Alistair Hodkinson reports on development plans at Auckland Saint Helen

One of the many impressive things about the beautiful Grade 1 medieval parish church of Auckland S. Helen is that, since 1170, it has managed to serve its County Durham community without a toilet. While it could be argued that this has worked fine for nearly 900 years, the PCC of S. Helen’s decided to embark upon the most ambitious extension of the church building in over 500 years. Code-named ‘Open for All’, this extension hopes to do just that, by making the church open for all through the creation of a meeting room, toilet facilities and a refreshment area, and so equipping S. Helen’s to serve its parish for the next 900 years and more.

Work began on January 29th, with the hardy workmen battling through everything the Northern weather could throw at them. Upon completion in the Summer, it is hoped that the meeting room will be a space used by all corners of the community, from the elderly, sick, retired and unemployed to young parents and children. It will host a daily drop-in with hot drinks and light meals, with plans to use it as an advice centre, a place for refreshments following baptisms and funerals or during concerts, choir rehearsals and council meetings and for educational visits. Many elderly parishioners have been unable to attend services because of the lack of toilet facilities, and so it is hoped that the extension will provide the means of enabling them to worship once again in their parish church.

The PCC is extremely grateful to the catholic charities and trusts that have contributed towards the £350,000 total. Ultimately, having more people using the facilities means that the church itself will be able to open more throughout the day. It is our hope and prayer that this will enable, through Open for All, the people of the parish to discover S. Helen’s for themselves as a sanctuary of God’s peace and love.

Alistair Hodkinson is the Assistant Curate in the parish of Auckland S. Helen.