The refurbishment of the parish hall of St Paul and St Barnabas in York Street, Belfast, means the church’s extensive range of outreach activities can continue to grow, benefiting the entire community.
The Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev George Davison, rededicated the hall when he preached at the parish Harvest Thanksgiving Service on Sunday October 18. The Bishop also dedicated a number of new windows. You can view the transformation of the hall at its different stages in our gallery below.
The Rev Dr Isobel (Isy) Hawthorne-Steele, priest-in-charge, said the hall, based in the old St Paul’s Schoolhouse at the back of the church in the Tiger’s Bay area, is extensively used by the community. The building is 186 years old and a famous past pupil is the flautist James Galway.
The hall was in serious need to refurbishment to make it fit for purpose, and shortly before lockdown in March this year, a number of the groups moved their activities into the main church, and work got underway.
Isy said the refurbishment had been a tremendous success. “The facilities we can now offer include a high standard of health and safety provision; a place where all ages can meet in comfort in properly heated and ventilated spaces; an excellent hygienic kitchen facility with comfortable seating areas for small group work; a very large fully functioning sports hall; and a large conference style room that can easily be adapted to suits the needs of breakout groups or café symposiums.”
She added that during the work, nine windows were exposed fully and were found to be arched. The parish decided it wished to keep these, and the windows, all sponsored by parishioners in memory of loved ones, were dedicated by Bishop George when he visited.
A range of groups have applied to use the hall in future. “This will not only fulfil our priority aim of outreach into the local community, but will provide an income in order to maintain the parish hall to a high standard of upkeep,” said Isy. “It will also help us with future plans such as fundraising towards the installation of a lift, expanding storage space, and a breakthrough to join the church premises with the hall.”
Isy said that according to NISRA statistics, the church is located in an area of high deprivation and is therefore a much-needed facility.
Outreach activities already established at St Paul and St Barnabas include the Blaze Project which works with local schools, sharing the gospel with children through the medium of drama.
The project encourages all primary schools in the area to have a more proactive role in its programme of social cohesion, and plays a lead role in promoting the development of spiritual understanding and supporting curriculum themes, including Learning about Church. It brought primary school children into the church to fulfil their curriculum aims.
“This provided us with an opportunity to show children each aspect of worship in the church building, explaining function and purpose,” said Isy. “This was supported by the Ulster University Widening Access Community Development Programme which provided learning packs. Many members of our congregation are involved in this project, preparing fun and interesting activities, and manning each aspect of the church, ie baptismal font, pulpit, lectern, etc, teaching the children what we do and why we do it.
“Often this is the only opportunity these children have to come inside church. Our aim is to make it less of an imposing building in their community, and a friendly, welcoming, fun and interesting learning place to be, to encounter Jesus.”
St Paul and St Barnabas has also being running an AQE tuition project which has had an 80 per cent success rate. “This is a service for children that is based upon the ethos of an inclusive educational access for all children, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged,” said Isy. “This is widely recognised throughout the community and schools as being a highly valued educational project, servicing a real need to disadvantaged children.”
Children and families in the area have also enjoyed Messy Church at St Paul and St Barnabas, organised by members of the church. “The response was very encouraging as we had a full capacity turnout of young people each session, and the fun, fellowship and teaching biblical truths proved very worthwhile,” said Isy.
The church and hall is used by the church’s HOPE professional counselling project, which receives referrals from clergy and other professional counselling agencies and organisations.
“This project is in need of expansion and indeed discussions have taken place with local MPs and councillors, and funding applications sought in order to keep this very valuable project afloat,” Isy said. “The current extremely high rates of mental health problems, and specifically, the very high of suicide and suicide attempts in this demographic region, indicate a high level of need.”
The parish has also formed a strong partnership with All Nations Ministry, and this has grown considerably since the church’s first cultural diversity celebration two years ago, and now a recurring event. Activities have taken place both on site and off site, and the project has established a drop-in centre which is open to everyone in the community. It is attended primarily by asylum seekers, refugees and migrants and their families and operates a foodbank and clothes bank for this group.
Isy said the parish has cultivated good relationships with the community PSNI, who provide weekly sports activities for young people. “This has been offered to the wider community and initially has been with the All Nations Group,” she said. “This has been very successful with spin-off trips organised. This partnership is the beginning of a relationship that we hope to further promote and extend.”
The parish also has a collaborative relationship with Ulster University’s Widening Access Community Development Programme which aims to raise the self-confidence and self-esteem of participants by exploring barriers to formal learning and looking at various learning styles and techniques.
“The exercises and assignments are aimed at giving students an opportunity to learn academic writing skills and prepare them for advanced learning with an access route to university degree level four,” said Isy.
This programme was offered firstly to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and it the subject of an article: ‘Breaking the Cultural Silence Imposed upon Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants: A Snapshot of the Current Faith-Based Project in Tiger’s Bay (North Belfast),’ The authors of this article were students from the BScHons Community Development Programme at Ulster University who worked on the project with Isy, and it was published in Adult Learner: The Irish Journal of Adult and Community Education in 2018.
The parish’s Storyboards and Drama Project was formed specifically to help asylum seekers, refugees and migrants to infuse into local community life. Around 16 participants worked through storyboards, telling their story of leaving their home country, the experience they lived through travelling to this country, and their experience of trying to begin a new life within the local community. The stories were recorded and dramatized.
Isy said this ‘powerful project’ was therapeutic, and in many cases provided a much-needed ‘sounding board’ for traumatic experiences to be shared and support and help sought.
“The next phase of this project is planned with young people, and the idea is to bring this into youth forums in schools, youth clubs and churches to share,” she said. “Hopefully, those listening will engage with these young people and recognise the added pressure of adolescences coping with their transition into adulthood, with the additional pressures of being in an alien and often hostile environment.”
St Paul and St Barnabas has developed a logo – incorporating the five windows of the church and the cross to illustrate Christ at the centre of worship and activities – and its strapline – TLC (Transforming, Loving, Caring) – was drawn from the parish mission statement.
The parish employed a children and family worker who worked closely with local primary schools and initiated the parent and toddler group ‘Little Lambs.’ A project manager was appointed, whose role included securing further funding to renovate hall to make it fit for purpose. The parish also employed a family visitor who made further intergenerational connections within local area.
“The impact of the projects has been realised in the increased footfall and new partnerships forged with schools and local groups such as the migrant, asylum seekers and refugees,” said Isy.
“We are currently seeking other funds to progress to the next stage. The current Covid-19 restrictions have affected our roll-out, however we continue to support our HOPE counselling project which is a vital resource for the local community during this pandemic.”
The re-dedication of the parish hall and dedication of the windows by Bishop George took place just weeks before Isy steps down from her role as curate-in-charge of St Paul and St Barnabas on November 1.
“I feel I have taken this project as far as I can,” said Izy. “As a leader, I think it is really important to listen to the Holy Spirit and to know when it’s time to make way for God’s chosen leader/s to continue to work out his plan.
“There is so much potential here, the members of the church are loving and full of God’s grace. They are a praying people and that is the key to any missional work. I know God has a great plan of revival in this area.”
The projects run by St Paul and St Barnabas Parish Church have received funding from the following: