The Open Door of Mercy in Derby

Pope Francis has announced an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin on 8 December 2015. The year was inaugurated by Pope Francis through a highly symbolic, Knocking on, Opening and Entering a Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It is the Pope’s desire that this symbolic action will be repeated around the world during this Year of Mercy.

When announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis urges all people of faith, and good will to participate. He writes in a Papal Bull:

"Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy." We need to constantly contemplate the mystery of ‘Mercy.’ It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and humankind, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever.

” Papal Bull Misericordiae Vultus, April 2015.

Considering the unprecedented challenges, facing our world at this time, ‘Mercy; is a key element in the way forward. Mercy is about forgiveness, reconciliation, understanding, the capacity to stand in the shoes of the other. Mercy calls for openness, compassion, hospitality, generosity, for welcoming the stranger and for taking risks.

As I was pondering on this forthcoming ‘Year of Mercy’ my thoughts turned to that ever open ‘Door of Mercy’ which is the ‘Padley Centre’ operating here in Derby for the poor, hungry, homeless, street sleepers, migrants and hostel dwellers. It is a wonderful, merciful, project, run by a small core of paid staff, an army of volunteers and supported by the citizens of Derby. This year it celebrates thirty years of merciful service. ‘Padley’ is a ‘work of mercy’ of which the citizens of Derby can be justly proud.

It seems to me that its story is calling to be retold, for it is a shining example of what the Pope is hoping for from this Year of Mercy. In the retelling of the Padley Centre Story we revisit, the mystery of God’s stirrings in the hearts of his people.

So what was and is still stirring? 

In the late nineteen seventies and early eighties many people were disturbed and deeply concerned at the increasing numbers of homeless, hungry, and very needy people knocking on the doors of presbyteries, churches, convents and charitable services, seeking food, rest and hot drinks. Each day for example, fifty to sixty men and women would crowd into the narrow covered passage-way leading from Bridge Gate to the back garden door of the Convent of Mercy. Some would sit on benches set against one wall. People in their impoverished and transient state do not cope, easily with organisation or staggered timings so the small space was always overcrowded and there was much hustling and pushing. Hot soup and sandwiches were served to the waiting crowds through a hatch in the wall.

It transpired that much the same was happening in other venues around the city creating the same strong inner sense that something needed to be done. In such situations it needs some sort of catalyst to move forward. The catalyst in this case was Sister Richard Croston, a member of the Community of Sisters of Mercy at the Convent in Bridge Gate.

Sr. Richard felt a deep calling to give up her teaching post and work full time with the hungry and homeless. She approached the Community Leader, Sr. Paschal O’Brien, who understood and shared her concern. This was then brought to a Community Meeting and received the full backing from the members, who shared the same sense of urgency, that something needed to happen for the these desperately needy people. Sr. Richard resigned her teaching position and finished school in July 1982.


It was obvious that little could be done by one person alone so Sr. Richard decided to talk with members of the ‘Derby City Fellowship of Churches.’ She met first with Ann Morrissey, the Development Officer for the Church of England in the Derby Diocese. In Ann, she met a kindred spirit who like herself was deeply aware of the need to provide some form of service to the homeless and needy of the city. Together, they visited each of the Member Churches of the ‘Derby Fellowship’ of Churches, namely, Baptist, Catholic, Church of England, Methodist, Pentecostal, Society of Friends, United Reform Church and the Society of St Vincent de Paul. Everywhere they met enthusiasm and support; God was stirring things deeply and widely.

A steering group was formed from the Member Churches and a working plan formulated. It was agreed that nothing could really happen until a building, or premises, in a building, could be obtained. A long, fruitless search left the group frustrated but still determined to continue the search. It was then that Ann, who had her Office in an upstairs room in the building that formed part of ‘The Bridge Chapel’, wondered aloud, if the ground floor or basement of the building might be a possibility. All agreed the idea was worth pursuing.

The Bridge Chapel is one of only six Bridge Chapels left in the British Isles. Over the centuries it had fallen into near dereliction but was restored in the 1930s and an adjoining building was added to it, providing office, accommodation, and meeting rooms for the Cathedral. The whole site is managed by a Board of Trustees. At this period the Chapel was recognised as an important Heritage Centre and designated, a Grade A listed building so any change of use, necessary alterations and decorations would be carefully monitored.

Sr. Paschal O’ Brien, Superior of Bridge Gate Convent, accompanied by Sr. Richard, visited Canon Gatford at Cathedral House to discuss the possibility of using the basement area of the building for the envisaged work. The Canon, who was already an enthusiastic supporter of the project, agreed to bring this to the Cathedral Trustees and before long permission at this level was given. Before moving further the project had to have a name. Sr. Richard tentatively suggested ‘The Padley Centre.’ This was warmly accepted by the steering group and all involved in the project.

People often ask about the significance of this name. This is another story worth telling. It dates back to a very troubled period in our history; the 'Reformation' period, when Protestants persecuted Catholics and Catholics persecuted Protestants. Derby remembers with great reverence four people who were martyred for their faith here in Derby. One was a blind Protestant woman, Joan Waste, who was burnt at the stake just off Burton Road, for refusing to renounce her faith, during the reign of Queen Mary.

In Elizabethan times, in 1588, two catholic priests were captured hiding in “Padley Hall,” in Grindleford. Lord Fitzherbert and his brother were arrested along with the two priests, Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam. The penalty for harbouring priests was life imprisonment and Lord Padley died many years later in the Tower of London. The sentence for practising, as a priest, was to be hung, drawn and quartered. After sentencing, the two priests were brought to the ‘Bridge Chapel,' which, formerly a catholic wayside chapel was at this time used as a prison. Another priest was already held there, Richard Simpson. The three men were hung, drawn and quartered near the bridge and their remains nailed to the exterior chapel walls and draped over the entrance. These men are now remembered and revered as the 'Padley Martyrs.'

There is something poignant and beautiful in this story. A place of former horror was to be transformed into a place of mercy, love, compassion and hospitality, by many churches, working together in love and friendship, which long ago were riven with hatred and division.

It carries a message of hope for us today in these troubled times. Love and mercy can and will in the long term, triumph over our human capacity for self deception, violence and cruelty. It is sobering to recall that the savagery, perpetrated today, in many parts of our world, in the name of God or Religion, is not a new phenomenon. Yet it is heartening to appreciate that ventures such as this, thirty year old project, proves love and compassion are stronger than hate; goodness triumphs over evil; the blood of the martyrs is always the source of rich fruit.

So with this name: “The Padley Day Centre” to inspire them the steering the  group members forged ahead. Fortunately, among them there was plenty of expertise, business acumen, financial experience and other specialist areas of knowledge. There were also many good contacts among the parishioners of the Member Churches. The project was quickly set up as an official Charity with a Trust Deed, Board of Trustees, and finance, accounting and auditing procedures were put in place. The 'St. Vincent de Paul Society' donated £1000 to open the account and appeals were launched in the Member Churches.

Altogether this tentative move to help the needy was proving to be a wonderful ecumenical experience, of the fruitfulness of working together, of the sharing of hopes, dreams, expertise time and energy for the common good. Sr. Richard spoke on Radio Derby and introduced the project to the wider public. The response was remarkable. From all quarters, funds, furniture and equipment came in abundance.

During the interim period of preparation, while permissions for shower and toilet facilities and other necessary alterations and decoration were being obtained and implemented, Sr. Richard spent ten months working in ‘Passage Day Centre for the Homeless’ in London. This was an established Charity set up and run by the religious congregation “Daughters’ of Charity.” It proved to be a great learning experience. She returned with much useful information, programmes and ideas for future development.

An extract from the Annals of Bridge Gate Convent, described the opening of the Centre:

“The Padley Day Centre was opened on October 3rd to its first Client – a women called Jane. Sr. Richard and her Staff actually moved into the Centre on Mercy Day, 24th September 1985 after weeks of very hard preparatory work. Equipment and furniture was generously donate by many kind benefactors from the various local Churches and from the Convent. On Sunday Evening 29th September a Blessing and Service of Prayer was held in the Bridge Chapel and many people who had been involved in the planning and preparation of the Centre were invited. The chapel was packed to capacity with over sixty people, who included Sr. Paschal and many Sisters, representatives from the Police, Canon Paul Miller and Canon Ian Gatford from All Saints Cathedral, volunteers, staff and other supporters. Refreshments, were served in the Centre afterwards.”


Once the Centre was opened Manpower Services under the supervision of John Smart became involved and provided a core paid staff. Since then The Padley Centre has gone from strength to strength with ever increasing numbers and development programmes. Early in its history the Padley Charity shop was opened for selling on donated gifts, equipment, furniture which were surplus to requirement. The shop was to become a good source of funding for the Centre.

The Baptist Church in Peartree, offered space for a craft centre. This became ‘The Peartree Craft Centre’ and is part of the educational outreach. Crafts created could be purchased from ‘The Padley Shop.

In 1991, Sr. Richard who had worked tirelessly for the project since 1982 left Derby for a well earned Sabbatical period. She left in great peace knowing that “The Padley Centre” was thriving, in good, safe hands and her presence was no longer needed.

As the Centre developed and became widely known and used it soon became evident that new premises were badly needed. Numbers continued to increase and client needs became increasingly more complex. The search for premises this time was much easier. The Charity was now well known, much appreciated and well supported. New premises in Becket Street, near the city centre were found and enabled greater expansion in services.

Funding from Derby Council and partnerships with Social Services and other agencies has enabled the project to become much more than the simple ‘Day Centre' originally envisaged. Further premises have been acquired  since in Rutland Street, where emergency accommodation can be provided along with many other Services. Resulting from these on-going developments the Charity is now called “The Padley Group.”

Sisters of Mercy continued to support the work, through volunteering their services at the Centre. As the years passed and the number of Sister available declined, this support has become largely financial. Our Trustees in Leeds makes a substantial annual donation and the ‘Bridge Gate’ Community do a monthly, on-line shop for basic food supplies, averaging around £170 each month. Sainsbury’s deliver this food directly to the ‘Padley Group' in Becket Street.’

Supporters and well wishers were delighted to hear that on Thursday 3rd December, this year, the Padley Group was presented by the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire with:

The Queen's Award for Voluntary Services

This was awarded to the 'Padley Group,' by her Majesty the Queen on the anniversary of her ascension to the throne.

Sadly, thirty years on the ‘Padley Charity’ is even more needed today than when it was first mooted in back 1982. The support from Derby citizens has been phenomenal. With current cutbacks, life gets harder for the poorest and likewise for the donors.

Pat Zadora, the current, Chief Executive of the Charity, in the recent article in the Derby Telegraph reports that 24,000 people accessed Padley’s hospitality and support this year and numbers are likely to keep rising. Your continuing generosity towards this Charity is essential and very deeply appreciated.

God stirred the hearts of many good people thirty years ago, to bring ‘The Padley Centre’ into being. He is still stirring and prompting today. Our call, particularly in this 'Jubilee Year of Mercy,' is to listen and become ever more deeply conscious of and responsive to  the needs in our world at this time.

To mark this 30th Anniversary, the ‘Padley Group’ has set up ‘Challenge “30”’ to encourage people to be even more generous; to do some creative activity to raise £30 for the ‘Padley Centre.’ It is hoping to raise £50,000 from this initiative and looks forward to enjoying the creativity of its very loyal friends and supporters.

Sr. Camilla