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Issue No.117
17 December 2018

A truly public house

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Tom Clarke tells the story of a pub church in Norfolk

 

IN AUGUST 2017, THE CHURCH OF ST THOMAS, NORWICH (STN) OPENED A NOT-FOR-PROFIT BAR, cafe and restaurant in the former Mitre pub. The pub, which is next door to the church, was fi rst licensed 150 years ago, but it closed in 2010 before being reopened as a Chinese restaurant and takeaway. When it went up for sale in October 2015, the congregation at STN caught a vision to transform what was once a public house into a 'public home' - a place where the local community could come and relax, build relationships and fi nd a sense of belonging. Two years of hard work transformed the space into a light, contemporary and comfortable meeting place.

Through serving great food and a warm welcome, staff and volunteers aim to offer 'outrageous hospitality' and are mindful of the importance of hospitality and of eating with others in the life of Jesus. Carl Brown, manager of the Mitre, has seen the way in which this is beginning to have an impact on the local community.

In Carl's words, "The Mitre meets people where they are at. We make no assumptions about people who walk in the door, everyone is greeted with the same warm hospitality. Our customers always comment on the wonderful atmosphere of the place - and it is something the community has embraced."

As well as providing a space for the church to engage with local people, the Mitre supports the work of STN Trust, a charity set up by the church to facilitate social action both locally and internationally. Since opening, the team have been able to meet a wide range of needs including help with food and drinks through the 'suspended coffee' system and emergency food parcels. They also provide work experience for those in the community who need training and experience before they enter the world of work, offering long-term support through its mentoring and befriending scheme.

Kerry Brighouse, director of STN Trust, says, "Perhaps the most signifi cant element of engagement comes through the day-to-day conversations that happen with customers. We have been able to offer support to a number of individuals who fi nd themselves in diffi cult circumstances, because of conversations that have happened at the Mitre."

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, says: "The Mitre pub was a rather unkempt and forlorn advertisement for the episcopate, until the people of St Thomas's Church turned it into a centre for the community and a hub for parish life. It is a further sign of the commitment of the people of St Thomas's to the community they serve, and a fresh expression of a truly public house, one where everyone is welcome in the name of Christ."