The Wesley Playhouse - update Jan10

Friday, 1 January, 2010

Caroline Holt reflects on how a visit to a children's indoor fun centre inspired her to start The Wesley Playhouse, a fresh expression for children and their families in Howden Clough.

Duration: 3:30   | Download Download mp3


Introducer: Now when Caroline Holt realised the future of her local Methodist Church in West Yorkshire was in doubt, she had an idea. Inspired by days out with her godchildren, she helped set up Wesley's Playhouse, a fun factory of faith. Almost 16,000 visits have been made so far by local children. So Karen Carter asked Caroline how long the play area cum church had been in existence.

Caroline Holt: Just over two years, we've just celebrated our second birthday, and we started as a very small church with only seven members, and we were going to close. And I had godchildren who I took to play gyms and decided to approach the church and ask if they would consider a very wacky idea to convert the whole body of the church into a soft play area for children.

Interviewer: That's quite an idea to have! How did the church membership and other people think of that?

Caroline Holt: The church were very welcoming, they thought it was a good idea and if it worked, great, if it didn't we didn't have anything to lose really. Wider afield it was a lot more difficult, I had to convince the circuit and the district and then connexion through Methodism that it was a good idea also, and that's when more difficult questions came about as to well who'd come there, how far would they travel, and also where's the money coming from because we only had £2,000 in the bank.

Interviewer: It's a fantastic achievement, what was your vision for it and in fact what does it look like now? It's quite difficult to imagine for anybody who hasn't seen a playhouse in a church.

Caroline Holt: I have to say that was the view of most of the members actually. Nobody could even imagine how it would look even when week by week it was being built, and it was really on the day we opened and people came through and saw what looks like a huge ship at the side of the entrance and at the top end there are café tables and people sitting, and at the far end is a party area. And really if you came you'd see a calm atmosphere where there's calm music playing and there's children playing and not fighting and where you think this is not what I expect in a church, but equally not what you expect in a play gym either.

Interviewer: And how about those who will say well it's all very well, it sounds really great, but it's not real church is it?

Caroline Holt: Yes, that's been said a lot and when people come they, if they come in the week they see a place which has Christian music playing in the background which if you didn't go to church appears to be nice relaxing music, on every table there's helpful tracts there with Bible verses to help people, there's also a statement of faith to say that we're here as a church and we would help anybody with questions. And I spend some of my time going round talking to people and asking them, you know, why they've come and where they're from. And often after you've got to know people they're prepared then to share a bit more about themselves and actually open up which I've had many conversations about faith and what I believe and what they believe. And the fresh expression side of it is a fresh way of actually making faith real to people, in a way they understand, not in a way that we think they understand.

We've had five christenings, all of which were absolutely amazed that they could come into a play gym and have a christening, and felt fabulously comfortable there because it wasn't in a place which for them is an alien environment. They're used to going to play gyms so for them it was totally different, but in a way that they could accept and feel part of.

Introducer: Caroline Holt

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