This page will be regularly updated with news stories and forthcoming events.
Southminster Community Hub
The Dengie is a place where it takes nearly an hour to drive to the nearest hospital, health services are stretched, care agencies struggle to recruit staff when demand is increasing, isolation is a significant problem, provision for young people is limited, schools are over capacity because of new housing developments with a lack of support for the growing population and those with special needs.
Christ Church URC is currently the base for the Dengie Food Pantry, Citizens Advice Bureau, Cannabis Anonymous, a choir, Brownies and Guides, dance groups and, until recently, a bereavement group. We believe that by collaborating in missional activities, the churches can reach others in need through organic growth and commitment to mission with Christ Church Southminster as the base.
Southminster is in the South and East Area of Maldon District in the Dengie Peninsula. ‘The Dengie,’ as it is commonly known, includes: the Ward of Burnham-on-Crouch, the second-largest town in the Maldon District with a population of 8,000; the Southminster Ward, the largest village in the South of the District with a population of 4,400; and Mayland Ward which includes the villages of Mayland, Steeple, and St Lawrence and has a population of approximately 4,350.
The Dengie is predominantly rural and this forms a core aspect of the area’s character. There are railway stations in Burnham-on-Crouch, Southminster, Althorne and North Fambridge, and the train line runs to Wickford and into London Liverpool Street.
The priority issues in Maldon’s ‘Sustainable Community Strategy’ include supporting communities, older people, health inequalities and prosperity (support for business/skills & education). The population of the District is ageing and it is projected that the number of people aged between 65 and 84 years will increase and those living in the Maldon District is also expected to increase by approximately 77% over that period. The number of people aged over 85 years is likely to more than double. Therefore, the ratio of people of working age is expected to decline. The Local Development Plan is to build a minimum of 4,410 houses per year up until 2029.
Building a relational culture
The foundation stones for this community project were numerous one-to-one conversations and meetings with agencies providing services in The Dengie to build alliances founded on a relational model. Discovering people's gifts and passions, learning about what groups could offer, and then extending invitations to those interested in working together was the place where everything started.
A ‘Thinking Meeting’ was hosted for the churches in Southminster in March 2022 to talk with those interested in growing a community support service in Southminster. This led to a ‘Vision Meeting’ in September 2022, with 36 people from a variety of different settings contributing. There was great enthusiasm and commitment to making the vision a reality. The key phrases taken from this consultation were to grow “an open inclusive space, a place to build relationships, that will bring people together - intergenerational and accessible.” Establishing an accessible and integrated place to give people local support and advice was the objective.
An older person went by bus to Maldon to speak to their housing provider (a one-hour round trip) to find they couldn’t help them and the problem could be resolved either online or at another office based elsewhere. This person wasn’t computer literate, so they had a wasted journey when their issue could have been unresolved locally with community support.
The group that met acknowledged that St Leonard’s Church doesn’t have its own hall (they hire the local Memorial Hall for their toddler group. It was felt that Christ Church URC in Southminster could be the place to host the Community Hub. The main user of the URC building is the Dengie Food Pantry, which has spread out into many of the rooms since the Covid-19 pandemic, which would inhibit the setting up of a Community Hub. The other issues are all related to property investment, such as sorting out the parking, environmental standards, and the kitchens and toilets.
The next steps revolved around getting approval from the URC Easter Synod. They had begun to consider what the future held for their building, and the group would need to satisfy their mission and pastorate committee before any commitment would be made to hosting a Community Hub or investing in the property. The Diocese of Chelmsford would also need to be approached as they would give permission for St Leonard’s Church to enter into an ecumenical working partnership with the URC Eastern Synod. Then, there were some complex undercurrents that would take some time to address and resolve relating to volunteers, space, governance and oversight of the Dengie Food Pantry before a Community Hub could safely operate from the building.
A Core Team began to meet from the original 36 who came to the Vision Meeting to agree on the next steps for each of the above issues. They decided to hold a Community Open Day to keep the dialogue active locally and gather further evidence for senior church leaders about the viability of a Community Hub. Once again, there was a huge commitment from local volunteer groups and agencies keen to be involved in the Community Hub, including the Dengie Food Pantry, who were now on board with the concept. Residents and neighbours came in to see Christ Church; we told them of our plans and asked them what they would like to see happening here in the future.
After meetings with the Moderator of the URC Eastern Synod and a representative of the Diocese of Chelmsford, the green light was given to seek permission to work together. In October 2023, an Ecumenical Working Partnership Agreement was approved by both the URC Eastern Synod and the Area Mission and Pastoral Committee of the Diocese of Chelmsford. The Food Pantry has been allocated a designated purpose-built area within Christ Church, and funding allowed for a container to be placed at the back of the property for food storage. The Food Pantry volunteer team is working with Core Team members to put governance and operational processes in place for volunteers and users of the service. The Food Pantry will be one of the agencies under the proposed Southminster (or possibly Dengie) Community Hub Management Group.
The project is moving towards a spring/summer official launch, with multiple organisations looking to have a stake in the Community Hub, and the local authority is seeing the Hub as a desirable partner.
The community mapping carried out in the summer of 2021 was the catalyst for this project. At the time, I wrote, 'it takes a village to raise a child… but it takes a church working with other community agents, the Parish Council, the URC church, the school, nurseries, the care homes, voluntary groups and businesses to love and grow a community (the Community Organising principles) … I realised that the pace might be slower than I hoped, but that my time in Southminster would be focusing on how the church gets involved in new missional opportunities in relationships with new neighbours (residents, groups, agencies, businesses with strong connections to the village) because these would lead to exciting new opportunities to share God's love and bring people to Christ.” God has certainly been at work.
Through the Community Organising module in IME2, I've learned that an outward-facing approach to ministry ensures the church can influence who has a place at the table, challenge unjust structures in their area, build relationships and also be discipling people to come to know Christ.
In the future, I will always lean on this model and others I met who are involved and committed to Community Organising when I went to the Founding Assembly of the Chelmsford Alliance in March 2023 at Anglia Ruskin University.
Rev Jacqui King Southminster & Steeple Benefice
An online conversation with Tim Norwood
Those with an interest in forming a core group for communty organising will be gathering for 90 minutes on January 23 2024 at 2pm, when out guest will be Tim Norwood. Tim is a former National Chair for Citizens UK, and has recently been appointed as the Church of England’s Lead for Local Ecumenism. Join Zoom meeting
Meeting ID: 849 5098 7555
Further dates for your diary are 18 March 2024 at 2pm and 21 May at 2.30pm.
We’d love to see you at any or all of these gatherings, whether your Community Organising experience in in London or Essex, or somewhere else. Or for that matter, if you haven’t had much community organising experience, but are interested in knowing more. It can revolutionise your approach to justice and the common good, but also to ministerial wellbeing and healthy congregations.
Citizens Chelmsford is launched
On 15 March Citizens Chelmsford, the newest alliance in the Citizens UK family, launched at Anglia Ruskin University. We heard about the great work Citizens Essex has been doing, in areas like violence against women, asylum hotels and undocumented migrants. And we had three big “asks” for local politicians: about the real living wage, about homelessness prevention for Ukrainian guests, and about modular housing for the homeless.
We were really proud of Iryna and Svitlana, two Ukrainian guests, who spoke about their experiences of seeking council help as their hosting came to an end. This was mixed- a council officer called Terence got lots of appreciation for the help he gave (I hope someone tells him so), while other experiences were less good. The Ukrainian scratch choir sang to us, and the Salvation Army band played the Ukrainian national anthem.
All credit to Cllr Stephen Robinson, Council leader for Chelmsford City Council, and Cllr Richard Hyland of The Independent Group for attending, listening, and responding with such good grace. We were disappointed that no one from the Conservative group was able to attend. And we were grateful to the Deputy Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for being there, and going out of her way to encourage the students and asylum seekers making presentations.
So - was the assembly successful? Yes, without reservation. Our aim was not to get the politicians to change their policies on the spot, but to build relationships with them. Both Councillor Robinson (if re-elected) and Councillor Hyland (if elected leader) committed to give a place at the table to the Alliance of Chelmsford Hosts and Ukrainians, to visit the cathedral school and listen to their students, and to talk with us about the Living Wage and modular housing. The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex has committed to work with us on safety, misogyny, reporting of crime and migrant issues. Community Organisers believe that the way real social change occurs is through the people effected getting a place at the table with the decision makers.
So: for all those who came (officially 147 but I think we should be adding the instruments from the brass band as additional individuals): thank you.
Your community organising story
How did you get involved in community organising? Here are a couple of stories - why not send us yours?
"In 2018, I had an interview to become Vicar of Brightlingsea. ‘We have seen two churches close already in this town’, said one panel member, ‘and we don’t want to be next. We know we need to do something radical: you’re it.’
So, that’s my call. To be something radical.
I’m told I look the part: my style is distinctive and I have dreadlocks that change colour with my mood and the seasons. I have a bit of a reputation for thinking sideways, doing things outside the box and asking awkward questions. But I wasn’t about to go bursting in turning over the tables. Not at first, anyway. During my interview for the post of Vicar of Brightlingsea I had been clear that, if they chose to appoint me, we wouldn’t be rushing into radical, front-led change overnight. Instead, I laid out a year of relationship building, listening and discovery so that any change began relationally, with God and the gathered people.
Stamping pre-fabricated programs over congregations like cookie cutters destroys the existing shape of things, created by the intersection of people, place and season. It makes everything uncomfortably transactional: more about filling slots and recruiting than transforming lives and discipling. Jesus called fishermen to be fishers of people, the calling shaped for the people called.
When taking over a garden, you can just rip out everything and start over, or stamp your style on the space, but maybe not everything you introduce will thrive. Or you can wait a few seasons and see what comes up: what’s already good, what grows well in that soil. During a parish vacancy, often little seedlings of vocation and exploration poke up tentatively toward the light. A new vicar, if not careful, can stomp them flat in a matter of weeks. Shoes off: this is holy ground.
On the other hand, the interview panel was right: something radical was needed. God is in the business of disorganising and reorganising. The tower of Babel (a picture of the wrong kind of organisation) has to topple before God can start again with a new people who will be blessed and be a blessing. Joseph must be dislocated into slavery in order to make Egypt a safe haven for God’s people. Moses leads God’s people in exodus from Egypt to the wilderness before Joshua relocates them in the Promised Land. Destruction and exile then return and rebuilding mark the life of the people of God. And in our lifetimes, the most profound disorganising event has been the pandemic; reorganising after this requires a whole new approach, both for our society and for the church. In short: we need to be radical, and stop thinking ‘radical’ is a bad thing.
To quote Maria Montessori, ‘the first idea that the child must acquire in order to be actively disciplined is that of the difference between good and evil; and the task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity.' Think about Sunday School. Not always, but often, you get all kinds of little people at the younger end, but by 8 or 9 many types of participant are missing. The very active or noisy children are often elsewhere. Anger is hushed or blunted, a sense of injustice redirected into reflection, reinterpretation, perspective or prayer. A group sits colouring, puzzle solving or reading around a table. They have often internalised the virtues the church has praised in them: calm, order, obedience, self-control, happiness, helpfulness, humility, creativity within careful boundaries, using their intelligence to reach the ‘right’ answer.
Staying put, staying quiet, not being too distinctive. But Jesus at 12 absconded from his parents’ care and was found after anxious days’ searching in the Temple, not sitting quietly but debating with the adults who were amazed at his wisdom. He made no apology when told off but behaved as though his location and chosen actions should have been obvious. Unsettled leaders are not ashamed of being active. And this seems to be God’s preference. God’s use of power is a shared use of power. God is all-mighty. But look how God acts! From the moment of our creation, God chooses to do everything with us not simply for us. We are constantly involved in acts of co-creation. This is what it is to be in the image of God who is creator.
God works with the grain of us. Adam and Eve, tending the earth and keeping it. Noah, building an ark. Abraham travelling, fathering, sacrificing. Moses, taking the staff in his hand and his anger against oppression. David bringing his shepherding skill with a sling, Gideon his ability to hide and defy; Hannah her desperate hope; Ruth her determined faithfulness. The Bible is full of the wrestlers and scrappers and grapplers and pushers and pursuers and movers and shakers being used by God because it is easier to steer an already moving ship. In settled church, the behaviour church encourages isn’t the behaviour that gets God’s attention. But now we’re in unsettled church. Zechariah is off the rota. There’s a new era beginning. Church tradition has often sanitised and domesticated all this, so that the disorganising and reorganising narratives of God’s people become our bedtime stories. No – they are testimonies, and calls to action to us, in our new post-pandemic world crying out for a new way. God seems to like working with amateurs. God who can do anything with nothing chooses not to act towards us without us." - Caroline Beckett
"In 2016, three days after the EU referendum, I stopped at a corner shop on my way home. The man behind the counter looked shaken, so I ask him if he was OK. ‘Not really,’ he said, ‘a man just came in and said “we voted leave so you have to leave”. He said he’d come in every day, and if I don’t leave the country, he’ll glass me. I may have brown skin, but I’m from Ilford – what does he mean, I have to leave?’ I stayed as he tried to persuade the police it was a hate crime, and I got angry. A colleague and I (actually, Gemma Fraser was the one with the real flair for this) put on an anti-racism campaign and a neighbourhood event to bring the community together. And before I knew it, my anger had motivated me to act for justice and I was engaged in community organising and encountering Citizens UK, Britain’s home of community organising, and it was changing the church of which I was the Vicar. It has not only changed my ministry, it’s changed my life. - Andy Griffiths
How about you?
A Community Organising Project: Two Parents’ and Children’s Groups
In their first two years of curacy, we ask incumbent path curates to follow a cycle of community organising in their context. This starts with relationship building and listening. Then there’s planning (we offer a planning model called “NAOMIE”). Then there is action - action with partners, for the common good. And all the action should serve to ensure that the people we’re working with have a place at the table, a chance to negotiate with power-holders to bring change. Here is one example: Sophie Weller tells us how her Community Organising project went.
It started with looking around the Parish of Tye Green in Harlow and realizing just how many schools there were and how little contact the church (St Stephens) had with the families. Lockdown had isolated many families, and with Harlow being a deprived area, the thought of families feeling isolated weighted heavy on our hearts.
So we got involved in the life of a few targeted local schools in order that we could get to know some of the children and families, and hear from the schools about their main concerns. A colleague and I became governors of two local schools so we could really get to know the issues facing schools and families. We also made an intentional effort to increase our presence at the local church school through assemblies and lessons, and also more recently by me doing a placement with them.
We heard time and time again that we had correctly picked up that feeling of isolation. I heard about the number of families who have stopped bringing their children to school (which is currently a national problem). And the number of families that were feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with rising costs and having to decide between eating and heating. We listened… planned… and acted. In partnership with the Family Liaison Officer at one of the local schools, we started a Parent and Children’s group which runs on a weekday afternoon. Parents come and spend time doing cooking, crafts, life skills and fun activities with their children – in a warm space where they can just concentrate on being together and enjoying each other’s company. This has led to friendships being formed – particularly between parents, but also helping struggling families to find things that they can do together.
Then we started an after school games café once a week where we play games together – as families – not just the children! We began by making toast with toppings and having tea and coffee available. We went from just one family initially to now six or seven regular families. They bring their worries and concerns, whether it is on parenting issues, finances, how they are feeling, things to do with school. They are helping each other get a place at the table to negotiate with agencies, and we are simply providing what support we can - including with filling in forms and writing letters. We have been able to put a list of places that will help with food packages including the foodbank and also other local charities which they can all access because they have shared it with one another. This also includes help with clothing, and now participants are talking about how we could have a kind of clothes ‘fayre’ where we bring clothes that have been outgrown or are not needed any more in order to help each other out.
One of Andy’s rules when setting up the Community Organising project was that a team should be built that doesn’t depend on the Curate for its ongoing life. Due to childcare issues, I have not been able to go to the group recently, but the group continues to grow and support each other.
Three things have coincided:
*our desire to pioneer new communities with an aim to growing new/fresh expressions of church
*our commitment to helping each other meet practical and physical needs, and
*a need not just to do things for a community, but to equip them to negotiate with those in power.
A lovely bi-product has been that this Sunday, three of the members of the group are being baptised and confirmed. They have found faith through the existence of this group.
I believe this could be a really good model going forward, for how to grow more community groups that really do meet needs and empower.
Lisa Whymark, a Curate at Hutton, did a Community Organising Project focussing on a basketball court called “the cage”.
From talking to residents in the area from the local sheltered housing complex, parents and customers at the Daily Bread café it became apparent that local teenagers were causing issues in the park by ruining the newly installed park facilities, climbing over fences into locals garden, damaging a garage block and using drugs. The park has an area of equipment that is fenced off, a grassed area and an enclosed basketball court that is known locally as ‘the cage.’ Here on the left is a picture of the cage without floodlights.
I spoke to a number of local organisations with interest in youth work and we decided to hold an engagement day. We invited local police, schools, parents, youth workers, enforcement officers, council, sports clubs, local residents and young people. These days were really successful and led to us trialling an after school youth provision in the Cage for young people and then food for them provided by the church and Daily Bread.
The local people were happier that the young people were engaged with activities and young people enjoyed the sports and food. Local teachers helped at the activity sessions and the local police came once a month to improve relations with local young people who didn’t normally engage positively with the police.
By October half term it became apparent that it was getting too dark to maintain the youth provision safely at the park so we either closed until the Summer or found a solution. The agencies involved held a meeting and we decided to see if we could get funding for floodlights and temporary planning permission to install them on a flexible basis. Together, we got a place at the table with the council, who granted the permission. Then we approached local businesses until we found an agency willing to pay for the floodlights. We also moved part of the session into the church for the young people to warm up with hot chocolate and donuts and engage better with the church.
This youth group will continue to meet and has day events planned for the holidays and a football tournament they are competing in during the Summer.
We’ve built relationships through this with Police, PE teachers and our local Essex activate youth worker. Here is a picture of the Cage in use, with floodlights and police officers engaging.
Many, many congratulations to Nicolas Pucenot, Jacqui King, Dawn Butcher, Daniel Cant, Becs Challis, Gary Fleming, Sophie Weller, Lisa Whymark and Josephine Wood, the nine first-ever recipients of our Certificate in Ministerial Community Organising.
This has taken them hours and hours, including:
•Six apprentice style modules, with training delivered by Jonathan Cox, Sara Batts-Neale, Caroline Beckett and myself - there were workshops, lectures, things to practise in context, and lots of reading
•A listening project and building a team to act in context to make a difference (and writing up what happened)
•Active participation in a Citizens Assembly or similar forum for the Common Good.
I hope other second year Curates will be gaining the Certificate too. I’ll be honest: no professional body or academic institution has validated the certificate. But if you ever find yourself on a shortlisting panel, and one of the applicants lists this among their training achievements - take it from me, they’re worth viewing seriously. Andy Griffiths
And while we’re congratulating the trainees, let’s congratulate one of their trainers. Essex and East London owes a lot to Jonathan Cox.
As Deputy Director of Citizens UK, he has brokered the strategic partnership of Diocese of Chelmsford with Citizens; he was instrumental in the creation of Citizens Colchester, Citizens Essex and Citizens Chelmsford. Living what he calls his “Gavin and Stacy existence”, he has commuted frequently from his home near Barry Island to Essex. He has delivered training to at least three cohorts of Chelmsford curates - and there’s more to come!
For me, Jonathan has been a model in the way he is unashamed of his faith - he’s a lay Franciscan - and therefore wonderfully positive about people I’d all faiths and none. He has never failed to encourage and inspire.
I’m so pleased that Jonathan has been given an OBE in 17 June 2023’s King’s Birthday Honour’s List for his leadership of the Communities for Ukraine project. Well deserved!
New church for Becontree
The people of Becontree had been praying for Fr. Pavlo Protsenko since long before he arrived in Dagenham in December under the “Homes for Ukraine” scheme. I’m excited to say that on March 5, in a joint venture between the Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyatira and the Parish of Becontree, he planted a new Ukrainian Orthodox Church, The Church of the Nativity, in St Martin's... and 60 people came!! On April 16 a similar crowd gathered to celebrate Easter.
So many Ukrainians displaced from their homes and country were able to find a little bit more of home. Do let Ukrainian friends know, and do continue to pray for the people of Ukraine, and for Fr Pavlo's ministry to them. The services are at 11:00 am every Sunday - 27 Goresbrook Road, RM9 6UX
How planning works: Pantry in the Porch
Community Organisers often talk about five phases. The first is organising (which can also be called “building a relational culture”). The second is listening. The third is planning. To quote from the module that curates undertake,
Ernesto Cortes Jr points to a paradox – how is that community organising is negative about Planning, yet includes planning in its five steps? The answer, for Cortes, is to distinguish Planning (with a capital P – the kind of Planning that community organising doesn’t like, which is done from above, championed by one single leader and ‘comprehensive’) from planning (the kind of planning that community organising does like). planning is simply the middle stage between listening to the community and action. Stories are turned into bite-sized, ‘winnable’ issues (‘problems lead to conferences, issues lead to action’); when the gifts local people bring are brought to bear, a plan for action comes together. Cortes uses the Greek word metis to mean ‘local knowledge … gained through incremental learning and constant feedback and evaluation,’ and claims that it is metis that makes the difference between Plans and plans. Bretherton uses the adjectives ‘prudential’ and ‘non-ideological.’ To which we want to add ‘local’ or even ‘parochial’.
Community organising embraces both quantitative and qualitative measures, and refuses to be reduced to simple metrics. It values the small, the unimpressive and the marginal, but it is clear that energy is to be given both to keeping an institution healthy and to insisting that the institutions – in this case, churches – look outwards in justice and mercy.
In the Diocese of Chelmsford we teach a simple model of planning which we call “NAOMIE”.
In the reflection below, Chelmsford Curate Becs Challis talks us through how she used the NAOMIE model to plan “pantry in the porch” at Hatfield Broad Oak.
The understanding of needs came from some careful listening to members of the local community... the veneer of “wealth” associated with the villages seemed to have gaps in it:
· There are households on tight budgets living in council properties
· People who had lived in the village for decades were now seeing what they once loved (the freedom of the space and rural surroundings) as a barrier and a factor in social and geographical isolation
Pockets of poverty laced with shame were more visible
For those from an elderly age demographic, there was decreasing ability (e.g. able to drive) with a result of increasing isolation.
My allies consisted initially of two people from the church. But soon
The primary school donated a shelving unit
· A local artist created some Chalkboard notices and decorated the space (lots of bunting and gingham to give it a village feel)
· Locals gave generously what they could and those in need had an option in walking distance to take what they needed
The sense of team is an area that could do with improvement, the balance between being owned by the village and not owned by anyone in particular has helped to create a quick win, with shared ideas where things can be taken in the future (e.g. nutrition/cooking classes on a budget).
Although the team did not quite think anyone would sell a field as Barnabas did in Acts - we did believe that:
· By modelling generosity and sharing - buzz and engagement from doing this one simple thing the church would be seen as more relevant and engaged
The pantry would complement a monthly Community cuppa in partnership with the local Women’s Institute to aid the social side of rural isolation,
And address the aspect of food poverty more directly.
We aimed that:
· The Porch pantry would be stocked before Mid-December (quality not quantity)
· And be a self sufficient pantry – without the need to remind locals to restock
· And Christian values such as generosity, hospitality and grace be witnessed more widely within the local community
Language is important – and we decided “Pantry” in a village context works far better and is broader than “foodbank”
Apart from providing the location to host the Pantry and getting the word out the church contribution was minimal. The village has a busy FaceBook group this was used as the main channel of communication between the team and the village.
In terms of the scale of this initial action implementation was light touch – coordinating the delivery and logistics of the cabinet, the local artist’s work, and the communication channels increasing awareness locally (both to donate and to make use of)
Local businesses started to contribute, and Cammas Hall (a local Fruit & Veg farm and shop) added gourds and pumpkins.
A Pantry in the Porch was created and has been stocked, used and restocked for around four months. All the outcomes we identified have been met. I do worry slightly that we have not “squashed the triangle of power”. If there was more time and capacity, the next step would be to empower those who use the pantry to have a seat at the tables of power. Interest in participating in pop up cooking on a budget type sessions is on the agenda, for which funding from Active Essex may be made available. The village has felt in the past that it has struggled with an inflexible Parish Council. So this project has given new hope for community based initiatives.
The small act of delivering a porch pantry has indirectly had an overwhelmingly positive impact to community cohesion, and could act as a foundation to generate more community initiated action in the future.
A Guest's Story
“Hello, my name is Lena. I have a little son Misha. We are Ukrainians in Great Britain. We came here in the end of July. It was a hard decision to leave our country, home, relatives, friends, everything we love and to go to a country we haven't been before. We decided to leave Ukraine after some weeks hiding from rockets in the basement, after four months of evacuation in Western part of the country.
Why United Kingdom? This country is very friendly to Ukraine and Ukrainians and also it gives an opportunity for mothers and little ones to live normal life, that was important for me. We found here family, a lot of smiles and support from people around. Thanks to British Government, to Citizens UK, to Diocesan resource group, we met Paul and Myra, our British family. I don't like the word "sponsors". Paul and Myra are more than sponsors for us, they are our Guardian angels.
Since our arriving they take care of us, they brought us into their family, support in any steps, we did a lot of paperwork (which turned out to be not as difficult thanks to Myra's and Paul's help), they spend a lot of time with me and Misha. We can cook together, watch TV and news, visit different events, do shopping, play with Misha. We even have got our own traditions like shared tea-times and dinners or English cartoons for Misha every evening. I discovered that my English is not bad and I try to improve it visiting language classes (where Paul is one of the teachers). I fall in love with English cuisine and I try to share with Ukrainian recipes, I made new friends. In our area there are also some Ukrainians, with who we also became friends.
Misha takes new steps in his development every day, he understands English as well as native language, he visits local mothers and toddlers groups, has got some new friends, rejoices in every new discovery and has a happy childhood.”
A host's story
Myra writes: “Our involvement with Ukraine started when Paul (my husband of 55years) and I sat in our Frinton home and watched news of the war in Ukraine on our television. We were horrified by the images and talked about the whole situation, feeling very helpless in the face of such brutality going on in Europe.
“Then we saw the advertisements for ‘homes for Ukraine’ and decided to join the list. Having realised we were not going to be allocated anyone I trawled Facebook but felt uncomfortable contacting anyone through this medium. About this time we realised there were two other families in church going down the same route, so we contacted them and heard about the scheme through the Diocese. It was through the Diocesan resource group, that we were put in contact with Lena and her young son Misha. Initially we met through zoom then exchanged texts and finally met them at Luton airport.
“The first month was taken up with forms, phone calls, interviews and other admin, in claiming Universal Credit, opening a bank account, registering with the GP etc as well as introducing Lena and Misha to our family, friends and the local area and resources. Paul and I had visits from the local authority housing department, social workers and health visitors, and an enhanced DBS check. Lena, Misha and I visited local mother and toddler groups from which Lena chose two to attend regularly. Paul took her to Essex Integration ESOL classes in Colchester where he teaches, and Lena now attends English classes there each week. She also found time to visit London, found her way round Colchester and locally, and has made her own friends here too.
“Lena’s partner, Igor, was living and working in the Netherlands, so she went to visit him too, coming back asking if we knew of anyone who could sponsor him nearby. She found someone herself, through a contact at a mother and toddler group, and three weeks ago Igor moved to England. Through meeting Lena we have made some good local friends who are also hosting Ukrainian families, we have got to know a little about Ukrainian culture, cooking, their language, Lena’s family and the effect of the war on them. Lena and Misha have fitted into our family so well, and we now have an extra grandson and a new daughter! We share the cooking and making cups of tea, we play with Misha and read him stories and we are getting to know a young man who already has got himself some work and is a really good cook!”
A curate's story
Gary Fleming is a curate (apprentice Vicar) in Essex. He writes:
“The very first curate training session we had, on the first day of our curacies was about 121s – conversations with people in the community. And the very first 121 I held back in July 2021 was with Claire, who works in a local preschool. The second time I had a conversation with her, I knew she had offered to host a Ukrainian guest and I simply said, ‘How is it going’, what do you need’?
‘We need somewhere to meet, somewhere where we can all come together as hosts and guests’, she replied.
So UK2UK was launched. A meeting hub for conversation, support and fellowship. The hub was run by church and non-church community for people inside and outside of the immediate church family. Its reach spanned from Takeley to Braintree, but it’s main focus was the villages of Great Canfield, The Easters and the Roding’s. A geographical area of over 35sq miles. UK2UK is run by a team, not by me or another member of the clergy. It’s not my baby, it’s theirs.
Key in the early stages of the project was to help the community to believe in themselves, that this could happen. As the project lead it is often felt that you must not be hands on. This is not always the case. Being hands on can show that you value the project and offers a leadership example that inspires people. Sometimes you need to recognise this and understand that leadership is as much a need of the project as finances and other physical resources. Leadership breeds leadership, courage breeds courage, faith breeds faith. You can’t always be the leader you want to be, sometimes you have to be the leader you need to be.
The project group consisted of many communities of interest. From business people, local councillors, church community, members of the public and hosts and guest to name but a few. Each had a stake in what was happening and offered their gifts. The diversity of the group meant that the group grew organically, utilising the gifts that God had brought to us through his people. At the beginning I didn’t know exactly what would happen. In the first meeting we asked every one, what do you need help with? A simple question. From this we trusted that from with the community the resources to meet the needs would come forward. They did, we funded a respite day for 40 guests and families in London. Met the educational costs of children and built fellowship and community. This was resourced from the relationships we had built and allowed people to offer their individual gifts. Now, my role is much less “hands on”, much less central. My role was to bring people together, stand back, let their gifts come forward and be grateful.
We provided a meeting hub which ran for 6 months. It has now moved to an online platform and the networks established continue to resource and meet the needs of the communities we responded to. People came together, community and fellowship thrives and the initial needs have been met by those who first raised them. I think that a big thing that has happened is that people now feel more at ease with going to each other for help, the trust levels in the community have increased which means relationships have been established and strengthened.”
The Bunny Walks
It started in 2019 with a listening campaign, mostly by curates; it ended with £550 000 of investment in the Bunny Walks, a network of paths near Anglia Ruskin University's Chelmsford campus.
It was the largest listening campaign ever devoted to safety in Essex, with 100 conversations about what would help people be and feel safer, led by Jonathan Cox, Citizens UK's Deputy Director. The top finding related to street lights. Some of this was unrealistic - there's no way we can get all Essex's streetlights on all night, even if it was desirable. But a lot of people had more specific concerns - particular alleys, underpasses or walkways where a bit more lighting would make a big difference. Some people had taken it up with the police, who had said that lighting was a County Council concern. Then they called the Council, who said "if we put on the lights there, we'd have to put them on everywhere, and we can't afford it. And also it would be disorienting to owls".
But Citizens Essex, which is chaired by Bishop Roger Morris, had an accountability assembly - via Zoom, at that point - and then a regular series of meetings with Roger Hirst, the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, and his team. As a trial, and to set a precedent, we started with an underpass at Greenstead in Colchester, and were gratified at how quickly the PFCC, working with local Councillors, sorted the lights and updates the street furniture. So we looked for the next lighting project - and some students from ARU, a Citizens Essex strategic partner, talked about their experience with the Bunny Walks. Soon an alliance formed, with the students at the heart of it - the City Council and the MP added their voices to that of the PFCC. And so £550 000 was awarded. It will be spent on the following:
£164,753 will be spent on placing CCTV cameras with infrared technology in key locations to improve coverage around the Bunny Walks area, extending out towards the university and city centre.
£20,000 on lighting the pedestrian bridge over the river on the Bunny Walks, near the entrance to the retail park.
Support and advice:
To help improve safety in the Bunny Walks area, £40,000 will be spent on a digital engagement project.
QR codes will be created and place on the Bunny Walks pathway which when scanned by the public will link to digital maps, information about area, general places of safety and key contacts for support services, with content targeted for different age groups.
Volunteers support the upkeep of Bunny Walks, maintaining the trees and shrubbery.
£15,000 will be used to encourage more volunteers, as numbers have declined following COVID and investing in equipment for them to use.
Community Organising works. And no owls will be inconvenienced at any point.
On 28 September, the Revd Canon Andy Griffiths from Chelmsford Diocese and representing Citizens UK, joined Stanford Biti, Chief Executive Officer of the charity CAST at the opening of six new modular homes in Basildon, the latest instalment of the Malachi Project.
At the launch, Stanford spoke of his own experience of homelessness, and talked about the way these modular dwellings will provide follow-on temporary accommodation for people who have experienced homelessness. Andy Griffiths spoke of the amazing speed of a project, where in only five months a brownfield site has become some fully equipped homes, and the way the Salvation Army, has so effectively taken the lead, first in Ilford, then in Leigh on Sea, and now in Basildon.
Speaking about the project Bishop Guli said:
“The Malachi project is a good example of faith groups, charities, community organisations, housebuilders and local government coming together to tackle homelessness in a very practical way. I’m grateful to all who have been involved, particularly the Salvation Army who have taken the lead on the project and will manage the houses.”
Major Howard Russell, Divisional Commander of the East of England Division of the Salvation Army said: "Having safe independent accommodation is a vital part of transitioning back to a more stable living arrangement for those who have experienced homelessness. SoloHaus (the name of the modular units) empowers people with that vital step in getting their lives back on track and we are confident that these units will make a huge difference to people in the Basildon area."
A Place at the Table
Our second year curates are asked to build a team that takes action, based on listening and community organising, to get people who need change a place at the table. Mark Smeed is doing this literally, and it’s brilliant!
"We measure success by smiling faces and are happy that we have a 100% success rate!"
Every Friday afternoon, St Matthew’s Church in The Parish of Hornchurch opens its doors for Table Top Fun – a free games club for the local community.
The group started in March this year following a listening campaign at the church which identified, amid the cost-of-living crisis, that families wanted somewhere safe and warm to come along to and activities that got children off their phones and away from screens. People enjoy a range of activities including board games, card games and crafts. The church also offers free hot food, snacks and drinks.
The sessions help to build community relationships as well, as Hornchurch’s Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) and the ward Councillors are invited to attend so that the community has the opportunity to voice their concerns in a relaxed forum. The PCSOs and Councillors enjoy challenging parents and children alike to games, whilst they talk about the things that matter to them in the local community.
Although the group was initially aimed at young families, it has grown and is now well attended by older people who enjoy the companionship and socialising. Many of the older people enjoy teaching some of the younger participants how to play different games.
Mark Smeed, Curate in the Parish of Hornchurch said: “The Table Top Fun is one of the highlights of my week. There really is something for everyone, we have intense Chess and Uno battles, older children love Warhammer, younger children enjoy beating the adults at memory games and others relax doing crafts ..."
“We are pleased to be able to bring the community together in a safe, friendly and warm environment to have fun and also provide free food and drinks for those who may be struggling with the cost of living at the moment ... All in all, Table Top Fun is growing from strength to strength because of the community behind it, who are shaping the group."
Community Organising with a Farsi community
A curate writes:
The idea really took place when 3 Iranian refugees came to our church, looking for company, help, support, and a place of worship. The vicar and I took time to know them, sat with a lady who spoke Farsi, introduced her to them and thought of ways in which we could help the refugees. We asked the refugees what they needed, listened to their stories, heard their pain and then with the lady, suggested that she gather a team to help her with supporting the refugees.
We are truly blessed to have a lady in the congregation who speaks Farsi and through her, were able to communicate with the gents. Throughout our time with them, we realised the needs that they needed, support, resources, daily hygiene products and the like. We asked ourselves what God would do and what is the right thing to do.
We realised that there was a hotel full of other refugees that could do with getting access to help. This lady helped galvanise members of the local community, and other church members local to the hotel where the refugees were staying. She gathered other members of the community to the cause of helping the refugees. She started linking a local organisation that would donate clothes to the hotel to work with her and the people.
To this day, the results of that encounter with those young men is that that lady, the members she brought around and the small local organisation, continue to support the refugees by giving them access to clothes, sanitary products, vouchers, food and other things they may need. My involvement in this was to listen to the Iranians and help the lady by guiding her to people in the community who also have a heart for refugees. Our involvement was limited as a church, rather it was about equipping and enabling others to serve and organise themselves to bless those refugees.