Monthly Archive June 2023

ByDave Hall

Coronations, concerts and ceilidhs: the seat for every setting

When members of St Mary’s, Ely, wanted to replace their ancient pews they put chairs from various suppliers through rigorous tests.

The new seating had to look appropriate in a Grade I listed historic building, stack efficiently, link easily and take up minimum space when stored. It needed to be comfortable for events of sometimes lengthy duration and of manageable weight to be cleared on a regular basis.

Alpha Furniture’s Jacob chair passed all the tests.

By removing the pews, the church has now created a much more flexible area, allowing not only multiple formats for worship but more community use during the week.

Phil MacInnes, senior business consultant at Alpha, said: ‘In an industry traditionally based on personal recommendation, our foundation has been to take an honest and trustworthy approach. We have grown over the years as a result.’

Praising the chairs six months after their installation, St Mary’s treasurer, Piers Coutts, pointed out that the seating layout was changing two or three times in most weeks. The chairs are in use for three Sunday services – ‘cinema and café-style with coffee area, all in the same place!’ Weekly groups for under-ones and under-fives make full use of them as does a weekly warm and open space and bereavement café.

The chairs have also come into use at ceilidhs, youth events with large inflatables, concerts, conferences, funerals, a book launch – and the screening of the coronation of King Charles III.

‘We were delighted to have been able to help,’ said Phil MacInnes, adding that

Alpha have added many new items to their range of durable quality furniture. ‘In these financially testing times we have excelled at bringing customers high-quality products at the very best value. To cope with raw material price fluctuations we regularly review our prices to ensure we remain competitive, quickly passing on any savings to our customers.’

Alpha offer some unusual but highly-effective benefits for their customers, including free delivery wherever possible, free samples, so they can ‘try before they buy’, free fabric and finish swatches.

‘We also offer free consultations with our experts, to help you choose the best furniture for your environment without the normal hard sell,’ said Phil.

• Alpha Furniture will be on stand P23 at CRE Midlands 2023

Book your ticket for CRE Midlands 2023 here from as little as £3

Organisations looking to book a stand should contact James Batterbee 0161 250 2306 (E: or Carol Malpass 0161 250 2467 (E:

Click to view the latest floorplan and price list for available stands

ByDave Hall

Post-pandemic volunteer crisis hits local church ministry

Churches provide a vital lifeline for communities hit by the cost-of-living crisis but a lack of volunteers prevents them from doing more, a new survey reveals.

Specialist insurer Ecclesiastical, exhibitors at CRE Midlands 2023, asked 583 churches about the services they provide to their community and discovered that more than one in three offer food banks, one in four warm banks (pictured) and one in nine debt support. Five per cent run a clothes bank.

Of the churches offering warm banks, almost one in six set up the service in response to the spiralling cost of fuel. Overall, nearly half the churches said the cost-of-living crisis had led to higher demand for services, with a 21 per cent increase in demand for foodbanks and a five per cent increase in demand for debt support.

However, churches are struggling to meet the demand due to the lack of volunteers, with over a quarter saying this had affected their ability to offer services to the local community.

In a 2021 survey carried out by Ecclesiastical, half of the churches contacted said they had seen a fall in volunteer numbers in the 12 months prior, pointing to a major loss of volunteers since the pandemic.

Helen Richards, church operations director at Ecclesiastical, said: ‘It’s no surprise to see churches stepping up to support their communities when most in need and the efforts to tackle the cost-of-living crisis reflect the wider contribution to society our churches make. With more demand on services offered, the church needs even more volunteers to help them support some of the most vulnerable people in their communities. If churches are unable to attract people to fill these roles then there is a real risk that they will be forced to stop providing these vital services, or even close altogether.’

Ecclesiastical has produced a range of guidance for churches on some health and safety aspects of looking after volunteers on its website and also a video to help inspire volunteers.

• Ecclesiastical are on stand P29 at CRE Midlands 2023

Book your ticket for CRE Midlands 2023 here from as little as £3

Organisations looking to book a stand should contact James Batterbee 0161 250 2306 (E: or Carol Malpass 0161 250 2467 (E:

Click to view the latest floorplan and price list for available stands

ByDave Hall

Goodbye noticeboards, hello Info Point

When members of an historic church wanted to help visitors understand its special features they called on Info Point.

Now visitors to St Barnabas Church, Brampton Bryan, in Herefordshire use their mobile phones to access details of the church as they wander round the building and churchyard.

‘It is a wonderful addition,’ said churchwarden Michael Dugdale. ‘Many visitors mention how helpful the system is in the visitors’ book. It’s an easy way to discover more of the church’s history and means we do not need a series of notice boards dotted round the building.’

He also pointed out that a number of local churches have looked at the system and are considering installing it. The church – a Grade I listed building – is believed to be one of only six English churches built or rebuilt during the Commonwealth Period (1649–1660), after being destroyed together with much of the adjoining castle and the majority of the village during the Civil War. Info Point enables visitors to gain a greater understanding about the building’s rich heritage and includes two tours: one that explores the history and architecture and another designed specifically for children.

Dan Boys, managing director of Derbyshire-based Info Point, believes that if a church is looking to share its rich history and increase donations, then Info Point can help.

‘With Info Point you can effortlessly share exclusive text, images, audio, video and interactive games directly to your visitor’s phone,’ he said. ‘It is easy to update and uses less power than a low energy light bulb. It doesn’t require wi-fi or a mobile network. In fact, Info Point can be installed anywhere – even outside with our solar-powered version.’

It is possible to get an Info Point for your church for free.

‘Our funding support team have a strong track record in securing funding for a wide range of church projects,’ said Dan. ‘As part of our Hidden Stories scheme we’ll apply for the funding on your behalf. The package includes an Info Point and the creation of a church tour as part of a wider community project.’

• Info Point are on stand E13 at CRE Midlands 2023

Book your ticket for CRE Midlands 2023 here from as little as £3

Organisations looking to book a stand should contact James Batterbee 0161 250 2306 (E: or Carol Malpass 0161 250 2467 (E:

Click to view the latest floorplan and price list for available stands

ByDave Hall

Discover the powerful mentoring programme that rescues, restores and revives

Working for a mission helping street kids in Guatemala Alastair Welford was concerned how mentoring youngsters finished when they became young adults.

Some returned to the street with all the problems that created – so he and his wife, Debbie, began to work with them, creating courses in mentoring to support churches and community groups.

Nicodemus was born – a Christian charity dedicated to rescuing, restoring and reviving broken lives.

‘Mentoring can play a powerful role in fostering spiritual growth, developing leadership skills and promoting good mental health,’ he explains. ‘The training can, for example, enhance existing or new community mentoring programmes, support discipleship relationships and enable trust to be effectively built between volunteer mentors and those they are caring for.’

In the past 10 years Nicodemus, exhibitors at CRE Midlands 2023, mentored 1,373 vulnerable young people, rescued 2,288 from street living and made an impact on the lives of 15,428 young people. Last year 330 mentors were trained and another 170 in the first three months of 2023. The two courses – Foundational Specialist Mentoring and Child Sexual Exploitation – used to great effect in Guatemala and 10 other Latin American countries, are available in the UK, to enable church volunteers to serve as mentors and disciple-makers.

Sasha, who was living alone and pregnant at 19, praises the programme. ‘My economic situation and my pregnancy mean I feel frustrated and discouraged,’ she said. ‘But I have a mentor supporting me and she helps me find solutions, supporting me with medical consultations and in other areas. God is the centre of my life and that of my baby. My experiences have made me want to help other people.’

Nicodemus are offering CRE visitors and supporters an opportunity to take the Foundational Specialist Mentoring course for free – one person per church (available as an online course 24/7). Simply register at and enter the offer code CRE236. Others wishing to do the course may purchase access at affordable prices – between £35 and £16 per person depending on the number purchased.

‘We often encounter churches and outreach groups where people have a passion to do something and support individuals in their community, to improve their mental health,’ said Alastair and Debbie’s son, Jonnie Welford, Latin America director. ‘Our training series equips people to serve as mentors and disciple-makers in their spheres of influence, both by practising and creating a culture of mentoring within the church and beyond its walls in our communities.’

Alastair and Debbie look forward to talking through their services with visitors at CRE Midlands 2023.

• The Nicodemus Charity is on stand A27 at CRE Midlands 2023

Book your ticket for CRE Midlands 2023 here from as little as £3

Organisations looking to book a stand should contact James Batterbee 0161 250 2306 (E: or Carol Malpass 0161 250 2467 (E:

Click to view the latest floorplan and price list for available stands

ByDave Hall

Repaying the debt we owe to the Jewish people

For more than 80 years the Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures (SDHS) has published and given away copies of the Bible in bilingual format to Jewish people.

The society points out that God gave the scriptures to man as the one true source of light. He chose Jewish writers as the instrument to pen his word and carefully preserve it through the centuries.

Hebrew-English Complete Bible

‘The Hebrew heritage of the Word of God is real,’ said a SDHS spokesman, ‘and a great debt is owed to the Jewish people for this most precious gift. Out of gratitude to them and in partial repayment of our debt, the society exists to provide Jewish people worldwide with God’s Word so they may read and understand for themselves Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him [Messiah Jesus] the iniquity of us all.”

‘We love the Bible, we love the God of the Bible, and we also love his chosen nation, Israel. Our society was established in 1940 to follow in the apostle Paul’s footsteps when he said in Romans 10:1-2: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.”’

The society publishes bilingual scriptures of the Tanakh (Old Testament) as well as the New Testament in both Hebrew and multiple languages such as English, Yiddish, French, Spanish, German, Russian and many more, sending out at least 50 every working day across the world.

Copies to give to Jewish friends or family members, will be available at the Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures stand at CRE Midlands 2023.

• The Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures (SDHS) are on stand F9 at CRE Midlands 2023

Book your ticket for CRE Midlands 2023 here from as little as £3

Organisations looking to book a stand should contact James Batterbee 0161 250 2306 (E: or Carol Malpass 0161 250 2467 (E:

Click to view the latest floorplan and price list for available stands

ByDave Hall

Fifty years on, Thornleigh goes for gold

From the lamp post at the entrance to a bench and sundial in the grounds, Thornleigh Hotel at Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria, offers a golden welcome to guests as it celebrates 50 years.

Jane Walmsley, manager for the past 15 years, delights in seeing new visitors and old, ensuring they get the most from their stay.

‘We are in a lovely setting, with sea views in the heart of Morecambe Bay,’ she said. ‘And I love to see happy guests, many of whom are so satisfied they book another holiday with us before leaving.’

BBC Songs of Praise presenter Pam Rhodes and CRE contributor Rev Cindy Kent have already delighted guests in this celebration year. They will be followed in August by popular singer Marilyn Baker. A special concert to highlight the anniversary will feature top singer and entertainer Jonathan Veira in the local Victoria Hall (Sat 26 Aug).

Jonathan will also be at the hotel from August 21, leading musical sessions twice a day.

At 54, and with many years in the business, Jane points out that the hotel – which can take up to 40 guests – has managed to overcome Covid lockdowns. Despite the pressures of staffing, rising food costs and rail strikes, she admits: ‘My greatest pleasure is seeing people being well looked after and happy – and booking them again at a future date.’

• Thornleigh Hotel are on stand P27 at CRE Midlands 2023

Book your ticket for CRE Midlands 2023 here from as little as £3

Organisations looking to book a stand should contact James Batterbee 0161 250 2306 (E: or Carol Malpass 0161 250 2467 (E:

Click to view the latest floorplan and price list for available stands

ByDave Hall

Dozens of organisations bowled over by plans for CRE North 2024

Less than a month before England face Australia at Old Trafford, news of CRE’s next innings in Manchester was outlined to more than 50 guests at the atmospheric venue.

Representing businesses, missions and churches from across the north west and beyond, attendees heard from Bishop Tony Porter, formerly vicar of Holy Trinity, Platt and Mark Mitchell, founder of the Mitchell Group car dealership at Cheshire Oaks, who praised the vision of owner Steve Goddard for bringing CRE North to the BEC Arena (15/16 May 2024).

‘The exhibition is a vital opportunity for Christians of all denominations to find something to assist them in their ministry and witness,’ said Mark, a former High Sheriff of Chester. In a wide-ranging interview he admitted to beginning his commercial life at eight years of age, selling hamsters in the school playground.

Having set up the company in 1990 with £100 share capital and a £10,000 bank overdraft, the Mitchell Group, based at Cheshire Oaks, now employs 100 people, with a turnover of £50 million – in spite of the dealership not opening on a Sunday.

‘We have a sign which says: “At home with the family”. In an industry where standards are not high, we can stand out,’ he said. ‘Not all our staff are Christians. They are employed on the basis of skills and experience but we are the closest many of them will get to understanding Christianity. We have to be Christ to them. I follow the Bible verse – “Those who honour me I will honour.”’

He recalled the time when a major car manufacturer wanted to change the franchise to ensure dealers were open on a Sunday. Despite the huge impact it would have on his company, Mark refused to continue with the manufacturer, telling them: ‘I am more accountable to my maker than any auto manufacturer.’

His company now deals with three major brands – Lexus, Mazda and Skoda.

The interview followed entertainment from Wirrall-based Christian magician Steve Price, a Gold Star member of The Magic Circle and one-time winner of the Circler’s Originality Prize. Steve regularly entertains groups of all ages, taking his show to churches as well as cruise liners. Brett Pitchfork, CRE event director, explained how CRE North 2024, at the BEC Arena (15/16 May 2024) will be the first one in Manchester for five years.

‘It was the preferred venue of the majority of our 160+ exhibitors,’ said Brett. ‘Within the first two weeks of stand sales more than 25 per cent of the floor space had already been taken.’

Speaking before the event at Old Trafford, Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, said: ‘We are delighted CRE is returning to Manchester. Here is an opportunity for dozens of organisations to bring skills, services, ideas and resources to the north and for members of all church traditions to come and draw inspiration from them.’

• To book a stand at CRE North 24 (BEC Arena, Manchester 15/16 May 2024) contact James Batterbee on 0161 250 2306  (E: or Carol Malpas on 0161 250 2467 (E: Floorplans and price list available here.