Mo’s role at Brunswick Church has changed a lot in the the last ten years. “Back then there wasn’t that much for me to do but now I’m really busy,” she says. “The services that people could access locally have all but disappeared – places like the Citizens Advice – and so people come to us now.”
Mo Blue coordinates a programme of community activities at the popular church on Brunswick Street that’s open to everyone, four days a week.
“The ethos of the church is to provide a holistic approach,” she explains. “Everyone is welcome, we don’t judge and we treat everyone the same.”
“So you don’t have to be Christian to come here?” I ask.
Mo gives me a rundown of the regular weekly events: an over-50s group; women-only circuit training and yoga; a English conversation class; parent and toddler group. There’s a lot happening here.
“We have laptops that people can use for free and on Tuesdays and Thursdays there’s a community lunch which is pay-as-you-feel or just come and eat for free. Yes, it might be the only hot meal people have that day but for others it’s the socialising that’s important.”
“Can you give me an idea of the sort of support you might give someone coming in off the street?” I ask.
Mo recalls a mum with two kids who’d just become a lone parent and was unsure of the benefits she was entitled to. “She was down and a bit confused,” recalls Mo. “I was able to refer her to some self-help organisations and help her apply online for the right benefits. She just needed that bit of extra help at a difficult time.”
The café hub at the church is filing up as the lunch is being prepared. I chat with regular user Malaki who’s here with both his sister and his girlfriend. “I come down twice or three times a week,” he says, “I’m only in Longsight so it’s a short walk for me.”
“And how long have you been coming?” I ask.
“On and off for about six years,” he says. “I first came down to attend a job club that was run from here. They helped me with my CVs and I got some interviews. It helps coming here. It’s good to interact with other people, isn’ it?”
There’s a display in the hub, explaining the plans the church’s refurbishment plans to provide even more for local people. Mo introduces me to church secretary, Gordon, who’s happy to run through the architect’s drawings.
“We have a great building, with a good layout but there are issues that need addressing,” he tells me. “It’s too cold and dark in some places; sometimes difficult to orientate and, of course, we’d like to make it more eco-friendly.”
The plans are impressive. A new reception, new front doors, upgrading the 1970s toilets and adding a shower – this church is a night shelter for part of the year – and adding a garden.
“But our first priority is the sports hall,” says Gordon. “There’s a crying out need in the community for a multi-purpose hall and that’s what we’ll tackle first.”
I’m super impressed with this beacon of non-judgemental support for all, and I expect I’ll return before too long to report on the progress of their refurbishment… or maybe just for a bite of lunch.
Brunswick Church is open Monday-Thursdays 10am-3pm.
Pay-as-you-feel lunch is on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12noon.
Brunswick Parish Church, Brunswick Street, M13 9SX.