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West End Impact team in front of banner

West End Impact: Reacting to crisis and rebuilding lives

Q&A with West End Impact's founders, Michael and Tracey Kohl

West End Impact logo West End Impact
12 min

West End Impact is a social impact charity located in the area of West End in the town of Morecombe, on the northwest coast of England.  

In 2011, Stewardship helped West End Impact buy their first building as a centre for their work in the community and a home for their church Morecambe Community Church, with the help of a loan which they have now repaid in full.  

Stewardship’s Chris Perkins and Vimbai Chigwangwa sat down with founders Michael and Tracey Kohl to talk about the charity, their work and impact on the local community, and how the building has blessed the people that use it and their ministry. 


Q: Tell us about the history of the church and the charity? 

A: We started in 2002 in our living room just wanting to be Christians who take faith and life seriously in equal measure. We had a strategy which wasn’t to have a strategy but was to instead really work with the people that God sends and entrusts into our care. Out of relationships, endless tea and coffee and free meals, everything that is West End Impact and Morecombe Community Church has now organically developed. After starting in our living room, someone contacted us and said, "I’ve got a rent-free shop in the West End of Morecombe for evangelism, are you interested?" We said yes. 

Before we knew it, we were ripping up the carpets and applying for charitable status as West End End Impact. At the same time, we started Morecombe Community Church. Whilst the two are separate charities, both form the vision and mission that God has placed on our hearts. One without the other would not work and would be a disservice to our local community! Social care and evangelism in partnership with the local church.  

We started as volunteers, I [Michael] was a driving instructor so we could pay the bills. We had no sending church, or mother ship. Our first annual budget was £2,500. It wasn’t until 4 years after we started, that our first external funder started supporting us. They weren’t a Christian funder, but they loved Christian community work. 


Q: Can you tell us about what West End Impact does? 

A: We do everything under two titles, we learnt from a director of the funding organisation that we work with to try and encapsulate what we do under the two titles which is 'Reacting to crisis' and 'Rebuilding lives':

Reacting to crisis 

People who are in crisis through financial difficulties, addiction, homelessness, and various other challenges, come to our drop-in on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The area is one of the most deprived in the country. We respond by giving them a food parcel or giving them help to make phone calls, or they can use our free Wi-Fi to access their universal credit accounts and we can help if anything goes wrong with that. We contact the council and register people as homeless. We also look around for properties for people. If they have managed to get a property, we help them with second hand furniture that gets donated. We also have a massive network of other agencies, who come to us and see clients on site, or we refer people to them if we can’t immediately help them. The doctor’s surgery is across the road, so we sometimes nip across and help them make a doctor’s appointment.  

Rebuilding lives 

This is all the support groups that we do. We have a full mental health support group at our wellbeing Wednesdays. On Wednesday mornings, we have gone through ‘Living life to the full’ which was written by Dr Chris Williams, a Christian Psychologist, and we offer that to about 12 people for around 10 weeks. The course runs every 5 weeks.

We have AA groups that come in, an art group, a somatic movement group, and then we’ve offered a lot at the two shops we have on Yorkshire Street called 'Restore' and 'Restoration'. Restore is an art gallery and Restoration is a furniture restoration shop where we have a very skilled man who restores antique furniture to perfection and teaches people how to do French polishing, Danish polishing, oiling, and basket work. We can facilitate qualifications in any and all of those crafts. Some people are just local artists who like to support the project and sell their art in the shop, but others are long term unemployed or have got long term health issues and come because they would not usually be able to work. They come and get support with their mental health, as well as an opportunity to create things that they can sell in the shop. We have people who have never earned a wage in their life that sell something in the shop - the validation that it brings is life-changing; that someone has valued something that they have made enough to buy it!

We’ve found over the years in the volunteering, that people were coming in and serving God before they even know Him. But then they are coming to know God because they get to know the community, and we talk about God and we pray together. We have had volunteers pray out loud who we never expected to pray because they have never expressed that they are a Christian.  

Our latest project is a garden project on a plot of land ‘a stones throw’ away from our building. We sent the owner a cheeky proposal that we wanted a therapeutic garden on that plot of land, and to our surprise they agreed to give it to us rent-free. Our parish nurse is a keen gardener, she is specifically employed to look after the homeless community where there is a gap between what the NHS provides and what our clients need. She wants to use the garden to teach people about growing vegetables and self care. About investing in growth over a long time; how seeds grow, but that sometimes things die, and how sometimes things need pruning to grow. It’s called ‘Growing veg and people.’ 


Q: Can you tell us a bit about the building and how you came to acquire it? Also how did Stewardship help with that? 

A: The building is just a really exciting story, a miracle! We were outgrowing the shop that we had so generously been allowed to use rent-free, but we always felt that unless we made the most of what we have, God won’t ask us to move on. We had converted the cellar and as we were just putting the paintbrushes down, somebody walks in and says, “If you ever want any furniture, just let me know because I’ve got some.” I replied, “We’ve just converted the cellar and could do with some chairs.” He said, "Come with me to the barn.” I thought we were going to get into his car and go somewhere, but instead, he took us to the building next door that we hadn't even realised was there. While we were there, we discussed the work that we do with the community with him. His response was, “I had a bad start in life but if I had people like you there for me, it would have been very different. Why don’t you use my building rent-free?” When he eventually put the building up for sale, it seemed like a tough call for us to buy a building with no money and no regular income. We had a legacy from a church member for £30k but we were £50k short. A donor came forward with the £50k on short term loan to help us with the shortfall we needed before the deadline. Stewardship services were just amazing. They accepted a reasonable step of faith in purchasing the building and the loan from them came through which enabled us to pay off the donor. Since then, we have not missed a payment which has just been so phenomenal. We also invested £50k to refurbish the building. Now it’s a real tool for God’s hand. We have a multi-purpose room that is carpeted and used for a church on Sundays and then for our groups during the week. We have a café upstairs and we have another multi-purpose room downstairs. It has just been amazing! 

People in room


Q: How many people have used the building facilities since 2011? 

A: Before Covid, we used to help about 550 individuals a year. In the last few years, that number has grown to about 1800. That’s not necessarily including the homeless groups or the other recovery groups, that’s literally people who we've made a phone call to, or we've sat and prayed with, listened to, or given a food parcel to. There are a few people who’ve moved on because once their lives have improved and they don’t need to come anymore. There are people who start volunteering with us, who go on to employment and extra training, and who are still with us which is just fantastic. 

People worshipping in room


Q: Can you tell us of some testimonies of God’s work through the ministry? 

A: I [Michael] remember we had a guy with a bushy beard who came and used to sit and do his crossword. He had drinking issues and was an ex-soldier. He had had a stroke. He came for a long while, and when we got our building, he started volunteering with us because he used to work as a builder. One time he came along and said, “Michael, on Sunday I am coming to your church because you never invited me.” It was one of those stories where he just needed to be around Christians for a little while and then he started to come along to our prayer meetings and pray out loud. There were a few steps forward and a few steps back, and now he is one of our staff members and happily married. 

There was another guy who complained that the coffee I made was too strong and was giving him a headache and I said, “But you’re on heroin?” This conversation led to a chain of events that meant that after 27 years of heroin addiction without attending rehab, he suddenly agreed to get help. I took him to a detox centre in Manchester. He is now clean and lives out of the area. He is doing well as far as we know. This is exciting as he was with us for over 10 years before he decided to take that step and sometimes it takes that patience of journeying alongside people until they consider the possibility of hope and take a step in the right direction. 

One volunteer attended about 3 years ago, and she was sceptical at joining in and getting involved, but she really wanted to. Then she started coming to the volunteer staff's prayer meetings before the sessions start. Suddenly one day she prayed aloud, and it was quite a shock. She then shared that she was brought up a Catholic, but it had been a bad experience and had put her off following the faith. She now comes to church quite often and talks a lot about God, about how she’s been helped and how her life has been changed since she has been involved here. She continues to pray fervently in our prayer meetings and it has just been life-changing for her.  

We had a phone call about another lady during the Covid crisis when we had to suspend our Christmas dinner. We usually host about 100 people in the building for Christmas dinner and instead we changed to delivering them that year. The phone call asked us to deliver a Christmas dinner to that lady, but that she wouldn’t make eye contact or speak to us - she would just take the dinner and that’s it. Tracy delivered the dinner and fast forward to now, the lady comes to church every Sunday. Her collection of Christian T-shirts is fabulous. I think God must prompt her on what T-shirt to wear as the theme of the T-shirt usually matches the theme of that Sunday!  


Q: What’s your vision for the future of the ministry? 

A: Personally, we would still like to be here (in the building). It's an investment in the community for the long term. We want to hand it over well. We want to keep doing what we are doing consistently for the next 21 years. It’s a small miracle that we are still here after the past 21 years. We are all part-timers, this not our full-time job. We would love to expand the team and take West End Impact to the next level which means refurbishing the loft at the front of the building into smaller rooms with counselling spaces. We desperately need quieter spaces as it is getting so busy. You can’t have private conversations in a crowded room.

We would like to expand our mental health work into evening sessions for those people who still maintain work. We would like to see our garden grow and have impact. The people who live directly around the garden plot, they don’t have a garden and live in flats, and it would be nice for them to enjoy some green space and the pleasure of gardening.

The two shops we own were once in a very vibrant shopping street but now it's quite derelict. Since they opened, we have encouraged about three or four other small businesses to spring up in the vacant shops. We would love to see that street completely regenerated. There are 50 shop units on the street and with the Eden project coming to the area, we hope that will be somewhere that could develop alongside the Eden Project.

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