An 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.
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.
Our 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.
We 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.
Our 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.