Stephen Wright writes about ministry at the Parish of St Paul’s, Hasland with Grassmoor, and St James the Apostle, Temple Normanton

Although St Paul’s has always been a community-orientated church, this really changed and became a great opportunity for the parish when in 2013 Hasland and Grassmoor were designated as a ‘Big Local Area’; when we, like 150 areas up and down the country, were awarded £1m. to be spent in the area over the next ten years.

Out of the blue, I was invited to chair the group, at that time consisting of three of us meeting in a NEDDC office. I was curious about how my name came up—‘Well Stephen,’ I was told, ‘you tick all of our boxes. You have worked in the community for the last 50 or so years and therefore have a good local knowledge.’ I have taken well over 1500 funerals over the years from the community and therefore have reached out to many families. I have stood at the local council elections and was recognized as a member of St Paul’s.

With this group I came up with the strategy of firstly finding out from the community what were their priorities, and so went about on an ambitious programme of obtaining the views of the wider community, some 14,000 residents. We enlisted the help of our local churches and local groups and organizations in the communities. We did this by inviting each group to enlist the views of congregations and groups with a set of questions which could help us to set priorities. In order to encourage groups to do this we offered each group a small grant to cover the cost of carrying out the work and to use any underspend on any item for their group. St Paul’s really got behind this and we handed the project over to our young people, who distributed and collected the questionnaires. We had an underspend and decided to invest on a good quality keyboard, which we could take to the nursing homes and other venues.

From the questionnaires emerged 6 main areas of concern, which became our main priorities, namely: senior citizens, working-age families, children and young people, places—green and open spaces, living environment, and community facilities.

The significance of this is that I based the project on the Mission Action Plan rolled out by the Diocese of Derby in 2012 (one of the very few useful things that has come from the diocese in recent years). St Paul’s really got behind this and as a result many more members of the congregation are really involved in reaching out into the community, including nursing homes, with six eucharistic ministers taking the sacrament to the four nursing homes in the parish, as well as re-vitalizing our communications and engagement with the parish and beyond; engaging with the local Methodist church by doing Messy Church, held on a bi-monthly basis and with an average of 30 children attending; a singing group of 20 or so enthusiastic singers, who sing for pleasure at local nursing homes, day centre, pubs, and anyone who invites them; a worship and mission group that plans and leads special services of healing and reflection. As a direct result of our MAP, St Paul’s has a renewed confidence in our mission and engagement with the community.

Now back to Big Local. I digressed to point out that because out of our three-year commitment to MAP I had the confidence to base our Big Local plans on St Paul’s Mission Action Plans and engagement.

Having established our priorities, we went about selling our vision to the community, inviting members of the communities to sign up to one of the six priority areas we had established.

Having attracted people to the working groups we set about forming a board of members to put the plan into action. Seven residents from Hasland and seven from Grassmoor were invited to form a board. All decisions regarding spending the million ponds were made by the board members, not by councillors or other bodies. We needed a brand name and invited suggestions from the community and came up with ‘Grassland Hasmoor.’ The board members are ordinary residents who share our vision for the community. Never before have residents from both communities sat round a table together to plan how to spend a million pounds. I make no bones about the fact that Big Local plans are based on St Paul’s Mission Action Plans.

This is an example of the Church not actually itself leading the project, but by being involved having a direct influence in its delivery and engagement with the community. Members of St Paul’s are actively involved with some of the working groups helping to influence and shape the way in which it happens.

Children and young people. In our first three years we have delivered activities for children and young people during the summer holidays four days a week (two days in Hasland and two days in Grassmoor), and this is now well established. Activities and seasonal events to meet the different needs of age and interest groups and sporting activities have been organized in both community parks, and funding given to pilot youth activity within the community.

Working-age families. Opportunities have been given for working-age families to increase employability through community enterprise and business skills projects, including the Pitstop Diner, which provides healthy low-cost meals in the heart of the community, and the community cinema.

Senior citizens. Inclusive activities for senior citizens have been supported, including coffee, chair-based exercises, men in sheds getting like-minded individuals to come together to make and repair wooden items, a mobility scooter ramp and a community garden potting table.

Green and open spaces. Working in partnership with local authorities on footpaths and open spaces, stiles and gates have been replaced.

The living environment. We have addressed litter issues, and have provided bins and benches to enhance the attractiveness of both communities.

Community facilities. We have sought to enable all people to meet and access their community buildings, and community provision of defibrillators and training so people may use them with confidence.

All activities are led by local residents who are active in the working groups, involving some members of St Paul’s and the local Methodist church, which closed four years ago, and as a result the local minister there and the lay pastor—who is on the board of Big Local—with the local community have completely re-furbished the church, giving it a new lease of life, and it is now a valuable community resource.

In conclusion, though this project is not ‘a Church project’ it is a project firmly based on the Mission Action Plan of St Paul’s. It is being driven by, amongst others, myself and Brian, the lay pastor of the Methodist church. It is an opportunity for the parish to become involved and to get stuck in and a challenge for our new priest when he is appointed—as we are now in our 8th month of interregnum.

Although St James’s parish is outside the Big Local area, we have had our own challenges, discovering a rotting floor 18 months ago. The insurance company did not accept liability, so what does a small church family and a population of 405 do? Well, it springs into action, obtaining funding from grants etc. and embarking on a complete refurbishment, which was completed by Christmas so that we could return for our Midnight Mass. We are re-engaging with our Junior Academy: the children were involved with our remembrance service on Mothering Sunday and Easter, and there was an exhibition of the children’s work in the summer term and a community celebration involving St James’s. Now it is our challenge to attract our parishioners to their parish church, to join us as we go forward engaging in the mission of the Church.

Stephen Wright is a Lay Reader.