down. “Our local Community Police used to pop in for a chat and a cuppa. John would help any in need of help using a laptop. FareShare bags were sold for £2.50 and foodbank bags were available for those who needed free of charge. We would normally give out about a dozen a week.”

The pandemic struck and both churches closed including all café activities. Angela tells us what happened next, “Our councillors immediately set wheels in motion helping practically with vouchers which could be used in shops, money was also given to use for those who found themselves with no gas or electricity. Morrisons have given so generously food for our food bank, and food bank themselves has also been unbelievably generous each week sending a variety of food through.

“We adapted our café area which became a walk-in food bank on a Monday and Tuesday for an hour where those from our community collect a bag, sometimes two and they fill their bags with food needed to feed their family. Phil has advertised where we are and what we can provide on Facebook. Those who are self-isolating can telephone and we will ensure that food bags are delivered to them.

“We have seen an increase in need during this pandemic as households who have children struggle to feed them adequately. Many people can’t go out to work or now know that their jobs have gone.

“Initially we struggled to maintain foodbank food levels, but, so many from our community and our churches very generously brought in bags of food and some even gave money donations. Their generosity alongside Morrisons, our councillors and food bank has served this community well.”

Phil adds, “Our existing church presence in this particular part of Speke has meant that we are already embedded and have relationships and trust with local people which have allowed us to be responsive to the requests for help that have come to us. Being small has given us flexibility in responding in a more personal way to people's needs such as providing dried spaghetti to a local child with autism who only eats dried spaghetti when there was none to be found or Weetabix for an elderly lady who could only manage soft food and loved her Weetabix.

“We have delivered over 90 food parcels to 50+ homes in Speke since the beginning of April to people who are having to self-isolate and who can not get out for shopping and have no family who can help them. We have often been able to support quickly those who have fallen through the system or whom the national system is too big to respond to in an emergency.

“In the foodbank, we have provided over 180 bags of food and given out High Street Vouchers to over 20 families to a value of nearly £500. This gives the dignity of allowing people to buy food that meets their specific dietary requirements.

“Most referrals for food parcels have come through neighbours or family members, South Liverpool Homes, local councillors or direct through social media following advertising.

“We are not a large food bank and may not have delivered anywhere near what some have but we know we have made a difference to people in Speke alongside other churches and organisations.

“One example was when a food parcel was delivered to a home with two young children in the house who shouted with joy ‘we have food’ and danced around the hall.

“Huge thanks to Angela for the bulk of the work past and present and other volunteers such as Jean who also continue to give their time every week.”