When the Norcot council estate was being built between 1926 & 1929 many people who lived in the centre of Reading moved out to live in the new houses. One central district in particular concerns us, the area around Greyfriars Church, where a Miss Wheeler held a Sunday school. She was a Health Visitor.
With the removal of the families westward she lost her scholars, so, like a good shepherd, she followed the sheep! There was no Church of England congregation in the immediate area so she rented a room at Grovelands School for a girl’s class. When this venue was no longer available to her she rented a tearoom near Keels Boathouse in Scour’s Lane to which boys were also welcomed!
Time showed that a permanent building was needed and approaches were made to the Pulsometer Engineering Works to see whether it was possible to rent a small piece of land. The company was sympathetic and agreed to charge a rent of one shilling (5p today!) for a plot of land providing that any building was ‘temporary’. Miss Wheeler found a Mr Taylor from Tilehurst who, with various helpers, erected, in sections, a building that resembled an army hut. So Norcot Mission Hall was opened, late in 1929, at a cost of £250. Miss Wheeler, her father, the Mr Taylor, a Mr Bell together with a man and wife who lived in Bath Road were responsible in those early days.
The work that God planted supported a Sunday school of about 100 children as well as a meeting for women on a Wednesday afternoon. There were morning and evening services each Sunday and a small additional hall was built for teenagers. A boy’s band was formed and they occasionally marched along the Oxford Road to services at Greyfriars Church. The land, which the building occupied, was eventually sold to the congregation for £150.
The Reading Standard, a local newspaper, reported the opening of the building in its June 15, 1929 edition. The event seems to have taken place on Wednesday, June 13.
NORCOT MISSION HALL
Meeting the Needs of Residents on New Housing Estate.
'For some time past the various denominational bodies in Tilehurst have felt that the inhabitants of the Norcot estate, who number more then two thousand, should be provided with facilities for their spiritual welfare and particularly for the religious teaching of children. The Church of England who are holding services in a house in Oxford Road, have recently acquired a site on which it is proposed to erect a church. Other denominations have been considering the matter which has become an important one.
Miss Wheeler, a prominent worker in Greyfriars parish decided to form an undenominational Sunday School. About eight months ago (October 1928) she secured an old boathouse at Tilehurst-on-Thames (see above) and, week by week has gathered over a hundred children. It was felt that there was a field for greater work and Miss Wheeler enlisted the sympathy of a number of people including Mr Hodgkin of the Pulsometer Engineering Company and Mr Charles Taylor. A piece of ground was secured in Norcot Road from Mr Hodgkin at a nominal rent. An appeal for funds was issued but it met with a poor response. Mr Taylor came forward and erected a mission hall at cost price and enthusiastic workers set to work to furnish the hall. Wednesday (June 13th 1929) saw the completion of the efforts of Miss Wheeler and her band of workers when Norcot's Bethel or the undenominational Mission Hall, as it is to be called, was opened by the Mayor of Reading (Alderman J Rabson)
A United Gathering
Wednesday's service was presided over by Councillor A Ball and there were present representatives of the Church of England, the Wesleyan, Congregational and Baptist churches and the Salvation Army. Among those taking part in the service were the Rev D Ivor Rees (Tilehurst Congregational Church and Mr E W Green (Mitford Hall, Three Mile Cross)
Councillor Ball said he felt sure that the Mission Hall would see the commencement of what would be a great work among the children on the Norcot Estate who were practically unprovided for in the matter of religious training. He paid tribute to the work of Miss Wheeler who had been the moving spirit in the scheme and spoke of the kindness of the many friends, including Mr Hodgkin and Mr Taylor. In addition to erecting the hall at cost price Mr Taylor had given a handsome donation and had promised to become an annual subscriber. If they would all do their little bit the hall would soon be paid for and he thought the time would not be too far distant when they would have to extend their borders and build a permanent hall. In conclusion Mr Ball said that no dances, whist drives or smoking concerts would be held in the hall. Mr Hodgkin stipulated that it was to be used for religious and educational purposes only and that stipulation would be strictly adhered to.
Miss E F Wheeler, the hon' secretary, spoke of the work that had been carried on at the boathouse and said that now they had a hall it was proposed to hold meetings for mothers and clubs for boys and girls, scriptural reading classes and Mission services on Sunday evenings.
The Mayors Appreciation of the Work.
The MAYOR expressed his pleasure at being associated with the work because it was , he said, undenominational. He hoped they would all soon realise that it really did not matter what their individual opinions about religion or politics were so long as they were at one in their desire to ensure the success of the well-being of boys and girls, so they would grow up into strong, healthy and useful men and women. In declaring the hall open his Worship wished them God-speed in their work.
Brief addresses were delivered by Mr Fredk Wheeler, the Rev Vernon Moss (Grovelands Baptist Church) the Rev' Ivor Rees, the Captain of the Tilehurst Corps of the Salvation Army, Mr C Taylor and Mr C Fidler'.
Twenty-five years passed and for reasons unknown the support for the work had waned. In the mid 50's Miss Wheeler approached a well-known Christian doctor to see if any support could be given. Dr E F Barnardo was part of the church that met at Bridge Hall on the Oxford Road and the proposal was made that Christians living in West Reading and Tilehurst take responsibility for the work. This was agreed and the following believers took over the work of leading the Sunday school, a Sunday evening service and a monthly celebration of the Lord’s Supper; Dr and Mrs E F Barnardo, Mr & Mrs G Waite, Mr & Mrs Channon, Mr & Mrs G Chandler, Mr & Mrs C Rogers and the Smith family. Mr & Mrs B Davis, Mr & Mrs R Waddell, Mr & Mrs R Dawson, Mr & Mrs J Fullick, Mr & Mrs D Mason and Dr & Mrs R J K Savage subsequently joined them. Miss Cooper was in charge of the Sunday school, assisted by various young people. Miss Cooper’s mother was the leader of a large meeting for women and she eventually handed over the reins to Mrs V Chandler. Mr Channon became the subsequent leader of the Sunday school and he, in turn, handed over the task to Mr D Mason on the formers removal to Devon. The meetings of the church were under the direction of a committee who met monthly, being joined later by Dr Barnardo.
With the increase in numbers there was a desire to be autonomous and an approach was made to the elders at Argyle Chapel to set this process in motion. On November 20, 1962 a lengthy report about the church’s progress and desires was given to the Argyle Chapel eldership in Argyle Road, West Reading. Subsequently the current overseers of the work at Norcot were confirmed as the new leaders and at the close of the meeting the sending leaders gave their blessing together with a gift of £50. Correspondence with church at Argyle Chapel shows that Norcot became an autonomous Christian congregation on January 20, 1962.
During the following years of that decade the work prospered at the 'tin hut 'with discussions as to how the building could be of a more permanent construction. The church became a member of the Evangelical Alliance in 1967 (A national fellowship of evangelical churches and groups) and that same year church minutes also record the discussions about the need of a new building. The local council were keen to occupy the Norcot Road site for the purposes of road widening and therefore offered the congregation an alternative plot of land on the Dee Park development. Finance from the offerings was allocated for this purpose and building work at a new site in Brockley Close was started late in 1970. The congregation celebrated the move to this new home in January 1972 and over the following years evangelism was carried out in the area.
In 1987 help was again sought from Argyle Chapel and others joined the church at that time to share in the leadership, ‘church building’ and outreach. The church has for many years had a desire to see the gospel preached in other areas of the world and some have been sent out and supported for work in Nigeria, Kenya and the Far East as well as pastoral work in the greater Reading area. Others, until recently, serve among the needy of Europe and Asia from their base in Budapest, Hungary and latterly Bratislava in Slovakia.
The stated vision of the church was to be ‘A community of disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit and centred on Jesus’ and the congregation seeks to reach and serve the community in any way possible. The year 2000 saw us begin to take assemblies in two local primary Schools and this grew to include four schools as well as other regular involvements. The year 2004 also saw a mixed team of 6 visit Radauti in N. E. Romania to assist in building homes for the needy of that country. Local clinics and charities also use the building.
The years 2004-7 saw us welcome 2 Careforce volunteers, each for a one-year placement. Sammy Kweku Boateng, from Accra (Ghana) and Harrison Mungai Machariah from Muranga (Kenya) became part of the work in the schools and among the youth of the community as well as being part of the life of the church congregation in other ways. They were a blessing to us in many ways and we count it a privilege to have had this chance to train young men for the future. Both of them have now married and are serving the Lord, with their wives, in their home countries. Sammy is going through a further period of Bible Study in South Africa to prepare him for leadership in Ghana and Harrison has set up a training course in Kenya for young Christians who are willing to give at least a year to serving the Lord Jesus among their communities and churches.
Sam Olunga from Nairobi joined us in 2009 for a year as Careforce apprentice and continued the valuable work begun by Sammy and Harrison.
Recent years have also seen a growing link with Christians from the local ‘Bethel’ congregation and this group of believers use the building regularly for their services and fellowship. This has also given a greater contact with the Bethel United football team and its friends who use the building as their base and are part of the local Reading Churches Football League. During 2014 the Bethel congregation became The Spiritual Care Foundation Apostolic Ministries and continue to use the building for worship and prayer.
The congregation at Norcot is led by a male leadership team which includes elders and we are committed to seeing every true disciple fulfil their God given role in the ‘body of Christ’ so that we may ‘grow up into Christ’ in all things. Junior Church has a gifted and committed group of men and women leaders and the weekly Glow-Worms group sees a group of Christian women run a Parent & Toddler Group. An After School Club on Monday afternoons provides a safe haven for children of primary school age and the Neighbours 'drop in' on Wednesday mornings provides friendship and support for all ages.
The year 2012 saw us asking God how we could extend and grow the witness of the church in the community. The process of finding someone to spearhead this work was started by approaching other respected Christian leaders who knew of God's servants throughout the country who were seeking a 'next step' in his will for them. The process led us to England as well as the borders of Scotland and in February 2015 Stephen Proctor joined us from Duns in as Berwickshire as Community Pastor. God has graciously confirmed the rightness of this step through the provision of the finance to support Stephen and the finding of a very local home for him. His visits to the area late in 2014 confirmed for him the rightness of this decision, under God.
The ‘Biblical Basis of Faith’, the framework and foundation for our living and preaching, can be found on the notice board in the foyer and other publications that deal with Church Membership and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit have been published.