Reverend Ted Noffs opens The Wayside Chapel in 1964 at a time when Kings Cross is fast becoming a mecca for disaffected youth; the home of the red light district, illegal gambling and drug culture. What starts as a couple of rooms in an unassuming apartment block in Hughes Street, quickly becomes a place where people from all walks of life gather to share their concerns, voice their opinions and find connection in Ted’s ‘family of humanity’. Within a couple of years, The Wayside Chapel grows to include a chapel, coffee shop, crisis centre and the first office of the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs. The addition of a theatre draws in people from all walks of life to watch drama, music, film and public debates. By the end of the decade, The Wayside Chapel has already cemented its place in the fabric of Sydney society.
The growing drug culture of the 1970s and the devastation it causes to people on and around the streets of Kings Cross causes deep concern for those working at the coalface of humanity. Action comes before preaching at The Wayside Chapel. Determined to do something, Ted and his team expand programs to increase crisis support and reach out to homeless people and the many old, blind and disabled people living in poverty in the local area. As demand for support grows, so does Wayside. The flat next door to 29 Hughes Street is acquired and services are expanded. Seeing a need to help children understand the risks of drug taking, Ted and his wife Margaret develop the Life Education Centre in the late 1970s to educate young people about the risks of drug taking. The first class is held at Wayside and is so well received that the program is spread around Australia, the UK and the US.
The 1980s start in a flurry of celebration but end with great sadness. Thousands of weddings and naming ceremonies are conducted at Wayside, across Sydney and interstate but as the decade continues the strain from Ted’s ever-increasing workload starts to show. In 1987, Ted Noffs suffers a massive stroke and the charismatic leader is unable to return to work. While the turbulent events of the 1980s cause much heartache, The Wayside Chapel continues to do what it does best – serve people in need. The crisis centre receives some 2000 calls a month and thousands more visit to find acceptance and support that is free of judgment.
The defining moment of the 1990s comes as the decade draws to a close. Caught in the midst of a heroin boom, Reverend Ray Richmond, who takes over Wayside earlier in the decade, is stirred to action by the countless lives lost from drug overdoses. He establishes a safe injecting room known as ‘The Tolerance Room’, an act of civil disobedience, which nevertheless results in a change in state legislation and the first medically supervised injecting centre. Despite finishing the decade with a win for the community, the 1990s are difficult for The Wayside Chapel. The Noffs Family go their separate way in 1992 and continue the work of Ted through the Ted Noffs Foundation. Ray is faced with the challenge of running an organisation that is under great financial strain. Programs are cut back and the building falls into disrepair. The once iconic charity slowly turns into a shadow of its former self.
A new decade brings new hope. Reverend Graham Long takes over in 2004 and sets about returning The Wayside Chapel to its former glory. This is no easy feat. The building is falling down and funds are in desperately short supply but with the help of everyone from neighbours to politicians, $8.2 million is raised to completely redevelop The Wayside Chapel. The decade is challenging but despite the financial strain Graham still manages to establish an innovative program reducing social isolation for those living with mental health issues and a community education initiative to raise awareness of the issues faced by Sydney’s marginalised community.
The Wayside Chapel launches into the 2010s with a revived mission to create a community with no ‘us and them’. After five years of fundraising, an $8.2million investment and 22 months of construction, the chapel’s new building opens in May 2012 in front of a crowd of 800 people. With the new building complete, Wayside services flourish. The Wayside Café, Aboriginal Project, Rooftop Garden and Community Development Project are established to meet the changing needs of the community. In 2014, Wayside celebrates its 50th anniversary, pausing with deep gratitude for the past before launching with hope into the future.