A former warehouse in Wimborne is set to open as a community centre, café and skatepark in March 2014. Project director Andy Putt tells of the story so far and StreetLight's plans to host a fresh expression of church on site.
The vision for StreetLight as a Christian charity is to reach young people and adults who have not, and will not, engage with 'church'; and present the gospel message through relevant culture which engages them with God – and starts them on a journey with him as well as teaching others to do the same.
Much has happened over the past four years but the story actually began in 2002 when I was involved in my local church in Southampton. I was walking past an empty plot of land when I heard God's call to start a skate ministry to reach those who aren't involved in anything to do with church or Jesus. This was really strange because I had never skated in my life! I started doing youth work and pioneering-type projects but time moved on and, in 2007, I moved to Wimborne to be youth pastor at St John's Church.
In February 2011, I really felt that God was preparing me to 'think outside the box' again and discover what was breaking his heart in our area. Soon after that was the birth of StreetLight and its mission to reach Wimborne for Christ. A group of us had been running street projects, and getting to know young people on the nearby Leigh Park Estate, for some while as we thought and prayed about what God wanted us to do.
In the back of my mind there was still this idea of a Café/Indoor Skatepark/Ministry Hub so – in summer 2012 – I went to the Momentum conference and 'put out a fleece about it', praying that God would make it very clear if that was what he wanted me to do. The answer came back loud and clear from that event and I knew I couldn't ignore it. In addition, while working full-time, I completed a degree in Community Evangelism and Theology and things really started to move from there.
A team just seemed to grow out of nowhere for this vision. As I started to speak to others, people were simply offering to help out. It was clearly time for something to happen.
In January 2013 I stepped down from my church youth ministry, took three months off and did some networking. In April, I started to move StreetLight on from something that simply involved handing out hot soup to people to finding a place as a mission hub. The hub would include a café, skatepark and ministry base with admin offices. I had identified a building almost two years previously and things progressed very quickly when, at a church, I 'happened' to bump into the financial director of those same premises.
After various discussions, we had our first trustees' meeting and decided to take on the building in June. The following month, we put in a change of use application and I started full-time on the project in August. I believe it's very important to keep all the other Wimborne churches in the loop about what we're doing so I have regularly shared the vision with them and we are also a mission partner of St John's.
Work is going ahead on the building and we've now got a committed group of people who want to invest in the vision. StreetLight was granted change of use by the local council and we should be fully open to the public on 29th March 2014.
As part of what will be available there; we are looking to establish The Gathering, a fresh expression of church meeting weekly on site. We also hope to run discipleship groups, cell groups and adult groups for those who want to explore more of the Christian faith.
As ever, there has been some church 'politics' behind the scenes but the fact is that StreetLight is about reaching new people for Christ – people who wouldn't normally be reached. It's not about bums on seats, it's about building kingdom. The reason that things have happened, and are happening, is because God's in it.
StreetLight will offer a very different expression of church in The Gathering. It will be a place for us to engage with individuals and church as community, not a Sunday service. We are not an 'alternative' to church, we are church.
I am very fortunate in the people now supporting StreetLight. We have a board of seven Trustees and two Young Trustees who very much like to help in practical, as well as strategic, ways. We also employ one person to work on grant applications for us. We are also looking for a full time café manager.
By Easter, we plan to have employment in place for probably two people – including me! At the moment I am living by faith and I have certainly learned something through that. Thankfully I have good personal support; I attend a local church, meet up with the pastor regularly, have prayer backing from a lot of people, and meet weekly with a couple to pray, and I see a mentor every month. Streetlight is also getting support from local churches; some through finance, some through resources, and some through airtime in allowing us to tell their fellowships of the StreetLight vision.
It has been fascinating to visit similar ministries as part of my research and it was very helpful to go to Legacy XS in Benfleet, Essex, and The Unit at Launceston in Cornwall. This has definitely confirmed my being a pioneer minister; I seem to have been pioneering things all my life in one way or another and this is another step in that journey!
I have had a lot of great support from people right across the church spectrum but the important message to get across always is that this isn't just a skatepark for young people. At StreetLight we aim to introduce people to Jesus through something they can relate to and it's very exciting.