How MANY of you travelling into town via Canada Grove and the Queensway notice The Hub of the Salvation Army? For many the words Salvation Army means War Cry, no drinking, helping the homeless and an unusual uniform. However, there is far more to their work than just this.
We should first look at the history of their existence in the town. Initially, the town was covered from Westergate by their large group. But what of Bognor?
A newspaper report of February 13, 1932, talked of ‘Bognor Regis raided by the Army’ – this announcement was the notification of the arrival of the Salvation Army to the town.
Numerous newspaper reports and articles confirm this event, but in 1978 a letter to The Editor of the Bognor Regis Observer mentioned that the Army had arrived in the town before the 1914 war.
Gerard Young also believed that the Salvation Army was in Bognor from about 1903.
The newspaper correspondent recalled that before 1914 he could remember seeing members of the Salvation Army attending a meeting in Essex Road.
He said the band could be seen marching to a meeting hall at the end of Steyne Street, ‘upstairs over the barber’s shop facing Canada Grove’.
In 2002, I was given a letter written by a missionary then living in Cape Town, who had started her work locally. She recalled a meeting room in the Drill hall in Bedford Street, where you had to duck through a hole in the wall, as she put it, causing much difficulty to the base player. She also remembered using, for a short time, a room in the Picturedrome.
Returning to 1932 and the major coming of the Salvation Army into the town, they ‘held a festival that heralded their arrival’, which was presided over by William Fletcher JP, who for many years was involved in numerous activities throughout the town. All the local free churches supported this opening ceremony. Their premises were situated in Spencer Street and in some reports it was claimed to be above a grocers shop.
As the Salvation Army grew in strength in the town, it became necessary to look for new premises. One report during 1959 stated that the Army were looking for premises in Longford Road.
However, this proved to be unobtainable, as they were to be banned from playing any musical instruments, except the piano and organ within these buildings.
It was claimed at the time there had been no such objection in Spencer Street, and because of the lack of objections they appealed against the decision.
The need for space continued and it was with great interest that they heard that the Baptist Church, who had premises in Canada Grove, were seeking new, larger premises in Victoria Drive, and their premises became available for purchase in 1964. The Salvation Army agreed to purchase the vacant site, and it became their new home.
Lt Col David MacMillan claimed, at a meeting with the Bognor Regis Council, that ‘this is indeed a notable day, and one that makes history for the local branch of our world-wide movement’.
The Army had felt that for a number of years their work had been held back locally by the lack of suitable accommodation.
The building and the adjoining manse, at its rear, were bought for £13,500. A public appeal was made to raise the money for its purchase and also for the provision of other necessary items and volunteers.
This new building contained two large halls, one equipped as a chapel for worship and adult activities, with an adjoining hall for the activities of the young.
The manse was soon converted into two self-contained flats. The opening ceremony was held on January 9, 1966, and the congregation at that time exceeded 200 people.
the Salvation Army has remained on the corner of Canada Grove and the Queensway since then. They now have a charity shop in the Queensway, which helps with fund- raising. The organisation has many members and volunteers who quietly help the less able.
In recent years work has been carried out on the church, the manse has also been fully integrated into the original church building. The whole construction has been tastefully decorated and transformed into a 21st century enterprise.
Each area has been planned for multi-use; even the ‘church altar’ can be dismantled to allow the area to be used for events like training courses, presentations and meetings.
There is a kitchen, which is used for functions and a maze of offices used by various charities and organisations servicing the Bognor Regis area.
My impression is not of a religious premise but of a centre that has been built and more importantly equipped with materials for the help and caring that is required in this modern world.
This can be seen by the further enlargement, not only in structure but also from the way the Army are now fully integrated and dedicated to helping those in need within the community.
All in all a vibrant working hub serving the local community and a far cry from when town’s central branch was situated at Westergate.
But in the 21st century their work is even more important, so when you see the collection tin, spare a thought for those who need their help.