The story of Coventry’s Windrush church – an historic sanctuary for new arrivals to our city

Picture of a church
Picture of a church
The church was a safe space for West Indian arrivals

It was founded by members of Coventry’s Windrush generation – and has been a part of community life for decades.

This is the story of Bethel New Life Apostolic Church, which opened its doors in 1961. Now based in a historic building off the city’s bustling Foleshill Road, the church was once based at Bird Grove, the one-time home of George Eliot. Being an all-black church at a time when West Indians were coming to the UK to help re-build the country’s post-war economy, it was a safe space for the community. But early members of the church faced the sorts of challenges that many incoming Windrush arrivals did.

Racism, exclusion from other churches and trade unions, and, of course, struggles finding housing were all part of the everyday issues many faced.

CoventryLive went down to the church to meet some of the elders, as well as the new generation, who are working to bring the church into the modern day. Bethel New Life Apostolic Church started off life in a school room in Red Lane, then moved to Bird Grove, the birthplace of George Eliot, before ending up in their own building, off Foleshill Road.

“[The church] was where West Indian people could meet up with each other and praise the Lord,” church elder Louise Morgan told us. A lot of those who arrived as part of the Windrush generation were from countries like Saint Kitts, Barbados and Jamaica. When they arrived, they found that their usual vibrant way of worshipping wasn’t present in churches in England, and so set up their own. Communities created around churches, such as Bethel New Life Apostolic Church, helped West Indian arrivals settle in and thrive. They were also places of activism, change and progress.

Louise Morgan, who came to Coventry from Jamaica, said: “We were always together. We came to this cold country, it was very cold.”

Minister Dudley Nicely was one of the founding pastors of the church, which was established from the Bethel movement. “In our day, the church couldn’t contain young people, it was booming. We’re starting to boom again, now we are growing,” Jennifer Nicely told CoventryLive.

The congregation numbers dwindled, and now currently sit at a modest 30, with more members joining regularly, the community told us. They hold weekly sessions in their grand building just off Foleshill road, and have big plans for the future. Louise Morgan added: “This was a safe place and it still is a safe place for us West Indian people. We love to see young people come in, whether young or old, every colour, every race, because there is a God to serve.”

Picture of a black woman

Jennifer Nicely, another member of the church, said that going forward, the plan is to work with young people in Coventry at risk of crime. Mrs Nicely said: “I am here today in this faith because of our matriarchs and patriarchs, our parents that brought it, and we want our children to be the same.

“Now we’re really about saving souls, about spreading the love, and reaching out to the community and making the community know that we are here.” The church is now led by Elder Andre Codner and Minister Kamesha.