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And, while everyone’s been busy having drinks and pizza in the sun, the church has been benefiting too because every booking includes a £5 non-refundable fee which will go towards creating a new memorial garden there.
So far about 2,000 table reservations have been made, raising around £10,000.
That will now be used to kickstart work on the memorial garden surrounding the All Together Now sculpture commemorating the WWI Christmas Day truce, as well as supporting essential maintenance of St Luke’s building.
Site manager Sam Raymond says they first trialled the idea of booking donations at Christmas when the Bombed Out Church held a garden bar experience inside, under a temporary transparent roof.
“We really didn’t know how much uptake that would have but we thought we’d put it there in the interests of raising some money for the building’s upkeep, especially with another lockdown impending,” he explains. “We thought we could keep all the necessary maintenance going and hopefully have some money for community projects as well.
“People were really receptive to the idea so when it came to opening the gardens again this year, having had that positive experience, we tried it again and the numbers show just how successful it’s been.”
The Garden Bar & Café first opened in July last year, although hospitality on the site formed part of original plans submitted to the council back in 2015.
“It was always included because we realised that it would allow us to facilitate events like theatre and cinema and also it seemed like good way of attracting people to the site to engage with it,” says Sam.
“We started with a small pop-up bistro inside the church which had a limited capacity but then last year our plans to develop that in a more substantial way were accelerated by the situation with the pandemic.
“It occurred to us that we were really going to struggle to continue our cultural activities without the income from the site and also the gardens were spacious enough to be able to accommodate people with really decent social distancing.
“We put out tables seating up to 240 and It was just immensely popular straight away because people felt really comfortable coming here to meet friends and family when restrictions allowed.”
Sam says they’ve been keen to stress from the start that the fee isn’t just an admin one, but going towards something meaningful that everyone will be able to enjoy.
“We wanted to make it as clear a possible where the money is going so people can see what they’re contributing towards through their generosity,” he adds.
The Garden Bar & Café plans to be open until September, and it already has bookings well into June so the extra revenue means the church can start on its memorial garden project straight away.
Gardener Nina Himmelreich created a vision for the garden in response to a lack of green space in the city centre.
“We wanted somewhere people could just go and sit for a little bit, maybe to think about lost ones and just reflect generally,” she explains.
“A big part of the proposal in 2015 was that the church should be used as a community space for local people so we also want the whole project to be a community effort.”
Sam and Nina have started speaking to groups, organisations and colleges locally about their involvement and working out how to make the money go as far as possible.
Already, he says, the Garden Bar & Café has generated a growing interest in the Bombed Out Church which will hopefully continue.
Liverpool's Bombed Out Church ? pic.twitter.com/uqmjcB2vWX
— The Guide Liverpool (@TheGuideLpool) May 2, 2020
“So many people who’ve booked a table then come inside the church have told us they’ve walked past it hundreds of times but never come in before.
“Even for passers-by to see so many people enjoying themselves in the gardens has really changed the perception of the site in a very positive way.
“There have been so many families, such a wide demographic of people coming here and taking a table and enjoying themselves, it’s really transformed the way the space is used and the diversity of people that are engaging with it. Hopefully they’ll go on to enjoy the other opportunities on the site, whether that’s cultural or arts activities or learning about the history of the building and its significance to the city.”
Sam says they intend to make an initial investment from the first few months of bookings then reinvest again in the autumn once more funding has been raised.
“We hope that will encourage people to keep coming back because they know that each time they do they’ll be making a further contribution to support these kinds of projects.
“There’ll be activity very soon on the memorial garden and as it grows and develops I think it’ll turn into something fantastic.”
The Bombed Out Church will be looking for volunteers to help with the project soon. Anyone wanting to get involved with ideas or skills can check on their socials or contact them via email [email protected] Details on volunteering opportunities can be found at slboc.com/volunteer
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