Legacy 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.
We 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.'
The 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.
The 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.
You 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.