By Andy Hirst

A centre for children with additional needs has been awarded just over £100,000 to help finish converting one of the Colne Valley’s oldest churches into its magnificent new base.

Kim Reuter and partner Russ Elias set up Shabang! Inclusive Learning more than 30 years ago to give youngsters the opportunity to explore arts, crafts and the performing arts including music and drama.

The charity outgrew its old base in Slaithwaite and so bought Grade II-listed Providence Baptist Chapel on Hollins Row just off Manchester Road in the village. 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 the project will have cost around £500,000 once it’s finished.

The Arts Council has now confirmed it’s awarding £107,000 to complete the final phase of the renovation which includes installing an eco-heating system for the main hall, accessible toilet facilities at the back of the chapel, a lighting system and a bespoke theatre blackout to cover all the windows.

Kim said: “We are really excited about the grant as it will finish off the renovation perfectly and we now hope all the work will be completed by October. Our old building was a shared premises but it’s far better for the children that we have our own space.

“This shows the Arts Council recognises the importance of such a venue for children with neurodivergent conditions that cover learning disabilities through to autism.”

Nationally, Arts Council England has announced awards totalling over £22.7 million to help 66 cultural organisations transform their buildings and equipment so they can operate safely post-pandemic, improve access, seize technological opportunities and reduce environmental impact. 

Shabang! runs several arts and performance groups for pre-school children through to young adults.

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

Kim said: “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.”

 * Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR ( specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting. Copyright Andy Hirst.

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