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Making full use of space

14 March 2007

by Margaret Duggan

WHEN CANON John Wilkinson arrived in the parish of All Saints’, Kings Heath, Birmingham, nearly 13 years ago, he found an unsatisfactory vicarage (which had replaced the enormous original in 1957), a massive garden, a church hall that had seen better days, a dangerously placed car park, and a church wholly unadapted for modern use. He and his PCC decided something must be done to make use of a large site, well placed to serve its community. “So we looked at it holistically,” he told me.

They looked around for partners, and the first ones were the doctors across the road. Ready to call themselves the All Saints’ Medical Practice, they welcomed the opportunity of a purpose-built medical centre that could also house a pharmacy, dentist, optician, and community nurses. So the church became a developer for the NHS, says Canon Wilkinson, which caused endless headaches with planners and lawyers, so that the whole scheme nearly failed on several occasions. But now it is positively going ahead.

The site was cleared, the vicarage demolished, and the first turf for the new medical centre was cut in January by Professor Carl Chinn, the historian and local broadcaster, with the help of children from Colmore Road School (above). That is Phase One, and is costing £2 million, which is funded partly by Birmingham City council, with support from the congregation, and a bank loan.

Phase Two will be replacing the church hall with improved facilities for elderly people, the Scouts, and the considerable youth programme. That will cost more than £2 million, £1.1 million of which will be funded by Futurebuilders England. The third phase will be the reordering of the church with facilities for drama, music, and more flexible modern worship. They hope that by 2009 a new village square will have been created, linking the church with the High Street, and providing an oasis for shoppers and office workers, as well as space for outdoor events and a home for the Farmers’ Market.

Some time in the future (Canon Wilkinson hopes in time for his successor), a new vicarage will be built; but at the moment the Canon is living at Balsall Heath, a ten-minute bus ride away. He is looking forward to retiring in a couple of years’ time, when, like most clergy, he will probably continue working — “but not on another development project!”

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