Bluewater Chaplain - Malcolm Cooper

Down in the chalky basin that houses the award winning Bluewater shopping centre there is a sanctuary and Place of Quiet amongst the commercial enterprise.

Born in South Africa, Chaplain Malcolm Cooper arrived in Bluewater in 1996 whilst the site was still under construction and he now provides general oversight to the team of 13 workplace chaplains that look after Bluewater.  

He said, “I am a Methodist, and the now Bishop of Pretoria, Bishop Johannes Thomas Seoka, and I worked together in industrial mission in the gold mines of South Africa. When I heard that Kent Workplace Mission was looking for a chaplain to establish a presence in Bluewater, I followed the calling and came to Kent.”

Initially, Bluewater’s developer Lend Lease (an Australian company) was not sure about the approach they wanted to take. Other groups had approached them seeking to provide hospitality, Christian literature and a place for gathering together. As a commercial enterprise, Bluewater already planned coffee shops and book shops, so this approach was rejected. Instead, Kent Workplace Mission offered a unique approach. Malcolm said, “We offered to broker a multi-faith arrangement, where the quiet space provided could be used by people of all faiths and none. My impression is that Church life does not easily sit with multi-faith life, so this offer needed a lot of reflection and patience. The task was a very challenging one. I think it’s important for people to understand that we are not a stand alone chaplaincy service; we are part of Kent Workplace Mission, which is an ecumenical activity working in collaboration with local faith communities and leadership in the faiths. We offer a pastoral presence at work and seek to reflect God’s presence and involvement in the experience of work.”

Bluewater became fully operational on 16 March 1999 and now boasts some 330 stores and 40 café and restaurants. In addition, it hosts up to 27 million shoppers and employs around 7000 people of many different faiths and none, and every one of them is welcome to use the Place of Quiet, situated on the ground floor next to Prêt à Manger.    

Malcolm explained, “This is an open spiritual space and we are available from 0800 until just after midnight. It is a non-smoking place of quiet and we encourage people not to bring food and drink here. If a person wants to use the space, they need to press the buzzer by the door, and  ten seconds later the door will open. We host Christian prayers at 0915 on a Wednesday morning,  Friday prayers at 1300 led by an Imam, and a Buddhist reflection once a month. Some people say we don’t need to have a place to pray when we are at work but others describe this as “delightful”. We strive to be available for all and have two washrooms available for those who need to begin their prayers this way. We do not attempt to allocate space to one faith over another - to care for all is to be meaningful for all. Some people simply come to read and reflect in a quiet space.”

The Place of Quiet has unfortunately been abused on occasion and Malcolm accepts that, with such an enormous potential pool of users, some of this is inevitable. He said, “We have had unpleasant graffiti daubed on the walls and found the odd marijuana joint being smoked, but the external security staff keep a very close eye on who enters the space.  If people have any concerns, the security staff are just minutes away and they do conduct security rounds all through the open hours. It is important that men, women and young people all feel equally able to take advantage of what we have to offer.”   

Local photographer Roger Force was awarded a Fellowship by the Royal Photographic Society for a portfolio of images entitled “The Spirit of Bluewater”. These images show reflections of Bluewater’s architecture in the strategically located lakes. You can see examples of this work on the walls of the quiet room.

For more information go to:
Email prayer requests to:

Copyright 2015 © The Diocese of Rochester. Registered Office: St Nicholas’ Church, Boley Hill, Rochester, Kent, ME1 1SL. Registered Charity No. 249339 The Rochester Diocesan Society and Board of Finance is a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England No. 140656