10 May 2013 You are here:

A New Chapter: Inside Southport Salvation Army

The Glass Curve at the stunning new centre

The Salvation Army in Southport has always been one of the region’s larger Corps. But years of tireless work, dedicated volunteers and a new building have helped the Church and Charity in the town begin a new chapter – one which reaches out beyond the brickwork of the old Citadel to new participants in worship, and to the wider community.

“A lot of the work we do is in partnership,” explains Major Gethin Thomas, who has been at the corps for seven years. “We work with a variety of  community groups and the building is now the meeting place for a number of local charities and support groups.  These days, we refer those seeking help with food to the town’s Church-based Foodbank distribution centres, which we are involved in.”

“Some of the new attendees have started referring to the new building as a ‘community centre’,” Gethin continues. “Obviously we’re a Salvation Army Church first and foremost – but this understanding of us explains our success – we can now become part of the community’s heart, and begin people’s journeys to faith from there.”

The new coffee shop counter

If one word can be used to sum up the new Salvation Army building on Shakespeare Street, it’s ‘approachable’. Whilst drawing up architectural plans, Gethin and his team were keen to make the space seem transparent and open to all. The Architect took this literally, with the coffee shop, the centrepiece of the new building, surrounded by glass that opens out onto the street.

Parts of the building are clearly a place for Christian worship, such as the lustrous and large Worship Hall, which is extremely spacious and packed with technology to help those who are sat a bit far back (or even have to go into a quiet room to attend to a needy child!) to access services.

Other parts, such as the Lounge where the Teen Club is held every Wednesday night, could be rooms in a Sixth Form College. The new building, which houses everything from the parent and toddler group (named ‘Scallywags’) to the town's all-women bible study group which was re-launched this week is ubiquitous, both a space for spirituality and a sanctuary for those who need it’s services at the same time.

It's fun for all the family in the parent and toddler group Scallywags

“We’ve been inundated with requests to use the spaces,” says Community Services Manager Peter Elliott. “If we wanted to, we could fill the whole place with martial arts and keep fit classes, seven days a week, but that would restrict any new ventures that the Corps may want to start -it's a fine balance that needs to be met.”

Full time staff and an army of volunteers run the Charity Shop, Furniture Store and Cafe which has been used to raise funds for many years.  For the past ten years this has paid for the employment of a full time Children's Worker, who leads a large programme of activities through the week culminating in the Friday night Kidz Klub.

But while the income is important, it is only a means to the main aim of serving the local community. The new building is helping to increase the Army's presence in this area and the evidence shows a much greater footfall overall.  Every year hundreds of people are helped in the form of food, clothing, fuel and furniture.

The business element to the Corps is prominent – as the old Corps Hall now replaces the charity shops and café which used to be located in separate locations across the street. Part furniture store, part charity shop, the new space is much bigger, allowing for more stock on the shop floor, a bigger area for customers to peruse and improved conditions for volunteers. The café is now in the new building, and is the entrance and centrepiece to the new Corps environment.

Outside of the new Southport building

Written across the side of the entrance is a simple phrase, “WELCOME FRIEND”.  Major Gethin is keen that phrase, welcome, plays a crucial part in the Corps’ development as it changes officer leadership in July.

“Throughout all my time here, I’ve ensured that the cheapest cup of tea or coffee in Southport is the one you can get in our café. Welcoming people is, as an organisation, what we do, and in this new environment, we’re really beginning to reap the dividends of having both an open mind and an open door.”

“The regular Corps members are even beginning to joke,” says Major Gethin with a wry twinkle in his eye, “Asking ‘Who’ll be new this week?’ That’s the difference this new space has made – now, instead of being over the road from a very dated worship building, the Church is a few steps away from the coffee shop.”

And make no mistake – although there is a coffee shop, a parent and toddlers group, and even a Zumba class, a church is very much where this outpost of The Salvation Army finds itself. From the subtle crucifixes found in the doorframes and windows, to the way every room surrounds the worship hall, to the small enclave of tranquillity where one can pray and find solace in the texts of the Bible, it is the spirituality of this place that is its focal point – both the beginning and the end of its modus operandi.

It is in the small, prayerful space littered by stained-glass windows that one truly understands not only the purpose of Southport Corps but The Salvation Army – that, though the world outside may be a tempest of chaos and darkness, both The Army and this Corps will always be a haven of peace and light.