Refurbished Žižkov church aims to become new centre of community

Žižkov, Prague

A church that opened in Prague’s Žižkov district in the 1920s is about to get a whole new purpose. Now called Žižkostel, from January it will serve as a community centre, creating a new hub where people from various backgrounds can gather, receive help, and hopefully, bring new life to the building.

Tucked into Prague’s Žižkov neighbourhood on the corner of Náměstí Barikád is a bright yellow building that was once the site of a church attended by locals in the area. But today, the former religious site is being converted into a community space. Táňa Vozková, a therapist and coordinator at the community centre, hopes it will become a thriving place for the local community to gather, as she explained while guiding me through the building’s newly renovated main hall.

“The space was built in 1924, and at the time about 300 people came to the church every week, now, it’s about 30 people. We would really like to use this space not only for the church, we want to host workshops here, and also we host therapy here. We do therapy for couples and families. We also plan to host concerts and theatre.”

The new main hall,  where theatre events,  workshops,  and concerts will be held | Photo: Amelia Mola-Schmidt,  Radio Prague International

Next to the Scandinavian countries in Europe, Czechia frequently tops the list of the world’s least religious nations, despite the many churches dotted around the country. But the thought of the church sitting empty was what gave Vozková and the rest of their team the idea to repurpose the space.

“We have 2,000 square meters here that was open once a week for one hour of mass. No, we would like to open it every day for all people. We also invite Jews and Muslims to our centre, not just Christians. We want to make this place a safe space for all people from all religions.”

For 20 years, the NGO Hussite Centre (Husitské centrum in Czech) has been operating adjacent to the church, working closely as an outreach group in the community, especially with its Roma members. It will also continue offering their services in the new digs.

“We have been here for 20 years, and we work closely with Roma people and children. We have a club here for the children where they can come every afternoon. They can do their homework, or just hang out, and speak with someone if they are in need, if they are afraid of something. We have around 20 children here every day.”

Táňa Vozková | Photo: Archive of Táňa Vozková

The NGO employs social workers, but also individuals from the Roma community who are peer-consultants. They are given jobs and help the NGO connect with the Roma community, which Vozková describes is a critical part of their work to help integrate Roma individuals into broader Czech society.

“If you are Roma and would like to rent a flat, you pay two times or maybe three times more. It can be nearly impossible to find a flat or find a job. We help people with this – we go to their meetings with realtors and their job interviews so we can try and be the bridge to connect them.”

But in order to be that bridge, the Roma and Czech community have to find ways in which they can meet each other in ordinary circumstances. In the newly renovated community space, lunches will be hosted, where Roma women and the staff will cook a lunch together and invite the local neighbours to join in for a meal, a step that Vozková hopes will bring the groups together.

“We really like cooking and making food, it’s our pleasure. We really believe that food connects people. If you sit at the same table and eat the same food, you will make connections.”

Vozková explained how it can be difficult to turn a centre that helps disadvantaged groups in society into a place where other community members actively want to go, but she hopes that the opening of the newly renovated community centre will be a step in the right direction.

“For 20 years, we have been looking for a way to open the place, how we could be a place where people are not afraid to go inside. A place where you can knock on the door and ask ‘can I join you’. It’s in our interest, and we hope that one day, it will be like this here.”