Reside is a Christian project evolving in response to growing housing developments to the south of Loughborough. It is led by Methodist Deacon Ellie Griffin, Reside's full-time paid worker.
The original vision for a worker on the development came from the Loughborough Churches Partnership and is mainly funded by the Anglican and Methodist Church. The rest of Reside's team is made up of volunteers from a range of denominations, most of whom live in the housing developments we serve.
I have been here for just over three-and-a-half years and am based on the Fairmeadows estate but also work on the new Grange Park housing development. Generally I attempt to co-ordinate the various activities of Reside and enthuse people to get involved.
Our vision is to be an evolving Christian network that provides safe and welcoming places, explores the Christian faith, cares for the community and collectively expresses each element of Church.
This is an affluent estate but we are in the parish of the Good Shepherd CofE Church which is based in a far more socially deprived area. In saying that, they still provide part of the funding for Reside and the vicar, Eric Whitley, is on our steering group. In some ways it's quite difficult to be taking support from a church with such limited resources themselves but, as often happens, it's those with less who tend to give more. They saw the vision of what we were trying to do and have gone for it – and we're very grateful for that.
It was only 25 years ago that the whole of the Fairmeadows estate was nothing more than a farmer's field. Eventually the community will consist of about 1600 homes. When the original plans for this development (known as Grange Park) were first set in place, the churches in Loughborough saw the need for the potential community to be developed and so looked to appointing a full time worker to live on the estate. I moved here with my family in September 2007.
It wasn't long before Reside was 'born'. We aim to contribute to community by enabling residents to be actively engaged in developing the area in which they live – whether that's through the residents’ association, involvement with schools, Neighbourhood Watch, litter picks or working with children and young people. The opportunities really are endless and the range of skills needed is diverse.
We want to get people excited about getting to know their neighbours and to provide opportunities for building relationships. There aren't many meeting places on the estate and so we are trying to be imaginative in how we address this so that all groups within the community can interact more with each other. Recently we made a trip to see a project near Malton which uses a council-funded facility called the 'Ryepod'. It is a converted mobile home hired out to various organisations for a range of purposes. This is the very beginning of our explorations but we are excited by the possibilities.
In some ways, Loughborough has got quite a lot of pioneering stuff going on from Pioneer Network, New Frontiers International, student work and a huge variety of other churches. In saying that there is still an idea or expectation as to what 'real' church looks like; trying to convince those part of inherited models of church that Reside really is church can be quite difficult. Even if people can cope with Reside not having a building as a base they will still ask, 'why aren't you gathering for worship every week?' It can be so difficult for them to grasp that Reside may never have a big gathering for worship but it's very much church in a different way.
Reside cares about every aspect of community life and the individual lives of the residents who make up this community. This comes from our belief that God cares about every aspect of lives too and that the Christian faith has something to offer in each situation.
So far Reside has been involved in the Haddon Way Residents Association working with them to listen to the community's needs or concerns and hosting Community Fun Days, a Big Tidy Up event and an outdoor Christmas Carol service. We have also hosted Easter Fun Days on the Grange Park housing development two years running giving the families opportunity to meet their neighbours and have fun together.
Through support from SOaR (Schools Outreach and Resources) we have been part of a prayer group for Outwoods Edge Primary School, led assemblies and delivered Easter lessons. Leading on from this we have been invited to lead the school community in celebrating harvest and Christmas and are currently exploring further ways of engaging with the school.
Offering the opportunity to ask questions about God and faith, we ran a six- week exploration course. In small discussion groups we used film clips, news articles and other medium to stir debate offering insight from biblical teaching and Christian thought. Reside has also hosted craft sessions, parties, a police drop-in, quiet space and Open House, all providing a variety of opportunities for residents in the area. All of our activities are provided free of charge as a gift to the community to express God's abundant, no-strings-attached love.
The Residents' Association was one of the first links we made into the community. At first they thought it a bit odd that someone from the church turned up and they wondered what we wanted from them. It was also a little confusing because I didn't 'fit' their idea as to what a church leader looked like! Once they became accustomed to the fact that I was attending as a resident and not just as a church representative, everything was fine.
It was interesting that after a community event run jointly by the Association and Reside, the chairman said to me,
I still don’t know what you're after. The church has bought the house you're living in and they're paying your wages for five years, what are they getting out of it?
It had taken him three years to ask that question directly and it was only because we'd built up such a good working relationship that he felt able to ask it at all. In turn I could tell him there was no catch; that it was all a gift to this community because God loves this area and the people who live here.
Over the next 12 months we hope to:
- Develop the work we do with the local schools;
- Explore the possibilities for a mobile meeting place;
- Provide opportunities for residents to get to know one another;
- Network those already actively serving this community;
- Provide opportunities to explore the Christian faith;
- Grow a number of 'Cell' groups;
- Plan for long term sustainability of Reside.
We are very much developing cells at the moment and we're just starting a pilot cell of people who will be leaders in different cell groups. We have got lots of good contacts now on the edges of the community but how can we take it a bit further? I think the cell church model, tweaked to this context, would be a very good model for us. I pray that it will take off and that the trust between groups will become stronger.
The work with the primary school has been awesome because initially it was closed to what we were offering to do. The vicar would go in for standard assemblies at key times of the year though they were a bit worried about taking anything further than that. Slowly they have begun to open up and this Easter we are working with them to host an exhibition of Hope where members of both the school and wider community can creatively offer their Hope for the future.
Again this has all taken time. Thanks to the gradual building up of relationship they invited me to be on their governing body and now they approach us to do things rather than the other way round. It's amazing to think that when I started here there was no link between anyone on the estate or anywhere to go so I used to sit at home praying, then walk around the streets and pray a bit more.
I was pregnant when I took up the post so that did mean I could meet other mums as a way of getting to know people. It also meant that any immediate expectations were lifted as to what I was to 'achieve' in the role; otherwise the aim was that I'd be involved in building a community centre by now because that was one of the points in my job description! The developers of the estate are providing space for a community centre of some description and I'm hoping that Reside and the residents will be able to work together on creating a special space where all sorts of activities can take place.
A five-year funding plan was put in place for us so we are now at the stage of looking at how things can be sustained in future. We are already starting to get some income from the local community but it's nowhere near enough for us to be financially sustainable – and that's in an affluent area! How can people hope to achieve that sustainability in poorer areas?
Also, the context has changed so much here in just a few years. Lots more people have moved in, mainly young families, but many head out for work early in the morning in their cars and the estate's almost dead in the daytime. The nearest shop is nearly a mile away and all of this can combine to incredible isolation for those left behind. There are actually quite a few older people here as well and the community – on the surface predominantly white and middle class – is actually quite a diverse one.
In serving them, Reside will never look like a 'normal' church. I think it will always be messy, an evolving network continually listening and continually responding to the needs of the community. I think that's why many traditional churches have come to a halt – because they stopped listening.