As part of a new initiative, a Cornish village church has found an innovative way to open its doors to the community and encourage more people to use its historic building – by launching a digital hub and café complete with free hyper-fast broadband, great coffee and the promise of friendly company.
Monty’s, at St Constantine Parish Church, in Constantine, near Falmouth, was officially opened and received a blessing by the Bishop of Truro, the Right Rev Philip Mounstephen. He praised the initiative as an excellent example for other rural parishes in Cornwall wishing to see greater use of their churches by their communities.
The idea of using part of the 15th Century church as a high-tech hub and meeting place came from parish priest The Rev Stewart Turner who said it was born out of a desire to reach out to and serve the local community.
Pews have been removed to create space at the back of the church, with seating and tables, a hot drinks machine, a mini-library and toys available to keep younger visitors entertained. The free WiFi has been provided by Cornish broadband company Wildanet, which worked with the church and Diocese of Truro to install a wireless internet hub on the church tower overlooking the village as part of the company’s own mission to bring high-speed broadband to rural communities in Cornwall.
The Rev Stewart explained that the facility was named after Monty the knitted mouse which for decades has been the church mascot and is much loved by parishioners and the local children.
He said: “We had been looking for more than three years at ways in which we could reach out to our community and as part of that process we started talking with Wildanet about the broadband hub on the church tower and that opened a whole new range of possibilities.
“Thanks to Wildanet, we now have one of the fastest broadband connections of any parish church anywhere in the county. We can offer free WiFi in the church and people are coming in to access the internet and to have a coffee.
“It’s been amazing. We’ve actually not done anything new, but rather we have gone back to basics, to what churches always used to be, which is meeting places for the community. What’s new is the technology and we’ve just moved with the times.”
Bishop Philip said he was impressed by what he had seen.
“What really pleases me is to see the way that this is becoming a hub for the community, throwing wide the doors of church, welcoming people in, blurring the boundary between church and community in a way I think is just really healthy,” he said.
“It’s about good coffee but it’s also about good connectivity and to see that working together is really exciting. It is a great example of what can be done and often people just need examples that inspire their imagination and make them think, if this can be done in Constantine then maybe they can do something similar where they are.”
For Graham, the church warden, Monty’s has positively transformed the way in which the church is being used.
He said: “Setting the café up with the internet has opened the church up to people who wouldn’t normally have come in. They now know they can come here and use the church as a place to sit, relax, have a coffee and meet up with friends. It has been really well received and I know some of the young mums in the village and families who say what a special place it is.”
One of those who has become a regular user since the facility first opened in May 2021 is mum-of-three, Helen, who said: “It’s fantastic to have a place to walk up the road, to come and meet and where the children are free to use the space and the toys and enjoy having a hot chocolate.
“Word has got out in the last few weeks and I’ve met quite few of the local mums with children who come up here. It’s definitely an important part of the community and it’s been a really positive place for us to come.”
Paddy Paddison, Wildanet Chief Technical Officer, said he was delighted to see the success of the community hub.
He said: “Unlike many parts of the UK, Cornwall still has countless communities suffering with poor quality internet connection, making life harder for many families and businesses in these areas. Constantine is a great example of how Wildanet can work with parishes and parish churches to extend high-speed broadband services to the hard-to-reach areas of Cornwall and at the same time offer community services to the parishes and the parish churches. We’re delighted to see how the new internet service in Constantine is helping a community re-connect, both online and in-person.”