On the way back from York, last week, we finally made a much overdue trip to Wesley’s Playhouse.
WP is part of Howden Clough Methodist Church, Leeds but (as the name suggests) is a soft play centre. In 2005 the church had 10 elderly members, the future for the church looked bleak. Until one day Caroline Holt, a church steward, took her god daughter to a soft play centre and began wondering why the church didn’t use some of its buildings as play centres. There began the idea that after much prayer, discussion, fundraising, building became Wesley’s Playhouse – a soft play centre within the old church building. (see there website for more info)
Fastforward to last Friday and we arrived at WP with 2 very excited boys. The place was bursting at the seams (half term!) and so it took ages for us to find a seat but this didn’t deter the boys. They were straight onto the tables with Noah’s Arks sets to play with. Then shoes off they were exploring the soft play equipment. Despite the sliding, climbing, swinging opportunities they spent most of their time in the ball pool!
We had a much needed drink and snack (very reasonably priced cafe) and watched what was going on. The place was obviously well used by the locals and many appeared to be regulars. WP is very much a community venue. And the immediate thought was ‘this could happen in so many churches’. But actually its not an easy solution to declining churches. It requires a huge volunteer staff, over 20 volunteers work with the Project manager and centre manager (7 from Howden Clough, 13 from the Circuit and 8 from other places). When we were there there were at least 6 volunteers around. So it could only be taken on by a church that has the people willing to staff it and that probably means a church that isn’t involved in other major pieces of outreach.
Location is also vital WP is in an area where there are few soft play centres. If like me you live in a place awash with such centres your facilities and pricing would need to reflect that.
And obviously there is the huge fundraising commitment and subsequent building work. For me though it is the long term sustainability that is the key issue, for anyone thinking of following suit, to grapple with. It is an amazing project reaching out to a community and to any church that can both find funding for the initial work and provide long term sustainability I would say ‘Go for it!’
What I haven’t yet seen is Playhouse Praise the once a month service which uses the centre as a worship space for young children. But I understand it is a busy popular worship activity for families and young children in the area.