Inclusivity at the heart of Portholme Church

25 September 2023

From gluten allergies to physical access, Portholme Church in Yorkshire, a Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP) between Selby United Reformed Church and Selby Methodist Church, is working hard to become as inclusive as possible.

Portholme Church is a well-loved and well-used building with more than 500 people coming through the doors each week. Amongst the members are Kacie and her mother Claire. Kacie is neurodiverse and has health problems, “Disability awareness is something that's always been very much at the forefront of my mind. We have attended various churches over the years, and they have not all been inclusive,” explains Claire, “I know families who do not go to church because of their child’s neurodivergence.”

The mother and daughter have been passionate about inclusivity and intergenerational activities for many years. They want to encourage people of all ages and conditions to attend church by making Portholme Church as safe and accessible a place as possible.

With the support of the church’s governance team, Portholme Church has become an inclusive church. To do this, they did an audit, looking at all the different aspects of the church such as the stewards, the service and the layout of the church.

“We are lucky, the church was built quite recently and is mostly wheelchair accessible,” adds Kacie. “We have the blueprint but it is a work in progress,” chimes in Roger Pipe, the treasurer, “we are waiting to have the funding before starting this work with the addition of a ramp by the kitchen door.”

Other changes were made to make the church more inclusive for everyone: they have a visual aid in the sanctuary with screens, sensory boxes in the hall, large print resources, chairs for use by people with mobility issues, new doormats at the entrance so wheelchairs can get in easily, the website has become more accessible with features that every user can personalize to their needs and they also offer traditional and gluten-free bread.

There is also an official point of contact for people needing specific adjustments. Many members of the church are now more aware and, when a person in a wheelchair arrives in the church, they are welcomed and offered assistance in finding a good place to sit. Inclusivity means that people in wheelchairs are not stuck in one area but can sit where they like in the room.

More than just making the church accessible, they also want to raise awareness that not all disabilities are visible and that people should be consulted about what they need in order to feel included. Kacie, for instance, has a visual impairment and often faces disbelief when she asks for large-print resources. “It is time to stop making the assumption that young people do not need help,” she adds. It is the idea that support should be available and signposted clearly so the burden of asking for help does not fall on people who need it.

Claire, who leads worship once a month, will have her daughter join for the last Sunday in September. “We will be doing a disability awareness service and also add an intergenerational aspect.” Kacie will soon attend an intergenerational training event at Cliff College and plans to host monthly intergenerational worship in the church for people to connect through craft.

You can find guidance and resources to make your church accessible, including accessibility audits, here.