A thanksgiving service took place last night at St Silas Church in Blackburn in the wake of the emotional BBC DIY SOS Children in Need Special broadcast last Wednesday.
A former Blackburn Day School and Sunday School, built in 1834 to nurture young people, was given a new lease of life to continue its legacy with the help of the BBC programme, which is presented by Nick Knowles.
The Parish Rooms of St Silas Church, Blackburn, once Billinge End School, were transformed into supportive living accommodation for 16-18 year olds, in a groundbreaking initiative run by the Blackburn with Darwen charity Nightsafe.
The thanksgiving service included a sermon from Rt Rev Philip North, Bishop of Burnley; a special video about homelessness; a short talk on the history of the Parish Rooms by Laurence Loft from St Silas; opportunities for thanks from Nightsafe representatives and the Mayor of Blackburn with Darwen, Cllr Jim Shorrock … plus touching comments from the first occupants of the new homeless shelter.
Joining the congregation of St Silas were many Nightsafe staff and volunteers, including Chief Executive Jan Larkin; local faith leaders, led by Bishop Philip; civic leaders, including the Mayor; representatives from Children in Need, including Ben Thomson, Head of Storytelling plus volunteers who contributed to the project.
Speaking beforehand Bishop Philip said: “DIY SOS was one of the most moving and powerful programmes I have ever seen. This has been a fantastic project from start to finish and it’s brilliant to be bringing it to a conclusion tonight with this wonderful service of thanksgiving … as we thank God for all inspiration he has given to so many people to make this happen.”
St Silas Vicar, Rev Sheelagh Aston, added: “We were delighted to host this service to celebrate and give thanks for the life and conversion of our Parish Rooms into supportive accommodation for young people in the community.
“As the recent DIY SOS programme showed, many volunteers came to help because they understood how devastating being homeless and without support can be for someone young; and the amazing work Nightsafe does with those they help.
“The service taking place tonight marks the end of the build and the next chapter of our partnership with Nightsafe.”
From Nightsafe, Chief Executive Jan Larkin said: “I’m so pleased to be here tonight to be able to thank everybody. Nightsafe was set up 30 years ago and the transformation of the Parish Halls is absolutely amazing. It’s more than we could have ever hoped for – it’s already making a massive difference to our young people; raising their aspirations and raising awareness of the plight of young homeless. I will be eternally grateful.”
Jan’s colleague, Carol Greenwood, who is Fundraising Development Manager for Nightsafe added: “Although this service marks the end of the build, it’s exciting as we are anticipating what will come next. Without St Silas we wouldn’t have had any of this, so it is hugely important to be here to mark this occasion and the way all the parishioners embraced and welcomed us. Thank you to them all.”
In his sermon Bishop Philip said: “In achieving something in two weeks that would normally take anything up to four years, we have seen stunning commitment from an entire community working together and we have seen heaven on earth through the service, partnership and transformation in this project. Keep working in partnership as a community and keep transforming lives!”
Meanwhile, the last word should go to the new occupants of the Nightsafe young homeless shelter.
Five of the six spaces in the shelter are occupied already. As they are vulnerable young people they can’t be identified, but comments from them were read out during the service by Nicola Roscoe, Nightsafe Housing Manager …
“I feel really safe and happy.”
“I’m thankful for this home.”
“(It provides) love, support and safety.”
“It’s like having a family around me.”
“Best bedroom ever!”