Church arts centre bid

Graham Duncan outside the building in Carver Street

Graham Duncan outside the building in Carver Street

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A FORMER Victorian school next to a church in Sheffield city centre could be revamped to offer an arts centre.

Plans have been drawn up to restore the rundown listed building next to St Matthew’s in Carver Street and add an extension with a view to creating a “creative” focal point for the public and, in particular, people with mental health problems.

The concept was in keeping with the church’s tradition of “reaching out to the community”, said Graham Duncan, a volunteer priest at St Matthew’s, who is leading the £1.5m project.

With hopes that most of the money has been secured, and if council planning approval is granted, work on St Matthew’s House could start next summer with a scheduled completion date towards the end of 2013.

One of the church’s aims is create a complex that will be an attractive yet different type of neighbour for the £600m Sevenstone retail quarter that is due to be built next to the proposed extension at the back.

“It will balance the commercial and retail development by offering something that people can do for low cost,” said Mr Duncan.

Built 156 years ago to serve densely-populated slums, St Matthew’s Church is part of the Sheffield Anglican diocese and, tucked away in Carver Street, has been described as “perhaps the best-kept secret” in the city centre.

The adjoining former school has an ornate Victorian frontage but the building is dilapidated and has no disabled access, said Mr Duncan. Only the ground floor used at present. “The congregation has to do something with it and we are working on a £1.5m refurbishment.”

The scheme involves retaining the facade and demolishing buildings at the back to make way for a three-storey extension.

Activities such as language classes for asylum seekers, cooking classes for young parents and support for elderly people would continue at the new St Matthew’s Centre.

In addition, a cafe is planned, along with a significant new use. “We want to make it an arts centre where people can come to do pottery, art, anything creative. It is going to be open to everyone but we are particularly focusing on people with mental health difficulties.

“Our ethos is everybody is on a journey towards good mental health,” said Mr Duncan, who is centre manager at St Mary’s at Bramall Lane.

The congregation at the church, which has a strong liturgical and musical tradition, has its fingers crossed regarding the finance, which is due to come from Europe, charity banks and grants.

“We think we are almost there but decisions will be made between now and December.”

Sheffield-based architects Burnell Briercliffe say: “The development will allow St Matthew’s Centre to continue to provide the valuable services it offers to the congregation and wider community in a sustainable way into the foreseeable future.”

lA tree considered to be a symbol of hope was planted in a ceremony to launch Sheffield Mental Health Week.

The Ginkgo Biloba tree, which gained its status after one was found intact following the atom bombing of Hiroshima, was planted near the new amphitheatre at South Street Park, behind Sheffield railway station.

Deputy Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Coun John Campbell, took part in the ceremony with members of the council’s community forestry team and with the support of Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust.