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Great examples of community support

Twenty five churches were shortlisted for our judges to select the final six winners.  The judges found it very difficult to decide who the final six were as so many of the shortlisted entries were great examples of community support.

As the shortlisted community activities were so inspirational we have also included a short summary of each below.

  • Coffee and chat sessions

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    Church details

    All Saints’ Church, Gurnard, Isle of Wight
    Diocese of Portsmouth
    Average size of congregation - 70

    It’s good to talk

    Perhaps it is because the idea is so beautifully simple, but the community initiative at All Saints’ Church in Gurnard is certainly taking off. The project began two years ago, when members of the congregation started holding ‘Coffee and Chat’ sessions. People were invited to come along to informal coffee mornings and simply relax and chat.

    Everyone was welcome, from within the church and beyond, and soon a number of people were coming along every week to meet up and talk. Some people wanted to talk about problems or worries, others simply wanted some human company and a chance to natter. All were welcome.

    The original coffee mornings led to other initiatives being set up too. There are now two monthly meetings in local pubs, ‘Prayer and a Pint’ and ‘Blokes’ Beer and Banter.’ By meeting in public places, both groups make the church visible and accessible to the local community.

    A primary school in Gurnard also now hosts a Mum’s Coffee and Chat group, following concern from the Head and staff that a number of mums needed support. Lots of mums now come along and talk about any worries or issues they have about their children, education, or anything else that takes their fancy.

    The wider community really values the chance to chat, with no strings attached. The church is demonstrating that it’s there to help, with no judgment and no interference. As everything is completely free, it’s an extremely inclusive and welcoming project that is making a real difference.

    Think differently

    Try something new – each of the initiatives at All Saints’ took place because people were willing to give something a go

    Keep your eyes and ears open to notice if there’s anyone who might benefit from an invite to come along

    Keep it informal – the congregation found that things worked best when people weren’t tied down by a rota system.

    What you’ll need

    A suitable venue like a church hall

    A serving table with coffee, tea and biscuits

    Any extra touches like jars of fresh flowers or easy-listening background music can create a welcoming atmosphere

    Venues beyond the church, such as local pubs and schools, where you can meet in ‘neutral’ territory and take the church’s mission out to the community.

  • St Barnabas is reborn

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    Church details

    St Barnabas
    Diocese of Bath & Wells
    Average size of congregation - 30

    In just a few years St Barnabas Church in Bath has changed from being an anonymous place of worship to a thriving hub that is open for the community more or less every day.

    Five years or so ago, the church had lost its confidence and had no contact with the parish’s 13,000 residents. The congregation was dwindling, and the facilities in both the church and the church hall were in disrepair.

    Then something changed. A new incumbent in 2011 began applying for small grants to carry out essential maintenance work, and launched a new family friendly service at tea times. Younger people started coming back to the church, and Bath Youth for Christ started using the church hall for their Street Dance Classes.

    The word began to spread. With the help of a small grant, younger members in the congregation set up ‘Busy Bees’, a toddler group. In turn this led to ‘Busy Praise,’ a monthly, toddler friendly service including a light lunch.

    St Barnabas was keen to reach out to even more youngsters. That’s why they joined forces with the local Methodist church, the YMCA and Bath Youth for Christ to apply for grants and employ a full time parish youth worker. Since his appointment, the parish worker runs a breakfast club, football club, after school chill-out, break dance classes and mentoring. Children across the parish are getting the chance to experience things that were simply unavailable to them before.

    The church has also opened a midweek drop-in café, with home made cakes, toys, newspapers and hot and cold drinks. Slowly but surely, St Barnabas is moving towards being open every day, offering hospitality and friendship to people of all ages from across the community.

    Think differently

    Be bold – St Barnabas would never have dreamed of employing a full time youth worker 18 months ago

    Join together – by partnering with the local Methodist Church, the YMCA and Bath Youth for Christ, the church was able to employ a youth worker

    Share space – St Barnabas’ Parish Youth Project is run in a YMCA-owned building

    Improvise – the toddler groups are run in the church itself. The bright, airy space is perfect for what they need.

    What you’ll need

    Vision – St Barnabas shows that a congregation of 30 can reach out to and serve a parish of 13,000

    A core group of committed volunteers to think of ideas and apply for grants

    An employed youth worker (grants are available)

    Social media – St Barnabas is keeping in touch with the younger community through Facebook and other social media.

  • A congregation working in harmony

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    Church details

    St Lawrence’s Church, Mereworth
    Diocese of Rochester
    Average size of congregation - 40

    Like many rural churches, St Lawrence’s in Mereworth was struggling with dwindling numbers and an ageing congregation. The youngest people in the church every Sunday were a couple in their 50’s. No young families were coming to the church at all, and there had been no Sunday School or youth work for many years.

    The church took on a new choirmaster who wanted to make a difference and get more people involved with the church. He began by inviting children to a one-day event to learn a play in a day. Eight children signed up to the event, and the next day the play was performed in the church. All the children’s families came along to hear the results.

    After the play, the children were invited to join the church choir, where they could have free music tuition, and take part in a social event every term. Every fourth Sunday the children were encouraged to lead the singing in the church.

    With the new choral activity, St Lawrence’s introduced a new family-friendly service, as well as a special Christmas carol service to welcome young families. Over the course of a year, the fourth Sunday began to have a larger congregation than the other Sundays of the month.

    The new, younger congregation is now becoming more and more involved in church life. Some of the parents now read at services, act as sidespeople and have joined the PCC. None of these people was involved with the church beforehand, but the choir is now helping the congregation to grow.

    Think differently

    Be positive – there may not be music teachers in your local area, but the choirmaster can teach children skills that the parents appreciate, and in a way that the children enjoy

    See the bigger picture – the choir is just the first step in encouraging families back into church; as people become more involved, they may become active members of the congregation too

    Seize the opportunity – when parents stay for rehearsals, many chat about parenting and school issues; as a result St Lawrence’s now offers a Parenting Teenagers Course.

    What you’ll need

    An active church choir

    Children and young families in the community

    A choirmaster who can engage with and inspire young singers

    Refreshments and a volunteer or two to help serve them to parents during rehearsal

    Flyers to spread the word about the new choir and invite children along.

  • A church with a tale to tell

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    Church details

    St Mary’s Church, Fishguard
    Diocese of St. David’s
    Average size of congregation - 60

    St Mary’s Church is situated in the heart of Fishguard in Pembrokeshire. Tourism plays a major role in the local economy, and every year a number of cruise ships weigh anchor in Fishguard harbour.

    The congregation wanted to welcome the visitors to the town, and spread the gospel story too. They put together a dramatised tour of the church for groups of cruise ship passengers. ‘The History of St Mary’s in Ten Minutes’ is a light-hearted and entertaining introduction to the church, touching on key moments of the church’s history and ending on the importance of worship for the town.

    In 2015, Fishguard welcomed six cruise ships, and in 2016 that number had risen to 19. The church usually gives two or three performances in the mornings to groups of about 30 to 40, and many visitors comment on how unusual and entertaining the presentation is.

    During the performance, a ‘Church Guide’ welcomes visitors and introduces the story, and then members of the congregation play particular roles from the church’s past, such as a French soldier, a historian, a fisherman and even the wife of a vicar who sewed an altar cloth from her wedding dress. The characters all tell a facet of the church’s story right up to the present day.

    The performance includes bursts of music and the raising of colorful shops’ flags. The presentation is just one part of a number of events that welcome the cruise ship visitors. The church is joining in activities that support the local community, while also telling the gospel story.

    Think differently

    Look at the community to spot events and opportunities that the church can be part of, such as agricultural shows or Christmas lights festivals

    Be willing to work with groups outside the church, like the Chamber of Trade or community events teams from the local council

    Be flexible – the history performance was originally a longer presentation, but following requests from the tour ship operators St Mary’s condensed it into just ten minutes.

    What you’ll need

    A knowledge of your church’s history, and someone with a way of words to make it entertaining

    It’s easier to use a storytelling style, with each character telling their own story rather than creating a play

    Simple props and dress – charity shops can be a great source of clothing

    Stick to a manageable number of people – St Mary’s have nine characters and one musician.

  • Welcoming the world wide web

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    Church details

    Christ Church, Market Drayton
    Diocese of Lichfield
    Average size of congregation - 50

    Lights, camera, action! Every Monday morning the church community area in Christ Church, Market Drayton is transformed into a TV studio, as members of the congregation film their weekly internet TV show ‘Thank God It’s Monday.’

    The show takes a question and answer format, with four members of the panel discussing questions that have been sent in by people from the local community and from further afield. They discuss the question for about ten minutes and the video is then published on Facebook and YouTube.

    Since the show started back in March 2016, Christ Church has produced about 30 episodes, discussing everything from the childhood of Jesus to forgiveness and heaven. Each episode receives around 1,000 views on Facebook and about 200 views on YouTube, with the discussions continuing in the comments sections on both sites.

    The Vicar also adds to the fun by presenting his own show, ‘The Silly Vicar Show,’ which incorporates a video diary, children’s science experiments and a pilgrimage video. A lay member of the church congregation also produces a regular podcast recording, reading a Christian-based story or poem.

    The project is helping people in the local community and further afield reconnect with their church. By making the church familiar and approachable to local viewers, it is also breaking down walls and encouraging more people to come along to worship at Christ Church. The show is going from strength to strength, and has become so popular that it recently featured on BBC Songs of Praise.

    Think differently

    Dare to think big – nowadays it’s possible to film, record and edit with just a Smartphone

    Even though it will appear on the world wide web, focus on local issues – most of your viewers will be within the community

    Be inclusive – ask for contributions from different members of the church community, young and old.

    What you’ll need

    Willing participants to appear on the show

    Questions from churchgoers and the local community

    A few trial runs, to get feedback from the audience and fine tune the format

    Film and sound recording equipment, as well as editing software – many computers come with this type of software already installed.

  • One hundred years on

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    Church details

    Saints Peter & Paul, Aston
    Diocese of Birmingham
    Average size of congregation - 96

    Aston was once a thriving industrial centre, but the Midlands town now features in the Church of England Deprivation list. Many people in the area are living in poverty and have low self-esteem. The congregation of Saints Peter & Paul wanted to reach out and give local people hope, while also generating a more positive view of Aston.

    In 2014 the church started putting plans together to mark the centenary of the battle of the Somme. Like most communities across the country, the battle was devastating for Aston, as the many names on its war memorial shows. The centenary was poignant in other ways too, as many thousands of people were employed in Aston during the First World War for the war effort.

    The church decided to mark the centenary of the Somme with a series of events. From a big Somme Sunday Centenary Ceremony to a concert in the church, all manner of activities were planned. Yet the steering group behind all the plans began to realise that they had to create something special to get noticed beyond the four walls of the church.

    That’s why the group invited the national council of bell ringers to hold the final of their annual 12 bell ringing competition at Saints Peter and Paul. The church has a famous peal of bells, and this was the ideal opportunity to create a unique event. As the competition descended on Aston, the church had to cater for 400 visitors for breakfast, lunch and cream tea!

    During the centenary, the church mounted an exhibition on the Somme and its local legacy. The congregation also linked up with local schools, including an Islamic foundation that sent two pupils on a Government funded visit to the Somme. The links were particularly meaningful, as 52% of the local community is Muslim. By making a big noise, and reaching out beyond its core audience, Saints Peter and Paul truly engaged with its diverse community.

    Think differently

    Do you really need a committee? A steering group could be more efficient and effective, with each member responsible for a specific event or activity

    Go beyond your comfort zone. Saints Peter and Paul could have stopped at a church service and concert, but that wouldn’t have engaged the community so strongly

    Piggyback another event. The church invited the national council of bell ringers to hold the final of their competition at Aston.

    What you’ll need

    A good story that is relevant to the local community 

    A steering group to organise events, with clear roles and responsibilities

    A knowledge of the grants and funds available – essential for holding exhibitions or producing leaflets to put through people’s doors

    Publicity materials – ranging across printed and social media.

  • Share the prayer

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    Church details

    St Martin’s Church, Liskeard
    Diocese of Truro
    Average size of congregation - 145

    Traditional prayer diaries are printed weeks if not months in advance, and more often than not relate to world events or single organisations, rather than the people and places in a local community. The congregation at St Martin’s in Liskeard decided to try something different, and launched a Facebook page and Twitter account to spread the prayer beyond the four walls of the church.

    The sites were originally set up in advance of a major Pentecost celebration, but they soon took on a life of their own. ‘LiskeardPrayers’ became a way of bringing the people of the community together to pray for the town. People pray for streets, businesses, clubs, activities, events and just about anything in Liskeard and the surrounding area.

    Originally one person took the responsibility of uploading prayers, but soon a team of people was needed to post them all. The LiskeardPrayers account appears as a Twitter feed on the front page of the Liskeard Community Website, so St Martin’s is reaching out to people beyond the church. In fact the Facebook and Twitter posts typically reach hundreds every day. The church website now has over 10,000 hits each month.

    Some prayers are planned in advance, and the team can take a themed approach. For instance, they might focus on a particular housing estate, and pray for a different street every day, or they could focus their prayers on local shops. Some prayers are particularly popular and can be retweeted thousands of times.

    The organisers have found that many people beyond Liskeard have also signed up to follow LiskeardPrayers. Whether they are people who have a previous connection with the town, or they simply appreciate the power of prayer, the activity is striking a chord with people up and down the country.

    Think differently

    Don’t forget the power of prayer – we all emphasise how important prayer is, yet many of us also acknowledge that we don’t do enough of it

    Go digital – a forum like LiskeardPrayers is a great way of spreading the Gospel, particularly if linked to your own church website

    Look for opportunities – one of the most successful series of prayers was based around an initiative the diocese launched to share faith stories.

    What you’ll need

    One person with a PC or tablet

    The Facebook Pages Manager app

    Volunteers to post prayers and daily posts

    An online community to ‘like’ your posts and tweets.

  • School friends for life

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    Church details

    Mary Arches Church, Exeter
    Diocese of Exeter
    Average size of congregation - 40

    Mary Arches Church in Exeter had strong links with a local secondary school thanks to their school chaplaincy. The budgets were under pressure in the school, yet the church was concerned about the rising levels of stress, anxiety and depression amongst young people.

    To help students under pressure, Mary Arches decided to offer a mentoring scheme for students at the school. By providing a positive role model and a listening ear, the church felt they could empower young people to overcome issues that were holding them back.

    The mentoring programme partnered young people with church members for a period of nine months. The mentees were recommended by the school, and the initiative began with an ice-breaker event at an outdoor education centre, where mentors and mentees went climbing together.

    The mentors and mentees met once a fortnight for an hour in a nearby supermarket café. Many of the mentors were students at Exeter University. They were ideal mentors as their flexible daily commitments meant they could dedicate the time to give mentees the support and encouragement they needed.

    The programme has been extremely encouraging. Figures show that the mentees have stayed on track in their academic performance or even improved. Most of them have reported back that the experience has helped and encouraged them throughout the year. The mentors have also grown in confidence since the project started. “When these young people grow up and look back,” explains the Youth Outreach Worker, Pete Norris, “They will remember a local church-goer who stepped in to love and support them.”

    Think differently

    Think big – if budgets for local provision are cut, can your church step up and fill the gap?

    Be creative – Mary Arches came up with the idea of meeting in a local supermarket café to make mentees feel relaxed and at ease

    Be optimistic – many of the mentors had never had mentor relationships before, but following initial training they blossomed.

    What you’ll need 

    A good existing relationship with a local school

    Someone to lead the project, perhaps a Youth Worker

    Volunteers who are willing to act as mentors

    A neutral place for mentors and mentees to meet.

  • Credit where it’s due

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    Church details

    Benefice of Milton Regis with Murston, Bapchild and Tonge
    Diocese of Canterbury

    The Benefice of Milton Regis with Murston, Bapchild and Tonge has a simple yet very effective way of reaching out to the wider community. The Benefice provides spaces that act as community hubs, where people can come to receive all sorts of advice and support.

    From a weekly complimentary community lunch through to regular surgeries given by the Citizens Advice Bureau, there are all sorts of activities taking place in the Benefice every week. Local people are invited to come along to find specific advice and answers to their questions, or are also welcome to just pop in for a cup of tea and a chat.

    In 2014, the Benefice launched the Murston Community Hub, a pilot programme for the Diocese. The Hub gives people all the advice and support they need to be able to open savings accounts or apply for loans. Archbishop Justin Welby visited the Hub soon after its launch, and he is now patron of the credit union.

    As the community projects have blossomed within the Benefice, more and more people are becoming involved in worship too. Parishioners who were used to being on the sidelines have now taken more of an active role, and the bookings for christenings at the Benefice have increased dramatically.

    Recently the Benefice has inaugurated a ‘Community Wardrobe’, where free school uniforms are given to families in need. Another new initiative, ‘Painting the Town Green,’ encourages people to come along and help create gardens and wild areas for animals. Each of the projects is already having a powerful effect, but the long-term impact could be very impressive indeed. 

    Think differently

    Why focus on just one activity? The Benefice runs a wide range of Hubs to provide support and reach out to people

    Look for local partners – the Citizens Advice Bureau has linked up with the Benefice and makes a natural partner for the credit union activity

    Think beyond the church – Painting the Town Green aims not just to tidy up the grounds of the church, but the wider community too.

    What you’ll need

    Time to organise and plan how the schemes run

    Volunteers who are knowledgeable about finances and banking

    Volunteers willing to train in processing applications

    Publicity materials to spread the word.

  • A church with a tale to tell

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    Church details

    St Mary’s Church, Fishguard
    Diocese of St. David’s
    Average size of congregation - 60

    St Mary’s Church is situated in the heart of Fishguard in Pembrokeshire. Tourism plays a major role in the local economy, and every year a number of cruise ships weigh anchor in Fishguard harbour.

    The congregation wanted to welcome the visitors to the town, and spread the gospel story too. They put together a dramatised tour of the church for groups of cruise ship passengers. ‘The History of St Mary’s in Ten Minutes’ is a light-hearted and entertaining introduction to the church, touching on key moments of the church’s history and ending on the importance of worship for the town.

    In 2015, Fishguard welcomed six cruise ships, and in 2016 that number had risen to 19. The church usually gives two or three performances in the mornings to groups of about 30 to 40, and many visitors comment on how unusual and entertaining the presentation is.

    During the performance, a ‘Church Guide’ welcomes visitors and introduces the story, and then members of the congregation play particular roles from the church’s past, such as a French soldier, a historian, a fisherman and even the wife of a vicar who sewed an altar cloth from her wedding dress. The characters all tell a facet of the church’s story right up to the present day.

    The performance includes bursts of music and the raising of colorful shops’ flags. The presentation is just one part of a number of events that welcome the cruise ship visitors. The church is joining in activities that support the local community, while also telling the gospel story.

    Think differently

    Look at the community to spot events and opportunities that the church can be part of, such as agricultural shows or Christmas lights festivals

    Be willing to work with groups outside the church, like the Chamber of Trade or community events teams from the local council

    Be flexible – the history performance was originally a longer presentation, but following requests from the tour ship operators St Mary’s condensed it into just ten minutes.

    What you’ll need

    A knowledge of your church’s history, and someone with a way of words to make it entertaining

    It’s easier to use a storytelling style, with each character telling their own story rather than creating a play

    Simple props and dress – charity shops can be a great source of clothing

    Stick to a manageable number of people – St Mary’s have nine characters and one musician.

  • Ringing the changes at St Mary Bradoc

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    Church details

    St Mary Bradoc, Lostwithiel
    Diocese of Truro
    Average size of congregation - 40

    The village of Braddock in western Cornwall has a population of just 139, and the church of St Mary Bradoc wanted to make sure it could connect with the local community and beyond. In particular, the church was looking to engage with families and younger people, as well as anyone who felt isolated and alone. But like just about every church they only had a restricted budget.

    The PCC came up with an innovative idea of creating a portable ring of eight mini bells and tone chimes. The bells can be rung by all comers to the church, and can also be taken out into the community and used at events like weddings or village shows.

    As the bells are extremely easy to use, the ring is accessible to everyone. Young and old, musical or tone deaf, anyone can come along and have a go. The rudiments are easy to pick up, and learners soon find themselves making rapid progress. The whole structure is easy to erect and dismantle, and the church can take it out into the community using nothing more than a trailer and an electric hoist.

    Children at the local primary school come along to play the bells every Friday, and the school has the only bell ringing team in Cornwall. Other churches also borrow the portable ring, and it’s making quite a name for itself across Cornwall.

    The bells’ normal home is the south crossing of St Mary Bradoc. As word gets out about this unusual attraction, more and more people are visiting the church to come and try the bells, either as part of a formal session or on their own. Average footfall to the church has now risen from just six people week to a very impressive 100 visitors!

    Think differently

    For many, the sound of ringing bells is highly evocative – so why not use that sound to engage with the local community?

    Keep it simple – the bell rig doesn’t require any particular skills, and there is plenty of music available for complete beginners

    If you’re an isolated, rural church, you can still reach out to people across the wider area just by doing something a little bit different.

    What you’ll need

    A mission plan outlining what you want to achieve and how

    Links with a local school to get the youngsters involved and inspired

    Hand chimes, labeled with their notes – you can buy chimes through the Suzuki Music Education scheme

    Downloaded tune lines from Musicnotes.com

    Volunteers to help run the school and community projects.

  • Bringing local history to life

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    Church details

    St Mary’s, Chalgrove
    Diocese of Oxford
    Average size of congregation - 50

    The village of Chalgrove has a long and fascinating history, and St Mary’s church dates back to the twelfth century. On three walls of the chancel is a superb set of medieval wall paintings, with 44 separate images.

    Urgent restoration work on the imagery was scheduled, and St Mary’s wanted to use the opportunity to reach out to the community to showcase its heritage and invite people to come and find out more. Before the work began, the church held a number of open days and a survey, to find out just what the church meant to local people.

    The refurbishment took place from June 2015 to April 2016, and villagers were invited to come along to the church to come and see the progress every week. There was a real buzz in the village about the work, and open days were always very well attended.

    Now the work has finished, visitors to the church are welcomed by trained volunteer guides, who give some background and context to the history of St Mary’s and the local area. Visitors can then use the touch screen devices in the church, or download an app onto their own tablet or Smartphone, where they can find out more about the stories depicted in the wall paintings.

    The app also includes digital interpretations of what the paintings could have looked like when they were painted in 1320. St Mary’s has made the most of the opportunity to bring its history to life. “The fact that people will be able to understand WHY these ancient, crumbling and obscure paintings are so important and deserve the effort and expenditure is really innovative,” explains picture restorer Madeleine Katkov.

    Think differently

    Take a fresh look at the features of your church – would they be interesting to visitors from the surrounding area or further afield? 

    If you’re planning conservation work, would it be an opportunity to engage your community with facts about the fabric of the church?

    Think beyond the church community – would local history groups want to get involved to find out more about regional heritage?

    What you’ll need

    Volunteers who are keen to research your church’s past

    WiFi in the church if you want to use digital interactive material

    Volunteers to welcome visitors to the church and give an overview of its history

    Links with local photographers so you have a record of the works as they progress, which you can use to promote the church after the work is finished.

  • No one shall go hungry

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    Church details

    St Chad’s, Bentham, Gateshead
    Diocese of York
    Average size of congregation - 20

    For families on low incomes in Gateshead, the school holidays can be a challenging time. Their children receive free school meals while they’re at school, but the families can struggle once the children are back at home. With changes to social security policy and increased unemployment in the region, there is a real concern that some families find it difficult to meet the cost of feeding their children.

    St Chad’s Community Project was opened in 1990 to reach out to families across the deprived areas of the city. 26 years on, the project is still helping those in need. Local families can come along and receive cooking and nutrition classes, while those who are isolated and alone can come along to the Alive Lunch Club to meet other people and enjoy healthy food.

    As well as the Community Project, St Chad’s was keen to bring all the different resources together. The church set up the Bensham & Saltwell Food Network to co-ordinate all the local initiatives that are helping families with food and nutrition.

    Working together means that the church, Gateshead Council, Gateshead Foodbank and other local agencies can share resources and make sure they aren’t doubling up on essential services. The group meets monthly in the church to share plans and review activities. It’s really helped to break down barriers, and create s sense of social cohesion.

    “We are continually evolving and developing,” explains Reverend Dr. Meg Gilley, “With plans for new projects, including another lunch club to provide food and a meeting point for the diverse community.” The collaborative approach that the church is taking could lead to even more effective support for families in the future.

    Think differently

    Look beyond your church to assess what other help is out there – could you bring it all together to create a co-ordinated response?

    Help to build the skills and assets of the community, rather than focusing on people’s needs and deficits

    Food is the way to people’s hearts – from helping with nutrition to easing isolation, lunch clubs present all manner of benefits.

    What you’ll need

    A meeting place for all the local agencies to come together and plan work

    Willing volunteers who understand nutrition and can pass on their knowledge

    Publicity to spread the word that the church can help families feed their children.

  • A blossoming spirit

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    Church details

    Holy Trinity, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd
    Diocese of Bangor
    Average size of congregation - 17

    Holy Trinity in the village of Penrhyndeudraeth on the west coast of Wales has been reaching out to the wider community with a number of initiatives during the past four years.

    The longest-established initiative is a preschool toddler and parent group, where parents and children can socialise, play and learn creatively. A health visitor gives talks on topics such as child development and health, and the group is rapidly growing in numbers.

    Holy Trinity also holds a Flower Festival and Thanksgiving Service every year, to reflect the needs of the community. Local church groups provide floral arrangements representing the colours of emergency services across the community, such as mountain rescue, the coastguard and the air ambulance. Each charity has collection boxes and all proceeds are divided between them.

    The most recent community event is Holy Trinity’s summer fair, which is open to all community organisations, clubs, societies and charities in the church’s postcode region.

    The PCC is now hoping to develop the facilities at Holy Trinity so the church can become a community drop-in centre, with information points, café style seating, refreshment rooms, soft play and a library area. Holy Trinity already acts as a community hub, and by updating the facilities, the church can ensure that even more local groups and societies have somewhere to meet and flourish. 

    Think differently

    Ask the community what facilities and events they really need, rather than focusing on the church

    By canvassing local views, you can make sure that you’re not duplicating existing services 

    Reach out to other churches and invite them to take part in your events, and in the planning too.

    What you’ll need

    A dedicated team of 3 or 4 people to plan an event

    A plan of action, ranging from initial idea generation through to risk assessment, promotion, publicity and evaluation after the event

    Volunteers to remove posters after the event, so no litter is left once the event is over

    Links with local newspapers to come and report on events.

  • IT’s all about friendship

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    Church details

    St John The Evangelist, Mickleover
    Diocese of Derby
    Average size of congregation - 50

    Four years ago the PCC at St John the Evangelist had a session discussing the needs of the local community. Many people talked about the fact that they wanted to get to grips with the digital age, but felt daunted by the new technology. The PCC realised that there was a real opportunity to help people understand modern IT.

    A couple of members of the congregation donated some old laptops, and St John put up adverts inviting people to a computer club on Monday morning. People were encouraged to come along and put any questions they had about IT to a couple of computer buffs from the congregation.

    St John also laid on coffee and tea for visitors, and fairly soon a number of people were attending the weekly meetings. The sessions were originally planned as a computer club, but it quickly became apparent that something more informal would work even better. Running as an Internet Café, the club means people from the community can just come along, have a cup of tea and a chat and perhaps learn about computers too.

    A core number of people now attend every session, while others drop in and out. Some might have specific technical questions, such as how to find a lost file or how to upgrade an operating system. Others come with questions to do with their hobby, such as how to digitise their photographs or research their family tree.

    One key aspect of the Internet Café is the sense of companionship it creates. Many of the people who have been left behind by the digital age are older, and some are living on their own. By learning about things like emails and Skype, they can connect with the wider world – and of course the regular Monday sessions give them the chance to make friends with people closer to home too.

    Think differently

    Be flexible while the initiative develops – St John originally aimed to have a computer club, but realised a more informal gathering worked best

    Reach out to the whole community, with no conditions or obligations placed on visitors

    Don’t worry if people don’t fully grasp the technology – it’s about providing friendship and companionship as much as the IT.

    What you’ll need

    WiFi connection

    Volunteers with a good knowledge of computers and the internet

    Volunteers to provide refreshments

    Some computer equipment – members of the congregation may be willing to donate old laptops

    Posters to generate publicity.

  • Singing the praises of gospel

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    Church details

    St Nicholas Church, Blakeney
    Diocese of Norwich
    Average size of congregation - 45

    Music is a language that just about everyone can respond to, and gospel music in particular is becoming more and more popular thanks to celebrities like Gareth Malone. Parishioners at St Nicholas Church in Blakeney decided to host an evening of gospel music, inviting a local singer to come and sing a few solo items, and including a short talk on the origin of spirituals.

    The event was nicknamed ‘Glaven Sings Gospel’ or GSG for short. The Reverend Claude Scott was keen for the event not to be a service in itself, but a free and informal evening of community singing. The congregation arranged seating at the back of the church, and printed 60 song sheets.

    That first night, around 140 people came along to the church, completely overwhelming St Nicholas! Claude seized the initiative and asked if people would like another event, to get a resounding ‘Yes’ from the audience. A number of people agreed to take part in an informal crack choir next time.

    Since that initial evening, St Nicholas has started using a projector with a PowerPoint presentation so that everyone can see the words, and has even branched out to use a marquee, provided by a local circus.

    There have now been four GSG events, with more planned. People of all ages come along and enjoy the singing. One audience member has Alzheimer’s, and like many dementia patients he can still relate to music. The events are having an impact way beyond the church, as one audience member explains: “I am not a regular churchgoer, but I have found GSG is something that draws me back to church.” The singing is deeply spiritual, in a way that people find accessible.

    Think differently

    Use different areas of the church, or even other venues entirely, to make the event seem less like a service

    If a lot of people come to the first event, keep the momentum going by asking them to come again or join a choir

    Bring musical instruments into the church and let children play them during the sessions.

    What you’ll need

    Someone who has a knowledge of gospel music to put a programme together

    An accompanist on organ or piano

    Song sheets – or a PowerPoint presentation if the numbers take off!

    Posters to publicise the event

    Refreshments for people who come along.

  • A matter of life and death

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    Church details

    All Hallows, Whitchurch
    Diocese of Winchester
    Average size of congregation - 80

    Mark Twain once quipped that the only two certainties in life are ‘Death and taxes.’ Yet one of them still remains a taboo subject. The Parish Nurse at All Hallows wanted to give people in the community to talk about end of life, as she had seen just how important and therapeutic it had been for people in a local hospice.

    All too often a sudden crisis can leave people struggling to make vitally important decisions, at a time when they are least prepared and in a vulnerable place. But by thinking about the end of life choices sooner rather than later, people can make sure they are prepared, and be reassured that other people know their wishes for later life too.

    All Hallows initiated a series of informal meetings where people could come and talk openly about dying. They could discuss what worried them, what help they might need in their later years, and find out how to make their wishes known.

    The church timed the sessions to coincide with the Dying Matters Awareness Week run by the Dying Matters Coalition, using the publicity to encourage people to come along to the meetings. The response from parishioners and the wider community was very positive, as people welcomed the chance to come and talk about the subject.

    The meetings were very informal, and while there were some sad moments, there was also plenty of laughter. People found out ways of making their own wishes known, and many have gone on to have discussions with their GP to have their wishes formally recorded.

    Think differently

    Dying doesn't have to be a taboo subject – talking about it won’t make it happen! 

    Although the specialist knowledge of a nurse can be useful, the subject of dying can be discussed by anyone, not just medical professionals

    Create useful new links in your community – All Hallows’ Parish Nurse meets with the local GP practice to pool resources and work together.

    What you’ll need 

    A venue where people can come and talk through their worries

    A presentation about the issues to stimulate discussion

    An initial session with the congregation, before taking it out to the wider community

    Contact details for GPs and legal advisers to help people find more information 

    Refreshments for people who attend the discussion.

  • Let’s make a noise

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    Church details

    St James, Devizes
    Diocese of Salisbury
    Average size of congregation - 200

    Every six months, lots of people from St James church in Devizes go out into their local community, roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. From picking up litter to tidying overgrown gardens, from cleaning support centres to improving local nature reserves, they’re making a practical difference to the community all around them.

    They call it ‘The Noise Devizes,’ and it certainly sounds like it’s making a real difference. People of all ages are inspired to get involved. For instance, for the last project, a group of young people painted tables and benches in a community woodland, while older volunteers worked with parents at local schools to put up fences and playground benches and clear overgrown vegetation.

    All volunteers wear bright blue T-shirts sporting ‘The Noise’ logo, so local residents and organisations recognise and appreciate the role of the church in these vital community projects.

    St James has also approached local businesses, schools, councils and the local Housing Association to get involved. The Noise is very much seen as a community initiative, rather than a church-based one, and local employers and businesses are happy to support it with sponsorship.

    And that name? As Jenny Jones, The Noise Devizes co-ordinator says, “The Noise is what happens after we’re done as people tell others about the difference it’s made to their lives.”

    Think differently

    Get people of every age involved – it helps to develop friendships between all sorts of people in your congregation

    Don’t impose a solution, ask the community what they really need. St James involves local organisations and ask them to identify the genuine community needs

    Be realistic – choose projects that you know you can complete in the time, so nothing is left half done, and no one is left dissatisfied.

    What you’ll need

    Links with local groups and organisations, so they can tell you where the need is greatest

    A name and logo, so people can recognise what you are doing and understand the role of the church

    Ask people to register before the event, so you know how many volunteers you have, and can be realistic about what you can achieve

    A range of projects, so all ages and abilities can get involved.

  • Local heroes

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    Church details

    St Philip & St James CofE & Hodge Hill URC
    Diocese of Birmingham
    Average size of congregation - 60

    If your church building is demolished, you might see that as a set back. Not Hodge Hill Church. They saw it as a unique opportunity to engage with their neighbours in a new way. Instead of waiting for people to come to them, the congregation has gone out and about into the community to do things together.

    There’s been a complete shift in mindset, “From seeing our neighbours as ‘needs’ to be met, to seeing them as ‘gifts’ to be received and celebrated” explains Reverend Al Barrett.

    The church began by unveiling Hodge Hill ‘Unsung Heroes,’ an initiative that encouraged locals to nominate people who have made a great contribution to the community. Each of the unsung heroes was invited along to a special celebratory dinner in a local school hall, where they were presented with an award.

    At the awards ceremony, the heroes were asked what project they would start in the neighbourhood if they could find a couple of people to join them. This has led to even more community engagement, for example, one hero wanted to set up a theatre group, so the community has since held a Passion Play and Nativity Play, processing through the local streets.

    Members of the church also hold monthly ‘pop-up’ tea and coffee stalls, interacting with people in the community and letting them know what’s going on. At the same time, people have been coming along to ‘Places of Welcome,’ pop-up events where they can have a cup of tea and a bite to eat, and discuss the things that they are passionate about.

    It’s all about interacting with the local people on their own turf, and on their own terms. There are two simple lessons. Everyone in the community is a hero. And you don’t need to witness God’s love within four walls, but anywhere you like.

    Think differently

    Stop what you're doing, get out and about, look and listen at what’s going on

    Let go of the temptation to provide, control and do it all yourself

    Dare to be guests in other people’s spaces

    Open yourselves to receive and celebrate the passions and gifts of your neighbours

    Celebrate everything and anything that’s good and growing!

    What you’ll need

    Nomination forms for people to nominate a hero – make them easy to fill in

    Lots of conversations in the neighbourhood to encourage nominations

    A friendly venue, such as a local school

    A local celebrity to present awards

    Volunteers to visit the nominees.

  • You’ve got a friend

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    Church details

    St Peter’s, Framilode
    Diocese of Gloucester
    Average size of congregation - 15

    The hamlets of Upper and Lower Framilode near Gloucester have 52 households between them. So it was no real surprise that during the latter half of the twentieth century, the church that served the small communities was seeing fewer and fewer people in the congregation. By 1988, the PCC at St Peter’s Church, Framilode, took the heartbreaking decision to close the church.

    However, before taking closure to the next stage, someone suggested launching a Friends of Framilode Church (FOFC) society within the local community, and have one last go at raising funds and saving the church. The Friends started with modest ambitions, organising jumble sales, bring and buy stalls and coffee mornings. As the community became involved in their church once again, people began to appreciate just what a vital resource St Peter’s really was.

    The church became an important centre for people in the community, and local clubs realised they had an essential venue on rheir doorstep. Film nights, keep fit classes, plays, organ recitals – the church now hosts all manner of community activities.

    The Friends recently held their biggest success so far, the Bistro St Pierre, a pop-up restaurant hosted within the church. St Peter’s was festooned with French decorations and bric-a-brac. French songs and accordion music welcomed diners, who were able to choose from a selection of dishes on the French-themed menu.

    People from across the two hamlets and beyond came along to enjoy the church, the music and of course the food. Non-church goers were very involved. So much so that a number of local villagers returned to the church the following morning to help with the clear up – without even being asked. Peter’s really has become the heart of the community once again. The next pop-up restaurant will take an Italian theme. A true sign of la dolce vita for St Peter’s.

    Think differently

    Don't be downhearted – St Peter’s was facing closure, yet the Friends have managed to inject new life into the church

    Think beyond that one hour of worship every Sunday – how can the church be used seven days a week?

    Pace yourselves – the Friends started small, with bring and buy sales, but step by step they have turned things round for St Peter’s.

    What you’ll need

    A champion to lead your project

    Volunteers to help organise the pop-up restaurant

    A risk assessment for events like the pop-up restaurant

    Young people dressed as waiters and waitresses to help with the meal.

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