Tuesday 1 July 2014

Ruth asks you to help save Liverpool's amazing Bombed Out Church

I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up a twenty minute train ride away in Kirkby. As such, the Bombed Out Church didn’t really figure on my radar as a child; trips into town were largely confined to the very centre of the city and my overriding childhood memories are of Blacklers’ basement, Lees buttery and the chandeliers in BHS.

As a teenager though, when I started going into town by myself or with mates, I was either hanging around in or outside the School Lane Quiggins, or wandering up and down Bold Street, and so it was that I first wondered what that weird locked up church with no roof was at the top of Bold Street. Fast forward a few years to university (I stayed at home and went to Liverpool uni. Yet I still got a grant. The olden days, ay?) and me and a couple of friends managed to sneak into the gardens, though we couldn’t get into the mysterious building itself.

A few years later, after a stint in London followed by a return to Merseyside, the church was still locked up and looked pretty inaccessible. The steps, on the other hand, were a fantastic landmark to meet friends in the days where still not all of us had mobile phones, and those of us who did were forever running out of credit.

In fact, I didn’t go into the church itself until my son was a new baby, seven years ago. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it had been transformed by Ambrose Reynolds and Urban Strawberry Lunch, in an incredibly hands-on (like, cleaning human faeces out of the pond, getting rid of rats, clearing away needles, that kind of hands-on) way.

The first actual gig I attended there was a CND gig, back in 2009. I’d not long left my then-husband and I wanted to get out more. I think Tony Kehoe (who runs the Egg Café open mic) might have done a set, but I’m not sure because I was so busy running about after my little one to stop him exploring in the pond that I can’t remember much else!

That was the first of many events I’d attend in this wonderful setting.

One of my favourite ever events there was going to see a really old black and white film of Carols from Kings, on the winter solstice of 2011, with my then-pretty-new boyfriend. We sat on bails of hay and watched the film with its candles, songs, and yawning choirboys, and were astounded at how warm it was for that time of year.

There is something of a festival vibe to any event in St. Luke’s, but beyond the fact of listening to music - or whatever it is you’re doing - in an outdoor setting. It’s about the way that you can connect with people there in a way that just a few meters away, outside, you can’t. Of course, we chat to strangers in ‘bus stops and in shops and exchange pleasantries about the weather, but in St. Luke’s it feels almost like you’ve been transported into another realm. There you are, watching a performance of some kind, or getting involved in an activity, inside what’s essentially a cross between a church and a park, and yet you’re at the top of one of Liverpool’s busiest shopping streets… and yet again, you wouldn’t know it. You could be anywhere; you could be in San Francisco, Paris, Amsterdam or faeryland … or nowhere, a place removed from the universe itself, where time seems to slow down and prejudices seem to melt away. It’s magical.

I realise this sounds like hyperbole. No such thing as magic, is there? Get this though; not long after my divorce had finally come through I said to my bezzie mate, “nah, I’ll never get married again. Unless I can do it in the Bombed Out Church,” as a kind of a joke. Well, remember the chap I mentioned a few paragraphs ago? This September, we’re marrying each other, in the Bombed Out Church.

That same boyfriend is also my musical partner. We gig around town and in St. Helens (where we live) as Moss & Jones, performing folky originals and imaginative, fun covers. We started out in 2012 as a pair of carollers, and took it from there. It had long been our dream to gig in the Bombed Out Church, and early this year we contacted them, tentatively, to ask if it would be possible. Imagine our delight when we got a yes! The gig was arranged for the end of May, but between arranging it and the gig happening, we, like everyone else, heard the bad news that St. Luke’s was - well, no one seemed entirely sure what was happening, except that various people wanted to take this amazing place and either turn it into an hotel, a food hub or pave it over and install a Starbucks.

None of these things seemed to allow the possibility of gigs, events, concerts, films, yoga/tai chi/meditation and so on continuing. None of these things seemed to take into account the fact St. Luke’s is also a war memorial, and a lasting monument to those in Liverpool who lived through, or died in, the Blitz.

In the end, our gig went ahead, and we even got asked back for a second. We were incredibly privileged to be able to perform in this amazing setting not just once, but twice.

We’re hoping we’ll get asked back again at some point; maybe we could come back in the winter and do a full carol concert?

At the moment, Ambrose and his coterie of wonderful helpers keep the church open regularly, relying solely on donations from the public since the council’s funding has been cut. Given that people can access the church for as little as just a pound (not that there’s anything wrong with this; it’s lovely it’s so accessible and that’s part of its charm. In fact, I understand that on occasion the fee has been waived for people who genuinely cannot afford it, with payment made instead in the form of odd jobs, such as watering the plants), you can “do the math” and see that this state of affairs isn’t sustainable.

This is why they’ve set up a crowdfunding project. If they raise the money it will go towards the many repairs needed to keep the church going, and also towards helping keep the church open in bad weather, drawing in more people. In fact, considering the sheer amount of work that needs to be done, it’s impressive that they’ll manage to bring it in for £18,000, the amount they’re hoping to raise.

When the Bombed Out Church was first under threat, there was a petition to save it; it got over 30,000 signatures. If everyone who signed the petition put in just a quid they’d have smashed their target. But signing something is a lot easier than putting your hand in your pocket, it seems, and with just a few weeks to go, the Bombie is still quite some way off its target. I’m not entirely sure why this would be, but maybe people don’t realise that if they don’t meet their target, crowdfunder will give everyone their money back. What does this mean for the Bombed Out Church? Well, no more gigs. No more immersive theatre. No more Qi Gong. No more Blitz Exhibitions. No more handfastings or quirky wedding celebration. No more 96 Footballs. No more stepping off the street and entering what feels like another world.

Just another building. If you don’t want this for the Bombed Out Church than go and donate right away! The lovely thing about Crowdfunder is that you actually get a gift if you donate anything £2 or over, from a shout out on their Facebook page to a guided tour, and more (we’ve bought a brick). It’s a fairly simple process; if you’ve ever bought anything from the internet you’ll be comfortable donating online; you can use your card (no additional charge) or paypal (a small additional charge, but it saves them from incurring the charge, so that’s good).

And if you really honestly truly do not have £2 to spare, and there have been times in my life when that’s been the case, then get the word out. Blog about this, tweet about it {copy and paste this link: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/bombed-out-church}, put it on Facebook, reblog this tumblr post, get yourself on WhatsApp and send the link to all your mates, post something on snapchat… over and over again until people get the message; this place is unique, and YOU can be one of the people that saves it. Imagine being that person?

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