Strengthening Communities through Local Connections

July 3, 2024

ChurchWorks believes that the church is more than the sum of its parts, and that, in the words of Jack Johnson, we’re ‘better when we’re together’. Our recent ChurchWorks online Strengthening communities through local connections event on 26th June 2024 brought together churches and organisations from across the country to share their experiences of building relationships and partnerships that have helped them achieve more than they could have achieved alone.

Mark Cowling from Gather shared about Gather’s mapping tool, enabling all churches that offer children and families support, food provision or mental health support to be captured and collated onto a local map. This mapping has not only furthered unity between local churches, but has also been a useful tool when engaging local authorities and demonstrating the breadth of support that the church can offer. You can find out more about Gather’s mapping work here.

Rachel Varley, a church leader working for an organisation supporting the VCSE sector, spoke about the importance of being ‘seen’ in the community and attending meetings and events so that people can put a ‘face to a name’ and build a relationship of trust with you. Rachel encouraged churches to not start something new without checking what already exists, and to join together with local churches, schools and community organisations to develop a networking or coordination group. 

Ron Cross, a church leader from B&A Church in Bristol shared about his church’s initiative ‘B&A Meals’, supplying around 400 free hot meals a week to 15 partners around the city for their Warm Welcome spaces and other groups. 

B&A Meals started with a simple vision - for every person to have an invitation to ‘come and eat’, just as Jesus did.

Part of our work at ChurchWorks involves connecting local churches with local authorities and showcasing inspiring examples where this is already happening. Two such examples are Bridge Church in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk and Reach Church in Stalybride,Tameside.

Emma Malcolm shared how Bridge Church built a connection with their local authority through going to meetings and inviting professionals to come and visit the church. From these conversations, ‘Bridge the Gap’ was born; a fortnightly provision providing support for children and families struggling with school attendance, funded by the Suffolk County Council as part of their Family Hubs provision.  

Another church commissioned by their local Family Hub is Reach Church in Stalybridge. Church leader, Andy Chadwick shared how it had taken a long time to build a relationship of trust with his local Council, but that now Reach Church is considered an ‘anchor organisation’ in the community. Andy’s top tips for engaging with Local Authorities: be persistent, run short-term pilot projects from which you can gather data to evidence impact, and be bold in presenting that evidence and asking for funding. 

Finally, we heard about the importance of listening to and empowering local citizens through Warm Welcome spaces with Marzena Cichon-Balcerowicz from the Centre for Theology and Community sharing the story of a church in Newham that moved from a transactional food bank model to a relational Warm Welcome Space and food pantry when they realised they didn’t know the names of those who accessed their food bank.

For more resources on creating community spaces of listening and action, you can access the Community Organising Training sessions on the ‘news’ section of the Warm Welcome website

You can watch the full recording of the event on Youtube.

If you have a story of connection or impact to share, we’d love to hear it. Email to tell us more.

Written by
Emma West
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