Their plans to convert Longsight Youth Centre into a community hub were well advanced as the pandemic struck. Now this Ardwick-based church has had to adapt quickly.
Four years ago the Vineyard Church set up in Manchester, holding services at the Dean Trust Ardwick School on Stockport Road.
Many moved lock stock and barrel from Trent Vineyard in Nottingham, including church leaders Paul and Steph Lowe, others came from closer by but all wanted to make a difference in this part of the city.
Church member Stuart Hogg, recalls: “Each Sunday, after our service at the school, we’d see this derelict building across the road and wonder why nothing was being done with it.”
After making enquiries with the Council they soon realised why. It would take £3/4 million to bring it back into use.
Incredibly, this did not deter the church members.
“We thought we’d rise to that challenge,” says Stuart, “so we put out an appeal and within weeks our congregation had raised over £200,000.”
This was back in February last year and Manchester Vineyard began to plan a renovation which would make 422 Community Hub – re-named after the street number – a community asset once again.
“The outside looked pretty grim but inside the condition, at first, was much better,” continues Stuart, who is now a full-time volunteer leading on the renovation. “On the ground floor there’s a relatively new kitchen and an area suitable for a café. A magnificent hall takes up the first floor which would have held concerts for up to 600 people.
“Sadly, almost as soon as we’d gained access, squatters moved in. They ripped out the expensive alarm system to sell the wiring, barricaded the doors with rubble, and vandalised the place. That set us back five months but they were eventually evicted and we managed to clear up.”
As the pandemic struck Vineyard had arranged for apprentices from a local skill centre to help renovate the place. “Guided by their tutors we had young people decorating and plastering, checking out the plumbing and electrics.”
That’s all on hold for now. And in the last two months Vineyard have changed their plans quickly, always with the wellbeing of the community as their objective.
“Since lockdown we’ve seen existing food banks swamped,” says Stuart, “and our immediate response as a church has been to help distribute food to those in most need. Now we’re planning to open the kitchen as quickly as possible so we can start cooking and delivering hot meals locally.”
It’s not the timetable of renovation they expected but, with emergency help from funder Sports England, they can fulfil their ambition of supporting local people.
“As lockdown eases, we can think about opening the café – subject to social distancing regulations – which will be a catalyst for the rest of the building.
“We’ll use the hall upstairs for lots of fun activities like walking football, dance, mixed netball, all designed to improve the health of local people. And there’ll be entertainment and exhibitions up there too.”
Further phases include converting the basements into offices: “We’ll offer these out as very affordable, shared space for local businesses and freelances with maybe some adult education classes in the evenings.
“The coronavirus obviously hasn’t helped in our ambition to bring this building back into community use, but we’ll get there,” says Stuart, enthusiastically. “Hopefully it won’t be that long before we can welcome everyone in and celebrate its official opening.”