On Thursday November 26th 1885, in the afternoon Miss Maling laid the foundation stone and in one year the church was completed. Since that time the parish and church have seen a great many changes. We however stay true to the vision of Bishop Wilberforce, given in his sermon at the consecration of the building on Tuesday November 23rd 1886. “Whatever might happen to this population, whether it become poorer or remained as it was, this church should not be moved out into the midst of a wealthier population if the population in this district became poorer . . . .The old “Church of England” would remain witnessing to God in city parishes.” (taken from the booklet From Roman Wall to Byker Wall)
This is still our vision today and has been the driving force behind the major re-ordering project which has been undertaken in the last two years.
The demolition of much of the housing in the parish since the 1970’s has meant that the population numbers dropped dramatically and indeed the parish still has fewer than 5,000 people. The geographical changes had left the church rather isolated, cut off from the Shield’s Road shopping centre by derelict shops, and cut of from the Byker Estate by a dual carriageway and a metro line. Many people were unaware that there was a church there and many more believed it was closed. However a very committed congregation had remained faithful and were courageous enough to seek an opportunity to change when it presented itself.
Two major developments have enabled St Silas' to move into a new and exiting phase of ministry here in Byker.
Firstly the traditional Byker parishes of St Michael’s, St Martin’s St Silas’ and St Anthony’s have come together top form the heart of the Urban Ministry and Theology Project (www.umtp.org) in Newcastle East Deanery. This has provided dynamic vision and support for all those parishes which were facing very troubled and uncertain futures.
Secondly through this work and the strong community connections of the congregation of St Silas a partnership has developed between the church and Byker Bridge Housing Association a homelessness charity working in and around the East End of Newcastle. This has enabled substantial funding to be put together for a major redevelopment of the whole church site, both the building and the land.
The land, which had formerly been a church garden, had become unmanageable and rather derelict and has been built on to provide 19 supported living flats for Byker Bridge H. A. This required the demolition of the old choir hall and small chapel which would have needed substantial work to bring the up to standard anyway. The monies released from this went towards creating modern 21st Century Community facilities inside the main body of the Church. There is now a catering kitchen, disabled access and toilets, an induction loop, a large community hall and a modern comfortable (and warm!) worship space. The North Aisle has been separated off to become the Head Office of Byker Bridge H. A.
A wide variety of community groups now use this space for leisure, training and meetings for example Age Concern run two Lunch and Leisure Clubs in the hall, Caporeia Dance group meet to dance regularly, Tyne Ventures Woodcraft Folk provide youth activities each week, a Fitness Training Consortium has run training sessions for local community workers, he 65 Club from Parson’s (formerly a major Newcastle Employer) now hold meetings and Tea Dances in the hall and many other groups will be holding meeting and events at St Silas in the new year.
We are very pleased to be maintaining and indeed growing the church’s presence here in the East End of Newcastle and to be supporting the vital work of Byker Bridge Housing Association in tackling issues of homelessness. In the changing context of the parish, few residents but more passers by, general re-development of the shopping area, and the very clear issues of the homeless in Newcastle a new direction for ministry is taking place. We are moving to greater flexibility in the use of the building and to look to working in partnership with the many people, and groups we now come into contact with. We seek to honour the past and build for the future.