United Church opens its doors to all after major refurbishment

New facilities at the United Church (URC and Methodist) in Ashford, Kent, meant a festive feast could be served up to all thanks to much improved accessibility.

The refurbishment – the first phase of which is now complete - has provided the church with a well-equipped space for the community by transforming its toilet and kitchen facilities and improving the access from the car park, including the provision of disabled access throughout.

A disabled member of a congregation who use the facilities on Sunday afternoons was present at the Christmas meal and gave a moving speech about how grateful he was for the improved wheelchair access, having had both legs amputated above the knee. The new facilities allow him and others to not only come to worship freely, but also provide the dignity of being able to use a fully accessible toilet.

Other improvements which have been made to the building include replacing the flooring in the hallway, (which consisted of old tiles, some of which were held down by duct tape, potentially causing a trip hazard), and improved heating throughout the building. The entrance areas have been improved and made more accessible for wheelchair, pushchair and pram users.

Whilst there are still areas to the premises that require some improvement, the refurbishment completed so far enables the church to look outwards and invite other community groups to use the building. Currently two other fellowships, plus a local Girl Guides group, use the premises, and now the fellowship will be looking to expand the range of potential users of their enhanced premises with groups such as the National Childbirth Trust, and running exercise classes. They will also be offering the premises for use as a Winter Night shelter and as a community space for the local Syrian community. These initiatives are part of an overarching mission by the church to tackle disadvantage in its local community.

Stewart French, one of the church members, says; “We are so grateful for the grant from Allchurches Trust, which has helped us to complete the first phase of this transformation of our church. Seeing the difference the changes have already made to the local community make the prayers, fundraising and effort worthwhile.”

Paul Playford, grants officer at Allchurches Trust, said: “It’s wonderful that this renovation project is already enabling the United Church to give an even warmer welcome to people who could otherwise be isolated within the community, opening its doors to people who have mobility problems as well as a range of local groups.”