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!

The Bridge

When Christians in Hinckley decided they needed a viable alternative to traditional church, they decided to try something completely different. Now a school and a local pub are the places where people come to worship and to learn. Tim Lea explains more.

The sort of people who come to The Bridge and are attracted by what we do and the way we do The Bridge, are folks who perhaps don't have any contact with church at all. There's a growing percentage of the population which fit that category.

The Bridge - groupThe Bridge's worship time does take place on a Sunday, between the hours of 5 and 7. People will often come and they are surprised by how traditional it can be. We do make use of worship songs and we make use of what we call performance or presentation songs – it will involve the children right at the very beginning which often can be pretty wacky and pretty lively, they then leave for their own activities and we go into a time where we begin to look at a particular issue and focus on what the bible might be saying about something.

That is only the tip of the iceberg and what goes on underneath, the remaining 90% of the iceberg, is really important.

The Bridge started off by doing some research, some door to door work right at the very beginning, to actually find out what people thought, what they expected. So one of the reasons we meet on a Sunday, in a school, at 5pm, is that people in the local community thought that that would be a better time to meet.

The Bridge - speakingWe have been blessed beyond our wildest dreams by the Hinckley Methodist Circuit and its commitment to The Bridge, not only in terms of finances but also in terms of staffing.

We've been involved in running an Alpha course at the local pub and I've always dreamed of standing at the start of an Alpha course with a pint in my hand and saying it's good to see you here, I hope that over the next few weeks we will begin to explore some of the things that we believe about Christianity and what it has to say about the world we live in. So for me it was perfectly natural!

It's not possible for everybody to get to know what they need to know in 40-50 minutes on a Sunday, I think that's just unrealistic and an unhelpful model of what church is. I think it's far more realistic to begin to form a small group and to begin to thrash out some of the ideas, some of the teachings which Christ gave to us.

The danger is that we live with a model of church that means it runs parallel to society and the way society runs, whereas actually I would rather encourage people to be involved in society and be part of society and to live out their Christian faith in society.

Bridge - pintPeople sometimes ask, where does your church meet? When people now ask me that question I will think about the social worker who perhaps will be dealing with a very difficult child on a Wednesday afternoon, the person who is a gardener… there is no divide between what we claim to practice on a Sunday and what we live out during the rest of the week.

For anyone who wanted to set up something like The Bridge in their town, I would say just keep it simple and laid back and eat together, talk together, pray together… I would encourage people to dream because I think that God is a God of adventure and he loves to see people who are Christians, who are followers of him, taking a risk and daring to do something different – because I'm sure that in many ways he's got a smile on his face when he sees us. OK we've made mistakes, we've got dirty, muddy, disillusioned and fed up, but I know that I'd rather stand before God when the final day comes and say 'I tried', than to have sat and been comfortable and to have never tried in the first place.

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

authentic (?)

Alex SmeedA docklands regeneration project in Glasgow is now home to hundreds of people – and The Glasgow Harbour initiative known as authentic (?). Church of Scotland minister Alex Smeed, one of the authentic (?) leaders, explains how churches in the area set it up in response to a call for new ways of 'doing' church.

We started by asking ourselves the question, 'What does living out God's kingdom look like for the people here?' The 'how' of listening led us to observe and investigate our surroundings through an 18-month mission audit – not only to understand the culture of individuals moving in but also what their homes, cars, and the type of local shops being built said about them.

authentic (?) - flatsThe audit firstly focused on qualitative data which included us intentionally spending time in the area itself to try and ascertain who the residents were, what kind of culture they came from, what hours they kept and where they worked.

The second, quantitative, aspect was a much more book-based analysis. We looked at old Ordnance Survey Maps of the area, researched history books as to previous land ownership to glean how it had changed over many years and to see where we could go in the future – to find what were the 'keys to the gospel.'

One of our key questions was, 'How do we take the mission audit's conclusions and turn them into a positive reality?' A hankering for community was identified as important but the design of the buildings, with many security features for residents, actually inhibited community – particularly as there were no communal meeting places in the development.

authentic (?) - walkingSome of our team moved into a flat in the harbour to have a place on site where people could be invited for a meal and generally practice hospitality. We continue to explore ways in which they can gather people together, including the launch of our authentic (?) curry house as a 'pop-up restaurant' and the development of a greater internet presence in order to promote online community.

The authentic (?) curry house runs one Saturday night in every month from 8pm to 10pm, usually at The Annexe in Partick, where there's room for 30 people to have a four-course vegetarian meal and drinks. We charge £10 for the food and drinks, including our home made mango lassi and chai! I am the chef and my wife Sally does everything else.

authentic (?) - lightsAs authentic (?) we're also looking at things like having a regular running community. We would also love to offer free, organic, fairly traded beautiful coffees to people as they leave for work in the morning. All these sorts of ideas are things that we are pursuing, we believe in a God who blesses and so we want to pursue that, we want to embody that in everything we do.

Eventually we hope to grow the team to round about eight. Those who do join spend quite a long time with us as sort of a journeying process, making sure that we share values and vision and that our basis of faith is common before we start working together. We like to be very close within the team, that we spend a lot of time in one another's company and nurture and care for each other but we also want to maintain our outward focus and keep that missional outlook in everything that we do.

authentic (?) - plateWe are doing all of this hand in hand with other Christians in this area so that we can be as effective as possible, living out the unity of that body. Part of our vision is to see people reconnected with God, seeing that relationship restored and so we're going to be intentional about the way that we invite people to experience God, to live a life that is transformed by a relationship with him. It's about having the integrity to talk about that, to invite people into a place where they can explore in a contextually relevant way what it means to follow Jesus in this area.

If you feel you might be being prompted into a new missional context and would like to find out more about joining the authentic (?) team, contact us on


Cre8 is a fresh expression for children, young people and their families, at Carlton Colville Methodist Church, Lowestoft. Deacon Ian Cartwright explains how the range of activities include a gardening club, health and fitness programme and special events.

Our purpose is to build lives and build community and to serve beyond our gatherings. Cre8 has been going for about three years around a flexible mix of activities in our church building based on a very large, private housing estate. Among the most popular is a cinema and film club where the children choose the movie to be screened and dish out the popcorn and everything else!

Before launching Cre8, we wanted to try and find out what the community wanted rather than what we thought they wanted. Our first piece of research, done in conjunction with the University of East Anglia, started with focus groups from which we developed questionnaires. We asked things like, 'Would you like to meet?', 'If so, what time would you like to meet?', 'What activities would you like to see in this area?' The questionnaires went out to 6,000 homes and nearly 1,000 of them were completed and returned.

The overwhelming response was for health and fitness opportunities and things for young people to do. The next step was to ask the children and young people themselves whether they wanted to have such activities. Questionnaires went out to the six schools which serve this area: two Lower, two Middle and two Upper. Thanks to the schools' support, we were able to classify the children and young people into postcode areas.

Cre8 - drinkThe research was carried out by groups from within the schools themselves while Christian Research did all the analysis. It mirrored our first research results and also told us that what they meant by 'activities' was really a good place just to chill out and relax, somewhere they could go to play with their PlayStations and Wii. As health and fitness was such a big theme, we got in touch with The Leisure Database Company which provides data, analysis and advice for the sports and leisure industries.

They draw up what's called a Mosaic map, a sort of jigsaw puzzle, of the people in your area. They can analyse the socio-demographic breakdown of a place and tell you things like how many 0-15s there are, the type of families they come from based on income, and eventually build a profile of the area and classification of those who live there. From that they can delve deeper to tell you how many people are members of gyms, what the competition is for health and fitness provision, and so on. They told us there was a latent demand of about 1,000 people in the area we serve.

A sport and leisure trust called Active Luton acted as our consultants in this and they said 1,000 was a good number to make things add up commercially. Cre8 came about as a result of that research and we built up a small team to get things off the ground, including someone who worked with the Schools Partnership Agency.

We started off with the kids taking part in shows. Adults would come along with them on Saturday mornings for rehearsals and have a bite of breakfast with us. At that time the Christian input was very small because we were at the stage of simply wanting to build up relationships with the children and their parents.

It was at that exploring sort of stage that we began to see the development of a holistic ministry, where people's Christian spirituality is very much seen as part of their physical, social, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

Cre8 - climbingThe spiritual dimension is there in all we do because of our desire for God to be at the heart of it all, involved in every aspect of it – and for the glory to go to Him. It is also there because of who we are and the values we apply. They shape and form us into the community we are and what we hope to be. We see these as being Worship, Pray, Create, Learn, Enjoy Abundant Life, Transform, Influence, Give, Celebrate, and Be inclusive.

A family service once a month is done in a very informal way. This month it will be aimed at blokes as part of the Father's Day theme – there'll be bacon sandwiches to eat, a Yorkie bar challenge; a clip from a Rob Bell DVD, and a lot of bunting and a banner made by the kids!

In the past we've also had very low-key Communion with them. At one such Communion, we looked at the meaning of symbols; starting off by looking at McDonald's, Nike and KFC – what did their 'symbols', their logos, say about them? We then moved on to the symbolic meaning of the bread and wine. It was all consecrated properly but we served the wine in paper cups and gave half slices of sliced bread like the people would eat at home. It was all familiar to them.

Fridays@7 is another development – a café church environment in our building where men chill out to eat, drink coffee, watch films, enjoy music and explore what faith in Jesus is all about.

It's amazing what has happened there. One guy loves Shakespeare and he went out to buy himself a King James Bible because he sees parallels between the two; there were a lot of the programmes on radio and TV at the time about the King James' 400th anniversary and he was fascinated by it.

I went to register at the local gym and met a guy who couldn't get along with traditional church services at all but now he's working at a rehabilitation and recovery centre and brings some of his clients along to us on a Friday night.

Cre8 group

Established for nearly four years, we are members of the Willow Creek Association and use materials from a variety if sources including Christian Vision for Men and Rob Bell. We are currently making whole life discipleship our priority. There is also crossover with CRE8 with two of the Fridays@7 guys running our gardening club.

The group wants to stay small, about 10 to 12 at the moment, and develop a new offshoot on Thursdays called Thursdays @ 7. From time to time we meet at a local pub. We call this evening 'Who Let the Dads Out?'. We also go karting, walking, and other fun things that men enjoy and encourage our non-church friends to join us on these occasions. 

In all of this, there have – of course – been struggles along the way and it hasn't come together easily but the church and community wrestled with issues together to find a way forward and develop things. This has certainly been a painful process at times.

Now I think the mixed economy works very well here because we have mechanisms in place for communication between the inherited church and the fresh expressions. We meet once a quarter when representatives from the different areas of church life come together to plan and discuss. The fresh expressions group is very firm in saying that it is as much 'their' church as inherited church but they also know that it is all about working together for the good of the Kingdom. Sometimes there are difficult conversations because these are part and parcel of what it means to be church – we know that's what it means to work out the mixed economy in reality. Not always an easy journey.