Saint Stephen’s is a small but active and growing community. Our aim is to work with the local community provide communicate the love and grace of God through our worship, prayers and actions.
In the long term, when adequate funding has been obtained we shall be demolishing the existing dilapidated hall and outbuildings in order to create a new purpose built ’community centre’ and spiritual hub that will become an embedded place in the neighbourhood that people use daily.
The buildings were seen as temporary, back in the 1930‘s/40’s and we are still using them everyday of the week, though less so now as we thought we were going to move out of them in 2016 and consequently closed much of our community work. Facilities are poor and do not even come close to meeting current standards.
We regard ourselves as an emerging church – that is one which is not afraid of redefining itself, evolving and exploring worship in a challenging but meaningful way – connecting with as many people as possible, with a particular focus on welcome and accessibility, physically, spiritually and liturgically for people of all ages who may not have a history of church attendance. We regard worship (in church on Sundays) to be participative rather than being led at the front by one person or a team of ‘professionals’. It is a communal experience which is enhanced by our layout of the chairs being ‘in the round’ and now in the lounge of 213 MannersWay.
Saint Stephen’s stand on 0.75 acres of land. The church and hall on the Alton Gardens frontage are joined at the rear with some smaller rooms. There are two cobbled areas in front of the church. These buildings sit alongside a grassed children’s playground which is owned by the PCC but leased and maintained by Southend Borough Council. The playground fills the corner of the site at the junction of Manners Way and Alton Gardens. Adjacent to the playground along Manners Way is the Vicarage which is currently being used for worship, youth meetings, day centre and accommodation.
It became apparent (during 2014) that in this case the Diocese act as Custodian Trustees of this property which is ‘owned’ and managed by the PCC.
The parish is in a quite defined geographical area in the northern part of Southend-on-sea. The boundaries are the airport, the rear of Tesco and RBS buildings, the back of the properties facing the A127 and the (Southend Victoria/London Liverpool Street) railway.
There are some industrial units included in the Parish on the other side of the railway, the most significant of these is KeyMed (part of the Olympus group), a large employer, trading worldwide and who support local charities and other initiatives particularly those including road safety. Also included on this side of the railway is Southend Rugby Club.
Most significant developments in the area have involved the airport. The Stobart Group bought the airport and have invested a great deal recently, providing a new railway station, staffed 24 hours-a-day by StobartAir; a new control tower; a new terminal that serves arrivals and departures and car-parking. The extension of the runway (involving new road layouts – has cut off St. Laurence Church and Saint Stephen’s). Also, a new 8 storey hotel (Holiday Inn) has been constructed and is well established. The airport continues to expand, bringing many benefits to the area.
EasyJet are the largest carrier, flying to many parts of Europe but there are also other carriers like FlyBe flying to European destinations.
Other developments in the parish have been at Prince Avenue School where a Children’s Centre has been constructed – extensive services to children and families are offered from 8am to 6pm on weekdays. However, more recently the work of the Children’s Centre has been considerably cut back, only a minimal service is provided to families in the area.
Some affordable housing has been built on old garage sites, opposite the church and nearby, managed by South Essex Homes.
Adjacent to the former vicarage, Nayland House, a council-run single storey residential home, serves a number of people who need additional support.
The population of the parish remains around 5000. Housing is mixed with many semi-detached 2-storey houses and bungalows privately owned and many council (or Housing Association) owned or previous council houses. Blocks of 3-storey flats have also been built in the 1970’s where pre-fabs were originally established.
Many people in the area have social, emotional, economic issues, a significant number are single parent families. Housing in a number of places is overcrowded; aspiration is low; unemployment is higher than average. There are also issues of drug use in the area. There are areas with high levels of deprivation.
The church was not consecrated but in 1948 dedicated and had its heyday during the 1950’s. It was the daughter church of St. Mary’s, Prittlewell and there have been Curates-in-charge from St. Mary’s leading the church. Since the 50‘s though there has been a gradual and steady decline in terms of numbers attending church.
Until 2006 there was little connection with the local community when a community audit was carried out and consequently significant work has begun with various sectors of the community.
Over the years the church has followed different liturgical directions. It has veered towards evangelical roots and is being established with an emerging style embracing the best of various traditions.
The church building was built as a Youth Hall in the 1930’s but dedicated as a church in 1948. The building is basic construction, single skin brickwork with steel roof trusses, felt roof with slight fall and large ‘Crittal’ windows. The chancel area was created during the 1950’s but little work has been carried out since then.
The hall was the RAF Officer’s Mess during the Second world war and was donated to the church post-war. Again, single skin brickwork walls with steel roof trusses, corrugated asbestos roof covering with ribbon ‘Crittal’ windows. This was a ‘temporary’ building, with a ten year life!
As the building was not originally built as a church there were no original church fittings, everything was imported. Much of the furniture has since been replaced. The Victorian (?) stone font, with (later) separate stone insert, remains. The original organ, from the Garon’s Theatre was seen to be too irreverent and was replaced by an organ which came from a redundant church in Doncaster. Some of the pipes have been cut to fit below the ceiling! The organ was assessed by Mr Frostick who says it had no particular historic or musical value. It has since been sold.
The architecture of the current church and hall does not echo the theological outlook of Saint Stephen’s, it is exclusive and unwelcoming and more akin to an old prison! The facilities are poor, it is cold and doesn’t fulfill current building standards or expectations. Recent PCC’s are working towards providing new building facilities that would be purpose built and echo the mission based, nurturing, inclusive theological direction.
There are no significant architectural or historic details within the church with the possible exception of the small tryptic and dedicated stained glass windows.