Report on the The Message Trust visit 14 July 2021
Background to The Message Trust
To explain what has been happening to and at the Message Trust based at Wythenshawe, Manchester, it is necessary to briefly supply two key aspects of the background story of the organisation.
The first is the influence the Worldwide Message Tribe, active between 1991 and 2004, were having on the young people of Manchester in their early years. Or more importantly, what happened to the young people. There is no question that the band were leading young people to commit their lives to Christ or start to take an interest, and as a result the local churches in Manchester were beginning to receive them. The problem was that those churches were not able to receive those young people. The main problem that Matt Wilson suggests (Wilson, 2012 (Kindle)) was generational and organisational. Those who were already in church had become accustomed to a particular way of worship and how the message of Christ was revealed, and the young people coming into a new church had a completely different understanding of the world and a way of talking, which needed a completely distinctive style of worship. It has therefore been generally accepted that anyone new coming into a church would either have to adapt to the protocols of that church or leave, and therefore it is no surprise that many who began to show an interest did not stay within a church.
The second was the field of work the Message Trust were focusing on. Their objectives prior to February 2019 were:
‘To advance the Christian religion amongst young people mainly (but not exclusively) of secondary school age in particular by the use of music, drama and speech including utilization, encouragement, promotion and development of opportunities for education in Christian teaching and morals within schools and secondary educational establishments and otherwise, and
To educate in the Christian religion and Christian lifestyle, minister to, counsel and relieve young people who are excluded from educational establishments, suffering from dependency, poor, disadvantaged, deprived, marginalized or otherwise in conditions of physical, mental or spiritual need, hardship or distress.’ (The Message Trust, 2019, p. 3)
Considering the issues the Worldwide Message Tribe faced in the early 1990’s, the Trust was reflecting the style of language that churches wanted to hold onto. From February 2019 the objectives of the Trust were changed to:
‘To advance the Christian faith primarily amongst young people and vulnerable adults through creative arts, community outreach programmes to those who are poor, disadvantage, deprived and marginalized or at risk of reoffending or who have poor employment potential, through education, enterprise, befriending mentoring, faith-based activities and outreach.’ (The Message Trust, 2019, p. 3)
At first sight, this change to the objectives of the Trust may appear to be an attempt to improve what was a badly worded set of objectives, but also to reflect on what the Trust is actually doing in the present rather than the past. What the rewording of the objectives actually did was to change the focus of the Trustees from young people to helping the whole of each individual’s social network. This becomes important, for example, when a child at school is meeting problems learning at school because of poverty at home. It is meaningless trying to solve the child’s learning issues just at school without dealing with the issues at home.
More importantly, that change to the wording of the Trust’s objectives allowed the organisation to respond in the way that it did when the Coronavirus pandemic began at the beginning of 2020, enabling the Message Trust to bring its core message of Hope to a deprived community.
Creation of Community Grocery
If you, as the reader, believe that God is in control of everything and that nothing happens without a reason, then looking back in hindsight it is easy to see that the change in wording of the objectives of the Trust was timed to perfection and allowed God to change the direction, however so slightly, of the Message Trust.
In March 2020, when the Coronavirus pandemic began to take control of every life within this country, the Message Trust were not only operating within schools, they also were operating an enterprise hub, which included a café. The severe financial and social shock (instant shutdown) brought on by the pandemic had a disproportionate impact on those deprived areas of the UK, including Wythenshawe. Through their work in the schools, the leadership team were aware that there were children, and families, that were not being fed, and as a result they were able to open the kitchens to firstly supply sandwiches for those children who they knew were receiving free school meals, and then hot meals. During the first lockdown their kitchens supplied over 60,000 meals and food parcels to families who were finding it difficult to cope (The Message Trust, 2021).
As the first lockdown ended, it was clear that the problem of children going hungry was not going away. The problem was not necessarily those who were receiving benefits but those households where parents were in employment but not earning enough to meet all the demands placed upon those household. Because of issues faced with running the community hairdresser salon within the Enterprise Centre, the leadership team decided to convert the space into a Community Grocery store. For an annual subscription of £5 per year, households (free of means testing) can come to the store up to twice a week and receive a specific level of shopping for £3. However, aware that not everyone could afford to pay even those modest charges, the store operates a pre-paid scheme, where individual’s can donate funds to cover either subscriptions or shopping fees.
The Community Grocery store does not work in isolation. Unlike other community grocery stores that are available, the Message Community Grocery stores also provide ‘wrap around’ courses including debt management, cookery courses and learning about Christianity. In addition, at the Sharston site, there is also the café and other facilities including the provision of wedding packages at a reduced price.
To date, the Sharston site has a membership of 1800 plus the project has expanded to 8 other sites, and because of the ‘wrap around’ services provided the Trust’s message of Hope is being conveyed to those who are in need, and it is having results in that people are committing their lives because their isolation is being met.
The change in the wording of the Trust’s objectives has allowed the leadership team to adapt to changing circumstances very quickly. For example, The Ivy Church based in various locations in Manchester, held services at the Enterprise Centre, which those individual’s making a commitment through the ‘wrap around’ provision and other work could attend. At the end of May, The Ivy Church informed the Trust that they were withdrawing from the centre. To ensure that those who had made a commitment and could not attend the other locations of The Ivy Church, the leadership team began the ‘Community Church’, and they are holding their first baptism on 15th August 2021.
The experiences experienced by the leadership team and trustees of the Message Trust highlights a critical issue in how organisations interact with society. Whilst they may wish to focus on a specific group, for whatever reason, they should not ignore the social network of each individual or group (they may be different) as they can have a much stronger influence on how those individuals or groups react to the message proclaimed by the organisation.
Areas for Further Research
Write an academic letter on the different styles of food provision
Write academic letter on the pricing of food
Write academic letter on the use of social media to find those within society who are struggling