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The Hope Centre in Macclesfield was already planning ahead when Coronavirus struck. Its flexibility and willingness to adapt has helped it reach new areas of the community, providing meals, food hampers, HOPE magazines and offering other ways of support.
True to its roots in HOPE Together, the Hope Centre brings together 39 churches across north east Cheshire to make Jesus known with words and action.
Hope Centre chairman Bob Boland says the changes in approach that they’ve made are largely down to the enthusiasm of the Centre manager.
‘In the past we have run a Christian bookshop and café where the needy of North East Cheshire could come in. That was successful. But Emily Gunnion, our manager, saw the need of those on streets or who are struggling with meals and with feeding themselves. So about six months ago we started a surplus food café at the Centre.’
Food was provided free by local supermarkets. The meals were prepared by Hope’s team of three – including two reformed drug addicts who had trained as chefs and were now putting their old skills to good use. The meals were available in the evenings and customers paid as much as they could afford.
Macclesfield’s Hope Centre is surrounded by pubs and clubs in an old part of the town. People out enjoying the nightlife were intrigued by the café. ‘They were fascinated by it,’ says Bob.
When Hope started running Alpha courses at the Centre, the curiosity of passers-by grew. People popped their heads in to ask what was going on. ‘We had people coming in and enquiring what Alpha was all about and that has been a tremendous witness,’ says Bob.
Covid brought Alpha and the surplus food café to a sudden halt. But Hope continued to serve the community. Food was being donated to help people in need but it wasn’t reaching them. Hope, which has links to two local councils, was asked by the authorities to help.
‘They ascertained that either people had not got the skills to cook or not got the equipment,’ Bob explains. ‘And also there were people released early from prisons or homeless people – they had been put up in hotels and hostels where they didn’t have the resources. So the council asked us if we could provide meals for them.’
Working alongside another local agency, Cre8, Hope is now meeting that need. Hope’s chefs cook meals every day at St Peter’s Church in the town and they are distributed every evening by Emily and Katie Wardle, one of the Cre8 team, using Cre8’s refrigerated van. As of now they are producing 273 meals a week. Hope and Cre8 are also working together to provide some 450 food hampers to households across the town.
At Easter, Hope distributed Easter Eggs to hundreds of homes across The Moss estate in Macclesfield. People receiving the eggs were shouting ‘Happy Easter’ to their neighbours as they collected the chocolates from their doorsteps. Two hundred donated copies of the Hope for All magazine have also been distributed, backing the team’s actions with stories of how people have found hope because of Jesus.
‘These projects are brilliant and show what can be achieved when everyone works together to demonstrate the power of God’s love to those in need,’ says Bob.
Another project in the pipeline is a telephone support and befriending service. Hope had developed a listening service where people could drop into the Centre to talk through problems. The Covid lockdown has meant a change of strategy. Hope is now testing a telephone system where people can call in and eventually plans to turn it into a more sophisticated operation.
Bob Boland is rethinking how the church will be when the lockdown is over. ‘It’s going to be a new era for the Hope Centre. I think things will be different.
‘I think church working with others will develop even more. There are people on some estates who are not exactly enthusiastic about the conventional Church as they see it. What we have to do is say that this is what Jesus intended in reaching out to people in the community and showing God’s love in that way.’
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