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Simon Jenkins is concerned about the progressive loss of churches. He is most concerned about the buildings, their history and social significance rather than the loss of faith, so he searches for alternative uses. Amongst these he wonders about their prospects as banks, pubs and post-offices Churches could double as banks, or even serve beer. We can’t leave them empty | Simon Jenkins | The Guardian

There are layers to his reflections on the importance of church buildings to the identity of individuals and localities- spiritual, historical, sociological.

Having a place to go to, to be with people of like-mind or like-need has been important to us. I remember Donald Dick in his years as Director of the Health Advisory Service expounding on the virtues of Day Hospitals – somewhere nearby where people had shared knowledge – employment, education, childcare, dances, romances – a change from being at home and a source of more gossip as well as understanding and therapy. Optimum catchment, he would say, was similar to a local Boots the Chemist. I am not sure about the distribution of Boots these days. We are certainly pleased to have one in Altrincham. It still serves as a local hub for support and advice from staff who learn our names and speak to us as friends.

Day Hospitals have all-but disappeared. Day Centres are less evident, less enduring and are dependent on charities or independent agencies where they do exist.

I hold my schools, training hospital, universities, youth club, churches – as places of worship and the fellowship within them - our park and its Friends Group, all in great affection. They are set in context with the homes from which I visited them – in Wolverhampton, London, The Isle of Wight, Jersey, North Wales, Manchester, Sale and Altrincham.

The sadly recently terminated STAA STAA - Sandwell Third Age Arts

was sponsored by Sandwell Social Services initially with the vision and intention to offer art for people with dementia and other infirmities of age in their own homes. With the inspiration and gifts of the incomparable Sharon Baker, the vision became reality and it delivered new life to faded souls – both the individuals with infirmities and their family carers. But it was quickly realised that much more could be achieved by offering the same help at the Day Hospital or a Day Centre – the therapy from artists being augmented by the fellowship between people with common limitations and a common struggle.

The pandemic has taught us that we can do much in family settings – especially helped by new technologies such as zoom. But our souls thrive best in fellowship with others.

Simon Jenkins is right to draw attention to the losses we are experiencing. Having realised this and the mystery which surrounds togetherness and the comfort, strength and joy of belonging – we need to work out how the sustain it in these changed circumstances – It is not easy to see how – but we will do it.

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