Little Bealings church could be a beacon for other Suffolk villages looking to boost community

James Halsall and Rev Celia Cook in Little Bealings church. Picture: PAUL GEATER

James Halsall and Rev Celia Cook in Little Bealings church. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

A small Suffolk parish church could be turned back into the centre of its community if an ambitious plan to design it gets financial backing.

James Halsall, Helen Clarkson-Fieldsend, Rev Celia Cook and Tony Fear outside Little Bealings church

James Halsall, Helen Clarkson-Fieldsend, Rev Celia Cook and Tony Fear outside Little Bealings church. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

Little Bealings, near Ipswich, is a village with a population of almost 500 – but has no shop, no pub and no post office.

Now the Parochial Church Council (PCC) and priest in charge Rev Celia Cook want to turn the church into a community hub with a cafe and facilities for other events.

There would be space for everything from parent and toddler groups to wedding parties – and among the facilities installed would be wifi to allow people to use it as meeting place.

The project could cost up to £250,000 and the church is waiting to hear the result of bids for funding to various potential sources.

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Mrs Cook said the church had already raised £36,000: “We are very hopeful. What this would do is make the church somewhere for the whole community, not just the church goers.

“At the moment we have two services here a month – that means it is being used about two hours a month. It costs £1,300 a month to run a church like this, so that works out at £650 an hour. We have to do more with the building.”

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But turning it into a community hub, it would be returning the church to its original function in the village: “When the church was first built in the 13th century the Nave would have been used for all kinds of things. That’s what we want to get back to.”

PCC member Helen Clarkson-Fieldsend said there was a great deal of interest in getting the project underway.

If the initial funding bids were successful they hoped to complete the first phase of the work, clearing an open space in the church that could be used for different events before Christmas.

The second phase will see the creation of a kitchen and the facilities for a cafe.

She said: “People keep asking when things are going to start to happen. There seems to be a real feeling among local people that this will be a real asset to the village – somewhere where people can meet up throughout the week.”

Mrs Cook said there had been concern about the changes by some local people – and the PCC hoped that everyone in the village would come round to see the benefits.

Anyone who wants to support the project can find out more at the Little Bealings Church website.

Diocese watching Little Bealings church project

The project to turn Little Bealings church into a community hub is not unique – but is being seen by senior officials as an important development.

St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocesan Secretary James Halsall has been on hand to advise and support the project (although not financially) – and was encouraged by the move to use churches for more than Sunday services.

He said: “It’s not the first church to look at this kind of development – but what makes Little Bealings so significant is that this is a village where there are so few community facilities and this is the kind of proposal that would really help bring people together.

“Of course some people may have concerns but the PCC is working to try to ease those worries – there does seem to be a general welcome in the village for this kind of community development.”

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