by Marilyn Priday
Community House has always seen its mission as serving the community.
It was Reverend Cyril Summer’s vision that the church should be a community centre in which all were welcome and would find friendship, ‘a place where people were always treated as people’ (Summers, 1992).
When Cyril, the Elders and members of Community House took the huge leap of faith to turn their church for Christians into a community centre for all people, those living around the church were mostly white Welsh. At that time the number of immigrants, in the area we now call Maindee, was small but steadily growing. By now, 2018, the area is very multicultural and there are thirty-three languages spoken in Maindee Primary School. Throughout this development Community House has continued with its mission and this has meant really getting to know people, with their diverse faiths and cultures.
We believe that we have a centre in which people of all faiths and none can feel that they are welcome, respected, safe and cared for. We have a lot to learn from one another and our lives are all enriched by the diversity of cultures and faiths that we meet day by day.
We are a Gold Award Peace Mala Community Centre.
So many activities which take place in Community House show what we do to ‘Build Stronger Caring Communities’. Many of these activities are run by other organisations who hire out our space. However, we try to bring them together with events.
- Coffee and Laughs — a women’s friendship group for women of all faiths and cultures; also supports asylum seekers
- Dostana — a group for Asian men
- A successful Youth Project, supported by BBC Children in Need
- Stay and Play Group — for parents and Toddlers
- Bundles — for befriending and providing what is needed for Asylum seeker and refugees mums to support them through pregnancy and when their babies are very young.
- A club for the partially sighted.
- An Alzheimer’s singing group
- ESOL classes
- Parties for some of these groups and events such as the AGM celebration of all that we have achieved in the last year.
- Annual Peace Day — for International Peace Day
- Maindee Festival — which we take part in and support
- Interfaith Talks — at other church women’s groups and schools
- 1000 voices project — Marion Webber and Sue Mizon go into schools and colleges to talk about interfaith, bringing the ethos of Peace Mala to the Primary Schools. An amazing amount of work was done with three schools: interviewing, art, poetry etc.
- Newport Interfaith group — visiting other places of worship .
- Maindee Stories quilt — a real multicultural project, under Marion Webber, which is part of an exhibitions in the Castle Museum in Abergavenny, celebrating Women of Monmouthshire making a difference. (We won the Welsh Epic prize for Voluntary Arts Wales for this. We also came runners up UK wide for diversity.)
- Membership of the Interfaith Council for Wales and Cytûn Racial Justice meeting.
- Facilitating use of the chapel — for four Christian worshipping groups from Ethiopia/Eritrea, the Caribbean, Slovakia and Romania.
- Hosting Bahá’i Meditation Group and Sufi drumming on a regular basis.
- Hosting birthday, christening, wedding Mendhi parties.
- Holding an international Carol singing event.
For the last two years we have had funding from the Heritage Lottery to make a history of Community House (which actually started with a Forward Movement Church in 1900.) Our Community Centre is 50 years old in May 2019.
It has been hard work for all of us, especially the people directly involved. It was to be a project for volunteers. It was called ‘1000 Voices’ and is an indication of the many people who have been influenced by Community House over the years. A few Muslim young men in Newport told us in their interviews how the youth work in Community House kept them on the right path. This has been so good to hear.
The photographs show our Peace Event in September 2018 for International Peace Day. In it we celebrated coming to the end of our project. It is still not complete, but we are almost there. There will be a digital story but also all our photographs, interviews, stories, etc are being uploaded onto the People’s Collection Wales so that they will be available for research in years to come.
This event was typical, with people who use the community centre coming together to celebrate our diversity. We always have some singing and also light candles with prayers for different faiths.
Since 2013 the community centre has been run as a charitable trust. Currently our Chair is a Bahá’i, we have three Muslims, about six Christians and one or two of no faith on our board (trustees and advisors). Our administrator is a Bahá’i. Community House is a miniature United Nations and that’s how we like it.