A Little Treasure: Bethany is Closing

Southmead is about to lose a little treasure.  Something which has meant a great deal to many people down through the years. In 1938, 600 children attended the Sunday School of Southmead Baptist Church. After the war, the Youth Club was a hive of activity. The weekly programme included table tennis, country dancing, quizzes, physical exercises. There were bicycle rides to places like Severn Beach and camping holidays at Woolacombe and Exmouth. For at least five years the Central Y.M.C.A. Hall in Colston Street was hired for an ‘Annual Demonstration’ of the Club. This included a performance of a drama. Many Southmead young people met their lifetime spouse through Southmead Baptist Youth Club. Speak to anyone over the age of 80 who lived in Southmead in the early days and you will probably find that they have memories of the church and especially the Youth Club.

The church used to occupy the junction of Eastleigh and Westleigh Roads, what is now Westleigh Close.   There was a piece of grass, where Westleigh House is, which was an ideal meeting place for young people.  In Southmead’s troubled past, in the late 80s and early 90s, this seemed to be the centre of the riots. Eventually the church building was closed following an arson attack in 1993. However the church continued in its new home, in between the Area Housing Office (Southmead House) and the Southmead Community Centre, in Greystoke Avenue, becoming known as Bethany.

Down through the years there has been a warm welcome for everyone and many have enjoyed social occasions at the church. The main purpose of the Church has always been to worship God. Being a Baptist Church, the funding for the church has been raised from among its members. It is a wonderful achievement that since its beginning in Fonthill School in 1933, the church has had a minister for most of that time. Two years ago, Ian Thornley retired and the church has been unable to appoint a successor.  However countless lives have been deeply affected by the ministry of the church.  People have found faith in God, had faith rekindled, strengthened and deepened. Lives have been changed and the closure of the church will not alter that. The people will no doubt attend another church, but will always be grateful for the spiritual impact on their lives that Southmead Baptist Church has had.

Did you know that there was a Southmead Festival in 1975?  Our minister, Rodney Ward, was the Chairman of the committee for the then ‘Southmead Community Festival’.  The Church helped with the Flower Festival, indoor fete and hobbies exhibition. In the following year, the Church’s Women’s Bright Hour held a special meeting for the women of Southmead and Women’s Club, and the Guides arranged events which were open to all. The Church has always had a deep commitment to the Festival. For many years Ian Thornley and Pete Richards kept the Festival ticking over. It is wonderful to see it now flourishing at the Greenway Centre.

Who remembers ‘Southmead Contact’? This was the neighbourhood newspaper from 1967, for which the church used to write articles and assist with distribution.  This was the forerunner to The Mead which has also been well supported by members of Southmead Baptist Church.

Yes. Southmead is about to lose a treasure, but this treasure leaves a legacy which will never be forgotten.