I’ve remarked more than once that the northern suburbs of Sheffield are short of landmark buildings.
I deplored the demolition of St Hilda’s Parish Church, Shiregreen and the Ritz Cinema, Parson Cross, and I’ve written blog articles about the uncertain futures of St Cecilia’s Parish Church, Parson Cross, the Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top and the Timbertop pub, Shirecliffe.
I was delighted to read, in the Methodist Church periodical The Connexion (Summer 2020), that Firth Park Methodist Church has put its attractive and expensive building to good use to ensure its long-term survival.
The Grade-II listed building is an essay in Perpendicular Gothic style by the Sheffield architects Frank W Chapman (1869-1933) and John Mansell Jenkinson (1883-1965), built of red brick with ashlar dressings and a slate roof. Its entrance front has a wide Perpendicular window, with twin turrets and a porch with twin entrance doors. The sides of the nave are buttressed and its roof carries an octagonal flèche.
It cost £4,000, of which £1,000 was bequeathed by John Cole, one of the three Cole Brothers who founded the city-centre department store.
The interior plan of the worship space was originally cruciform, with transepts and a chancel.
The foundation stone was laid on Saturday May 28th 1910, and the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of that date mentioned that the building would accommodate a congregation of three hundred and the ancillary facilities included a church parlour, minister’s vestry, choir vestry and kitchen.
The church opened on May 11th 1911. It was affiliated to the United Methodist Church until the 1932 amalgamation which created the modern Methodist Church.
I’ve been told that in the early 1960s a property developer offered the congregation a deal whereby in exchange for the corner site on Stubbin Lane and Sicey Avenue, a brand-new chapel would be incorporated into a proposed supermarket.
The Methodists turned down this offer and instead the unlovely Paragon Cinema (1934), fifty yards up Sicey Avenue, was replaced by a supermarket and bowling alley.
Maintaining the building became increasingly difficult in the decades that followed, and a suspended ceiling was installed circa 1980 to make the place easier to heat.
As the Anglican congregation at St Hilda’s declined, there was talk of amalgamating in order to use one building instead of two, but when eventually St Hilda’s closed in 2007 the remaining members transferred to the Anglican parish church of St James & St Christopher, Shiregreen.
The Methodist congregation continued to flourish, however, and nowadays includes people of Caribbean heritage and from a number of African nations, especially Ghana, and former refugee families from Thailand. The former vestry now serves as a café and is used for Café Church.
To support its thriving programme of activities – youth groups, English as a Second Language groups, an entertainment group – the congregation visualises creating two separate spaces in the nave, and in February 2020 opened ‘Sam’s Space’, containing a substantial indoor soft play structure. In the five weeks before the pandemic lockdown forced it to close, an encouraging number of visitors crossed the threshold.
Sam’s Space isn’t only for kids. Rev Mark Goodhand’s article in The Connexion comments,–
It’s a meeting place for young children, parents, grandparents and carers. It’s a space that outside of soft play sessions will be used for wider conversations – fellowship groups, local councillors’ surgeries and school curriculum work. As the project has unfolded new opportunities for service have emerged. We hope to be involved with mental health work by using an open area attached to our building to provide raised beds for gardening. It’s a place where new expressions of worship will begin to be shaped by the community. This is exciting!
Every church is, of course, essentially the people who meet. The building is only bricks and mortar.
But it’s satisfying that – thanks to the vision of the Firth Park Methodists – the humdrum shopping centre of Firth Park will retain its only distinguished building.