On Monday I spent a very enjoyable day meeting other pioneers on new-build developments from the St. Alban’s diocese. Because both Peterborough and St. Alban’s diocese received money for pioneer posts from the Church Commissioners, we have a reciprocal arrangement for mutual accountability and encouragement in how the money is being spent. I found it immensely useful to hear from others about what they are doing. It was also clear that although the house designs may look similar, no two new-build developments are the same.
Nik, the pioneer in Corby, Brian (the peterborough overseer of pioneers) and I first visited the de Havilland Community Project near Hatfield run by Community Development Worker, Jason. The development is built on the site of a former British Aerospace factory, where the de Havilland planes were built.
The first thing to note was that Jason was moving into a development that had already been there for seven years before he arrived, so there were lots of issues from the start. After seven years of not much community engagement, there was a high level of anger against the developers and others for things that were promised but not yet completed. His development is a strange mix of massive houses and middle class homes right next to rows of social housing, all mixed in with student-lets. Most new-build residents are families with young children whereas students keep very different hours in very different ways. There have also been problems with dumping stuff that they simply no longer want. On one street there were piles of mattresses that hadn’t been cleared and a garden which was so overgrown that you couldn’t get into the front door.
His role was envisioned by local ecumenical groups to build community, not to start a church. This, he has been doing very well over the last two and a half years running summer clubs for children, saturday gatherings for the whole family, Youth clubs, a community choir, mentoring disadvantaged children from the local school, engaging the students who live on the development in joining in (Hertforshire University campus in on the doorstep), and even running free guitar lessons. He wasn’t really expecting church to form and tries not to assume the label ‘pioneer minister’ but there have been enough people asking questions about faith to warrant starting a ‘not church’ group, as he called it. This ‘non-pioneer’ is starting a ‘not-church’!
The second place we visited was the village of Wixams just south of Bedford. This is being billed as four adjoining villages but when it is finished it will be one fairly large new-build town with it’s own railway station on a line into London. There are a few man-made lakes (probably balancing ponds) giving the developers a chance to build ‘lakeside’ properties! And there is already a very nice children’s play area. Tim, the Pioneer Minister has been in post for about six months.
This development seems more straight forward – a pioneer moves onto the development near the beginning of the building (there are currently about 450 houses built) – so the issues he faces are more familiar: lack of places to meet, lack of shops, lack of infrastructure, developers still in charge of the land and open spaces etc. He has begun by learning as much as possible from an existing community worker, employed by the local housing association, and by getting stuck into meeting people in the local school. In many ways he is still searching for a strategy and a core team, but I’m sure it will come. A village hall will be ready in the next 6 months and he is in talks to ensure a management committee is ready when it opens.
The benefit from days like this is in hearing, being encouraged and working out whether anything you’ve heard can be applied in your own locality. I’ve taken a few ideas away – such as a summer fun-inflatables day for kids, and I’m sure the others were similarly challenged too. In three weeks Jason and Tim will come to Northampton to visit me and Jacqui (from the Wellspring project in Wootton Fields), and sometime after that we’ll all make the trip to Corby to visit Nik and the new pioneer who will be installed there.