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!


Grafted - Paul LittleRefresh, a fresh expression of church in the Scottish Borders, has grown out of the Church Army's Grafted project. Established in 2003 by Church Army officer Paul Little, Refresh continues to develop new ministries in the region.

I came to the area in 2001 straight out of Church Army college and my first post was as an evangelist in the outdoor centre here which belongs to Barnabas Trust, now known as Rock UK. We are 25 miles north east from Carlisle and 20 miles south of Hawick in the Scottish Borders, the very furthest tip of Edinburgh diocese. There's somewhere around 800 in the traditionally agricultural community though there is a lot of tourism in the summer.

I was placed with another officer and my brief was to be an evangelist on the site to the 9,000 people who visited very year but it soon became clear to me that the future job would be very different. God had called me here but it was to be for another reason and this started to take shape after I ran a 10-week course for six people recognised as most serious offenders in the youth justice system. During that time one did reoffend but otherwise everybody had a clean sheet and the police would ring up asking where they were! Basically it worked because the young people had something to do on a Friday which appealed to their sense of adventure and helped them develop skills at the same time.

Grafted - bikeThey ranged from 12/13 year-olds up to 16 and were basically pre-prison status. It was an experimental last ditch programme and things have developed a lot more since then. Many of the young people I have met along the way are now in their early 20s and those relationships bring lots of opportunities.

Those first few years saw me heavily involved in networking with youth work, social justice projects and drug agencies so that when it came to running the stuff we are now running, there were already strong relationships in place and they were prepared to trust us. It may have appeared to be quite unfruitful at the time but those early links have become vital. Many of the people I first came across are now key decision makers and budget holders in the area but it all takes time and you have to allow that time if things are going to be effective. These days we get a lot of referrals from social workers – even though they know we’re Christian and we're trying to tell the Gospel. The local council also funds us to run the youth work in the village.

Grafted - BordersGrafted (Giving Hope to those Without Hope) is known locally for its work with people struggling with drug and alcohol dependency. Using outdoor activities such as canoeing, mountain biking and mountaineering, Grafted's Window of Time project helps to develop leadership and self esteem in those with poor basic and social skills, or those with learning disabilities or emotional and behavioural difficulties.

The project runs 5 days a week, including a drop-in on Tuesdays at Hawick Youth Centre. This provides a safe and supportive environment with opportunities to talk to others who have been able to overcome their own addictions and hear their stories. There is also a discussion group for those wanting to talk about issues of faith and the bigger questions of life.

Each Wednesday we encourage people from the drop-in to join us for adventurous outdoor activities which help promote an active lifestyle. These include hill walking, canoeing, kayaking, archery and mountain biking. Throughout the rest of the week, we support people in a variety of ways by attending appointments, accompanying them to court and showing kindness and support where needed.

Grafted - drop-inWe have an open access policy and anyone over 18 is welcome to attend.

Referrals and recommendations also come through social workers, health professionals and the Criminal Justice system.

The other strand to all of this is the fact that my wife and I joined the Presbyterian Church when we moved here. In fact I was actually preaching in a Presbyterian Church when I felt a strong calling from God to leave and begin another one. What sprang to mind was, 'Leave the 99 sheep and look for the lost one' from Matthew 18 and Luke 15. It sounds simple but I went through a year without going to church as an 'event' and instead learned about 'being' the church rather than 'doing' it.

Grafted - signpostRefresh Community Church in Newcastleton was the result of that period. About three quarters of the people who have come over all are non-Christians and we have grown to about 20 in number with some 60 people from the community involved in one way or another. There are also groups that meet under the banner of Refresh, all of which are missional because the people who make up the leadership are locals who have been through Alpha.

It's normal for them to do things that are missional but that is something else that has taken time as well. We had to be strong at one particular point because we found there were a lot of people who were already Christians attracted to Refresh and they wanted things to become more settled and comfortable. It meant we had to be quite firm in saying that we were called to be a mission group in the village. We work well alongside the Presbyterian Church but have always had this vision of Refresh as a lifeboat and we do our best never to become a cruise ship. That doesn't suit everybody but some people just want to cruise and enjoy all the benefits that brings.

Grafted - paintsWhen we meet for Refresh, there is usually discussion and some sung worship. We don't have anybody at all who is ordained – we never have had on the leadership team. Children's work didn't really take place in the community when we started Refresh but it is flourishing now.

Stepping Stones is church for two to four-year-olds and their parents and carers. This takes place each Monday and has become an integral part of the week for many.

Other children's activities include Boulder Gang on Thursdays and Rock Solid Crew. The groups are run in six week blocks and there are social events in between, things like games nights, activity sessions, movie nights and adventure walks. Each week we follow a theme based on a Bible story and a memory verse and we include games, worship, and prayer. We have an average of 25 primary school children coming along each week, with 16 of those not attending any other form of church.

In June we took a group of 32 of these young people to a Christian residential weekend called 'Spree'. They all had a great time and are already looking forward to going back next year.

Grafted - NewcastletonMore recently, and as part of Refresh, Deeper was developed for 14 to 19-year-olds in the village. Deeper is a home group for teenagers, which meets each Sunday in a Church Army house we have here. The aim of the group is to disciple the young people who come along and encourage them to grow deeper in their relationship with God. The evening consists of games, a talk and discussion with food. On average 12 young people attend regularly. We see youth work as a priority so we are looking at new ways of developing youth work for 2011.

At the other end of the age range, another group came about when Mary – a member of Refresh – felt called by God to invite the elderly people we visit each week to come to a regular tea party. Mary serves a home-cooked meal with plenty of cakes and scones for afters. Our guests chat to their peers and lifelong friends who they haven’t seen for years and this is sometimes followed by a short time of worship and a speaker talking about some aspect of their Christian faith.

Some of those at Refresh are still involved with their local church and we did come close to meeting on a Sunday because we wanted to reach families but we decided that wasn't the right way forward. We have explored, and continue to explore, a lot of options but the important thing is that we see ourselves as part of the one Church with Jesus at the head of it.

Boring Wells

Boring Wells - AdrianBoring Wells is a network of fresh expressions of church in and around Belfast. Each has a very different flavour but all share the same vision and core values. Adrian McCartney explains more.

Genesis 26 tells the story of Isaac who pursued the vision passed to him by his father, Abraham of re-opening old wells and digging new wells, sources of life and prosperity for anyone who chose to live close to them.

The collective vision of Boring Wells is to continue the legacy of faith in the Church of Ireland, to re-open old wells in old places of faith and to open new wells where there are signs that a new community could be expressed. The hope is to bring life and the presence of Christ to local communities who may have difficulty connecting with church.

Our ideas of what the church is like are fairly well culturally shaped and even when we apply scripture to them we tend to default back to something like it has always been. Wells is no different mostly. We are trying to be the family of God. If there is any difference it is that we want to be shaped by the mission and by those whom we engage with rather than predetermining the result.

We originally thought that we were to reopen old wells but then we found that we were re-digging wells where the church had gone a bit dead. Since then the main emphasis has been to try and open up new wells.

I am a Church of Ireland minister but I came out of parish ministry in 2003 when the Bishop of Down and Dromore gave me permission to plant a church in a commuter village on the outskirts of Belfast. We quickly discovered that trying to do that among unchurched people just didn't work in that area.

Boring Wells - pubI had taken a year to recruit a group of people. Initially there were 35 of us who started meeting in a pub in Moneyrea. We organised a Sunday service but not one unchurched person ever came to it! We threw everything at that service; we had projectors and sound and lovely coffee and nice things to eat. We also had lots of visitors from other parishes, saying, 'O we'd love to do this' though there was always the underlying thought, 'This just looks like we are moving the existing church around.'

Then we read the Mission-shaped Church report and we began to consider how we do church and it became something that wasn't quite what the bishop or any of us had expected. Questions like 'when are you going to build the buildings?' became irrelevant. We had to say that we weren't going to be doing it that way any longer. Defining ourselves in a way that can be accommodated within a diocese when we cross parochial boundaries, and even diocesan boundaries, has been an ongoing challenge both for us and the diocesan head office.

Our main problem was, and is, that people find it difficult to recognise anything except the parish. We don't have the equivalent of a Bishop's Mission Order in the Church of Ireland so most people see us as something between a parish and a mission agency. The way we have moved forward is to become a company limited by guarantee with a charitable basis. We have a board of directors and have to submit our audited accounts to the Charity Commission. This allows us to have charity number but it doesn't give us any status within the Church of Ireland even though we would very much like to be part of the diocese. Representation at Synod and financial support are ongoing discussions.

Five wells, our attempts at creating mission shaped communities, go to make up the Boring Wells network. We found that people had a sense of call in different sorts of areas – not geographical as such but among certain groups of people. The wells each decide how they express church individually but we have a general sense of how the whole family of Wells expresses their love of God together. The wells are called Tinys, Resound, Shankill, Elk and Networks.

Boring Wells - TinysWithin a year of us starting, we set up Tinys. It all happened when we were running that service in the pub; one night we simply came across a crowd of teenagers drinking on the windowsills of a row of shops. In time, we rented one of the retail units as a coffee shop for young people; there was no way those youngsters would or could transfer to the Networks church – then known as Moneyrea Wells. We needed to let them do something to express their experience of Christ where they were in their own way. That was quite a learning curve for the first group of people who had thought that what they were originally offering was a fresh expression of church only to discover that something very different was happening with the people who actually lived in the place.

We released some people to go and make Tinys their spiritual home. The original group of people now call themselves Networks. They have a non-local sense of connecting primarily with their natural contacts in work and through friendships. Members of Networks are now praying about the possibility of gathering somewhere closer to the city.

The bishop gave me an opportunity to work in two inner city parishes part-time. These small congregations are very elderly but we have found that the Networks group (about 30 of them) have been very supportive of those congregations who have actually come to like them.

Resound was originally a small outreach in an interface community comprising two working class estates on opposite side of a main road in Dunmurry on the outskirts of Belfast. There are two large secondary schools, one Catholic and one Protestant, and some community facilities that have been made available to Resound for youth activities. In the summer we have a fortnight of non-stop activities; the first week is aimed at primary school children – this year we had 400 children and young people every day with 73 leaders. In the second week we had over 100 teens daily. The regular Resound meetings, comprising a Sunday night session and drop-in stuff during the week, are organised by the late teens/early 20s.

Boring Wells - ShankillThe Shankill well is all about people serving in the area, a place at the heart of sectarian paramilitarianism. The Summer Madness festival started Streetreach to offer an opportunity of service to the community. Every summer for five years we used to take teams of people to do street cleaning and gardening in different parts of the city. Growing out of that was a group of people who had a strong sense of call to go and serve in Shankill itself. One couple have moved to live there.

Shankill well has a meal together every Monday evening. They are trying to be very simple in what they do, developing friendships from around the area and trying to incarnate the gospel in natural ways.

Elk well meets in my local pub in Dundonald, not far from Stormont. Our team get together on Thursdays to join the weekly quiz night. Friendships have grown and relationships have developed in a away that has allowed for many opportunities to share in prayer and care for this growing group of people.

All of our network team leaders are pioneer types and so are now really struggling with what to do when communities do start to grow. Launching out in mission has an excitement about it. Discipleship and pastoral care are the balance. The challenge for this autumn is come up with a better support system for those who make up the mission teams and the new family members who are becoming part of us. We presently organise a monthly gathering for worship and teaching supported by resources for small groups. None of this is easy and everything always feels quite fragile. As St Paul said, 'I am certain that He who began this good work in you will bring it to completion…' I pray that the Lord will help us to keep going.

Knit and Natter

Knit and natter - ladiesA fresh expression of church for knitting fans in Ellesmere Port has inspired several similar groups to pick up the needles and wool. One of the organisers Mrs Chris Crowder tells how the original vision has blossomed.

My 89-year-old friend Dorothy was terminally ill with cancer when she received a knee blanket from a church craft group in New Zealand just before she died. I thought of that precious blanket a few weeks later when I visited Somewhere Else, the 'bread church' on Bold Street, Liverpool.

I sat next to Anna Briggs from the Iona Community who runs two secular knitting groups in the city. She had a Knit and Natter bag on her knee; we got talking about what she did and that sowed the seed. Our Minister then met her too and we went on to have a get-together for interested parties at church. I searched the internet for copyright-free patterns and a couple of months later, in September 2008, we opened our doors for the first time to Knit and Natter in the reception area next to the Church.

Knit and natter - hatsIt wasn't long before we had so many members we had to move to the hall and now our members meet every Tuesday afternoon in term time from 1.30pm–3pm. Over the past two years, have posted off more than a quarter of a tonne of knitted jumpers, hats, scarves and blankets to people in need at home and abroad. These have included the homeless, lonely, ill and bereaved of Chester and Ellesmere Port. We have also sent goods to South Africa, Haiti, Kosovo, Nepal, Kenya, Bulgaria and Eastern Europe, as well as having the pleasure of being able to knit for children by name at an orphanage in Swaziland.

At the start of the meeting we put out a cross in the centre of the room on a table covered with Dorothy’s blanket and members put their completed knitting on and around this table. We also place a collection plate on the table as we take donations rather than subscriptions. Our postage costs are covered by the monies donated: just like the feeding of the 5000, there is always enough.

Our meetings end with short devotions which, initially, we were rather nervous about, but how wrong we were! We were so wary of the missional side of things but it is now at the heart of what we do. Although the majority of our members are not regular churchgoers, they readily ask for prayer and acknowledge answers to those prayers. On the Knit and Natter membership card, it has this from Matthew 25 v37-40: 'When Lord did we ever see you naked and clothe you? I tell you that when you did this for one of the least important of my family you did it for me.'

Knit and natter - babyKnit and Natter isn't just a knitting club making clothes for charity – it is a fresh expression of church which works on many different levels, giving people a purpose in life and sending God's love around the world. There is no doubt at all that many of our members see Knit and Natter as their church, they recognise the fact that we are meeting together in community and God is there.

A team of four of us usually co-ordinate it and we all play to our strengths: the other three are wonderful cooks and make delicious cakes whereas my efforts are rather hit and miss! They are also very adept at setting up the hall and clearing away afterwards. I lead the devotional time and try and write a prayer that's meaningful and pertinent to our particular theme of the day. In that respect, the members tend to think I'm the leader but there is absolutely no way I could run the group without the invaluable support of the others.

We usually knit at the beginning, have cake and tea at about 2.15pm and then have notices and devotions for the final quarter of an hour. I start passing round the prayer list about mid-way so it is complete by devotions time. We finish every week with the Lord's Prayer. We sit in a circle so that all are included and there are no separate cliques; it's as part of this community that concerns and questions are raised.

Sometimes we will have 45 come along, at other times we have 30.  If one of our team can't get to a person who needs a sympathetic ear or to a new member who needs to be made welcome, we know that one of the established members will take on that role. Just because most of our members are older in age doesn't mean that they are immune from problems: one lady suffered suicidal thoughts, but came to see Knit and Natter as a reason to go on; another had lost her husband when she first came to us and was very low in spirits – however, she is now talking about approaching the local hospital to ask if she can start a Knit and Natter Group there to help people with mental health problems.

Other members do come to church but haven't been coming for very long and Knit and Natter provides contact with the regular church members and helps them to get to know us. A group come from the other Methodist Church in the town and we have got to know them really well – this has strengthened the bonds between us. We also have some members from other denominations and have also invited several speakers from different church backgrounds.

Knit and natter - boyKnit and Natter has inspired people to start similar groups in Northolt, Bromborough, Lymm, Kettering, Little Neston, Heswall and Chester. The latter is an Anglican group that is going to approach the Methodists to see if it can be run jointly – again strengthening bonds between churches. We have even been Club of the Month in Simply Knitting magazine!

I'd encourage people to look at their own communities, listen to them and decide if there is an opening for a group. If so they should know that it will grow and mean more work than they initially anticipated but it's also gratifying and wonderful. I feel it's where God wants me to be because it's practical Christianity.

We let members knit what they want. I even have a couple of ladies who can only natter rather than knit, but they have proved a real asset in their contribution to the group.

Looking forward, we have been approached by the local Academy to see if they can bring a class of 14-yr-olds to join us to learn to knit and crochet and the local Women's Refuge is also very interested – it's all very exciting!

But for me the most important thing is not how much we produce in terms of output but it is the love that exists between our group both for one another and for the world at large.

Knit and natter - knitting

Loving Hands

Sue JacksonKnit one, purl one, create a fresh expression of church in the Warrington Methodist Circuit. Support worker Sue Jackson explains how the simple idea of knitting groups has led to a loving community wanting to help those around them and find out more about faith.

How wonderful to be paid for something you love doing, what a gift from God! To start off, we had heard of a similar initiative operating in Ellesmere Port and we visited it. We were amazed by what we saw because it was so vibrant. We developed the resources they gave us, and incorporated the devotional at the end of the time together. Now it's simply church on a Thursday afternoon, and we love it.

Loving Hands - knittingIt's fantastic to see that church taking shape as people come together, enjoy time together and with God, and create something that really makes a difference. I get my knitting devotions by going online; Christians around the world are doing similar things and there are some inspirational studies to use.

People's lives have been transformed by Loving Hands. One of our members, Robin, first came along with his wife Eileen. She duly gave him some needles and wool to knit a square, but he quickly moved on to lacy blankets and all sorts of things. Robin is well known locally as a choirmaster but found himself unable to conduct while awaiting hip replacement surgery, he was glad to put his hands to good use by knitting instead.

Loving Hands - bagA lady turned up and asked me to teach her to knit. I helped her to cast on, and she told me that I wasn't doing it correctly! She then said she had been a knitter when she was younger but hadn't done anything for years. Next time I saw her she was knitting quite a complicated basket weave blanket. Now the lady who 'couldn't knit' is on the internet all the time learning new stitches and teaching them to everyone else.

When people arrive they have a rummage through the wool and needles and patterns we've got and then decide where the results of their efforts are going to go. We've done things for the Mission to Seafarers, and the Children of Honduras Trust, but we've also knitted lots of fingerless gloves for all the local ministers…

Loving Hands - jumperWe meet on alternate weeks at Lymm Methodist Church hall, Eagle Brow, Cheshire, and the Ryfields Retirement Village, Warrington. One 95-year-old lady, who is registered blind, said she hadn't knitted for 'donkey's years' and feels her life has been transformed by this simple act. We've also got a knitting corner in the coffee shop at Padgate, where people knit squares for blankets while they chat, eat and drink.

If we know of anyone who has been bereaved or ill, or could do with a bit of comfort, the Lymm group make them a scarf and send it with a card. Every time they are feeling lonely or desperate, they wrap these scarves around their necks or cuddle them.

Loving Hands - dollOne lady took three scarves to friends who were unwell. She said to me:

Now I understand. I knew we were a group knitting things for charity, but I didn't see the bigger picture until I took those scarves to people who needed them. One of my friends wrapped it around herself straight away; it was so comforting and meant so much to her. It's not the knitting, it's not knitting at all, it's God.

Methodist minister Revd Jackie Bellfield is thrilled at the church's development.

Knitting is one of those things that used to be very commonplace, and every family had someone who could create that much-needed jumper or baby outfit. Then it went out of fashion as people bought ready-made items off the shelf but now it's making a comeback, and Loving Hands is part of the revival.

What started as an opportunity to create knitted goods for charities and community groups has developed into a place where people talk, share their problems, pray and take part in a short devotion. Church in a new sense has emerged, and it’s about a lot more than people getting together and having a chat.

The group makes all sorts of things, including items for the local premature baby care unit, and the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, Sands. As a result of that, some of the women in the church have talked about miscarriages and stillbirths they suffered 40 or 50 years ago. These are things they have never talked about before, and would never have talked about to this day without Loving Hands. That can only come from God.