In the 1890s, a man called Charles Howe felt stirred to travel from his comfortable home and journey over to the ‘Bonny Downs’ area of East Ham which, at the time, was a notoriously dangerous and deprived community. When he arrived he was outraged to see 60 children who were running around with no shoes on. His heart broke to hear the stories of the mothers struggling to raise their family in dire poverty and empathised with the men who tried to drink away the stress of working in inhumane conditions at the local gas works.
Despite all the suffering, Pastor Howe also saw the potential of this close knit community who looked out for each other, were generous to neighbours in need and had a real hunger to explore faith. So he started ministering to the local residents in the Bonny Downs area (now known as East Ham South) and officially set up ‘Bony Downs Mission’ in 1908.
Having invited people to study the bible with him in a small room at the back of a shop, he soon realised that most of the residents couldn’t read so he started an adult literacy class. He organised free summer holidays to the Kent hopping fields and day trips to Theydon Bois and Langdon Hills to give families a much needed break. Over time, more and more local residents were drawn to the prayer groups, Sunday schools and alcoholism support groups.
The congregation soon outgrew the shop so they decided to put a donation pot in the Drum & Monkey Pub. Eventually they scraped together enough funds and used their combined DIY skills to build the church hall on Bonny Downs Road, now Darwell Close. This building opened in 1933 and became a place of comfort and sanctuary for the community as they endured the horrendous loss and fear of World War II and the relentless bombing during The Blitz. The hall itself took a direct hit from a shell but miraculously, the bomb didn’t explode!
At the end of the 20th century, our church had once again outgrown its venue so the congregation took a huge leap of faith and began renovating a local derelict community centre. Just like our predecessors, we worked tirelessly to raise funds and build a centre for the community. We reopened the building, now called The Well, in 2001 and continue to use this space for our Sunday morning meetings.
Sadly, today our community still face many challenges and Newham remains one of the most deprived place in the UK. So in 1998, our church members founded a charity called Bonny Downs Community Association with the mission of “working together to change lives and transform our community”. Bonny Downs Church works in close partnership with BDCA to deliver an expanding range of services and activities that meet local needs.
The Old Church Hall on Darwell Close continues to host many of our church’s ministry projects including a foodbank and night shelter. However, after over a century of heavy use, the building is in great need of repair. We are therefore striving to raise funds to refurbish the site so we can create a building fit to serve the generations to come!