Walking into the vestry of Tabor chapel in the village of Dinas on the windswept North Pembrokeshire coast, you are welcomed with a visual feast quite unlike any other vestry in Wales. ‘Since we did the work to revamp the building, the cafes that have used this space have really prospered, and this place has often been packed!’ explains Morys Rhys, secretary of Tabor chapel. Tabor church decided to use the chapel building to create a new community hub – and have been blessed themselves by doing so.
‘The idea first cropped up well over a decade ago’, says Alwyn Daniels, the minister at the time, ‘when we ran a series of reflections in here over Lent, with coffee and a weekly chat as part of that series. We didn’t do anything with it at first, but when we got to 2016 issues with damp and cold had reached the point where something had to be done with the building. And so we tried to change the challenge we found ourselves confronted with into an opportunity!’
The village school had closed, and although the popular Cwm-yr-Eglwys beach is just a stone’s throw from the chapel site, there wasn’t a single café in the community. The members decided to spend the money needed to transform the vestry as an investment for the benefit of the church and the wider community – ensuring as they did so that their intention of opening a café there didn’t compete with anything else in the area. Although a listed building, the necessary permission was obtained to make the alterations and a brand new kitchen and toilet were installed within the building, as well as other structural works. And fortunately, the church already had a substantial car park, which would be of great benefit as they changed the primary use of the building into a café serving a rural community.
‘We were helped by a builder whose wife was a member with us, and we had also had a member who wanted to run a café. And so in 2018 ‘Bara Brith’ opened here – and it’s fair to say it was a great success,’ both men agree. ‘It gave people the opportunity to come out four days a week for lunch or for coffee and especially for older people in the area, just having that available made a world of difference. People from a disabled home nearby would also come out here, as well as people with their laptops who would otherwise be at home working alone, so a place like this is a valuable resource in a rural area.’
Bara Brith had to close due to the pandemic, but a new business – ‘Te Orinda’ – took on the lease for the site, and uses the venue as a café offering afternoon tea. ‘I’m really pleased that we just went for it with this initiative. The church hasn’t made any profit of course and that’s the point really; this is part of our mission as we offer something for the community to use and benefit from,’ adds Morys.