Hands up if you’ve heard someone say recently: “There’s nothing in the High Street anymore!”
It’s a common refrain, especially since the closure of Marks & Spencer left the town centre reeling.
But members of Falkirk Trinity Church – the original ‘Faw Kirk’ that gave the town its name – would beg to differ.
Their historic church building stands proudly on the beleagured High Street – in the very heart of Falkirk town centre.
And through its innovative Family Life Centre they have been steadily establishing the church as a community hub that opens its doors to people through a wide variety of groups and services.
Some, such as the cafe, a tots and toddler group, bereavement support and an innovative play therapy project were set up and funded by Trinity Church.
Others are established groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and BiPolar Scotland which have found a welcoming venue in the church.
Trinity Church’s minster Reverend Robert Allan explained: “A whole raft of groups are here and we host them and also try to interact with them and make sure their needs are met.”
And it’s emphatically not just for the church’s own parishioners – the centre’s services are for people of all faiths and none.
The idea to bring everything into a Family Life Centre began to simmer when the church had a major refurbishment eight years ago.
Mr Allan said: “When the church was refurbished, we had to make it worthwhile.
“We didn’t want to use it once a week for worship and then shut the doors!”
Inspired by friends in Stirling’s Family Life Centre, the idea began to take shape.
“We thought it was a good idea, the church being a resource for the community,” said Mr Allen.
“We are accessible to most people in Falkirk – you can get a bus almost right to our doorstep.”
At the heart of the project is the church cafe which has for many years, offering ‘a cracking bowl of soup’, hot drinks, snacks, baking – and friendly faces.
“It’s very informal support but people come along and enjoy a chat,” said Mr Allan.
“It can be the only human contact some people get all day,” added Gillian Gardner, the church’s business development officer, who the minister describes as ‘the driving force behind it’.
Gillian, who took up her post six years ago, was keen to complement what the cafe was doing so naturally.
She and a committee of church members have gradually added more services to complement the groups using the church.
One of them is a very special project, with the church funding a fully qualified play therapist who works with children on a one-to-one basis.
“They might be having trouble at home or school, divorce, bereavement – all sorts of things. And when she starts playing, the conversations open up,” explained Mr Allan.
The church has set aside a dedicated room for this, full of toys – including a small sand pit – that children will find familiar and comforting.
The feedback they get is confidential but enough to know that the service is making a huge difference.
Likewise, the bereavement service the church offers is a structured programme for people who have lost someone close.
Two church elders, Moira and Jean, have been trained as ‘companions’ in the Seasons for Growth programme.
These run in small groups over four sessions of two and a half hours, using the changing seasons of the year to examine loss and the grieving process.
Again the feedback received tells them they’re on the right track.
Mr Allan stresses that there is no explicitly Christian content in any of the projects.
“Yes, we offer these services as a Christian church but for us it’s about showing God’s love in action – trying to meet people at their point of need,” he said.
More services are in the pipeline and the centre is constantly evolving.
“Our logo is a tree because we’re always looking to grow new branches!” said the minister.
And becoming a major venue for all kinds of town centre events – such as the recent Storytelling Festival – is really helping to break down barriers.
“We’re trying to get people comfortable with coming into the church – we’re not going to beat anyone over the head with a tract!,” said Mr Allan. “Hopefully, they’ll come along and think ‘they’re actually really nice’!”