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Off to a royal start

07 August 2007

by Margaret Duggan

THEY BEGAN with no money at all, says the Revd Nigel Bourne (left in photo), Vicar of Chalk in Rochester diocese. On the edge of Gravesend, surrounded by fields, was St Mary’s, a Norman church with eighth-century origins. An early pigsty attached to the church had been extended and adapted into a parish room. But all of this was a mile from the centre of population, where there was a Victorian school that had been remodelled with a wooden extension for parish use in the 1960s. But this was on sloping ground, and falling to pieces.

The parish could not bring St Mary’s closer to the people, but it could create a new focal point for the church by completely rebuilding the old school and turning it into a community centre. So, eight years ago, members of the congregation pledged at least £500 at £10 a month, with the proviso that if they did not get planning permission, or the hall was not started within five years, they would get their money back.

Then various funding bodies and trusts were approached, including the diocese, and gradually the money came in. The hall was designed to be used flexibly and to hold up to 200 people, or fewer in its smaller rooms. It is now being used for church activities, village and family events such as concerts and weddings, and “by a huge range of people for the whole spectrum of activities: a daily rent-paying playgroup to the retired, Brownies to bell-ringers, slimming club to carpet bowls, harvest suppers to Alpha suppers”, says Mr Bourne.

It cost £575,000 to build, of which the congregation (about 90-100 at the main Sunday service) contributed £20,000. It was officially opened by the Duke of Kent, seen here with Mr Bourne sharing a joke with the washers-up.

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