With everything in the Totton Team being in a state of flux right now, questions will inevitably arise about why we are at this point and what the journey of seeking to develop St Wins has been about.
This is a journey that St Wins people have lived for some years as it became unavoidable that something serious had to be done about our building. Anyone coming in to take the helm would have to lead the congregation through an enterprise on a large scale. Half measures would not do. I was appointed nearly four years ago to develop a serious plan, not only to save the building if possible but re-position St Wins so it becomes a vibrant Anglican church in the Totton community. It would have been easier to let it go but we were determined to attempt something amazing for God.
Hereafter, I write this in the third person as it has been a collective endeavour. Attached is a narrative of the project design and the pitfalls we encountered but written for a book rather than a committee. It takes us to the heart of what we were seeking to do as the situation warranted. What follows serves to document the Steps along the pathway that a committee will want to know also.
The narrative gives the answer to the question that is far and away the most important one. WHY? No less than any other organisation, churches get tied up with the WHAT and the HOW without clarifying their purpose. From first to last, this journey has been purpose driven.
WHERE DO YOU START? - you have possibly a £2M project on your hands and the congregational strength is limited. You start with prayer, discerning what God’s purpose could be for the future. Should we even start from here? Demolition was briefly considered but some discussion with an outside architect indicated this would be twice as expensive on a reasonable estimate of building costs per square meterage. Getting the building de-listed would be possibly insurmountable hurdle.
Though not a £20M project but a £2M more ‘do-able’ task, we were trying to pull off something big with slender resources. We were not a large organisation with large planning resources to draw on. Alongside growing the church, the only viable route was to attract grants that are far more likely for work that would benefit the community rather than very limited grants for repair of church buildings
A rational assessment of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) was as follows:
Strengths – a highly motivated congregation wanting to see God doing something amazing and for the most part, prepared to stay the course. Some of the older ones had been living a dream for years
Weaknesses – anything that would be worthwhile needed to be on an ambitious scale. We were trying to map a vision on to a failing building. The building was still functioning. It needed a new heating system, new wiring, toilets and kitchen in addition to the new roof. Could that be put right?
Opportunities - a functioning church that although unattractive from the outside, had considerable merit internally. If something could be made of it, it would have huge potential as a distinct building. Plus a growing role in the community arising from the numerous links that our people already had.
Threats - the heating was a formidable challenge. How do you grow a church in a fridge? More widely, how do you raise the £2M or so needed to put the building right? St Wins had very little income. Could the church muster sufficient expertise to develop a serious plan as tasked?
How we went about it
January to April 2015. Step One – prayer, discernment. Lots of it. Go for the easy win, the low-hanging fruit. This came in the form of a Government grant to fix the roof at places of worship. We applied. In faith it came. We had £75,000 given to us to begin our journey (not enough to meet the cost of repair of parapets at £91K but a great and encouraging start).
This step involved much talking to church people and those outside regarding viability and scope. One of these was a social enterprise expert who had done sterling work redeveloping a run-down building in Plymouth. He produced a Report for us that the Diocese saw. Other significant conversations at that time were with the leader of Totton Council, that led to:
May to October 2015. Step Two - forming a project team and undertaking some community engagement. Amongst us were just enough experienced people to begin the task of scoping the project. First steps towards community engagement came in the form of an Open Consultation on May 26th 2015 which saw numbers of people from inside and outside the church come for discussion. On October 15th that year, we had a Community Fayre which saw 30 community groups inside St Wins advertising what they do and by implication, positioning us as a community player. During the summer, we consulted a project manager who then withdrew for personal reasons. It was clear that professional services of this kind will prove enormously expensive. Who would pay?
November to December 2015 Step Three – the project team decided to contract someone who had been highly recommended as being highly organised, experienced in project development in disability services and well acquainted with buildings through being school Governor. Lynn Black was not only highly competent, it became apparent quickly that she would give a 1000% to the task of helping us develop a serious plan and begin to implement it. At her own expense, Lynn went on to obtain a professional project management qualification. During this time, initial roof work was done.
January to April 2016 Step Four – project design. This was the most creative period. Some of us jointed Lynn in meeting numerous agencies and people in the community who had something to tell us or pointed towards others. We held a Hackathon and undertook a preliminary audit. The team became a Development Group as a sub-committee of the DCC with properly documented papers and minutes. Our Design is laid out more fully in the accompanying narrative, referring to the growing emphasis on social isolation. At this time, we applied for (and subsequently got), £200,000 of public money for Heritage Lottery Fund to complete roof work and make the building watertight.
May to December 2016 Step Five – architect’s plans were drawn up and presented to the DCC and thence PCC (who had been kept constantly informed throughout the journey). Unfortunately, this put the back up of the Guides who were in on the consultation and responded with fury if the hut needed to be replaced. Several meetings were held to try to explain the situation. Things became difficult as we needed to bring user groups in who would create income and footfall. Guides were threatening legal action if we pressed it. We looked also at company options to safeguard PCC funds.
January to April 2017 Step Six – we had kept the Diocese updated. Realising the Catch 22 we were in (that we couldn’t develop a business plan without resources to do it), they responded with offering to fund Lynn for the first three months to undertake it. The work was done and discussion held. The situation was complicated by the growing unease that the DCC had with the Architect. His work had not inspired. We began talking to a local practice who quickly came up with inspiring plans. The CEO of Church Urban Fund (CUF) came, recognised we were doing something of national importance and gave us £5000 in the form of a grant. Also, in this period, saw us engaging Chris Taylor to develop music ministry + starting a new role play centre, Ickle Village that immediately drew in 600 a week.
May to autumn 2017 Step 7 - a fund raising target of £40,000 was set to enable us to pay for Stage One Architect plans and other professional fees. Through faith, this was achieved. We gave input into several Parliamentary commissions working on the link between arts and well-being and also the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission in line with our social mission to tackle isolation. The period saw a high quality research exercise led by university students on the streets of Totton offering evidence base for our plans. We needed to keep our own people on board for this approach bearing in mind the implications for the use of our building. It was a vexing problem until we found resolution and had to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of use of different spaces. This period saw large numbers of concerts which played to strengths of the building and served as opportunities for communication of our vision to a wider audience. A community choir was started in line with that vision. Snugs came to show DCC exciting new plans and these were communicated to the Team Council. A QS report showed we needed to bring the cost down under £2M although this was a commercial trade off with spaces to hire and bring in the income. A particularly low period was before Christmas. People were leaving because of the cold. There had been a theft of lead. Electrics blew regularly. Could we go on?
January to Easter 2018 Step 8 - through prayer there was a turn around. A huge gift was given by someone in the community to pay for developing the project (not the building) as they didn’t wish our underlying social outreach to fail. The DCC went to St Cuthbert’s in Portsmouth where, against all the odds, a similar journey had been undertaken on an even larger scale. We were solidly united. God would be with us. The Methodist Chapel Aid Fund stepped in and offered us sufficient funds to match the roof grant, even with an increase in tender pricing. This was, however, 15 year money.
Into the mix, the Diocese of Winchester made an offer. The roof funding deficit could be met through a loan as long as a plan was in place to embrace a church plant. The DCC/PCC agreed to accept this option as it meant an injection of new life into the church who could take it forward.
Summary of the project plan
Purpose – to design and implement a community hub with a particular emphasis on a range of creative activity through the week in which people could participate. We are working with GPs on social prescribing to our hub. A vibrant church will be at the heart of our plans. It is not either-or!
Why? – the plan was to continue to grow the church on the one hand and to pursue community outreach on the other. This would provide the greatest opportunity to attract substantial grants which would not be given purely for places of worship. More importantly, it was a good thing in itself
Who? – if we could grow the congregation through such initiatives as cafe church and Messy Church, Alpha etc, in time that would add to the numbers of those who would come through a considerable influx of people in the building through the week. The creative tasks would be run by volunteers.
How? - income from user groups contributes to on-going costs. Our business plan continues this by hiring out space. Roof work underway would attract further investment from Heritage enterprise funds for internal refurbishment in 2019-20 after planning consent. We were aiming at a 2021 finish!
Extract from the book to be published in January 2018; The Identification Principle
At the time of writing, churches I was personally involved with wrestle with this question. How can we be faithful to our mission and to scripture unless we are directly doing something about our local community? Is it acceptable that we mandate and make common cause with community groups who also work for the good of the city? The church is St Winfrid’s in Totton, on the edge of Southampton, named after the 8th century apostle to Germany, Boniface. It is a cavernous building with spectacular arches (that gave their name to the project!). Only 80 years old, it was in need of serious attention. It is part of the Diocese of Winchester that has been very supportive.
A church transformation is under way by a group of Christians who want to nurture their faith in prayer and scripture but who resolutely refused to be a club that exists for themselves. A relatively small congregation was obliged to take on its relatively large building and give it a positive future. As God turns this large church inside out, into a community hub with a biblical church at its heart, it has had to wrestle with questions that are resolutely theological. The church has sought, not only to do works of caring and ministry to the needy but to work in a different way appropriate to our times. The world has moved on and paternalism does not work anymore. The model of State welfare based on addressing needs of the vulnerable is unsustainable.
The congregation sought to grow church in approaches to evangelism both new and old. Its latest manifestation is cafe church in the centre of town – an informal setting within which to explore faith. Alongside that it has walked the journey of engaging with the locality so its mission is holistic and well placed within its local setting. It started on that journey back in the summer of 2014 when it became clear that the church building needed serious attention. Rather than focus on the needs of the building, the church took a different path. What were the needs of the community that it could address? Could it re-imagine church? What did it mean to be the people of God in Totton?
It is vital for churches who find themselves in that situation and indeed for any community of faith that they should be highly attuned to PURPOSE. Purpose is the great ‘why’ question. It nurtures faith and positive confidence in God. It easily trumps the secondary, though inevitable and important questions of how and what that churches are prone to get bogged down on. Fixation on divine purpose and a mood of confident faith will resolve many difficulties that stand in our way.
In the situation this church found itself in, we sought to ascertain what significant purpose would fit hand in glove into the social mission that would sit alongside direct proclamation and witness. We found it in the growing and pressing problem of loneliness in society. For many, social responsibility ends at our front door. More than ever, each person is an island, cast adrift from spiritual and social moorings and ties of community. Caring for others and those around is falling into disrepair. ‘Where do I belong’ is the cry of the heart. ‘Love thy neighbour’ has never been a more pressing task.
Loneliness matters. Loneliness is the leprosy of our times. Few will admit to it. Lepers people could see their plight, but it is far less obvious to communities when people are lonely. Loneliness ramps up harmful impact on human beings who were never made to be alone. Individualism – ‘me too’ – is a blight on society. The church should feel this for it touches the heart. In the UK, nearly one in five of us say we feel lonely often or always. One in ten say they have no close friends. Nearly half over 75 year olds say that the TV or pets are a main form of company. It is not just a problem for the elderly. More than a third of 18-34’s worry about it. Men aged over 35 are surprisingly vulnerable. [i] Those surrounded by people might still feel alone and afraid. We can label this ‘social disconnection’ but it goes beyond labels. Inside we feel and fear. We are hard-wired to seek connection with others. When we are lonely, we curl in on ourselves even more. Isolation is bad for your health and well being. It has a negative impact on communities. Aloneness is the cry of the human heart.
The church believes in the primacy of relationship. We understand fully that the human heart can only find resolution by relating to God very differently. Yet we care about the cost of disconnection. We see people as people, not as resource or provision. We believe in their value. Those who come to look at whether they wish to join our community may be lonely and seeking companionship. The church has always been in the business of befriending the lonely, visiting the sick or housebound so that they have someone to talk to and not feel so alone. Re-connecting through building relationships is vital. The church has a presence in every community. It can be social glue. We welcome people of all ages and social backgrounds. It is not just that churches are uniquely well placed to undertake activities that reduce isolation. Addressing isolation in society is our territory.
The particular direction in which the church was led lay in deploying the strengths of the building we had and the resource that was in front of us. But it was strengths-based in another way. The usual model of Christian social action has been dominated by the need to meet need. But instead of trying to tackle negative deficits in society as gaps where we should work, what if we sought to cultivate the positive, the strengths that people have latently? Could it be made to work if we were to address loneliness not by offering tea but to cultivate creativity and build relationships? The focus would be different. It would be about helping people discover gifts and talents they didn’t know they had. It would minister to their sense of God-given worth.
Isolation is on many people’s radar right now both within churches and more widely. What St Wins brought was a two-fold emphasis that is different to usual approaches. One was to be strengths-based - a deliberate focus on people finding strengths and talents in connection with others rather than a church or charity model of welfare based on vulnerability and others doing things for them. Boosting their sense of value is something Christians surely honour. We know why that’s important. Building life-enhancing relationships is a vital Christian concern. We care about the lost and lonely.
The other was intergenerational to combine early years work on site with older people coming to us for various activities. There is growing interest in this approach as it is good for all concerned. We undertook a large scale social research and community audit on the streets of Totton that clearly highlighted this as being vital. It was our evidence-base, supported by a Church Urban Fund grant.
Harnessing the collective intelligence of those committed to the project saw a remarkable, creative journey unfold. Discerning the path meant a serious effort to understand our community, to immerse ourselves in its life and times while never ceasing to look to God. Picking some ‘low hanging fruit’ and doing that which lay to hand was important. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going”.[ii] For us, picking some low hanging fruit meant taking hold very early on in the journey of a Government grant to repair the roof of places of worship. It was a great encouragement to us that we were on the right path when that was awarded.
Yet the church also wanted to explore new directions in mission. Rapidly changing social conditions calls for an incarnational church to adapt accordingly and consider developing such paths as social enterprise (not just the mission model of service founded long before charities came along). The church was at the forefront of a community Time-bank so as to encourage renewal of social bonds and a chain reaction of generous giving in the community. A Time-bank is a new national initiative like ‘pay it forward’ to help set up reciprocal acts of practical service in the community by local people who then ‘bank’ the hour or so and swap the time for something that someone else could do for them. I cut your grass and you bake me a cake (actually – please don’t!) Should we be afraid of spearheading social mobilisation and innovation in mission rather than sticking to tried and tested pathways? Could a church community hub that is offering a raft of creative activity across a well -used building speak to the createdness of human beings and be a platform of invitation to Christian events that will challenge and deepen faith?
This is challenging. Many talk in these days about how far we should be entrepreneurial. Though clearly not a Bible word, the church should be fearless in being on the lookout for opportunities. That’s how the Salvation Army made such strides with its prayer-based combination of witness and
action. We spoke with community doctors, leaders of civic authorities, Age Concern and similar groups, Church Urban Fund, Royal Society of Arts, universities, social entrepreneurs – anyone who could help us bring our vision to fruition. It was an immersive experience without losing sight for a minute of the reason why we were doing it.
The church did the groundwork in being a credible partner for statutory bodies and health authorities who were interested in social prescribing as a way of re-routing the anxious and the lonely to discover meaningful activity. We undertook a large scale audit on the streets of our town by university students. As health care becomes unsustainable, keeping people active by intervening upstream will be vital – especially if it can be combined with openness to God. When the church made clear that it was open for business as it were, some community groups became partners and welcome guests. This created opportunity that begged to be grasped with both hands. It was not crucial that we needed to own and do everything ourselves. Could the church keep its identity and not lose control while creating an eco-system within which others who sought to serve the common good could also work and flourish. Is this authentic Christian endeavour? “Seek the welfare of the city....pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29v7).
The community hub had a flip side. In setting up a creative environment, it had huge potential to promote a holistic approach to employability, health education and well-being focused on mental well-being of young people and prepare them for the workplace. We wanted to see younger people mentoring older people in IT skills, maybe teaching them how to Skype or use a tablet. In return, life wisdom such as help with writing CV’s from those who have been something in their lives and can pass it on. The prize is that a Christian eco-system like this will enable exchanges of understanding and knowledge to take place. Creativity and empathy are the two top skills needed in a digital age.
Words such as have just been penned are easy to write. The labour of love by everyone involved saw considerable treasure of prayer and patient discernment of timing, of sweat and toil. It was tough-going. Obstacles were like big boulders strewn across our path. It is on-going. At the time of writing, we at a cross-roads. A church plant is set to increase congregational strength by taking the work of the church further. Developing this model even thus far required considerable outlay of theological spadework in endeavouring to be clear about what we were doing and why. But above all, prayer. This is what became important to us. A community hub with a vibrant church at its heart aiming to reach out to a world of lost and lonely people? It could not be more relevant to society. Could this be an effective strategy for mission? It is better