Here's a good news story from Sheffield:
Ryan writes: When we first arrived in Westfield six years ago, the community had no playgrounds for children to play on. It had a few pockets of open space but no actual playground. This has led to many parents sharing their frustration that they have nowhere safe to take the children to play. This is exacerbated for those who have lived here for a long time, as at one point there were 5 pocket parks on the estate. However, gradually these parks fell into disrepair and were never replaced/updated. When we arrived, we joined a campaign group with a small group of local residents to lobby the Council to build a park but it became evident that they didn’t have the money to do this. The group were basically told that if they wanted a park, they would have to get it themselves – which is what they did! Eventually the Council came back on board with the project and ended up being a vital partner but it would not have happened without the tenacity and commitment of the local people.
On Saturday 23rd October the culmination of six years of work came together when our Play Ground finally opened! It was moment of real celebration for the community with in the region of 200 people attending throughout the morning. And it has been great to see the park being used since then as place for kids to play and for parents to meet. It feels like we have played a small part in fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 61 v4, which says;
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
Although we'd been able to get together as UE north and UE south in the summer of 2021 (UE south definately had better weather than the northern people who were faced with a very wet day at Yorkshire Sculpture Park!), it seemed like ages since we'd seen one another, except via Zoom.
It was good to be together again in person on 13 November, although there were quite a few last-minute withdrawals due to Covid and post-Covid weariness. And some of us are clearly still anxious about meeting together at present.
But the venue was excellent, we were well hosted by the staff there, and there was a mix of relaxed time for catching up and some input – first from Tracey Bennet on being ‘trauma-informed’ (although she was unwell and contributed via Zoom) and then from Barney & Sara as they introduced ‘The Big Covid Debrief’ resources.
Iona writes: Here in Hull, it has felt good to start a new academic year with more freedom returning to our activities. We have had a great summer, enjoying various days out with the families and young people we know, and it has been good to bring a renewed sense of fun and togetherness into all we do after the separation and isolation we have experienced.
Back in July we did a sponsored walk to raise money for our community garden. This was the first activity we did altogether after lockdown ending. It was a really fun day out and we appreciated spending time together.
Also in July was our annual beach trip. One family told us this was the first time they had left Hull since moving to the city (five years ago). There was a sense of hope fulfilled – an annual favourite happening, amazing weather and being all away as a big group.
All hands on deck at our Breakfast club! Relaxation in restrictions has made it much easier for everyone to ‘muck-in’ and help when needed.
I have been reflecting on ‘Holy hospitality’ and how Covid restrictions really interrupted the hospitality that we in Hull were so used to sharing with each other and with our community.
Jesus lived closely with his disciples and got close to those he met. He ate with people, washed their feet, laid hands on them, worked with them and even cooked for them and this kind of sharing life with others has been a marker of our activities here until Covid forced all that to stop. The beginning of this term has felt a special time coming back together again. We’ve been able to hold each other’s babies at our toddler group; children and families have eaten breakfast together at our breakfast club, rather than being separated and unable to interact; and we’ve started to plan for and look forward to new ways of sharing life together too. It’s been good to get close to people again, good to start sharing life in the ways that we’ve missed and get stuck into things with each other no longer at a distance.
Tim in Openshaw, Manchester reflects: In Urban Expression Openshaw, the majority of our gatherings and events focus on food. We eat together. We share eucharist around the dinner table. We BBQ. We have picnics – and our Forest Church gatherings end with sharing food, frequently foraged out of God’s bounty.
I have long been struck by the way in which pioneer and fresh expressions communities frequently use food as a vehicle for their spirituality and mission. This also seems to connect with what I read of the very early development of Christian community in the New Testament. And, of course, the Seder plate and common table is at the very heart of Jewish spirituality.
For us, here in Openshaw, lockdown has impacted particularly hard on our common life. We did attempt to have Zoom meals, but they rapidly petered out as we were all suffering from Zoom fatigue. We have used Zoom to connect our socially distanced walks – but have very much missed the breaking of bread together (both nutritionally and symbolically).
From NI Gordon, Karen and Trish write: There is a definite sense of some degree of return to normality for us in ‘Soulspace’ in both of the interface communities in which we work. It is an important facet of our work that we are embedded alongside existing community organisations and support and partner where we can. We now operate in two locations in the city, Forthspring Intercommunity Project in west Belfast and the Duncairn Arts Centre in north Belfast. Both centres had closed for much of the pandemic but now are beginning to reopen to the communities around them and so we can return to our face-to-face work which had been largely suspended over the last year. Our model of ministry, which is a chaplaincy model, relies on proximity and relationship building.
Our foodbank, in which we partner with the local residents’ group, has also been well used over recent months with many people from across the communities accessing food and help with gas and electric payment cards. We have partnered with the residents’ group in a variety of projects, the most recent of which was a clean up and window box planting over the summer.
In both of our locations we are engaging with the challenge of what it means to build the peace between the two communities on either side of the peace walls and separate areas.
One of our more interesting projects came as a result of a particularly aggressive critic of Karen’s, who accused her of being a ‘Bizarre Feminist Character’, a description which Karen then subverted and turned into an amazingly successful fundraising campaign for Womens’ Aid through selling t-shirts with the phrase printed on them. We raised £1500 for the charity and are now on our second run of the t-shirts.
Barney in Looe writes: When we talk of coastal towns, for many of us that evokes childhood images of fish and chips, ice-creams, sandy beaches and a paddle in the clear blue sea. What is quickly forgotten is the hours of sitting in traffic on roads not built to cope with the sudden influx of holiday traffic. Perhaps it comes as a surprise to learn that coastal towns are among some of our most deprived communities in the U.K.
These communities suffer from a number of issues that are rooted in the decline of their core industries. Domestic tourism has been hit by cheap package holidays abroad, but also more traditional industries, such as fishing, ship building and port activities, have been in long term decline. This, combined with their location on the margins of the country, with poor infrastructure, leads to a struggling economy and lack of services, such as health and education.
The established churches in many of these small coastal towns seem to be in terminal decline, with denominations and networks instead choosing to opt for the easier wins of investing in inland churches in larger towns and cities.
Below is a picture of the Looe Community Meals Team, who deliver twice-weekly cooked meals to those who are economically disadvantaged, those who are isolated and suffering from ill-health.
Rachel in Birmingham writes: There have definitely been highs and lows! We started lockdown operating pretty much as a food bank and delivery service to the elderly and vulnerable - this was very rewarding but also extremely sad, as we heard stories of living through lockdown with no gardens or access to internet and, of course, issues around job loss.
In July, we started serving hot food from the front of the Haven, at first once a week, and through August 5 days a week. We served over 1000 lunches in total! As we did this, volunteers started coming out of the woodwork, all of them people who we had connections with but who hadn’t officially volunteered with us before. We have put in place a well-organised scheme to support them and they all sport their Haven T-shirts and ID badges with pride.
The Haven has become a real hive of activity with volunteers cooking and serving our community 5 days a week
In the autumn, we have managed to reopen many of our previous groups in a ‘Covid secure’ way, including twice a week café, stay-and-play and women’s group. As we look to the future of the centre, we do so with excitement: whilst it is no fun living through a pandemic and we know many who have a lot to grieve, we feel more than ever that we are in the right place and excited to work with those whom God has brought to us.
Rachel in Bath writes: we have set up several expressions of church over the last couple of months within the covid restrictions at the time, which have reached out to people who don’t want either a traditional service or a zoom/facebook service to which every church seems to have defaulted.
Picnic Church: people bring a picnic blanket and food and are provided with a craft kit. We began it mid-august and did it every two weeks until second lockdown.
Muddy Church: joint expression with the local Methodist Church – it’s rained heavily both times. ‘Wandering and Wondering’ in socially-distanced family bubbles.
Walking Church: exploring inspiring biblical passages while finding God in nature on or just off the estate.
Breathe: a relaxing and meditative gathering with home-grown liturgy and meditations to gentle music. A calm Oasis in the business of life.
Now Lockdown v2 has hit, we will need to suspend those expressions temporarily, but we hope to keep something of them going online without a youtube or facebook live service in sight
Ian in writes: Here at Hull yfc we were very happy to see regulars once again attending the daily breakfast club. In late September we had found a way of making the everything Covid-safe as far as we could. Over lockdown there had been home visits and activity bags but there is nothing like being together with families every day and experiencing the ups and downs together.
It has been difficult adjusting to families being confined to their own table, which has affected the dynamics quite a bit, but everyone has made the best of it and slowly we have started to adjust to the new ways.
Over the weeks, we have shared together the challenges of the situation we all now find ourselves in. This has centred quite a lot on children who have had to isolate and the implications and difficulties for parents juggling school runs. There has also been a sense of loss that the annual Hull Fair would not be happening (a huge regular social event for families and the city).
But, on the whole, it has been a journey we have shared together. We also ran a session where we could share about experiences of lockdown and how we coped.
With another lockdown happening, we have sadly had to close at Breakfast Club again but this time we see this as a positive opportunity to explore new ways and not be stuck in a state of limbo.
Through it all, prayer has been for us an absolute rock. Through all the uncertainties and challenges, just being able to lift it all up to God is a huge relief, whether that be prayer for protection over the school and community or just finding peace in the midst of it all.
Howard writes: No doubt like many UE teams, we’re limited in what we can do due to Covid-19. Before the new lockdown we ran some Facebook Live Cobridge Kiddies/Humpty Dumpty Clubs from the Wakefield’s front room, which went down very well.
Our community garden had fallen into a woeful state during the long months while we were unable to go round and tend to it. We recently partnered with a team from a local project for vulnerable adults who came to give it a much-needed Autumn clear up. Some noisy power tools, a portable pizza oven, and two days of hard work have made it look so much better. Before and after…
Like everyone else, we’re looking forward to and praying for the day when we talk about the Covid crisis in the past tense.