Having left community in the early eighties and moved abroad in the EU in 1999 to start a new life, we made a trip back to the UK in October of 2005. As both our families are Northamptonians, we spent a few days in Northampton. We booked in at the Ibis hotel at the bottom of Gold St, an area that holds memories for both of us. The first night, I left my wife in the hotel and wandered up Gold St to the centre at about 10pm. What astonished me was that the doorways of the shops had become bedrooms for the homeless, and it was apparent that a night-time homeless community were there. After reaching All Saints I wandered back, giving some change to those asking for their next can of lager.
Next day after lunch, we headed up to the newly finished Jesus Centre. I was keen to see what was happening in light of my previous night’s enlightenment. We met a friend (who had been around off and on for years) with another friend in the foyer. An enthusiastic evangelistic leader came in with his usual enthusiasm and told us a bit about the centre and its ‘Step Up’ programme, with its facilities to help the homeless. But it only opened from 10.30am to 12:00, so we could not see it (which we understood). He then took us on a tour of the Deco, which we both thought was quite amazing, and they had even built a baptistery in the stage; with its state of the art equipment it was a very luxurious place for meetings and to help the homeless. The evangelistic leader was full of positivity and I felt he wanted to be the manager – and I thought he would have made a good one. However the café in the foyer was only open short hours and the place seemed to lack any life.
I remember on the way back doing some mental arithmetic, ‘3m for the lease, 3m for refurbishment and about 50k running cost per year… Oh that’s about £5000 per week… How is that going to work with just some hiring out of the auditorium?’ But then, I knew there was a need from my previous night’s discovery, and hey what a flagship for the Church.
Next day was Sunday and we were busy all day until the evening. I was told there was a Sunday meeting at the centre starting about 6-630pm. So at 8pm I walked up to Abington Square expecting to see life and people milling about (as it was at the Chapel in the early days, sometimes until the early hours).
To my amazement, the lights were off, no one around the shutters were up down and everyone had gone home…