Hope at King's Church Hastings

When we purchased our building back in the early 1990s, it was a large indoor cricket ground called Boundaries. There were nets up, dividing the large open space in half. ‘Sports nights’ were part of the regular pattern of church life, with members and guests enjoying evenings of badminton, five-a-side football and basketball. Since then, the Hastings Centre (as it is now called) has undergone many changes. Church members have faithfully given to various building projects, so that we could transform the building one step at a time to suit the needs of the church, but also the community around us. We now have a coffee shop with an outside patio and play area, and rooms inside the building are used for all kinds of activities – at the moment, we’re a coronavirus vaccination centre, but in the last month or so the building has been used as a polling station, an NHS blood donation point, and for ballet classes. 

During the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic and last year’s lockdowns, the building was strangely quiet. Obviously, our coffee shop had to close for several weeks, we stopped holding church meetings at the centre, and room hires fell significantly. However, from Monday to Friday, there was a great bustle of activity as our foodbank became busier than ever – a lifeline for many of those in our community who were hit hardest by the economic impact of coronarvirus. New volunteers got involved to fill in for those who were shielding or vulnerable. As the measures required to stem the pandemic unfolded, the foodbank changed from collection to delivery, then to a mix of both, then to delivery again, and soon we’ll be back to mostly collection. Our involvement with other agencies grew as we all responded to the rising needs around us, and we were asked to chair the Hastings Emergency Food Response Group. 

If you had walked into our building during the first lockdown, in particular, you would have seen carrier bags of food set out across many of the rooms in our building, and Moses’ baskets waiting in the deserted coffee shop to be picked up by midwives and community health visitors who had referred pregnant women in desperate need to one of our other projects, Baby Basics. Though the impact of the pandemic on the poorest led to greater pressure on our social action staff and volunteers, one of the things that made it easier than it could have been is that we had just a few months earlier, at the end of 2019, built a warehouse within the Hastings Centre. Little did we know at the time, but reducing the size of our main auditorium, and giving the remaining space over to a social action warehouse, would come to be seen as the timely provision of God for us, working ahead of the pandemic to prepare us. Like Joseph planning for the famine in Egypt, our storehouses were full and accessible when the first lockdown was announced. This meant that our foodbank staff and volunteers didn’t have to go back and forth between an off-site warehouse and the distribution centre based at King’s, saving them lots of time and physical exertion. 

But building the warehouse on site was just phase 1. The second key part of the project was changing a corner of our building to become a ‘community action hub’ – a dedicated space within the Hastings Centre, not just for our social action projects, but also for any external agencies who are supporting people in poverty to use too. Named Hope at King’s, the vision is for this to be a space where people facing crisis situations can be helped at their time of need, but more than that: we want it to be a place where people are lifted out of poverty too. That’s why it’s called Hope at King’s, and why we’ve named the rooms within it the Mercy Room and the Grace Room. We want people – especially those trapped in poverty, but also those helping them – to find hope, mercy and grace here.