A former Blackburn Day School and Sunday School built in 1834 to nurture young people is being given a new lease of life to continue its legacy with the help of the BBC DIY SOS programme, presented by Nick Knowles, and the BBC Children in Need annual appeal.
The Parish Rooms of St Silas Church, Blackburn, once Billinge End School, have been transformed into a supportive living accommodation for 16-18 year olds in a groundbreaking initiative run by the Blackburn with Darwen charity Nightsafe.
The DIY SOS programme aired on BBC1 on November 13 at 8pm. You can watch the programme if you missed it on BBC iPlayer here. And you can read a full overview of the build project via our stories and links to media coverage on this news page on our website.
What follows is a reflection by St Silas' Vicar Rev. Sheelagh Aston (pictured above with Pudsey Bear and below with DIY SOS presenter Nick Knowles). Sheelagh looks back at the whole experience ...
And he answered them ‘Whoever Has two coats is to share with him who has none.’ Luke 3: 11.
A simple request we find so hard to do. In Jesus’ day giving something as simple as coat would be madness. Clothes were expensive – you had few possessions and what you had you kept. Giving a spare coat would have been a great sacrifice.
We live in a world where we amass possessions and money. Who doesn’t have a loft, garage or shed housing forgotten items from past times or we keep ‘just in case?’
What if we did give what we had to others?
Many churches do make their premises available for hire and set up projects to address needs in their community.
The text could be seen to be asking us what if you had a building that could benefit others in a significant way if you gave it away? Often church owned buildings that are disposed of are usually closed churches which are sold, or halls that might be leased out as they are. The ownership is lost and the opportunity to work in partnership with others too.
It was this thinking that set my own PCC at St Silas Church, Blackburn, to ponder this verse from Luke.
We had a lovely Victorian Parish Hall, a former school built in 1834 and refurbished in 70s for community use. The changing demographics of the parish residency and the retraction of community organisations had taken it toll.
Equally we were aware, through our relationship with local homelessness project Nightsafe, of the growing homelessness amongst 16-25 years old in the area. We knew they wanted to develop a ‘next step’ in their housing provision for 16-18-year-olds by providing supportive independent accommodation located within the community.
The decision to work in partnership with Nightsafe to convert the Hall into accommodation and to support the young residents in their new home brought alive the true meaning of the text from Luke for the PCC and the congregation.
The project could have taken years. Instead the conversion was completed over two weeks in September this year thanks to BBC Children in Need and DIY SOS choosing it as their Big Build Project ... and of course the hundreds of volunteers who gave their time to come and do the work.
For two weeks our church became a building site, the local RC church opposite home to the catering crew. Other churches send volunteers to man the tent and skilled volunteers to help plaster, decorate and landscape.
The Madrasa next door to the church housed building materials in their car park and cooked curry one night for everyone working into the small hours. Where a common need is perceived barriers are removed and a glimpse of heaven on earth is revealed.
Now, today, six young people have a home which has been lovingly prepared for them by the community they now live in. We may have lost our Parish Hall but we have gained new friends, neighbours and most of all the opportunity to share God’s love with others through sacrificial giving.
Rev Sheelagh Aston is Priest in Charge of St Silas Church, Blackburn (Diocese of Blackburn) since Dec 2016. The DIY SOS CIN 'Big Build' programme will be shown on November 13 at 8pm BBC One.
A thanksgiving service for all the work at St Silas (BB2 6JY) takes place on Monday, November 18 at 7pm. The service will see civic leaders join with local ecumenical and inter-faith leaders; local schools and many of the volunteers who have contributed to the project. All are welcome to attend to give thanks, whether directly involved or not. The preacher at the service will be Rt Rev. Philip North, Bishop of Burnley.
Ronnie Semley, November 2019