Kingsley Holt Centre: Saving a vital social space that connects the community
When their local chapel closed, a group of Midlands villagers sprang into action to take over the building and retain it as a meeting place for everyone to enjoy…
Like many villages, for Kingsley Holt in Staffordshire, the local place of worship doubled up as a focal point for activities. “We were using the building for social gatherings and a community centre,” said resident Martin Wheeler.
It provided a venue for fundraising events, children’s groups, parish council AGMs and meetings for other local organisations. But with the number of churchgoers falling and the Covid pandemic affecting attendance, worship ceased and the chapel was closed.
“The local district Methodist Church decided they couldn’t maintain it and we were locked out,” said Martin. “We were told that they were going to sell it. At that stage, what had been a casual group of local organisers, suddenly had to take on a more formal approach.”
The group formed a limited company and expressed an interest in purchasing the building. They later converted the company into a community benefit society (CBS).
“We knew we would be competing on the open market to buy the chapel, so we had to raise funds – and that’s when the community share offer was started.”
With villagers taking up crucial roles in the CBS, including Karen Bateman as Secretary, the group sprang into action. Karen produced the share offer document and, in March 2022, their community share offer was launched.
The offer raised £140,800 from 126 members, including £20,000 matched funding from the Community Shares Booster Fund. With the share offer, donations and a mortgage, the group were able to buy the building.
Having been empty for two years prior to the purchase in September 2022, the newly community owned building required work, which is ongoing. But with some basic maintenance and checks, it is now open one day a week for a few hours to give local people a chance to connect.
“Every week, someone comes in for a chat and it has made our efforts so worthwhile – because people have that opportunity to interact and socialise,” said Karen, for whom the chapel’s community space has provided valuable family support.
“I’ve got young children. My little boy used to go to the toddler group there. Because of that, when he started school, he knew all the other kids and had no problems adjusting. Without the group, it would have been harder for him. I’ve got a daughter who’s one and I want her to have the same experience.”
With alterations ongoing, there are plans to turn the chapel into a shop and café, in addition to providing a meeting space that enables the villagers to connect.
“When I first came to the village, the options for getting to know people were to walk around the street, go to the pub or attend events at the chapel – that’s where I became part of the village,” said Martin. “Without it, it would have been harder getting to know people.”