‘What a funny little church?’ said the nice new lady to me one Sunday morning recently as I greeted her on the steps of our chapel on her way in to worship. She meant the building of course, not the people? Actually, she really likes the people. This was her second Sunday with us and it looks like she is intent on making our Fellowship her spiritual home. My friend Craig (who was at the door with me at the time) explained that although our chapel does appear to be ‘squeezed in’ next to some big houses, the big houses came much later. In fact, when the chapel was built in 1882 Hope Chapel, as the new building was called, was something of a landmark in the small village and was described at the time as ‘the most modern building in Knaphill’. The chapel was surrounded by open spaces in those days … the houses all came much later. ‘But there is nowhere to park?’ our new lady responded … and of course she was quite correct about this. ‘Yes, we have lots of problems building wise’ I acknowledged ‘but the people are great … and in any case I would really like us to buy The Anchor pub in the centre of Knaphill, run it 24/7 as a Community Hub, and move the church in there!’ I don’t know who was more shocked at my comment … the nice new lady or Craig?
Now of course, this is just another one of my ‘crazy ideas’ at this stage, although I have ‘tested the waters’ by sharing the idea with a few people to see what their reaction would be. The Deacons haven’t discussed it. The Church Meeting haven’t discussed it. It is just one of those ‘daft notions’ like Noah building an Ark or Abraham leaving his ‘comfort zone’ in search of an unknown Promised Land? God could be in this … or it could simply be a ‘pipe dream’? What I am sure of, however, is that wherever possible local churches should become ‘Community Hubs’, and that our own little chapel (as cute and well maintained a building as it is) is actually holding us back from fulfilling the mission that God has called us to.
One of the things I really like about living in Knaphill is that although it is, in effect, a suburb of Woking, it has somehow or other managed to retain its identity as an ‘urban village’. It has a clearly defined ‘centre’ with a good variety of local shops, banks, a post office, a library, cafes and restaurants, flourishing sports clubs, good schools, a surgery, dentists, a petrol station, four pubs, four mainstream churches that work well together, and an excellent Residents Association that works hard for the community. It has a good cross-section of housing and the people are, by and large, warm, friendly and welcoming. It has a large supermarket on its doorstep and good transport links into Woking (and from there to London). This is not to say that it is without any problems.
There are a growing number of ‘vacant’ shops in our village. The shop keepers of the various shops that have closed down tell me that the reason they have had to close is because their landlords have increased their rents and it has proved ‘unprofitable’ for them to continue as a result. I have no way of knowing if this is true or not but it does seem that when a shop closes the shop premises often re-open (under new ownership) as new ‘fast food’ take away establishments. We now have a glut of these kind of places and definitely don’t need anymore. The preschool (that was based at the Methodist Church in the centre of Knaphill) has also recently closed because it (and the Methodist Church) was unable to meet the demands placed on it by the education authorities for the sole use of designated toilet facilities. The very successful Youth Club at the Cabin has also recently had to close because of a combination of unruly behaviour (by young people not associated with the Youth Club) and a lack of dedicated volunteers to staff it.
The Anchor public house (in the centre of Knaphill) is also threatened with closure because it is not attracting enough custom to make it viable. There are four public houses in Knaphill and for a number of years The Anchor has been falling behind the others. According to the Knaphillian (our excellent local website) Metbase Limited has recently purchased The Anchor from Premier and Merlin Inns. They are developing proposals for the site, and although their proposals have not been made clear at this stage it is thought that they would like to either convert the building into flats or even demolish the building altogether. Following an objection by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) however (who wish to see The Anchor retained as a public house) Woking Borough Council gave notice in July that the case presented by CAMRA meant that The Anchor met the necessary criteria and has now been registered as an Asset of Community Value which means that it must be retained as a public house (or a similar vehicle for community use) for the next five years at least. It has been suggested to me that, as a result, Metbase would be happy to sell the business on as is?
Now in some ways I agree that The Anchor should not continue as a public house. We already have three other public houses in Knaphill and it makes a lot of sense for The Anchor site to be turned to better use. I am not convinced that converting it into flats, or turning it into a ‘high quality’ eatery (with flats above), or demolishing it and replacing it with a ‘purpose built’ block of flats (which architecturally would probably turn out to be a ‘visual monstrosity’ judging by some of the other recent developments in Knaphill), is the best way forward.
What I would like to do is purchase The Anchor and turn it into a Community Hub, change its name to the Anchor Centre, and use it 24/7 both as the new home of Knaphill Baptist Church (our present premises are too small and too limited now) and as a community hub for the good of the whole Knaphill community. We could house a new pre-school, the youth club, a food bank, counselling services (covering everything from debt to bereavement), provide space for some of the local shops that have recently had to close (e.g. the florists) to use (albeit on a smaller scale) at reasonable rents, open up the garden area for the use of existing cafeterias (such as Stef’s) during the day/evening, host suitable concerts and gigs … and a multiplicity of other possibilities that I haven’t thought of yet? I do not see such a venture as running in opposition to the existing Vyne Community Centre but something that would run in parallel (even collaborating) with it, albeit contributing in slightly different ways. It also makes sense for the whole project to be run by one organisation (i.e. Knaphill Baptist Church) rather than a ‘committee’ … especially as we are committed as a church to exercise a ‘ministry in the community not just to the community’. We really do want to be (as the ‘strap line’ on our church publicity suggests) ‘A Caring Christian Church at the Heart of the Community’. As the late Archbishop Temple once said: ‘The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members!’
Our little chapel half way down the High Street in Knaphill is a lovely little building with a significant history. It has been beautifully and caringly maintained down through the years but limits us in a number of ways. It seats about 70 people comfortably but if everybody who worships with us on a reasonably regular basis actually all turned up on the same Sunday morning we would be hard pushed to get everybody in. There is nowhere to park on a Sunday morning, other than along the busy High Street, and we have virtually no ‘outside space’ to speak of. Our numerical growth as a church is, I believe severely limited by the size of our building (and has been for a number of years). It is a well-known fact that a fish only grows to the size of the pond that it lives in, and on Sunday mornings (our main Worship Service) we are comfortably full. What we seek to do currently in the community is also seriously limited by our building. On a Tuesday morning we run a very successful ‘Parent and Toddlers’ Group but quite often we have to limit attendance because we have more people wanting to attend than the capacity of our building allows. In any case (as I have indicated above) we want to do far more than we are doing to serve our community in Knaphill … and on a 24/7 basis! As a church we recognise that we have to change if we are to remain relevant in society – we have to ‘get out there’ and be truly ‘missional’ in the true sense of that word. Jesus calls his followers to be both ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in society (Matthew 5:13-16). There is also a lot to be said for having a building that a) does not actually look like a church, and b) a building that is well known by local people and a building they are used to having probably visited it at some time or other.
So what can be done to see this ‘dream’ become a reality? Well, I would love it if the leaders and members of my church ‘caught the vision’ … and I would be really delighted if the leaders and members of the other C4K (Church for Knaphill) churches wanted ‘in’ on this as well? But even if my mad idea proves to be a ‘step too far’ for my own church, I hope we Christians (whatever our church affiliation) will still see the sense and value of establishing a Community Hub somewhere in Knaphill. It would also be great if my fellow members of the Knaphill Residents Association, our local Councillors, and the people of Knaphill, saw that this ‘regeneration’ of The Anchor would be a brilliant ‘community’ use for the site and got behind the idea as well! My prayer is certainly that someone, somewhere will take up the idea of the regeneration of The Anchor and come up with an imaginative and purposeful use of the building. And just one final thing … the odd millionaire or two who would be prepared to help fund the project would not go amiss either!