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Breathing life into ex-airbase church

PUBLISHED: 09:46 24 January 2008 | UPDATED: 08:49 13 July 2010

The church's slate-black roof used to reverberate to the roar of fighter jets above, and the rousing hymns of the airmen's families below.

But it fell silent when the base closed and the military planes and personnel flew away.

The church's slate-black roof used to reverberate to the roar of fighter jets above, and the rousing hymns of the airmen's families below.

But it fell silent when the base closed and the military planes and personnel flew away.

Now the former RAF Coltishall place of worship has risen again, as is ready for take off as the hub of a new community springing up around it.

Scores of new families are snapping up the former airmen's homes as they are sold off for affordable housing.

And as they settle into a new life on the former RAF campus, the church is playing a key role bringing them together and providing the facilities they need as it too faces a new beginning having been de-mobbed into “civvy street.”

The vicar who is driving the revival, the Rev Elizabeth Bailey knows she faces a tough task - starting a flock from scratch among mainly young families who tend to shun churchgoing.

“It is going to be a challenge. Young people are not attending church services.

“But I have the advantage of starting with a blank sheet of paper, and can tailor the church to what they want.”

That could include services which were more visual and interactive and less wordy.

“We can look at vibrant family meetings, which do not involve a lot of sitting in pews and getting up and down,” she explained.

Since the base shut in November 2006 about 100 affordable homes on the campus have been snapped up, with another 240 to go. But, with meeting halls and the local shop still shut, the church is now the only focal point where new residents can meet.

On Sunday after a £35,000 revamp, St Edwards Community Church opened its doors, and asked local people to drop in to say what facilities they wanted.

Answers ranged from exercise classes and mother and toddler clubs, to a school and pool. The church will aim to provide what it can, and help campaign for the rest.

Mrs Bailey said the church's role was to create a centre for the new families - many of whom could be young mums left caring for children while partners went out to work in what could be an isolating experience in new surroundings where they knew no-one.

Newcomers Rachel and Ian Blake said they were not churchgoers but felt the building had a role to play bringing people together through their children.

Lisa Alexander, 22, added: “We got to know some people when camping out queuing to buy our homes, but this will help to get to know them better.”

Mrs Bailey added: “The life of the church will grow out of the people who come, and the things they want to do.”

A new mother and toddler group started Monday and next Sunday it will be officially launched at an afternoon ceremony attended by the Bishop of Lynn, the Rt Rev James Langstaff.

The church is now looking for further funding to help to buy equipment, as well as seeking anyone with music, childcare or craft skills who can help with its activities. Contact Mrs Bailey on 01263 834525.

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