Plans were unveiled this week for St Michael’s church in the heart of Byker to be transformed into a state-of-the-art youth and community hub.

Named ‘The Lighthouse Project’, the new centre is being made possible with the award of a £4.2m grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Youth Investment Fund, and through the generosity of Lord Crewe Trust and The Squires Foundation.

The Lighthouse Project at St Michael’s is due to open in January 2025, and will provide a safe and central meeting place in the heart of Byker where young people and the community can flourish, with access to a wide variety of community activities and services for around 1,500 young people and families each year, alongside a reimagined worship space.

Unveiling the plans for the Youth and Community Hub, Ben Roman, Operations Director, The Lighthouse Project, said, “We are absolutely delighted to announce these exciting plans for the transformation of St Michael’s into a state-of-the-art youth and community hub for the people of Byker.

“The Lighthouse Project will offer a broad range of sessions and activities, along with access to vital services.

“We plan to start the redevelopment works on this stunning development before the end of this year, and expect to be commissioning the finished building and grounds in early 2025, in time for our grand opening in March 2025.”

Unveiling the project’s vision, Chair of St Michaels Centre Partnership Byker, the Reverend Phil Medley said, “We want The Lighthouse Project at St Michael’s to be an inclusive place for everyone, but particularly our young people.

“In searching for a new lease of life for the building, we spent a lot of time consulting in the community and what came back loud and clear was that there were no facilities for young people in Byker.

“Quite literally, there is no proper youth club here and much of the youth work takes place on the streets as a result.”

Bishop of Newcastle, the Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, affirmed the diocese’s delight at seeing the beautiful Grade 2 listed building being re-purposed to benefit the community in this way.

“St Michael’s has for more than 150 years been the beacon of our Christian presence in Byker and we are overjoyed to see this major investment in the building which will reaffirm its crucial importance to the local community.

“This funding will allow The Lighthouse Project to offer life changing services, particularly for young people, and be a safe and secure place to come and meet. I am so grateful to the team who have secured this funding which will undoubtedly help transform lives.” she added.

The Reverend Helen Gill, Priest in Charge of St Michael’s, commented: “The PCC of St Michael’s and St Lawrence, Byker, are very excited about the development of the Lighthouse Project. It has been our ambition for many years to bring our wonderful building to life, and fill it with people. The opportunity to do this feels like a real gift, and is a source of great joy.”

Planning permission for the scheme to proceed was recently awarded by Newcastle City Council and the scheme has enjoyed universal support from the Byker community, delivery providers, the Diocese of Newcastle, local charities and community organisations.

Stacey Davidson, a Trustee of the charity behind The Lighthouse Project, who lives in and works with the young people of Byker in a wide variety of community roles, could not contain her excitement on receiving the news.

“This is fantastic news for everyone in Byker. There are very few places for young people to go and very little for them to do – we’ve been crying out for something like this for years.

“It’s going to make such a difference to what we can do for the local community.”

Mark Squires, a former businessman with strong family and commercial links to Byker, links to the Diocese of Newcastle, and a Trustee of The Lighthouse Project and The Squires Foundation, who has played his part in getting the project off the ground, said: “We have been consulting with the young people, wider community, and partner organisations across Byker.

“This new facility is the response and will transform what we can do to support and help young people in the area – we have a long list of partners who want to do so much more but are currently constrained by the lack of facilities.

“It’s going to be a stunning place of aspiration and fun, a place where local people can come together, support one another and learn new skills.

“We’ve had a phenomenal response from all sorts of community providers who want to take advantage of the new facilities,” he added.