THE only church in Britain to run a bowling alley has been granted £50,000 to continue doing so to maintain its social enterprise.
The 12-lane alley in a former cheese creamery on the edge of Carmarthen, in south Wales, has been funding social projects run by Towy Community Church since 2013. But coronavirus restrictions have curtailed its operations; so Camarthenshire Council stepped in with a grant to ensure that its foodbank, community shop, and furniture store kept running.
The church’s senior pastor, Paul Griffiths, explained that the concept grew out of an attempt, ten years ago, to lease the site from the council as a base for the church. Developers had wanted to build a bowling alley, but pulled out in the wake of the financial crash. “We were offered a short lease,” he said, “but told if someone stepped forward to carry out the original development we would have to get out. We didn’t want to do that, but then my predecessor had the crazy idea of offering to run the alley. The council said if we used the profits to run some of our social projects, it would open up some grant funding.”
Creating what is now the Xcel Project took three years and cost £1.3 million. The church has borrowed £500,000; the balance came from the Lottery, the Welsh Government, and Carmarthenshire County Council.
“The profits help keep the foodbank running and our community shop and furniture store” Mr Griffiths said. “We hope to open a community money advice centre soon.
“Most of the 40 people we now employ work in the alley. We also have a lot of volunteers, and it has worked well. But, this year, most hospitality venues have really struggled. We were thankful for the furlough scheme, but we still have running costs. Even when we reopened in the summer we were only taking 30 per cent of what we would normally.
“We are no more special than any other business, but, from the council’s perspective, we are doing a lot of good work. The foodbank helped more than 3000 people last year. They didn’t want to see a social enterprise go to the wall. The money will ensure that — unless there are unforeseen problems — we can continue into next summer.”
Carmarthenshire’s executive board member for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Peter Hughes-Griffiths, said that it would be “a disaster” if the project failed. “This is a special case,” he said. “If they were not doing this work, it would be a big blow to us in Carmarthenshire.”