Edinburgh Dreams

Lou DavisVentureFX pioneer Lou Davis tells about the formation and development of a community in Scotland's capital city.

I had been working with the C3 community in Stockport but then applied for VentureFX and was sent to Edinburgh a year ago. At first I spent a lot of time getting to know what was happening in the city, speaking to people and going to different groups. I started by doing Twitter searches for Edinburgh and following people online to see what they were doing in the city.

I have always liked making things; it was a kind of family activity. As a result I always tend to gravitate towards creative people who also make things because it seems a very natural 'fit' for me. At Stockport I went on a pattern cutting course which eventually led to me taking a two year City and Guilds in Fashion and Textiles. At C3 we majored on craft groups but, in Edinburgh, I initially steered clear of doing the same thing so that I could discern what God was calling me to do in a very different situation.

After a while, I felt that making things and being creative was so much a part of me that I couldn't let it go. Things have since moved on and I have got myself a studio at Portobello, the city's seaside! It is great for making friends and building community as a creative hub, a place where people are creating artwork in all sorts of different forms.

Edinburgh Dreams - pint glassAt the moment the ministry is developing in three main areas:

  • I'm developing a new Christian worship community called The Gathering. I'm doing this with other people from the Edinburgh and Forth Circuit and this is designed to help in exploring Christianity and creating a place for developing community. It is a twice monthly act of creative, community-inspired worship in the heart of the city. We start off with tea or coffee, cake and chat at 6.30pm followed by worship half an hour later and a trip to the pub afterwards. We also have a few smaller groups; we meet up twice a month to share a meal, get to know each other as friends and serve others. As a group we have already found ourselves serving the homeless of Edinburgh.
  • I'm also involved with the YMCA in Edinburgh by helping with the drop-in events there. I attempt to play darts but keep hitting the wall!
  • I work with different artists and creative types, going to meetings and already established networks. I work with other creatives under the name of Edinburgh Dreams and we have staged events and worked closely with YMCA Edinburgh and the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church. We've got some great plans for the near future, including photography, video, art, fashion and a public art project for Advent.

Edinburgh Dreams - lettersThe concept of Edinburgh Dreams is to build community across the city, inspire creative activity and to build friendships across divides – social, economic and geographic.

I go through phases when I consider how things are developing. Some days it is very exciting and positive – usually when something has gone well – and at other times it seems like I'm just doing endless admin and not getting anywhere at all. But then I may meet someone new, have an amazing conversation about God and it's all worthwhile.

For me it has been really important to keep in contact with the friends I have made in other places. I make sure I don't lose those friendships because I have needed the backing and love of people outside the area I'm working in. Thankfully the Circuit is really interested in what sorts of things I am doing and I'm also grateful for their level of support for me. In the community itself I don't think everyone's totally aware of what I do, at the YMCA for instance I just say, 'I work for the church.' That's usually enough to spark a conversation where deep thoughts about the meaning of life are shared.

Edinburgh Dreams - easelMy post is initially for five years but it's very encouraging to see how things are already taking hold; whether it be through the friends that I'm making in the artistic community or The Gathering which has been meeting for just a few months now but is finding its feet. We currently get together in a cafĂ© in the city centre and we do slightly different things each time we meet – music, video, conversation and creative prayer and we always spend time together just chilling out.

Previously I've been part of groups where we wore ourselves out trying to do good things when there were people, or groups in the town, already doing those same things. I didn't want Edinburgh Dreams to fall into the same trap so it has been really good to start slowly, to find out what is already working in the city. It has been really useful to see the work of the YMCA, for instance. That has been a real eye-opener and shows a completely different side to Edinburgh from the tourist city with its tartan shops and castle. There can be a lot of kudos attached to having a project with your name on it in some way but it's vital to look around and see what else is being done and how 'your' own project can best serve the people around you by linking up with others or sharing the load.

Mighty Shed

Irve Davis-Griffiths, youth minister at Uplyme Church, near Lyme Regis, tells of the Mighty Shed youth and creative fresh expression project.

My own journey starts in music, I'm not from a Christian family background and I came to faith in my early 20s in the back of a guitar shop! I was a musician then, and have returned to it now, and it was always the case that 'normal church' never made sense to me because it was so far removed from everything I knew and understood and loved.

Mighty Shed - musicI often struggled to find the Jesus I'd met in the guitar shop when I was in a church; the worlds seemed so far apart. I've been involved youth work and youth ministry training for about 14 years but I've always been more interested in the people 'out there' rather than those on the 'inside'.

I'd been youth minister for Uplyme for about nine years and I'd achieved many goals for the ministry, but the real push came in early 2011 when the church was looking at what we wanted to do with youth ministry and longer-term sustainability. So, after a year of prayer and deliberation, various things led us to look at developing community youth church. The question that kept coming back to me was, 'How are we serving young people who aren't involved in regular church at all?'

Over half my life is spent as a musician and music teacher and I'm very much a networker. I have made the strongest links with people through creative activities and the setting-up of small group youth-work, community youth groups, schools' work and regional rockschool camps for budding musicians. I started to think what a local version of a rock camp would look like in our local context and Mighty Shed was born.

Mighty Shed - insideThe name, Mighty Shed, comes from my home studio, which is housed… in a shed. The Bible says that 'people look at the outside of a person but God looks at the heart' and we know that significant things can come out of something that looks very small and understated, like a shed. In the same way, we believe people are full of potential – we are all mighty sheds!

When we talked to those in our existing youth groups, about 50% of them said they already thought of the respective groups as 'their' church. As a result, we decided to move away from the idea of young people growing up in groups and hoping they would then go on to 'real' church. Instead, we say they are going to grow up in the youth church together and own it as their 'church'. It doesn’t look much different on the surface to your average community youth group in action but the end goal is very different.

The project has two main strands:

Mighty Shed - prayer room1. A community church for young people, made up of two groups – Xplosion (for school years 6-9) and the Big Bang (for school years 10 and upwards). The Big Bang, as the older group, 'owns' and runs the Xplosion younger group; it also has an investment in maintaining itself and the younger group through participation and empowerment which helps to develop young leaders. At the moment, the total turnout is around 35-45 plus 'grown-ups'. Alongside this I have spent a lot of time in primary school work and found it invaluable in investing in local community and young people – particularly if you are looking to set up something for the long-term.

2. The music and creative 'arm' which is Mighty Shed. In turn, this has two main aims as part of its further development:

  • short to medium term. To have events run by young people for young people;
  • longer term. Building up a creative community, exploring faith and encouraging participation in creative activities that 'bless' others. We're trying to build a youth music 'scene'.

Mighty Shed - logoWe've been meeting with a small bunch of young people in a local coffee house to plan, pray and lay the foundations for all of this. In March, we had an amazing launch gig with an internationally renowned musician performing and running workshops. Off the back of that we've set-up Facebook pages and a website and run workshops. We are now planning more gigs that look to raise money for local causes and give creative opportunities for other young people.

Each event so far has been a way of giving back to our wider community – and that's the point; we're not just there to take or be an inward looking group but to bring good things to others. We are looking for relationship building. Our strapline is 'blessing the community through creativity', so all events have to be outward looking in some way – either by serving others or raising money. Next up is a big fundraising gig on the seafront and some rockschool workshops.

The project has a strong ecumenical backing. We have a reference group made up of people from several churches in the area and I report back on activities to the local church leaders' meetings. I've also come up with five indicators of growth to help us track our progress, which is always difficult with new projects, but at least they give us some areas to focus on:

  1. language: are people beginning to develop and own a language of belief?
  2. activities: how are people showing signs of being outward-looking?
  3. community: are there signs of commitment to one another?
  4. spirituality: are there signs of spiritual growth and formation?
  5. empowerment: how are we empowering people to act for themselves?

Mighty Shed - beachIn terms of context, Uplyme and Lyme Regis have a huge population in the summer and a comparatively small one in the winter. There is quite a lot of seasonal work so, if you are a young person, available employment is often through service industries. In general it's a very prosperous area but, like all places, there's more to it if you dig a little deeper.

There are quite a lot of younger families but also a large, older demographic in the area. People generally are quite socially mobile and there are excellent schools, which means many young people go on to university – but there are a significant number who don't. Some are happy enough to go to church-run things but I hope Mighty Shed activities will be a good experience for those who don't normally cross the threshold of a traditional church. That's why it's so important to be where people are. My hope and dream is that eventually some sort of community will grow from out of where young people gather, out of their passion for music, art, all things creative and from their faith journey – shaped and owned by themselves. It's all very open and not pinned-down at present! There are many challenges ahead, both in sustainability, finances and keeping the heart of the project central.

Mighty Shed - The CobbAt the moment, there is a meeting at least once a week of youth church or Mighty Shed in some form or another. Over time I would like to draw together these two strands so that they can feed each other.

Do people understand fresh expressions? Many people understand it in terms of words but most don't appreciate what it means practically. Church is full of people who know how to do church as it is; I want to tap into a different layer of people who want to do church in a whole new way.