A church in Norwich hit the headlines recently when they announced the launch of their latest project – a pub renovation.
The Mitre in Norwich was first licensed as a pub 150 years ago, and had briefly been a Chinese takeaway and karaoke bar, before being put on sale 18 months ago. The congregation of St Thomas’ Church raised £600,000 to buy and renovate the building, turning it into a working pub again. It also now houses a coffee shop, and office space for the church and other local organisations.
Speaking about the renovation to the BBC, Revd Ian Dyble said “We are so pleased that through the generosity of many we were able to raise the finance to acquire this building and return it to its original purpose of serving and being an asset to the community.”
“As we renovated the building we were surprised to find the upper rooms had been insulated from light and sound and whilst we cannot be sure what they were used for, it is rewarding to let the light in and transform these into a presence for good in the area.”
The profits from the business will be used to support the social action projects which St Thomas’ supports, particularly those around human trafficking.
The church has an ongoing partnership with International Justice Mission (IJM) and Big Life. They are both anti-trafficking charities who advocate for, rescue, and support victims of modern slavery. A few years ago Revd Ian travelled to India with them and saw their work first hand. St Thomas’ now regularly raises funds and prays to support their work.
Revd Ian is also in the process of working with a friend who pastors churches all across South East Asia. They are collaborating on educational material for communities who are vulnerable to traffickers. In rural, agricultural areas with few jobs, traffickers prey on unsuspecting families by promising good jobs in the city. The good jobs never materialise and instead the victims, often children or young people, will be forced to work long hours, for little or no pay, in dangerous conditions.
As well as joining international efforts against modern slavery, St Thomas’ is doing what it can in the UK. They have provided support to two modern slavery victims who were moved to Norwich to stay in a safe house there. Small items like toiletries and new clothes can make a big difference to someone who has had everything they cherish taken away.
Given all he has learnt about the topic, Revd Ian finds it shocking how surprised people are to hear that modern slavery is happening here in the UK. ‘When I talk to people about it, they are absolutely stunned’ he says. For him, this just shows how much more work there is to do in raising awareness about the issue, and the church has a big role to play in that.
There are so many churches and Christian charities involved in this issue, we need to speak with a common voice, and advocate for the victims of modern slavery.
For now, Revd Ian will be doing all he can to spread the word in his area, so if you ever find yourself in Norwich, feel free to head to The Mitre, get yourself a coffee – or a pint – and learn more about what you could do to stop this crime - hidden in plain sight.