By Andy Hirst
One of the Colne Valley’s oldest churches has come alive again as a magnificent centre for children with additional needs.
Grade II-listed Providence Baptist Chapel was built on Hollins Row just off Manchester Road, Slaithwaite, in 1816 but closed down several years ago due to dwindling congregations.
It was bought by Shabang! arts organisation that was looking for bigger premises in the village and youngsters are now coming back through its doors as a major renovation project nears its end.
It’s been a labour of love and a massive commitment for couple Kim Reuter and Russ Elias who set up Shabang! Inclusive Learning more than 30 years ago.
To renovate the chapel they have had to apply to almost 30 organisations for grants ranging from the National Lottery and the Arts Council to Huddersfield Common Good Trust and it will have cost around £500,000 once it’s finished which should be by the end of the summer. Almost all the work has been done by tradespeople who live in the Colne Valley.
Shabang! runs several arts and performance groups for pre-school children through to young adults – all with additional needs – and some of the sessions are now back in action again after the pandemic and renovation.
The charity has just received £8,000 from Huddersfield Society of Chartered Accountants with the money raised by events at the members’ companies and the annual dinner which featured a talk by Huddersfield cave diver Jason Mallinson who helped to rescue boys trapped in caves in Thailand in 2018 – a story which caught the media’s attention worldwide. Jason and colleagues brought all the boys out alive.
The society’s immediate past president, Adam Bamforth, used to have an office next to Shabang’s previous premises at the Watershed on Station Road in Slaithwaite,
He said: “We saw all the wonderful work going on right on our doorstep and were amazed which is why I wanted the society to help Shabang! during my time as president.”
The dinner was sponsored by the Magic Rock Brewing Company in Huddersfield, Handelsbanken Swedish bank and RSM Accountants in Leeds. Donations and a raffle on the night boosted the tally.
The money will help fund face-to-face sessions with youngsters such as arts and crafts, Makaton sign language, singing, Little Tiddlers sessions for babies and toddlers and the Up Club for children and young people with Down Syndrome. Activities include drama, music and live performances.
Kim said: “This £8,000 donation is a lot of money for us and will keep us going for quite some time.”
The main part of the chapel will become the performance area and the aim will be to also host major family events there.
The building is fully wheelchair accessible and includes a lift, garden, kitchen, sensory room and a chill-out area. The garden has preserved gravestones from the original cemetery.
Shabang! helps around 100 families every week and has been operating mainly online in recent times due to the pandemic. This film captures exactly what Shabang! is all about https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2qkMrlA7HY
Kim said: “We may be a really small charity but we work hard and sure are resilient. The chapel gives children, young people and their families a creative place to be, a place where everyone is welcome. It’s now brilliant that we have our own outdoor space too.
“What we do helps to build communication skills and confidence building. We focus on all our members having a really good time. Some have been very isolated during the pandemic and have become lonely and more vulnerable. It’s wonderful to have them back in the building again with the sound of laughter resonating around. It was a great leap of faith to get this building.”
But why is Shabang! called Shabang?
Kim reveals: “We were doing a grant application several years ago and had to think the name up quickly. When we realised what we were trying to do it was everything to do with being creative, we thought it’s the whole shabang so went with that.”
Kim and Russ’ son is 21-year-old actor Ruben Reuter who has starred as Finn McLaine in The Dumping Ground, the follow-on to TV series Tracy Beaker which featured the adventures of a 10-year-old girl living in a children’s residential care home nicknamed the Dumping Ground.
He also appeared in TV drama The Syndicate about a lottery syndicate cheated out of their huge win, playing the brother of main character Keeley.
Multi-talented Ruben is also a reporter and disability correspondent for Channel 4 News and was nominated for a Royal Television Society Award for his report on Down Syndrome and the abortion laws.
He’s also in the Borough of Kirklees Para Swimming Squad, competing in special Olympics and European Down Syndrome events.
And when he’s not doing all this, Ruben’s a DJ and has been since he was 12.
To find out more about Shabang! visit its website at https://www.shabang.org.uk/
* Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting. Copyright Andy Hirst.