The Hothouse

The Hothouse - Gary DanielAn old hardware shop in Walsall, had been empty for some time when churches in the parish of Aldridge took it over, changing its name to The Hothouse. Gary Daniel is the Hothouse and Redhouse Community Worker.

The original vision for the Hothouse was to be 'a safe place for children and young people to meet, belong and discover the love of the Lord Jesus.' Whilst that vision is still in place it has increased its range in seeking to care for the families, the vulnerable and the older people in the community.

We are a charity supported prayerfully, physically (with volunteers), and financially by individuals from Aldridge Parish Church, Tynings Lane Church, St Thomas' Church and Aldridge Methodist Church.

Before The Hothouse started, there had been an evening club at Redhouse Primary School for several years run by Aldridge Parish Church's children's and schools' worker Jean Elliott. It was very popular; children and families appreciated the fact that activities were happening on the estate where they lived.

In September 2000, Jean felt the time was right to expand the work of the Wednesday evening and regular summer holiday clubs. Her idea was to transform the hardware shop into a permanent Christian venue. Obviously this couldn't happen instantly and it took time to gain planning permission, money and a group of people to take the vision forward. We also needed to know what the community thought and – above all – that this was God's project. Sometimes things have taken a little longer than we thought they would, and, as on any long journey, there have been frustrations but we have come a long way.

The Hothouse - frontage

Initially the Hothouse met on just two evenings a week to concentrate on our original vision of meeting the needs of the 5 to 11 year-olds of the Redhouse Estate. However, over time and with increased resources, we've grown the Hothouse so that we now run a vast array of activities which include: youth groups for the 11 to 14s, toddler groups, breakfast clubs, tea-time events, children's after-school and evening clubs, larger community events, special holiday club sessions, day trips, training, special lunches and we now even offer a Sunday worship twice a month.

Originally the focus was on activity within the Hothouse building itself but now because of increased staffing levels (both paid and voluntary) and a larger vision we are able to offer support to children and families outside of the Hothouse, building stronger pastoral links into the community. We have, along with our wider support networks, been able to meet certain basic needs of the community, such as providing furniture, food, practical support, a listening ear and care for needy families. If we haven't been able to do these things ourselves we've been able to point people in the right direction.

A major change in the community came with the loss of the school in July 2006. As a result the Hothouse became, and remains, the only regularly used community building in the Redhouse. In some ways it's an unlikely hub of activity; we're in a parade of shops with a chippie on one side, a corner shop on the other and flats above us but it's a space that is certainly being used by God. In fact we're being used so much as a base that we're now physically constrained as to what we can offer because of the relatively small size of the property.

Between 120 and 160 people a week now regularly use the facilities and there is so much potential that we are excited to see how God will continue to develop and grow The Hothouse.

The Hothouse - foodOur sessions for children and young people include:

  • Mondays. Youth Alpha for 11 to 14-year-olds;
  • Tuesdays. A 'youth club' style evening called 7-11s for those in school years 3 to 6 where children come along to play games, create different crafts, make new friends and socialise in a safe environment;
  • Wednesdays. WOW (Worship on Wednesdays) is an after-school session for three to seven-year-olds with an emphasis on Bible teaching in a fun and age-appropriate way;
  • Wednesdays. ALF (About Life and Faith) is an evening session for 7 to 11-year-olds. It is a more structured session than Tuesday night's '7-11' club and looks at many different aspects of life and faith with a Christian perspective;
  • Thursdays. Big Kidz for young people aged 11-14.

As for the community activities, we also have:

  • 'Baby Rhyme' every Wednesday morning in partnership with the local Children's Centre;
  • 'Hot Tots' parent and toddler group on Thursday mornings;
  • Community breakfasts every Friday morning where we invite people in for a bacon or sausage sandwich, free of charge;
  • That Sunday Thing – a monthly session for the whole Hothouse community to come together. This came about after we'd had a community get-together at which people said, 'We appreciate all you're doing but if you say you're a church, why don't you do anything on Sundays?' That was a learning curve for us because we had to fulfil their stereotype of church but then break down the stereotype of what church is all about!
  • All Age Communion – this provides a regular (monthly) service of Holy Communion to anyone who would like to come and join in. There is no other church situated on the Redhouse estate and we are aiming to offer new opportunities for members of the community to come along and take part in what we offer at the Hothouse.

The Hothouse - poolWe monitor and evaluate change in our community through relationship, conversation, evaluation and questionnaire. This is backed up by using statistical information from the Office of National Statistics. As full-time community worker here since September 2006, I am looking to develop the Hothouse as a viable community project as well as overseeing its growth and development as a fresh expression of church.

We are not self-supporting but it is amazing to see how some of the mums in our community, for instance, have said they want to donate to our work because of what they have found here. The next question for us will be how do we build a congregation? The short answer is that I don't know how but I do know that many (church) people now see Wednesday as our 'Sunday' here with lots  going on in the way of children's worship and teaching. Our spiritual community is certainly growing because we recently had our first dedication service here – it was for two-year-old twins. The local ministers are very supportive and we use them as much as we can!

We also have a volunteer community-based family support worker whose role is constantly expanding as the work of the Hothouse grows and a part-time sessional worker who supports a majority of the sessions that we run for a nominal monthly salary. This role enables the sessional work at the Hothouse to continue week-by-week.

In addition we have about 20 volunteers ranging from sixth-formers to the retired, and – increasingly – members of the Redhouse community itself. They provide a necessary 'work-force' for the day-to-day running of sessions and are often involved in planning and leading sessions alongside the paid members of staff.

All sessions and activities at the Hothouse are provided free of charge to all participants. This is so that no-one within the community is excluded from taking part due to lack of sufficient means.

The Hothouse - frontageOur overall vision is to make the Hothouse a positive place for children and their families to meet, belong and develop community. In doing this we hope they will discover the love of the Lord Jesus and we do this because, as it says in 2 Cor 5:14, 'Christ's love compels us.'

For the next five years we have five words which we are using to envision us and help us move forward:

  • Consolidate: We have come a long way in the last nine years and so we want to consolidate where we are now. This means keeping the level of resource and personnel at least at the level it is now so we can continue to meet the needs of the community.
  • Grow: We also want to grow. The facilities we have now are fine but we're reaching their maximum capacity. We would like to consider renting/purchasing another shop unit to enable more creative things such as like running alternative sessions at the same time.
  • Engage: We want to continue to listen to the community, find out more of their needs – and respond to them.
  • Manage: We will continue to make sure our management and administration is following best practice and up to date.
  • Fund: We will look at various ways of building on the existing funding already in place for this project. We look to local trusts, charities and churches to achieve extra funding which will follow two streams. Firstly, funding for personnel, we need one full time project leader and our hope is to move our two part-time paid workers to full time and we would also like a part time administrator. Secondly, we need funding for materials, toys, furniture, technology, maintenance and hopefully bigger premises.

The Hothouse - banner


KidsAlive325 - John MarrowJohn Marrow is a Church Army evangelist working in Guildford. He works with local schools and runs an after school midweek fresh expression of church for families in three different locations across the diocese.

We started in January 2006 at Emmanuel Church, Stoughton, because we wanted to reach those families we don't normally get to see at all. In this area of Guildford we have so many football groups involving hundreds of kids on Sunday morning: 'traditional' church times are completely unsuitable for them.

I had visited Kidz Klub in Liverpool and, for years, I had been considering whether a similar thing would be appropriate in our own context. KidsAlive325 is different in that, instead of bussing the kids in, we invite whole families to what is 'after-school church'.

KidsAlive325 - friendshipDo people think of it as a church? I think it's a mix. Some people, when they first come, see it as a club while others decide to come along because they don't see traditional church as meeting the needs of their children. A further group would see it very much as 'their' church because a standard setting is very alien and strange to them.

KidsAlive325 is now operating in three different places: Emmanuel Church, Stoughton, Guildford; St Andrews, Oxshott where it runs in the side chapel of a parish church; and Heatherside Church, Camberley where it is set up in a local school. In Oxshott, non-churchgoers make up about 70% of those who come along; in Camberley they are all non-churchgoers.

A team of volunteers helps to make the whole thing happen – 60% of my puppeteers for instance are retired folk. At Emmanuel I have Year 5 and 6 kids help with the technical stuff like the PA system and they love that. We simply couldn't run KidsAlive325 without this sort of teamwork – particularly as the service runs every week during term time so that demands a lot in the way of commitment. It really is a joint effort; a couple of weeks before one series has finished we'll be thinking about the theme for the next one; we'll then write our materials on that theme and get the three groups together to paint all the backdrops we need.

KidsAlive325 - clownOne of our previous themes was Godzworkus Circus and I was Jonno the clown. When I first did that, the kids realised that I didn't actually mind being a fool for Jesus. We want the children to know that it doesn't mean that you're boring if you go to church; we can be full of life and have fun.

It's all about building relationship, both within the teams and in the community. People are generally happy to get involved and, through that, we can get to know the families who come along. I just really enjoy getting to know the children, their parents, their families and obviously the staff and the people involved in the school as well.

KidsAlive325 - puppetsIt has now got to the stage at Emmanuel where we're thinking along the lines of 'what's the next step?' I work closely with the staff team there and a major question at the moment centres on the Year 6 boys who think KidsAlive325 is now 'too young' for them.

There are no easy answers to this sort of question but it's important that the traditional churches involved in this fresh expression of church are very much involved in its development. I make it very clear during KidsAlive325 that there is a very strong relationship with the local church and that means a lot. The vicar of Camberley is there every week and he is very much part of that relationship building process with that community. In this way he has been available to pick up pastoral concerns and baptism enquiries from the people he meets at KidsAlive325. They are connecting with him and the wonderful thing is that he, in turn, is now thinking about possible ways in which a baptism could take place at the after school service rather than in church.

KidsAlive325 - emergencyAt Emmanuel we have already celebrated a baptism from one of our KidsAlive325 families. This was a major step forward because, years ago, that particular family had been 'turned away' from a church and they had real bitterness about the institution of church and all that it stood for.

KidsAlive325 is not 'my' ministry as such – or Church Army's. It's got to be the church's ministry and the church's mission. It's about working alongside the local church in a real mixed economy way.

When I first started KidsAlive325, some people said it would be just like Messy Church and that we'd soon have them right across the country. The way things have worked out so far I'd say that KidsAlive325 could almost be seen as a follow-on stage from Messy Church because we don't incorporate a service or time of time of worship into a wider programme of activity; instead we are the service. Another difference is that the children and families who come will be given refreshments as soon as they arrive and they are welcome to bring a picnic tea to eat afterwards but food isn't part and parcel of what we do.

Sessions run from 3pm to 5pm. Younger children will arrive from 3pm, the service starts at 3.45 for a half hour slot and they can then hang around until 5 if they want. That's a vital time for us to follow up on people and we have a pastoral team to help those who want to find out more about faith issues, or anything else related to what we're doing and why we're doing it!


Nick Ash is a primary school teacher and a curate in Faversham. He tells of seeing the Holy Spirit at work in the SMASH after-school club.

I was ordained priest in July last year and have been working at St Mary of Charity Primary School, Faversham, since 1989. I am now teaching children of the children I first taught!

SMASH - handsThe development of St Mary's After School Club (SMASH) started in September 2009 when I approached two members of the church I attend, and asked them whether they would be prepared to help me re-launch an after school club I had been running a couple of years previously which I had to close down due to the pressure of my own training for ministry.

It immediately attracted a couple of very enthusiastic mums from the Parents, Teachers and Friends Association (PTFA). Not only did they start coming to SMASH with their children, who were in top infants at the time, but they even started attending the prayer meetings I held in one of the school rooms. These happened at the start of each of the days SMASH was held on.

It was a small beginning, but as they enthused about it to their friends on the playground over the next few months more and more families started attending. By the end of the year we eventually had about six families being represented, so we started asking parents if they would like SMASH twice a month. Because of the positive response to this question we have now increased the event to twice a month from last September.

SMASH - smilesIt was during the first term of 2010 that one of the original mums involved with SMASH approached me and asked if she could have 'a chat'. We met over a period of weeks talking about her spiritual journey, and how she felt that she was wanting to find a new way of living. This led to talk of baptism, and eventually on December 11 we held a special baptism service in the newly acquired school chapel, with a gathering of a combination of church family and new friends from SMASH.

Having been without a chapel in the school since it was incorporated into a Head's office twelve years ago, it is lovely to have it back. It was created by chance after two classrooms had been knocked together leaving a space between it and the next door room, thus opening up a space just big enough to be turned into something useful. The Bishop of Dover, Rt Rev Trevor Wilmott, came along to one of our SMASH meetings on 18th January, and used the time to dedicate the chapel as a place for class assembly and prayer meetings. We are planning to run a Christianity Explored course there later in the year to deepen discipleship among SMASH members.

SMASH - drawingsSMASH uses a very simple formula. We meet at 3.30pm opening with a prayer and the lighting of a candle, when we remind ourselves of the words of Jesus which we say together, 'I am the light of the world. He who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life'. We then have a game followed by a song, after which we play one more game and have one more song. After that we have a short time of Bible teaching, which usually includes some kind of interaction with the children. This then leads into a time when we do some craft, based on the theme of the teaching for the afternoon. An interactive time of prayer follows this, and we end by eating tea together. This has been a key part of the afternoon, as it is where relationships are built and deepened.

Despite the fact that St Mary of Charity Primary is a CofE Voluntary Aided school, most of those who attend it are unchurched members of the community. SMASH is therefore attracting totally unchurched people where church is not part of their normal frame of reference; their only link may have been when their children were baptised as babies. I feel strongly that SMASH must be for families and not just children, which is why I insist that it is not just another after school club, and that children must be accompanied by a parent or carer if they attend.

SMASH - sandwichWe are very excited with what God seems to be doing in our midst. It is like having sown a mustard seed, and we are now watching it grow under our noses. Others from the main church have felt called to this ministry, and the leadership group has now grown to six members.

It is wonderful to see how things have continued to develop. A child in my class, who attends SMASH with her mother, has recently asked to be baptised and I am now in the process of setting dates to see her with her parents and talk through what it all means. Also, a couple of the families are, without prompting, coming to the main church on a Sunday morning and getting involved in the new children's ministry that has recently been launched, called FLAME. This is seen by the vicar and ministry team as working in tandem with what we are trying to do in SMASH. In fact one of the mums from school wants to get more and more involved in the church and has already joined a house group. Is this surely not mixed economy in action – a fresh expression of church led by the curate of the local church, who is also a member of staff at the school where it all happens and who has helped to initiate a fresh look at children's work within the life of the church.

SMASH - grinFurther ideas we want to develop with SMASH are a summer beach outing with young families from the local Sure Start Children's Centre, alongside the SMASH families. A couple of staff from the Children's Centre have been helping to look after children aged 0-3 during SMASH meetings as a joint working initiative. They too are very excited by this idea, as it covers both our visions of trying to reach members of our local community, and serve them in different ways.

I admit that I am in a very fortunate position here, as I am able to develop these initiatives under the title of a new role I have been allowed to take on in my ordained capacity entitled 'Community Link Person'. It is funded through the rent charged to the Sure Start Centre, because it is built on the school site. It is paid to the trustees of the school, which happen to be the vicar and church warden, who have agreed to fund this new project with this money for one day a week. This new position has given me space and time to consider how I can make links between the school and the local community and how to develop more effectively the ministry and work of the Church school that I am a part of.

SMASH - light of the worldOne of the school's developmental aims has been to increase opportunity to explore spirituality, and provide space for developing that spirituality within individuals. SMASH helps towards meeting this goal; but more than this, its very presence within the life of the school speaks louder than any words can. It exists as an open invitation to anyone who feels they want to explore faith in a non threatening environment, where they will find Christians and members of the local school community enjoying each others company and having fun together.

I am very excited to see the way the Spirit is moving in people's lives. I feel that having the chapel back within the life of the school has put its spiritual heart back where it belongs, and in a very real sense I feel we are seeing the fruit of this action. I am encouraged through the backing of the Head for this work, and I am looking forward to developing this whole role further through conversations with the Assistant Diocesan Director of Education. With her I want to explore the possibilities of linking up with others who are involved in the same kind of ministry, so we can share good practice and good ideas for the future.


X-Site - Louise WellerChurch Army New Zealand runs a successful bus ministry called Canterbury Kids Coach. Captain Louise Weller tells how a new Christian community, X-Site, has developed to work alongside the mobile ministry to reach families in Rowley, a needy suburb of Christchurch.

We began three years ago, running a children's after school programme on board our Canterbury Kids Coach.

Every six months we move to three more locations. Two years ago, we were given the use of a community house so that we could encourage children who had been on our programme to be involved in something more permanent, and provide support and ongoing discipleship. We call this 'X-Site'.

Parents started coming along to 'X-Site' as well and this has now grown to an average attendance of about 30 children and 9 adults each week. We have not 'arrived' yet but we are well on the way.

X-Site - pancakesThe X-Site weekly sessions are from 3pm-5pm every Friday and follow a similar pattern each week. Leaders and other adults from the community arrive from 2.15pm and we stop to pray at 2.45pm. The children arrive from the nearby local school and are given a drink and games to play and we sit around and chat.

At 3.30pm we start our session proper with singing, prayer and a Bible reading. The children themselves lead the prayer and Bible reading while parents are all encouraged to be involved. We then have one of our puppets introduce the theme for the day and then the mums with children of preschool age leave for their own special programme while the others have their separate teaching time. We use lots of different creative ways to encourage the development of faith, including mime, drama, crafts, games with purpose, teaching of puppetry and even learning how to play the ukulele! We usually follow a theme that lasts for 10 weeks.

X-Site - JesusRefreshments are provided and meals arranged at the end of each term. We carry out visits and follow-up work to help meet material needs and address neglect, truancy and abuse. This is much more than just a bus; it is bringing Church to the people.

Our organisation aims to keep the following values at the heart of all our work:

  • fully rely on God;
  • encourage the development of Christian values: sharing, honesty, responsibility, honouring of relationships, serving others, making wise choices and respect;
  • break down the barriers of isolation and racial disharmony;
  • see where the Holy Spirit is working and join in;
  • remain outward focused – seeing the needs in the community and continually looking to 'take new ground'
  • following the example of Jesus, we seek to love and serve each other, and encourage others to do the same.

X-Site - cheerThree team leaders are members of the local Anglican Church and two are from the nearest Baptist Church; teenagers help as junior leaders. Although we are a Church Army initiative, we also have the support and encouragement of our local parish and some families have now started attending services on Sunday.

Our goal is however, to encourage the local people to find faith in Christ and grow to become leaders of their own community. This is beginning. For those that come, this is Church.

We are a registered charity funded from trusts and donations from individuals. To spread the vision about what we’re doing we undertake speaking engagements, networking and sharing stories of good practice through the media and our own publications. We understand the value of working together with other organisations, agencies and community groups and work at discovering what is happening in order to encourage one another. It is important to enable people to network together, learn from one another and exercise responsible oversight.

X-Site - smilingWe want to see lives transformed and communities grow. I didn't have an opportunity as a child to hear about Jesus, so I had to struggle alone during my tough teenage years. Consequently I desperately want others to have opportunities to hear about, experience and grow in the love of Jesus, and be equipped to reach their full potential.

It is our hope that parents will take ownership of this and begin to disciple others. With a group of 10 mums, we recently started to organise midweek morning sessions for parents. We hope that these sessions will be a time to focus on being there for these mums and helping them to grow in faith. We are taking things a step at a time, learning as we go, and listening to the needs of the community and to what God is saying. Watch this space!