Telford 1st SNU Church did not begin its life in Stirchley. It was the product of an enthusiastic group of Spiritualists in Dawley. It was 1960 and major changes were due to take place in the area as Dawley had been chosen as the site for a New Town to take large numbers of people from the Birmingham area. At that time Dawley was a stronghold of Methodism, however, it was decided by the group, under the leadership of William Hollis to arrange a public meeting to publicise Spiritualism and to gauge potential support before trying to establish a Spiritualist Church in Dawley.
The public meeting took place at Dawley Old Folks Rest Room and Gordon Higginson from Longton, Stoke on Trent in Staffordshire was the medium for the evening. Gordon was already regarded as an outstanding demonstrator, and later, of course, he was to become an outstanding President of the Spiritualists’ National Union. The meeting was a great success which led to the creation of the Dawley and District Spiritual Movement with Mr Hollis as President. In April 1962 it became affiliated to the SNU and subsequently became Dawley First National Spiritualist Church.
Initial services took place in various rented accommodation in Dawley. It was the Church’s aim to purchase its own property when it had raised sufficient funds. Fund raising began, helped by Gordon Higginson and another future President of the SNU, Eric Hatton from Stourbridge. Together they performed in concerts to support the Church with Gordon as demonstrator and Eric singing with his splendid tenor voice. They became wardens of the church and more appropriately conducted the service of Dedication when the Church eventually moved to Stirchley Village.
It must be said that the Church has not had the best of fortune when dealing with property purchasing. Its initial venture came in 1962 when it purchased the former Methodist Church, Sunday School and house in Bank Road, Dawley, assisted in the purchase and subsequent repair work by loans from the SNU.
It was written by Christine Hollis of that time that “The Methodists had closed the Church because of major roof repairs, but we were able to use the Sunday School whilst we had repairs carried out. These repairs were never satisfactory, and we did not have enough funds to re-roof the whole church, so we stayed in the Sunday School. We made tea at the end of the service and the water was carried from the outside wash house, but the water pipes leaked so before and after each service we had to turn the water on and off at the main stop tap in the street. The attached house was in better condition than the rest of the building and a wall was removed so that we could use the house for a tea room with the upstairs used for a circle room as there was no electricity up there”.
Bank Road remained our home until 1979. By that time Telford New Town was a reality and many religious groups were looking for bigger or better premises. In our own case, a wonderful chain resulted involving ourselves, the Church of England, the Jehovah Witnesses and Wellington Spiritualists. We, Dawley First National Spiritualist Church bought St James’ Hall at Stirchley from the C of E, the Jehovah Witnesses bought Bank Road from us and they sold their Watling Street building to our colleagues in Wellington.
The hall required considerable work before it could be used as a church. The ground at the front of the hall had been rented out as an allotment. The toilet was outside, and the car park was small and in need of re-surfacing.
Inside the building, the rooms at the rear of the hall were turned into a Medium’s Room, healing room and general storage space. The large platform was shortened. Heating was from a stove in the centre of the hall.
Everyone was happy, but all was to change dramatically with the discovery of extensive dry rot. An expert survey also revealed that there were no proper foundations under the walls as the building had replaced an earlier wooden church hall.
The SNU agreed to make a loan to cover the cost of rebuilding and church services were moved to Randlay Community Centre whilst work ensued. Since then, thankfully, we have been spared any new disasters, and instead the Church has been able to steadily improve its facilities, to make it warm and physically welcoming to all who come here and blending with the friendliness for which our congregations are well known.
The last fifteen years or so have seen great changes: externally the tarmacking of the car park and the building has been re-roofed. Internal improvements have also taken place: the rebuilding of the toilets, one with wheelchair access; upgrading of the kitchen; installation of a modern central heating system throughout; new lighting and emergency lighting in the main hall; microphones and a loop system; new chairs and internal redecoration.
We are forever indebted to the generosity of members and friends; to the JV Trust and to the officers and committees over the years who have provided a range of activities in the Church to attract visitors in good numbers.
In 2009 Telford 1st SNU church celebrated its 30th Anniversary and with the continued support of our members and dedicated officers of the church we look forward to celebrating our 40th Anniversary in 2019.