Wesley Playhouse News
The story of one church's journey from impending closure to thriving play centre.
Read article on the Fresh Expressions Website
Read article on the Fresh Expressions Website
The Wesley Playhouse
Friday, 1 January, 2010
Fresh Expressions Website @ http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/node/336
Article written by Karen Carter from Fresh Expressions

Who would have thought that a visit to a children's indoor fun centre could inspire church steward Caroline Holt to oversee a dramatic shift in the fortunes of a small West Yorkshire Methodist church?
Caroline made the trip to a commercially-run activity zone with her god-daughter, and wondered why such a venture had never been provided in church buildings? Surely it would bring in countless children - not to mention their waiting parents?
As a member of Howden Clough Methodist Church, Birstall, Caroline was faced with the challenge of a dwindling congregation and a community that appeared to have no need for the traditional church building on their doorstep.
"Seeing all those children in these awful places to play made me really stop and think," says Caroline. "I thought, 'why don’t we do something like this at Howden Clough?'"
Her dream has become an amazingly successful reality - thanks to the efforts of a dedicated volunteer team, key sponsors, and a church willing to take what was seen as an enormous risk. "As far as I'm aware, nothing like this has ever been done anywhere else in Britain," says Caroline. "We now have 3,000 sq ft of play area, a café that operates alongside it and a supportive local community who have taken it to their hearts and now use The Wesley Playhouse as the venues for birthday parties and celebrations. We've even had several Christenings there as a result of people feeling so much part of what has very much become their own fresh expression of church."
Since its launch in 2007, the project has seen over 24,000 people come through its doors. It's a long, long way from the days when the pre-Playhouse Howden Clough Church had just 10 members attending regularly.
Caroline explains, “"there was no doubt about it, we were facing closure. We had tried various attempts to get local people into church but nothing seemed to work so in 2000 we decided to leaflet the community and find out what we could do to serve them.
"When I put the idea of the Playhouse to our members they were mainly supportive, though some people obviously did have concerns because it's quite a difficult thing to imagine in a Chapel building that has been around since 1871! But, God bless them, they backed the idea and it all snowballed from there."
Finance was the first major hurdle. The church needed to find £120,000 to get the scheme off the ground, and they had £3,000 in the bank. But the money came rolling in - thanks to the Methodist Circuit, District and Connexion providing £78,000 in loans; individual supporters; and £50,000 from the Biffaward landfill community's fund.
Twenty people from different churches across the area came forward to offer their staffing help for the project, and Howden Clough began its transformation into multi-coloured Playhouse and The Ark Café. Work started in February 2007, with the Playhouse opening in October of the same year.
Services take place in a room re-designed as a chapel downstairs every Sunday morning, and a Playhouse Praise is now a regular event on the first Sunday of the month. The young visitors, their families, and older members of the original congregation share the facilities on offer, and Caroline is now working to bring them even closer together.
"It’s fantastic to see how many people have struck up friendships and are happy to be part of this community," says Caroline. "People have asked to have their babies christened here and been amazed to discover that we can do this in The Wesley Playhouse. I explain that we may have climbing frames and all sorts of things all over the place but we are a church, and we’re here because we love God and we love them."
And the ongoing challenge? Caroline is clear: "At the Playhouse itself, it's to lead people to faith and disciple them; to help them find out why we've done what we’ve done with this project and encourage them in their own walk with God.
"Personally, I'd love to see The Wesley Playhouse 'brand' go nationwide and be part of making that happen. Maybe other churches in similar situations to us are wondering how they could get something started along the same lines. I want to be the person to help them do that, and with God’s help and blessing, I will be."
This story was featured in the “Inspire Magazine” thanks to Ruth Cole and after doing a feature on the Playhouse it was shortlisted for their awards. In November three of us went to the House of Commons, to our amazement our project were runners up from over 150 nominated. We received the award from a representative of the voting committee pictured here.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been part of this “Vision becoming a reality” without your help, prayers and support this story would never come into being. I thank God every time I think of the journey we have made and the road we are now walking, to see people enjoying “Playhouse Praise” and hearing of people’s lives being affected through coming to the Playhouse is a real blessing and long may it continue. With your prayers and help I’m sure it will and this will be a continuing good news story.

Below is the January Fresh Expressions Podcast, my interview is at 10.30 minutes into the podcast, have a listen.

What an inspiration!
Published Date: 26 November 2009
By Rebecca Draper

IT may be a runner-up award, but second place at the Inspire Awards is worth gold for the Wesley Playhouse.
The Howden Clough soft play area was one of only three church schemes to be shortlisted out of 120 entries for the Church Project 2009 award.

The awards were held by Inspire - a Christian Magazine - in Westminster.

The Wesley Playhouse was set up two years ago by Howden Clough Methodist Church member Caroline Holt, who said the Nab Lane church wasn’t serving the community as it should have been.

She said: “When they read out what the other two church projects had been nominated for I thought we wouldn’t have a chance. It was amazing when they announced we were the runner-up.”

Caroline was accompanied to Westminster by Batley MP Mike Wood, who took her and two members of the team of volunteers on a four-hour tour of the House of Commons.

“It was like being in a totally different world,” she said. “It was just spectacular.”

Mr Wood said: “I’m delighted the wonderful work at the Wesley Playhouse has been recognised nationally.

“At the awards ceremony it was quite obvious they were competing with very long established, well-funded projects and did exceptionally well.”

Caroline thanked church members and Volunteers: Alwyn and Marjorie John, Vera Walker, Ella Shinwell, Ann Outhwaite, Joan Ransom, Lynn Welch, John and Ruth Saville, Jean Wilkinson and George Beck for their hard work and support.

She said her ambition now was to take the Wesley Playhouse brand nationwide.

“The sky’s the limit,” she added. “Watch this space.”
INSPIRATIONAL: Caroline Holt and MP Mike Wood with the runner up award. Pictured with them are volunteers from Howden Clough Methodist Church.
INSPIRATIONAL: Caroline Holt and MP Mike Wood with the runner up award. Pictured with them are volunteers from Howden Clough Methodist Church.
Why playhouse's creator Caroline is jumping for joy
Published Date: 19 November 2009
By Rebecca Draper

A CHILDREN'S attraction responsible for "putting Howden Clough on the map" has been nominated for a national award.
The Wesley Playhouse was created at Howden Clough Methodist Church two years ago by Caroline Holt.

The soft play area has now been nominated for Best Church Project 2009 at the national Inspire Awards, held at Westminster.

Caroline said the Nab Lane playhouse began as a project to help the church to serve its community, and resulted in a popular play area used by people across the country.

“It’s so amazing that this is where we are two years down the line, having seen 24,000 people through the doors since the playhouse opened,” she said. “It’s so phenomenal, especially for a church building.”

The playhouse was nominated for the award by a volunteer and Caroline said after being interviewed by the editor of Inspire - a Christian magazine - in March she had almost forgotten about it.

She said: “I didn’t hear anything until September when the article appeared and in October we heard we’d been shortlisted to one of three projects. I don’t know how many it was out of, but to be down to the last three is quite an achievement for us.

“I never expected any of this, it’s so great for this to happen in our neck of the woods.”

Caroline said her new ambition was to make the Wesley Playhouse as big as the Wacky Warehouse brand for small communities similar to Howden Clough.

She added: “Of course it was hard work setting it up, but this has made it all worthwhile - seeing the pleasure it’s brought to all the people who have come through the doors and to beat national competition to be nominated for this award.

“The playhouse has helped put Howden Clough, especially the church, on the map and I’m so glad to be a part of it; it’s been an amazing story.”

Batley MP Mike Wood will be joining Caroline at the awards ceremony in London today. He said: “I’m delighted to be invited to attend the Inspire awards to support the Wesley Playhouse.

“The fact that they’ve made the final shortlist of three, after competing against church projects from all over the country, comes as no surprise given the exceptional work they do. I very much hope that they win.”
TOP TIME: Caroline Holt is hoping to pick up an award for the Wesley Playhouse at Westminster today.
TOP TIME: Caroline Holt is hoping to pick up an award for the Wesley Playhouse at Westminster today.
Wesley gets his own "Wacky Warehouse"
Noah's Ark in Howden Clough Methodist Church
Noah's Ark in Howden Clough Methodist Church
With just eleven members and the prospect of amalgamating with another congregation, Howden Clough Methodist Church had just one last chance to stave off closure.

It was church steward Caroline Holt who came up with the solution - a playhouse for children and families. 3,000 square feet of themed soft play, a venue for parties, and a café for adults and children to enjoy healthy, fair-trade food and drinks.

The Wesley Playhouse Project is the first Christian “Wacky Warehouse” type playhouse and café in the country. Supported by Methodist Insurance, it is also a new way of being church, registered as part of the Fresh Expressions movement.

Caroline had visited Wacky Warehouses with her goddaughters, and realised a similar project could be the answer to the church’s falling attendance. “I wanted to see if we could get anything similar going in our church, and it sort of snow-balled from there,” said Caroline, who gave up her full-time job as a teacher to coordinate the project as a volunteer.

The Howden Clough church, first opened in 1889, has a long history of flourishing at the heart of its community. In the early 1900s, it was even used as an infant school for the West Riding Education Committee. But the building of a large council estate and the growth of the village had gradually drawn people away to alternative resources and activities.

In what Caroline describes as “a phoenix from the ashes story”, the congregation has created a real community centre. In the first four months, 3,000 people have passed through its doors and it has hosted 60 parties. “Old people bring their grandchildren and sit and talk to each other over a cup of tea while the kids play,” Caroline told Christianity magazine. “The congregation is over the moon. To see the church alive again is a joy for them.”

The congregation still worships in the building and the next step is to start a ‘playhouse praise’ for families once a month. “We don’t want it to be just a playhouse. People know it has a Christian ethos, so we wanted to take that further.”

“The nice thing about this is that other churches may be in the same boat,” says Caroline, “and take the idea from here to offer something the community wants, putting the church back into the heart of the community, where it should be.”
Women's Network Sponsors Playhouse
The Methodist Women's Network has sponsored the purchasing of uniforms for all the people who help at The Wesley Playhouse. It was with grateful thanks we accepted the grant of £1000 to purchase new uniforms for everyone.
Below is the first of the uniforms going to one of our helpers Diane Driver modelling the new t' shirt.
Thank you very much for your support, coming soon will be a photo of our helpers wearing proudly their new uniforms.
Diane Driver in new T'shirt
Diane Driver in new T'shirt
Playhouse Staff run for Air Ambulance
On the 19th June 14 of the staff and volunteers at The Wesley Playhouse ran in the Leeds 10k. All completed the race and thoroughly enjoyed the event in spite of the rain! In all they will raise around £1500 for the Playhouse and the Air Ambulance.
For all it was an opportunity to raise money for a charity we all hope we never need, but if we do then know they will be there to help us in our hour of need.
They are all going to run again next year on the 8th July 2012 if you would like to sponsor them please contact Caroline at the Playhouse, by e-mail on wesley.playhouse@ntlworld.com or ring on 07801655658.
Playhouse Fund Day raises monay for the Air Ambulance
Emily Grundy has fun in the ball pool
Emily Grundy has fun in the ball pool
Stephen and Carrie Cheeseman organised a fundraising day at the Wesley Playhouse, Howden Clough, for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance after both they and their two children Scarlett, two, and Maxwell, three, had to have it called out to them on two separate occasions.
Published on Sunday 17 April 2011 06:00
THE sun shone on a fantastic fundraising day which raised £1,447 for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.
Carrie and Stephen Cheeseman organised the fun day at the Wesley Playhouse in Howden Clough to raise money for the service after the air ambulance had to be called out to them and their two children on two separate occasions within eight months.
Carrie and children Maxwell, three, and Scarlett, two, were flown to hospital in November 2009 after they were hit by a car near their home.
Then just months after her now husband Stephen, 33, was injured after coming off his bike and the air ambulance was called out again, although was unable to land.
To say thank you, and to raise much-needed funds, the family, from Morley, organised the fun day in glorious sunshine which brought out the crowds.
There were stalls and games and special guests were the Mayor of Kirklees, Coun Andrew Palfreeman, and Bernie the Bear, the Air Ambulance’s mascot.
Final Morning Service in the Playhouse
The Playhouse packed out at the last morning service
The Playhouse packed out at the last morning service

A wonderful service of thanksgiving and handing on the "Torch of faith" from the members of Howden Clough Methodist Church to The Wesley Playhouse. Supported by friends and Church members from St Andrews (Littletown), Birstall and Cleckheaton Methodists and many people past and present who help at the Playhouse or support the work being done. A sad day in one sense that one service is ceasing but a tribute to the faith of the memebers who allowed God to work His purpose out through the Wesley Playhouse and to allow the church to be changed so radically. Now thanks to their faith over 60,000 people have come through the doors of the Playhouse and it was fitting that the Playhouse was used as the venue for the formal handing over of the Torch to the next gerneration to carry on the work. Every seat was taken and it was wonderful to see the placed packed out to thank God for what he has done in this place and continues to do through the Playhouse. Long may it be a place where anyone can come and find a welcome and hopefully God, this is our prayer and wish for the future.

Playhouse Praise will continue to happen on the 2nd Sunday of the month at 4pm and everyone is welcome whether you have children or not you will find a service that is for everyone whatever your age, we look forward to seeing you there.


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