Cringleford Community Project – update May14

Heather Cracknell is developing community, and a fresh expression of church, at Round House Park near Norwich. She gives an update on the work so far.

Launched in 2007, the Round House Park housing development – with planning for 1,065 homes – sits on the outskirts of Norwich at Cringleford.

In 2011, the Diocese of Norwich commissioned newly-trained Pioneer Curate Heather Cracknell to live and work in Round House Park. Heather was the first Pioneer Minister trained by the Diocese of Norwich and her remit was to go beyond the existing Christian community and create new communities: fresh expressions of church.

Heather explains,

We wanted to work out what fresh expressions of church might look like in a new housing area, because it’s clear that these new housing developments often don't relate that well to the established community or village that they are adjacent to.

Most of the people moving onto the new housing are younger, they don't have connections with the church to start with, they are not geographically moving into the parish in the same way as you would be if you were moving into a village… so that is why I was placed here.

Cringleford - housesBeing so close to the A11, the Norwich Research Park, and the Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital, Round House Park has attracted a lot of professional people, young families and a diverse ethnic mix.

There is now a new Church of England school in the centre of the development as well as a recently opened community centre, but when Heather arrived there were no community spaces. Prominent in her dog collar, Heather is open and approachable but in the early days she found it difficult to get to know people simply because they were hard to find. People spent a lot of time in their cars driving off the estate for work, school and social activities.

Heather remembers,

I have a dog and I used to walk her around to try and meet people. But that is quite hard so I just started to chat to anyone I met, inviting them to my house for curry nights on a Friday and Saturday night.

At those curry evenings Heather would encourage her guests to consider other activities that they would like to do together. From these ideas she launched as many groups as she could, including a book club, culture club, a new parents’ group and one off events including wine tasting, a bake-off and summer picnics. Heather also established, and runs, a website called Cringleford Hub which acts as a local social networking site helping people meet one another and start new groups.

She says,

Because I'm motivated by wanting to share the Good News and for the church to connect with people, the question that popped into my head really early on was: 'what does it mean to live well in Cringleford?' Part of living well is living in community, being creative together and eating together. Everything I am seeking to do is about living well and how do we go a bit deeper in life.

Cringleford - picnicHeather is keen to nurture creativity within the community. Last Christmas the Culture Club undertook a yarn bombing project, creating pompom garlands and draping them around public places to say Happy Christmas. In October, Heather put together a community art day producing attractive communal art pieces that now adorn the school walls.

It was just brilliant,

she says,

That is one of the most satisfying things I have done… literally bringing old and young, families and singles, everyone came together, we did something creative and we created all this art work from spare materials.

Heather's time is also spent within St Peter's, Cringleford, but her calling as a Pioneer Minister is to the unchurched – the growing populace who have never entered a church.

She explains her role to the congregation at St Peter's by saying,

We can be as warm and welcoming as we like but if those people come into our service they are going to have absolutely no idea what's going on. We may as well be speaking Swahili! The environment is so alien to them. So we can't sit here waiting for them.

The church's role should be to provide a place where people feel welcomed, accepted, loved and included. So this is the church serving its community by creating places for people to meet one another, and feel included and safe, and welcomed and have a part to play.

There is a hunger for connectedness with your neighbours, people do want community spirit, they don't necessarily know how to go about that, and particularly because there hasn't been any physical building in which to do that, so they have got on board really quickly when there is a catalyst. I think what the church has been and what I've been is a catalyst, a bit like the yeast – all of the ingredients were there, it just needed the catalyst to bring it to life.

Cringleford - curryAnd as relationships have developed, conversations about faith and spirituality are naturally happening. Heather has run a 'Puzzling Questions' course and the Church of England's Pilgrim Course as people expressed intrigued in the Christian faith and wanted to start to explore it. In March, a fortnightly worship event was launched in the local school, which includes a meal together.

Heather says,

I've been here two-and-a-half years and we've just now got to the point where there is a core group of people who are wanting to do church – they don't really know what that looks like and they don't really know what that will be, and they've got young children. We are meeting on a Sunday afternoon, an informal environment with lots of different activities and ways to respond to God.

The Diocese of Norwich has given Heather five years to work on the Round House Park development. Her aim is to open a social enterprise community café, generating profits in order to fund sustainable community activities and events. Her main frustration has been that it has taken longer than she thought to set it up; but retains a passion to serve the community and get others involved.

She adds,

I really feel that God is at work here and all I have to try and do is join in, and join in in a way that is loving my community, loving the people that I meet and also giving people a way that they can join in too.

(This article, written by Jenny Seal, was first published on the Network Norfolk website)

Cringleford Community Project

Heather Cracknell, a pioneer curate near Norwich, is looking to establish a social enterprise café and community project on a new housing development. She hopes it will develop into a fresh expression.

Since I was ordained as a pioneer minister in 2011, the diocese of Norwich has encouraged me to explore what it means to be 'church' in an area of new housing.

Launched in June 2007, the Roundhouse Park development is on the outskirts of Norwich at Cringleford. Building work is still going and eventually there will be 1065 homes. In the next six to nine months there should be a school and eventually a community centre but, at the moment, there isn't a public place to meet at all.

I live in a house bought by the diocese at Roundhouse and my role is split between pioneering there and a traditional curacy in St Peter's Parish Church, Cringleford.

New housing areas are interesting because they have a very distinct culture and don't tend to integrate well with the villages around them. This is compounded at Roundhouse because the development is separated from Cringleford village by a dual carriageway so it's not easy to grow it as one community. Another factor is that the people moving to the new housing tend to be younger than those in the village. Cringleford is near the hospital, research park and university so the new development offers many young professionals and their families a more varied mix of housing.

Cringleford - knittingI have been here for just over 20 months and, in that time, my priority has simply been to get to know as many people as possible. I started by having regular curry nights at my house and, from that, people would suggest different things we might do. This led to 'Stitch and Yarn' which involves people coming together for crochet, knitting or some sort of stitch craft; a cup of tea and a lot of chat. We've also had quizzes, running sessions, picnics and even a 'bake-off' around the kitchens of Roundhouse Park. We are trying to offer as diverse a range of activities as we can but we are still in quite an exploratory phase.

Once a fortnight I host something called Table. People come together for a meal and they're free to explore Christian faith in a safe space. We eat together, have a simple reflection (usually with bread and wine) and get to know each other.

It's so important to try and discern what people are concerned about in the area rather than make any assumptions as to what you think they are concerned about! As part of that, we launched an online community survey in the autumn to find out more about what people wanted and why. The idea was that it would encourage increasing numbers of people to get involved in building community spirit.

We also used the survey to suggest the idea of creating a community project. This involves setting up and running a cafe to provide a place for people to go, spend time with friends, meet others and join in with community activities. It's good to try and get feedback on something like that because there's no point doing something that people don't want in the first place!

Cringleford - occupiedThe café would not only provide a physical focus for activities but, from the very start, be a spiritual hub. For us it's very important that Christian contemplative prayer and prayer stations of some sort would be 'built into' the rhythm of all activities there to give people the chance to explore Christian spirituality in a very familiar setting. It would be part and parcel of what's available and should beg the questions, 'What does it mean to live well? What would that mean to a community of people exploring faith together, meeting in a café space or school?'

The exciting thing is that we already have the embryo of that community at The Table. We are small in number but I can see the beginnings of a prayerful and supportive group of people.

St Peter's Church is fantastically supportive of what I'm doing on the Roundhouse and they have given me time for that. They also recently launched an appeal for various things associated with mission at the church, including updating of the church hall – and my community café project. If the fundraising goes well, then we will go out and find some match funding.

I have been very clear with St Peter's right from the beginning that the Roundhouse work is not about getting people to come along to the traditional church; some may well want to do that and I'd be delighted if they did but that's not the purpose of developing community in the new housing area.

Cringleford - housesAs a giving, supporting, encouraging new community of faith is formed at Roundhouse; that will be 'proper church' too.

It's taking time to develop a team to help me with what's developing at Roundhouse, and a number of local people are involved in helping create the community project planning. They're not necessarily involved in the parish church but they all have a heart for doing something in, and for, community.

I'm trying my very best to create a team but young professionals are understandably very busy. Many of them have got young babies or they're working full time, are in the process of setting up their own businesses, or work irregular shifts – so I am still doing most of the work on my own but I don't think there's any way round that at the moment.

This is an unusual area in that – although we have a German Lutheran congregation which meets at St Peter's – we do not have another church, of any denomination, in our parish. We are fortunate in that we have had some great support from Methodists who are not too far away and they have helped me to link up with regional Methodist projects, but there is no other Christian community on the doorstep.

Officially I have two-and-a-half years to go here but I hope I would be able to stay on as an associate priest licensed to the newer church. I don't know yet whether it will be a BMO but my aim would be to stay on in order to see it through because it is now generally recognised that seven years is the minimum time required to make something sustainable. We'll see!