Returning to Peterlee in September, we met Angela in Easington to see the project first hand and hear more about its history and the vision for the future. The chapel is a large, imposing red brick building sitting on the main road that runs through the colliery down the hill towards the sea. To one side is its mature, sloping garden, flanked by a small carpark. Easington itself is an area of high deprivation, hit hard by the closure of the local pit in the early 1990s. Despite being used for worship every other week by a small but loyal congregation, who had been visiting the chapel for most of their lives, Angela explained that the building was declared at risk in 2022 and it seemed likely that it would follow the path of the Catholic church and the Salvation Army church, both of which are permanently closed.
Keen to keep the chapel open for worship for the local congregation and use the space inside and outside the building for activities that will benefit the wider community, Angela has driven forward the early stages of a project to transform the building into what will be known as ‘The Welcome Centre’, run by a Charitable Community Benefit Society called ‘Focus Easington’.
Plans for the Welcome Centre see the chapel being sympathetically modernised to become an accessible, multifunctional community space offering regular worship plus youth provision, a lunch club, employability sessions, health and well-being sessions and a community owned laundrette. A community larder which could include cooking lessons as well as packages of healthy ingredients that can be made into family meals is being considered, as are rooms that can be rented as meeting spaces for community groups or local businesses whilst generating income to ensure the Centre remains sustainable.