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St Martin's Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne

St. Martin’s Centre is within the Byker ward of Newcastle upon Tyne, an inner city area to the east of Newcastle city centre. It is a multi-agency centre offering a range of services to the communities of Byker and Walker. The new St Martin’s was built in 2005/06 on the site of the original St Martin’s Church, and is the result of a vision to make better use of the original church building, develop stronger connections with the community and create a “community place” for the whole local community to use. The Centre’s area of operation has the lowest weekly household income and the highest number of young people not in education or employment in the Tyne and Wear City Region. It has the highest levels of teenage pregnancy in the country, the highest levels of obesity in the city and high levels of persistent absence from school combined with low levels of attainment.

Origins of St Martin’s Centre

St Martin's Church in Byker was founded in 1933 as a daughter church of St Michael and All Angels, Byker. As the fields between Byker and Walker were filled with houses, a red brick parish hall was constructed at the junction between Welbeck Road and Roman Avenue which served as a meeting place for the local community and as a place for worship. St Martin's became a parish in its own right in 1976. Pews were imported and the downstairs kitchen was replaced by a vestry.

By the end of the 1990s, the future of St Martin's was uncertain. Byker had suffered severe population loss and the congregation had fallen in number with very few children and families. The building was not in good shape, but it was still well situated in the local community. Members of the PCC were determined to find a future and in 2000 formed a number of working groups to look at the future of the parish and develop a mission statement.

The Urban Ministry and Theology Project (UMTP) in the East End of Newcastle in the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle had started in 1999. It encompassed community engagement, church development and theological education and training. Individuals within the clergy team led on each of these. The priest responsible for church development worked with St Martin’s in their discussions and a consultant advised about wider consultation. When the Christmas card was delivered round the parish as usual, a questionnaire was enclosed asking what local residents thought: "should the church stay? what sort of issues needed addressing?". Boxes for completed questionnaires were put around post offices and other centres and, although only a fairly small percentage was returned, the exercise gave useful feedback and served to alert people to the possibility of a new centre. Members of the congregation also did some door knocking in the immediate area. The results were assembled into a report in which a very strong emerging theme was children and young people.

There had been many previous connections between the church and the community and St Martin’s was approached by the local Sure Start about the possibility of developing a family centre, for which Sure Start could put in £750,000 capital funding. Further consultation took place including focus groups which showed there was a lot of enthusiasm about this idea. This initial guarantee of capital spend was key. It gave the church and Sure Start the leverage to secure further funding up to the total cost of £1.6 million.

During the building work, the congregation of 20-30 transferred to the school. The new building houses a day nursery run by Barnardo’s, a Sure Start children’s centre, 4 community rooms and St. Martin’s Church. The kitchen is ideal for training and cookery groups. The multi-purpose upstairs room can be used for dancing, exercise and keep fit. The restricted size of the site meant that the space had to be used flexibly. The small designated worship area is adjacent to two of the community rooms. Drawing back the partitions between the three gives a total worship area large enough for up to 150 people. A stunning window in the church was designed by an artist working closely with local people.

Forming the Partnership

When St Martin’s Centre Partnership was formed, a lot of careful consideration was given to governance arrangements. The idea was to have a partnership with Centre users and with the community. The Partnership is a charitable company. Sure Start, which is run by Barnardo’s in that area, could not formally be part of the partnership. Instead, there is a service level agreement and an agreement about how much they contribute to running expenses. One of the Sure Start staff is an adviser at Board meetings.

The church did not want to be controlling. There needed to be considerable preparation as the Centre was being developed including discussion in the PCC and information and comment from the pulpit on Sundays. Initially there was a certain amount of anxiety amongst the congregation about how the arrangements would work. “Would it represent a takeover?” “Where will we (the congregation) be in all this?” The early months after the Centre’s completion was a critical period for getting the dynamics of the relationship between Church and Centre worked out. However, because the incumbent left soon after the Centre opened and there was a long interregnum, the two evolved separately for some time with a certain amount of mutual mistrust. Since then, with the arrival of the new incumbent and the appointment of a Chief Officer for the Centre, this has been rectified. All the emphasis has been on building relationships. As a result, there has been a gradual moving together, much greater integration, the development of mutual respect and understanding and greater overlap in involvement in activities. For example, Centre staff help in the Tea Club for pensioners run by one of the congregation and now there is talk about new things to do together, such as a spirituality course.

Activities include

· Nursery in partnership with Barnardo’s
· Sure Start Groups
· Work under-5s: work with parents and carers – how to play with children
· After-school club for 8-13s: focus on team work, sharing and communication
· Classroom space for young people at risk of exclusion from school
· Work with older people: tai chi; ‘soup and stottie lunch’; tea club
· Drop-in morning when there is Citizens’ Advice Bureau, the Carers’ Society present and smoking cessation and other health-related activities.
· Hosting the local residents’ association, ward committees and the MP surgery
· Hosting the East End Cultural Network
· Local parents’ groups
· Freedom Project working with women experiencing domestic violence
· Cookery: Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food with the Probation Service
· ESOL book club
· Hosting the Congolese Church on Sunday afternoons.

In the church, in addition to Brownies and Guides, there is an increasing volume of baptisms, some of which arise because people have attended programmes in the Centre. St Martin’s is also starting to be known as a wedding venue. When funerals take place, it is written into the Centre’s terms and conditions that other bookings are moved around to fit.

Evolving activities

There are two ways in which the programme at the Centre develops. First, activities have grown in response as contact with local people has led to greater awareness of specific needs or gaps in services. Secondly, new opportunities have arisen as others have seen the value of the Centre as a drop-in centre base. The Centre has also hosted conferences, such as a European Union Conference on child poverty, one of six in the country, which brought together officials from Brussels, local residents and young people.


At the time of the genesis of the scheme, the main leadership came from the then incumbent of St Martin’s and his colleague in the UMTP team who facilitated the church meetings and wider community consultation. More recently, the present incumbent and the Chief Officer of the Centre together with the other trustees provide the leadership.

The Centre has 11 paid full and part-time staff (5 fte) plus the nursery staff.


Most of the Centre’s income comes from grants such as: Sure Start, Youth Drop-In Fund, Training Fund, Toddler Toy Fund, After School Club Fund, Educational Welfare Fund, Business Link Funding, Lloyds TSB, Connexions, Northumberland Business Service, the Henry Smith Foundation. There are further contributions from user groups. About 15% of running costs are covered through income for room bookings and fundraising events bring in a small amount of money. There has also been help with Health and Safety arrangements from Gregg’s UK as part of Gregg’s own Corporate Social Responsibility policy.

All volunteers are local; there is a stipulation that they live in NE6. They contribute 25-30 hours per week which, calculated on the basis of the minimum wage, amounts to a contribution worth £180 p.w.

The Centre is financially secure through 2012, but this takes tremendously hard work and a constant search for both trust and statutory funding.

Non-financial resources and links

The Diocese of Newcastle played a big role in the development of the scheme in relation to bringing in the capital funding and also the use of the land. Since then there has been unflagging support from the Archdeacon and the Bishop.

The Urban Ministry and Theology Project has been designated as Mission Initiative North East (MINE), becoming one of the first Mission Initiatives in the country. The four churches involved work closely together. Students from the Regional Training Partnership also visit the Centre.

There is no longer a Churches Together in Byker and Walker: only Church of England and Roman Catholic churches remain in the area; the Methodist and United Reformed Churches have closed. There is close working with the Roman Catholic priests and some RC Sisters based in the area.

Among local secular organisations, there has been a close relationship with Newcastle Volunteer Centre. For example, some staff from Northern Rock came to help dig gardens. In addition to the practical assistance these outside volunteers gave, this was an opportunity for raising their awareness about conditions in the area.


The primary purpose of the Centre is to fulfil its mission:

St Martin’s is a place to grow, learn and worship for everyone and is in the heart of the community. We are passionate about believing that every person matters and we are dedicated to help all local people to enjoy happy, healthy and safe lives and to help everyone to reach their full potential.”

This translates into a set of values:

“Passionate about people – we believe in helping people be the best they can be, whether they are staff, volunteers, trustees, local groups, families or individuals.

· Positive about partnerships – we invest in partnership working, striving to create new alliances and new opportunities to help us achieve our aims.

· Be one team – We are one team under one roof, working towards the aims and objectives of the St Martin’s Centre Partnership.

· Customer focused - We put our customers [both internal and external] at the heart of all we delivery.

· Respect individuality and diversity – We treat everyone with respect and value diversity and individuality.

· Open honest and transparent – We are open and transparent in all our services, operation and activities. We seek feedback on our services, our delivery and our team, reacting positively and seeking continuous improvement.”

One part of putting this into practice means achieving the targets set by each of the major funders relating to outcomes specified in the original bid or service level agreement, such as number of sessions or courses and number of attendees or beneficiaries. Recently the Centre has started to carry out more monitoring through an annual business plan.

Success factors

The key success factors of the Centre revolve around being so focused on what local people need and ‘going the extra mile’ to make appropriate provision. There is a lot of emphasis on individual users and their progression, recognising that many people using the Centre have not had many positive choices, so that there is a need to build up their self-esteem and open up new horizons for them. For example, someone might start by attending a manicure class, for which a crèche is provided, but then go on to a family learning course leading to an adult numeracy qualification.

This requires the Centre staff and trustees to have an open-minded approach: a willingness to try new things but also to review them constantly, abandon anything that is not working and try again. Strong neighbourhood engagement is vital. The range of services, the skills and experience of the staff and the excellent facilities all serve to demonstrate the importance the Centre places on local needs and illustrate the respect felt towards local people. The strong link between Church and Centre exemplifies the extent to which the focus is on the whole person - physical, social and spiritual needs.


One of the main challenges in the work is to change perceptions. First, social isolation in the area is a huge issue and some residents have very negative views about themselves and their lack or perceived lack of positive options. They may fail to respond, therefore, because they feel there are too many obstacles in their way that it will be impossible to overcome. Associated with this is a reluctance or fear of moving beyond their own micro neighbourhood. Second, there can be misconceptions about the Centre: an assumption that it is run by the Council, which can deter them from using it.

Challenges and opportunities for the future

Achieving sustainability will continue to be a challenge especially as some funding sources are being cut, such as adult education budgets.

There are various ways in which the work might broaden out. There is scope for developing greater continuity of work with the families of the under-5s who currently use the Centre. The advent of asylum seekers in the area brings both a challenge and an opportunity. The use of story telling may be a way of focusing on community cohesion both across different cultural groups and different generations. More could be done through volunteering, including accrediting the experience of the volunteers.