A former warehouse in Wimborne is set to open as a community centre, café and skatepark in March 2014. Project director Andy Putt tells of the story so far and StreetLight's plans to host a fresh expression of church on site.

The vision for StreetLight as a Christian charity is to reach young people and adults who have not, and will not, engage with 'church'; and present the gospel message through relevant culture which engages them with God – and starts them on a journey with him as well as teaching others to do the same.

Much has happened over the past four years but the story actually began in 2002 when I was involved in my local church in Southampton. I was walking past an empty plot of land when I heard God's call to start a skate ministry to reach those who aren't involved in anything to do with church or Jesus. This was really strange because I had never skated in my life! I started doing youth work and pioneering-type projects but time moved on and, in 2007, I moved to Wimborne to be youth pastor at St John's Church.

StreetLight - communityIn February 2011, I really felt that God was preparing me to 'think outside the box' again and discover what was breaking his heart in our area. Soon after that was the birth of StreetLight and its mission to reach Wimborne for Christ. A group of us had been running street projects, and getting to know young people on the nearby Leigh Park Estate, for some while as we thought and prayed about what God wanted us to do.

In the back of my mind there was still this idea of a Café/Indoor Skatepark/Ministry Hub so – in summer 2012 – I went to the Momentum conference and 'put out a fleece about it', praying that God would make it very clear if that was what he wanted me to do. The answer came back loud and clear from that event and I knew I couldn't ignore it. In addition, while working full-time, I completed a degree in Community Evangelism and Theology and things really started to move from there.

A team just seemed to grow out of nowhere for this vision. As I started to speak to others, people were simply offering to help out. It was clearly time for something to happen.

StreetLight - buildingIn January 2013 I stepped down from my church youth ministry, took three months off and did some networking. In April, I started to move StreetLight on from something that simply involved handing out hot soup to people to finding a place as a mission hub. The hub would include a café, skatepark and ministry base with admin offices. I had identified a building almost two years previously and things progressed very quickly when, at a church, I 'happened' to bump into the financial director of those same premises.

After various discussions, we had our first trustees' meeting and decided to take on the building in June. The following month, we put in a change of use application and I started full-time on the project in August. I believe it's very important to keep all the other Wimborne churches in the loop about what we're doing so I have regularly shared the vision with them and we are also a mission partner of St John's.

Work is going ahead on the building and we've now got a committed group of people who want to invest in the vision. StreetLight was granted change of use by the local council and we should be fully open to the public on 29th March 2014.

StreetLight - worshipAs part of what will be available there; we are looking to establish The Gathering, a fresh expression of church meeting weekly on site. We also hope to run discipleship groups, cell groups and adult groups for those who want to explore more of the Christian faith.

As ever, there has been some church 'politics' behind the scenes but the fact is that StreetLight is about reaching new people for Christ – people who wouldn't normally be reached. It's not about bums on seats, it's about building kingdom. The reason that things have happened, and are happening, is because God's in it.

StreetLight will offer a very different expression of church in The Gathering. It will be a place for us to engage with individuals and church as community, not a Sunday service. We are not an 'alternative' to church, we are church.

I am very fortunate in the people now supporting StreetLight. We have a board of seven Trustees and two Young Trustees who very much like to help in practical, as well as strategic, ways. We also employ one person to work on grant applications for us.  We are also looking for a full time café manager.

StreetLight - teamBy Easter, we plan to have employment in place for probably two people – including me! At the moment I am living by faith and I have certainly learned something through that. Thankfully I have good personal support; I attend a local church, meet up with the pastor regularly, have prayer backing from a lot of people, and meet weekly with a couple to pray, and I see a mentor every month. Streetlight is also getting support from local churches; some through finance, some through resources, and some through airtime in allowing us to tell their fellowships of the StreetLight vision.

It has been fascinating to visit similar ministries as part of my research and it was very helpful to go to Legacy XS in Benfleet, Essex, and The Unit at Launceston in Cornwall. This has definitely confirmed my being a pioneer minister; I seem to have been pioneering things all my life in one way or another and this is another step in that journey!

I have had a lot of great support from people right across the church spectrum but the important message to get across always is that this isn't just a skatepark for young people. At StreetLight we aim to introduce people to Jesus through something they can relate to and it's very exciting.

Legacy XS

Legacy XS - rampLegacy XS offers, among other things, indoor and outdoor skate parks, a recording studio, arts suite… and a youth congregation. Leader Pete Hillman gives the lowdown on its work in Essex.

It's never boring being involved in fresh expressions! When we first appeared on expressions: the dvd – 1 there was a lot going on but things have developed much further. The skatepark is still very much a going concern but we have also developed the building itself and now have outside ramps as well. There is a multi-use games area at the back for basketball and 5-a-side football and we fitted a recording studio and an arts suite with a dance floor so we can offer dance lessons. There's a café downstairs, Café Legacy, and a video editing suite that boasts £20,000 worth of equipment which we got with a grant from various sources.

There have been some difficult times along the way. The local council decided they wanted to begin charging rent on the land on which Legacy XS is built (an interesting move in the context of the 'big society!') and, as a result, we had to make the centre manager redundant. However, the council's decision made us take a fresh look at what we wanted to achieve with the skate park as a whole.

Legacy XS - hand plantWe decided to reduce the hours we were open to the public and instead of running our midweek sessions on a commercial basis we instead now operate them as cell groups organised by our team of youth workers. That has been running quite successfully on Tuesday evenings for young people from Year 4/5 up to Year 7.

Wednesday evenings are now given over to skateboarders, we started with very small numbers but this has grown steadily. Thursday night is a BMX cell and, again, numbers are very encouraging. On Fridays we have just started running a gym as a bit of a pilot project.

On Saturday and Sunday we can get 60 young people through the doors. It's interesting the response we get sometimes. For instance, a local Catholic Church gave us a large figure of Jesus made out of wicker which we put at the end of the skatepark on the wall – it is supposed to be a crucifix but looks more like ascension. A couple of years ago when one of the BMX lads was leaving, I was joking with him about me doing all the work around here. He said, 'What do you mean you run this place? I thought it was that bloke hanging on the wall over the ramp.'

Legacy XS - flipThe Legacy XS youth congregation itself has been much quieter and has shrunk down to a maximum of 20 people. How many of them are moving on in faith? Not many that we know of to be honest. It's better to tell the truth and say it is really, really hard to develop the youth congregation. The fact is that the measure of success and failure in God's economy is quite different. That may make it sound as if we are trying to cover ourselves but that's what we believe. All we say is that it's our job to put Jesus at the centre of what we do, for some young people that will be enough for now because maybe the time isn't yet right for them.

About three years ago we also launched Legacy Rayleigh which operates in the neighbouring town. It has its own full-time worker as part of the parish team there and has developed its own distinctive ethos. They too have mid-week outreach activities for different age groups as well as a cell group and Sunday evening gatherings for worship, prayer and teaching. It's another runner of the plant springing up somewhere new.

In other areas Legacy XS, now open for six years, continues to develop very well. Two years ago, the local county and borough councils and the Canvey Island Town Council asked us to be the lead partner in a drop-in centre on the Island. They came up with all the money. I reminded them that we are Christians and they said they had no problem with that at all. In fact I have never encountered a problem because of our Christian roots – quite the opposite. We have got another year or so of funding so we can now offer sessions on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, after-school Saturday and most of Sunday.

Legacy XS - bikesThe team does a lot of teaching work on Canvey Island and we also managed to get some money to buy a 33ft Winnebago-style vehicle to use as a mobile recording studio to go out into different areas. It's like a youth club on wheels.

Sustainability is always a big challenge. My curacy comes to an end in June 2011 and at the moment I have no idea what will happen then – hopefully something to help me continue with Legacy XS. It's always a struggle because youth congregations in particular are never, ever going to break even. The only way they will be self-sustaining is if they are delivering work on the ground that is recognised by secular funders. That's why we have to be clear about what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Legacy XS - jumpYou really have to be an entrepreneur if you are going to be doing radical stuff; that can be seen in things like taking risks and being a bit creative about the way you describe what's happening and what you can offer. It's about being as wise as serpents and a bit shrewd about things.

People then begin to recognise what you are doing. The local secondary school is a Business Enterprise College and they now study Legacy XS as an example of social entrepreneurship. The fact is that I run a reasonably sized organisation and have learned to be creative – not just in the work itself but how I am able to develop ideas within the existing structures. Through my work as a school governor, I not only take lessons in Religious Studies but also in Business Enterprise. This is a time of great opportunity and we hope and pray that we can continue to make the most of them in all of our activities.

The Order of the Black Sheep (The Gates)

Mark Broomhead, an Ordained Pioneer Minister in Chesterfield, is starting a new fresh expression of church for those who feel like the 'black sheep' of society. He outlines his hopes for the new community and its church, The Gates.

I am in the last year of my training at St John's on the mixed mode course. The first part of my curacy was spent at Clay Cross and Danesmoor where I was involved in planting Sanctum, a community based rock-oriented congregation.

I have been involved in the heavy metal music scene since my teens and have played in several bands so it has been very much part of who I am for many years. That interest has developed in all sorts of ways, one of which has seen me helping to lead the welfare provision at the annual Bloodstock festival.

It's one of the main heavy metal music festivals, probably the more specialist end of the market with Viking metal, satanic metal, pirate metal and all kinds of things. We offer a Christian presence in that sort of arena.

Chesterfield SpireSanctum offered an alternative way of being church and it continues to develop in its own way. The Bishop of Derby, Alastair Redfern, was very supportive as I moved on to Chesterfield in order to set up a new community called The Order of the Black Sheep. I chose the name, or the name chose me, because a black sheep was for many years seen as the worthless sheep of the flock, the one that couldn't produce any wool that was worth anything.

In medieval times it was even seen by some as a sign of the satanic. I really pray that The Order of the Black Sheep will be a home for the marginalised, for members of the alternative community who feel a little bit like the black sheep in society – and the church. Our motto will be along the lines of 'better a black sheep than a goat'.

The church will be known as The Gates. Gates are mentioned over 100 times in the Bible, including '…I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it' (Matthew 16.18) and 'Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in' (Psalm 24.9). We want to build church in what is traditionally seen as the devil's territory and to allow the King of Glory to come in to that community and do what he wants to do.

The 'alternative' subculture is a difficult one to describe but it has grown from the 1950s and 60s Teddy Boys through Mods, Rockers, Hippies and people who generally feel themselves to be on the edge of society and don't fit in with the 'in' crowd. These days there are all kinds of different expressions of it, whether it's Goths, bikers, skaters – all sorts of things.

Our challenge is taking the Gospel to these groups; sharing Jesus with those who have a sometimes well founded mistrust of the Church and Christian culture. We're not planning to 'dress up' the Gospel for this culture because it is perfect and relevant to all as it is. I want it to be a place where the community can meet, a centre where it can be safe and talk through things, where the Church can be reached, where we can be accessible, where we can allow a space for worship and a space to meet with God in various other ways and for us to be of service to that community.

As a fresh expression we maintain that this project will be Church rather than a gateway to 'real' Church but we are keen for members to explore and take their place at the table of the wider church family as part of their discipleship.


Sanctum - Mark BroomheadPioneer Minister and heavy metal aficionado Mark Broomhead used to lead a fresh expression of church called Sanctum at the St Barnabas Centre in Danesmoor. He was recently licensed by the Bishop of Derby, Rt Rev Dr Alastair Redfern, to develop an accessible form of church for Alternative sub cultures in the Chesterfield area. What will he be doing?

Sanctum started in 2006 and, as it is now, is the result of the coming together of two congregations. The idea first came about when I was a member of Christian metal band FireFly and we decided to launch Embryo – a multi-denominational alternative worship event hosted by different churches every two months.

It became clear that this event was the only contact with church that some people were having but it lacked the necessary continuity, teaching, community and pastoral care to nurture that contact. In response to this Sanctum was born, a weekly alternative service based at St Bartholomew's Church, Clay Cross. Meanwhile a small congregation at St Barnabas had faithfully been working towards the vision of replacing the old church and hall with a new multi-purpose building for the whole community. The decision to pool the resources of both congregations led to what became Sanctum.

It is a district church of the North Wingfield Team Parish in Derby Diocese and they continue to meet on Sunday evenings at 5pm in the St Barnabas Centre.

The idea for the new community – called 'the order of the black sheep' – is to go back to the original vision of Sanctum in being something more appropriate for the unchurched. We now plan to take out a very small team and from that plant something new; literally taking a seed for Jesus into the community and see what happens. I'm sure that something of Sanctum's worship style will be replicated in the new community; it is heavily influenced by rock culture and previous activities included putting on gigs, starting a small record label and recording a rocked up Christmas carol album.

Sanctum - stageOne of the connections we have got is the Bloodstock Open Air Metal Festival in Derby where I have led the chaplaincy team for several years. Billed as the UK’s No1 heavy metal event, the festival this year hosted about 80 bands across three stages.

Basically we look after anyone who is not in need of hospitalisation or under threat of arrest. Some people lose their tents for one reason or another, for instance. We’re just there 24 hours a day for whenever people a helping hand or a chat or a safe space to recover from a little over indulgence. Lots of people come back to visit us year on year. There are definitely people from the Chesterfield area who go to the festival so being part of Bloodstock gives us respect; they know who we are. That’s a great start.

Sanctum - big topI often wear my dog collar while wandering around the site. The collar offers instant identification and people seem to be fine with it. I have not been burned at the stake yet so it must be OK. Bloodstock does tend to focus on the darker side of metal, and there are some openly satanic bands though there is a huge range of music. It is fantastic to be involved.

I have played bass for the past 21 years in Christian Metal/Rock bands like Exoria, FireFly, Detritus and Seventh Angel so it’s a very familiar world to me. Bloodstock organisers want to run a battle of the bands-type event with a prize called Metal for the Masses. We have talked about setting up a venue as a central meeting place and finding a pub, bar or nightclub for that event. As a result we can try to build a community rather than a service.

My link with Bloodstock has been very good; they are even offering to fund some of our Christian work through the year as a thank you for the work we do on the welfare provision.

In some respects heavy metal music was a kind of retaliation against Christianity, more culturally than anything else, because the Church was seen as a nice middle-class society. The more uncomfortable people feel about Church, the more it is seen as a target and the more extreme the opposing views become – strangely this makes it very easy for me to talk about Christianity.

Sanctum -  tentsI see myself as very much part of that heavy metal community because it's a community I have grown up with since I was 14. It's like the village I grew up in if you like – something you just jump into and get involved in as much as possible.

A friend invited me to see Saxon, my first gig, at the age of 12. I had a really strong sense of gathered community, of not feeling like the odd one out. I recognised the acceptance, the brotherhood of it all and knew I wanted to be part of it.

I really pray that in this next developmental year for the new community that many others will feel that sense of acceptance and brotherhood through being part of a very different form of church.

I've been working with a community that is centred on music, skateboarding etc. People dress in black and hang around on street corners looking frightening. These people I call my friends. I am promoting a form of church that is natural and welcoming to people who wouldn't be able to walk into a normal church building or service and 'get it' straight away.


Andy MilneChurch Army evangelist Captain Andy Milne first launched Sorted in 2004. As a keen skateboarder he got to know the area's young skaters, many of whom went on to become founder members of the youth church in north Bradford. Now skateboarding is just one of many activities they enjoy every week, explains Andy.

We meet on Monday, Tuesday and Friday nights, and we'll see an average of 100 young people during that time. About 25 to 30 get together for the Monday youth congregation from 7.15 to 9pm but they are very active and help set up the equipment and run the whole thing really – including worship, teaching, prayer, and activities in between. The age range is 13 to 20.

On Tuesday night, we meet in a different place – at the Salvation Army – and have five different groups with anything up to 35 people there. Each group is led by two young people. Sometimes there is a discussion around a Bible passage and sometimes they work on a fund raising project but the idea is to try and provide a place where they can really talk about their faith and what they can do with that faith. It's more discipleship focused. When they get involved in leadership it really helps their understanding. If they run it themselves, they really own it and the energy triples.

Sorted - thumbs upFridays will see us have a testimony, short talk for about five minutes and then different activities in the various rooms. Last year we asked the young people what they wanted to do at this session. We have to be facilitators in it – otherwise they are going to get bored. There's quite a wide age range for this one, it's about 11 to 20, and the older teens run it with some adults as well. We can get 40 or 50 people coming to that.

One room is used for things like live music sessions; there is also a café with a tuckshop, and games on offer like softball and table tennis. We have people doing dj-ing with mixing and that sort of stuff. It's amazing when you look back to see how things have grown since were first given use of a portakabin in the grounds of a school. Some of the young people have been coming to us ever since.

What tends to happen is that kids come through their friends or schools to Friday evening sessions because it's very open, accessible to anyone. Then they get to know people and when there is a bit more trust they tend to move into the other two groups.

Sorted - footballWhen we started, one of the ways I was able to build relationships was through the skateboarding but it's quite a small part now. It has been good to see a lot of young people come from very different backgrounds to be part of this and I have been privileged to witness young people having experiences of God on a Monday night, come to faith and develop into leaders and disciples.

Some local churches realised they hadn't got the resources to do something similar themselves but felt they could support something that's Kingdom work by allowing us to use their buildings. They show their support for us in practical ways.

We are in the process of setting up Sorted 2 about a mile-and-a-half up the road because we realised that about 80% of those in Sorted 1 were from the same school of around 1200 pupils. The second school in the area is the sixth largest secondary in the country with about 1800 students but it is currently being extended so will be even bigger. It is multicultural and multiracial.

Sorted - micThere was a real sense that God was asking us to go there. Then one lady had a picture of God giving us a key, opening up something that hadn't been open for some time. People were amazed when we were then invited to go in. As a result we started working with youngsters there and developing groups. We now see about 30 young people every week in Sorted 2. It’s a massive thing for us.

In the last year, a Church Army team has been drawn together to oversee the whole thing. People from local churches also act as adult volunteers for each Sorted, and it all makes a tremendous difference because the work through the schools is growing all the time.

Another exciting development for us is to be granted a Bishop's Mission Order. It means we are now seen as being on an equal footing with other churches and it also clarifies what Sorted is all about in this part of Bradford. The BMO was first mentioned about three years ago when it was noted that Sorted is not a seedbed for something else or an extension to another church. It's a church in its own right.

Sorted - baptismThat could clearly be seen earlier this year when six of our teenagers were baptised by the then Bishop of Bradford, Rt Revd David James, in the River Wharfe. A further five then joined them to be confirmed and take Communion by the side of the river in Ilkley. We find that the young people often have an experience of God before they follow him. Rather than a gradual intellectual process, they often have an encounter with God and begin to make sense of it later.

Going back to where it all started, I have now written a book about skateboarding called The Skateboarders Guide to God in which I try to connect the Gospel with skateboarding mentality and language. I hope to get it published so that it may possibly help others along the way.

Sorted - graffiti

Skateboards meet spirituality

A fresh expression of church in Perth, Ontario, is attracting young skateboarders to blend skating culture with Christianity.

The Tuesday night ministry is collaboration between a local teenager looking for a space to skate in the winter, and a church that made the switch from opposing teenagers to welcoming them.

Where signs once warned off the skateboarding fans, Christian rock music now blares from speakers at St James the Apostle Anglican Church as young people take advantage of the only place in town they can skateboard indoors in the winter.

Organisers got the idea for the initiative after watching a Fresh Expressions DVD about a youth skateboarding group.

The move is a bold one – coming as it did after an incident in spring 2009 when skateboarders broke into the church's hall and damaged folding tables they used as makeshift ramps.

The church's rector, the Revd Christine Piper, says:

There was a misunderstanding. The youth understood they were free to come in and use the church, and that wasn’t the case. There was a little bit of distress over that.

When the skateboarding continued, the church put up signs telling skateboarders they weren't welcome at St James. Christine later attended a workshop where she learned about projects reaching people who don't come to traditional church. The DVD clip of a youth skateboarding group caught her eye.

They were working together to create an expression of religion with their skateboards,

she says.

It was very, very interesting.

Soon after, a member of the church congregation, Peter McCracken, approached Christine with the idea of offering kids a space to skateboard at the church.

I saw those signs telling them to keep away, and I thought, that's exactly what we don't need to be doing,

Peter says.

We need to be welcoming these kids in.

SkateboardersWith the congregation aging, he saw skateboarding as a way to show youth that there is room for them in the church. He enlisted the help of avid skateboarder Thor Stewart, a Perth and District Collegiate Institute student, who runs a skate shop in the town. But before the idea could take off, the pair needed the approval of the parish council.

I was expecting some resistance,

Peter says.

When they saw it in the light of an opportunity rather than in a more negative way, they saw that there was a potential to welcome kids into the church.

Christine Piper adds:

They were all very open and interested. We could see clearly that youth were seeing our church as a place to come skateboard, and we didn't have a problem with that. We said 'Let's learn from this. Let's turn this into a learning opportunity for them (youth) and the church.'

After all, Christine says, Christianity is all about reconciliation and moving forward.

While she sees the skateboard ministry as an opportunity to reach youth who may not otherwise set foot in a church, she said the young people shouldn't expect 'heavy duty stuff' if they come out to the weekly sessions.

We're trying to meet them where they're at,

she says, noting that Christian music and videos will be playing, literature will be available and she will be there supervising, but it is up to the visitors themselves to show an interest in the religious aspect if they choose.

Beyond the Christian-based message, the skateboard ministry will be a boon to young skateboaders looking to extend their skating season after locally available ramps have come down for the season.

In past years you just put the skateboard away for the winter,

Thor says.

If we get a lot of kids skating all winter, that's fun. And we can have ministry outreach, fellowship and mentoring each other.

Thor and Peter constructed a couple of ramps and are seeking donations of wood in order to build more. Young people wanting to take part must have consent forms signed by their parents, and bring their own skateboards and helmets. 'Phase Two' of the ministry in 2010 will be based on feedback received during the winter season.