THE Parchmore Centre which was at the forefront of black activism and became a model for a world wide church movement – putting the community first – has closed.

The community programme at Parchmore Methodist Church ended last week after over 50 years at the heart of life in Thornton Heath.

The centre had provided facilities for vulnerable adults offering a Lunch Club for 74 elderly people and worked with the council’s Gateway service on a Food Stop providing meals and welfare support for those facing the risk of homelessness.

At at one point the centre according to its web site was offering a wide range of activities to over 1,700 people a week from some 52 different groups.

The centre had only recently been refurbished to offer more facilities but appears to have been impacted by Covid and financial issues attaching some blame to the council for pulling its staff from the welfare project.

Parchmore vicar Rev Nadine Wilkinson said that church services continue and hirers of the hall are returning but that the “community development programme in its current form has closed” and that service users had received information about “alternative sources of support.”

Many of its regular groups have also been displaced including the Guides and Brownies who were due to celebrate the packs hundredth anniversary but are now looking for a new home. The cost of hiring the hall has also increased with many groups not able to afford the new fees.

According to accounts filed with the Charity Commission, Parchmore’s income has consistently decreased since 2016 to just over £200,000 and in August 2020 reported expenditure of £194,895 with an operational surplus of £10,800.

Rev Wilkinson said: “Croydon Council has withdrawn all staff who were working in services offered in partnership with the community centre. In an unpredictable funding environment, a small local charity cannot continue to assume all the associated liabilities and risks and must review it’s offering to ensure it is able to sustain its mission.”

In the 1960s with congregation numbers dwindling, a new vision began to emerge at Parchmore and a decision was made to transform the way the church worked and find out what the community actually needed; particularly its young black members.
In 1968 building was reborn as the Parchmore Church and Youth Centre with a designated area for activities for young people.

That partnership, which went on to become a model for the Methodist church across the world became known as the ‘Parchmore approach’.

In the early 1980s racial disturbances and tension with the police and young people following the murder of Terry May saw Parchmore at the forefront of events with extremists threatening to burn down the building.

It led to the establishment of a forum which sought to influence community policing and training as well as campaigning for better education and youth provision of young black people.

The late Princess Diana famously made what some saw as a controversial visit to Parchmore in 1983, in the wake of these events and hundreds lined the streets to welcome her.

In 2018 the pre-school which served hundreds of children and parents in and around Thornton Heath for half a century was forced to close because of funding but the future looked bright for Parchmore.
A newly expanded lunch club was launched offering freshly cooked meals alongside health related exercise to older people.

In April 2020 the food stop opened offering help to the most needy in the community and the building was refurbished with a £14,000 grant from the council.

But Covid hit and the council’s precarious financial situation seems to have impacted on the sustainability of the project despite weekly attendance increases of 500 per cent.

In March last year an annual grant of £72,000 from the Croydon Council expired and was replaced by a new annual grant of £40,000 awarded from the Croydon Community Fund for three years, which led to a reduction in staffing levels.

Cllr Karen Jewitt said she was ‘sorry’ to hear of the closure of the community programme and provided this response from the council

“The Parchmore took the decision to end their food stop on 1 September, partly because the welfare rights team were no longer working from there.  They have lots of information as to where to signpost existing food stop residents to as well as alternatives for anyone approaching them

“Our community resources delivery lead has been off since the food stop ceased and I would imagine that they will try and find alternative partners who may be interested in a food stop in that area to meet the needs of that locality.”