Published: 13:00, 08 August 2016
| Updated: 13:22, 08 August 2016
A landmark church in Chatham town centre, which has been closed for more than a quarter of a century, is to be given a new lease of life.
Its owner, the Diocese of Rochester, is ploughing £665,000 into resurrecting the massive St John’s Church in Railway Street into a community place of worship.
The total £1.3 million project will also include an English language cafe in a bid to integrate the increasing range of ethnic groups in the town.
It is part of an overall plan to “re-establish mission” in Chatham after the dilapidated St John’s was forced to close in 1990 because it was not fit for purpose.
Rochester Archdeacon Simon Burton-Jones said: “We were at risk at looking as though we did not have a visible presence in Chatham. We have been considering the future of the church for years but only recently has our thinking crystalised.”
The grant is part of £7.8 million awarded to nine projects across the diocese by the Church Commissioners.
The Rev Burton-Jones said: “Chatham town centre is a really important place with lots of people who work and shop there, a growing student component and lots of different languages. We are taking on two Swedish priests to help people with everyday conversational English skills.
“While some people are fluent others are not and that can cause isolation and be very bewildering.”
Since St John’s closed, worshippers, who relocated to the Emmaus Church Centre in Clover Street, have helped to survey residents along the High Street on their needs,
The Rev Burton-Jones said they would be using the Magpie Centre, which works with neighbouring All Saints’ Church in Magpie Hall Road, Luton as an example,
He said: “Our priority is to get the church back to a place for people to worship, even if it is a building within a building. Then we have staffing costs and then the overall projects.
“This is a very exciting ongoing project. It is not about getting in there for a few years and scarpering.”