A community centre is the beating heart of any community, enriching the lives of all its citizens. Kingsley Hall – a Livability Link Church – in London’s East End is no exception.
With a major redevelopment in the pipeline and ambitious plans to extend its reach in the community, Kingsley Hall is on the brink of an exciting stage in its history. Director, Chris Kapnisis, talks about new opportunities and the vision that continues to inspire its work.
“Kingsley Hall is right at the heart of Barking and Dagenham and our community is incredibly diverse. It is also cross-generational – from babies to those in their late 80s and 90s. Part of the mission of Kingsley Hall is to bridge the gaps in community and bring people together.”
[x_blockquote cite=”Chris Capnisis” type=”left”]”We want to help people out of their isolation – from young parents with small children to elderly people living alone – and reach out to overcome barriers.”[/x_blockquote]
“Aside from our church services, one of the ways we do this is to run a range of clubs and workshops. We have started a kids’ fitness club to tackle obesity and counterbalance the sedentary lifestyle that is a problem for young people in our area. We also have social clubs and tea dances for older residents.”
“Our workshops offer life skills on a range of issues, from money management to mental health, which bring people together and help them to help themselves. We take a holistic view of our community and try to provide for the whole person and every aspect of their wellbeing.”
The redevelopment of Kingsley Hall includes extensive plans to update the existing buildings and create more capacity, with a new pre-school building and low-cost accessible accommodation on site. For Chris, this is an opportunity for Kingsley Hall to embrace the concept of livable community and welcome more people through its doors.
“We want Kingsley Hall to continue to be the centre of the community – a place to ‘be’, a place where diversity is welcomed and celebrated. The redevelopment of the space is a golden opportunity to extend our reach and connect with more people, to ensure we create this new space for everyone, we will be getting everyone involved and giving them a chance to input.”
Kingsley Hall’s aspirations and innovative programme of community work has always been an integral part of its mission. The Hall has a rich heritage that continues to inform and inspire its work.
“Everything we do at Kingsley Hall is inspired by the Christian faith of our founders.” says Chris. Founded in 1929, the Hall was the brainchild of two sisters, Muriel and Doris Lester, Christian philanthropists who were determined to build a better neighbourhood for the people who lived in Dagenham.
Despite being from a prosperous, middle-class home, the two sisters were raised with a strong social conscience. Horrified at the living conditions of poorer families in the Dagenham area before the Second World War, they were determined to improve life for them.
Setting up camp on the brand new Becontree estate, Muriel and Doris were equipped with just a caravan, a marquee and a small group of Christian social reformers who believed in a better life for the people of Dagenham.
“Many of the residents on the estate had been moved on from another London borough. Despite being delighted with their new homes, were there no community services for them. They asked the sisters to open a community hall, Kingsley Hall, to provide for their social and spiritual needs. The sisters responded by buying a plot of land right in the centre of the new estate and building work began.”
By 1932, Kingsley Hall had built a meeting hall and nursery school, the “Children’s House”. All these years later, Kingsley Hall continues to serve the needs of local people, housing a community centre, a vibrant café and a lively church, shared with many different faith communities. The pre-school nursery, Kinder Kapers, brings many more people into the Hall from the surrounding neighbourhood.
Despite the different ages and groups that congregate at Kingsley Hall, there is a strong sense of togetherness and friendship that permeates the centre. “Kingsley Hall a place of laughter, fun and inclusivity, where everyone is welcome. We look forward to widening our community and extending that welcome in the near future.”
Kingsley Hall is part of Livability’s Link Church network – 12 churches sponsored by Livability which provide a wide range of projects serving the needs of the local community. Find out more about Livability Link Churches here.