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Cambridge church that helped found Jimmy's night shelter to celebrate 180th anniversary

By Adrian Curtis

Rev Gale Richards at Zion Baptist Church looking forward to celebrating the 180th anniversary celebrations on October 15. Picture: Keith Heppell
Rev Gale Richards at Zion Baptist Church looking forward to celebrating the 180th anniversary celebrations on October 15. Picture: Keith Heppell

The Cambridge church that played a major role in the formation of the homeless shelter, Jimmy's, is planning a host of celebrations to mark its 180th anniversary later this month.

Founded on October 16, 1837, on its present site by the evangelist and educationalist Henry Battiscombe, Fellow of King’s College, the Zion Baptist church grew so rapidly that by 1876 a larger chapel was needed and was opened three years later.

Jimmy’s night shelter began there in 1995, in the basement of the church. It provides accommodation throughout the year to anyone who would otherwise be forced to sleep rough or in a vulnerable environment.

Jimmy’s recently moved to lager premises next door to Zion Baptist church, which has enabled Jimmy’s to expand its care for the homeless.

As a result, Jimmy’s is now an assessment centre for the homeless of Cambridge and provides a 24-hour care service to its users as well as emergency care for many in need during extremely cold weather.

Originally conceived as an outreach of the church, it is now a charity in its own right, although the church remains involved.

Now plans are in hand for the church’s 180th anniversary with a special service, and the showing of a short film that has been made with the help of the Museum of Cambridge. The film captures 180 years of the church being an important and transforming presence, through starting initiatives such as Jimmy’s.

Zion Baptist minister Gale Richards, who has been at the church for a year, said: “A member of the church started Jimmy’s back in 1995. It is a wonderful facility and that is indeed part of the story of the church.

“Jimmy’s current site is our original 1837 building and the church is in the adjoining building built in the 1870s. We actually connect via a couple of doors. As minister, I drop in every Tuesday for lunch with the guests and staff. They know me. I am available for conversations, encouraging words and some ask to speak with me one on one.

“Demand on Jimmy’s has increased. It has been expanding what it does because of the homelessness problem in the city. Last November we revisited our roots and opened up our basement area, which we call the crypt, which Jimmy’s uses as an extension to house people, so I help out with that and volunteer when I can.

“We are, as a church, a much smaller congregation, but we remain very much are part of the community.” The celebrations take place on Sunday, October 15. The service is at 10.30am and the film will be shown during the meal which begins at 12.30pm.


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