Changing the Landscape 2011 - The Beacon

Friday, 6 May, 2011

Bart Woodhouse and Tim Crome discuss The Beacon, Dartford with Karen Carter.

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Transcript

Interviewer: Obviously this is a fantastic very interesting piece of work that you've been involved in, tell me a little bit more about the context.

Bart Woodhouse: Well the context really is as mentioned in the DVD is a large new housing area, I mean the whole Thames Gateway redevelopment is massive and in our Methodist circuit alone there's about 35,000 new houses coming in. But we very quickly identified the Bridge as being a place where we could work, it was a development that was going ahead, and that's about one and a half thousand houses when it's finished, and they've pitched it at kind of young families, or co-habiting couples, that kind of area of the market. So it's got a very young feel about it, it's quite a trendy little place really to live, but that's the kind of context that we're working in at the moment.

Interviewer: Excellent. And obviously you've got a mix of commuters as well, people going up to London and so on, but has it still actually got very much a feel of community?

Bart Woodhouse: One of the big dangers that I saw going into this was it would just be a dormitory estate, you know, people would literally leave in the morning and return of an evening and that would be it. But we've actually seen this community kind of mix, so there are those that work locally, there's a lot of stay-home mums and families who are around during the day, so it's got quite a broad mix to it. So it's not quite as bad as we'd first feared.

Interviewer: And what about you getting involved in it. How did that happen?

Bart Woodhouse: Well, I saw a job advert and applied really, but I think obviously the pioneering side of things is something I'd felt very much called to originally and responded to this opportunity, and God wonderfully opened the doors for us, but really when I arrived my job description was pretty much a blank sheet of paper, wasn't it really. And just go and do something was the kind of prompt for me to go and do, but we arrived there and I first of all just tried to make links into the council, we got hold of the 106 - the section 106 agreement - which some of you may know what that is and some of you may not, but that was a really key start point, and then I started to pursue through the council getting links with the developers, getting people that I could phone and contact and just sort of sharing really what we wanted to do on the site, which was kind of foster community and be a good presence there. And wonderfully people latched on to that, the council latched onto it, Kent County Council latched onto that idea, and we had some really really great links. So that was the primary thing I did before any bricks were laid, before the place even started to be built we were doing that kind of activity. And then once we were onsite, I mentioned in the DVD we started the residents' association and we just did lots of fun days. We hired lots of bouncy castle and organised lots of barbecues essentially, I mean it's not rocket science really, but we just really wanted to make contexts where the community could come together and meet each other, and foster a sense of identity, a sense of belonging to this new place, that perhaps wouldn't have been there otherwise. So that's...

Interviewer: And you're meeting as a cell church onsite?

Bart Woodhouse: We're meeting as a cell church onsite, yeah, that's how we kind of do things.

Interviewer: But what about the elements of a good strong working relationship? What have been the building bricks for that?

Bart Woodhouse: Do you mean between me and Tim?

Interviewer: Yes!

Bart Woodhouse: What do you think Tim? [Laughs] I think for me as a pioneer, I'm not sure it's true of all pioneers, but I really valued Tim being a permission-giver who was flexible and who trusted me as well to get one with things really. And he kept a watchful eye and we met regularly to discuss things, but that openness to be flexible rooted in the structures of inherited church but yet seeing the potential to do something completely fresh, completely new, and be fairly hands off, fairly flexible and that degree of trust I think, to let a pioneer go and experiment and listen. And I think as well I've really valued the sense of time that I've been given as well. There's been no... or there's been little I think sense of this needs to be a rushed job, we want results quickly, we want to see an ecclesial community forming very quickly here. But that sense of this needs to be authentic, it needs to be given time to birth and to grow. So that's been a really key thing for me.

Interviewer: So patience...

Bart Woodhouse: Patience, that's the word.

Interviewer: And how about the sticking points though?

Bart Woodhouse: There are sticking points. One of them is that there are elements in the church who would like to see growth more quickly within these fresh expressions. And there's also those in the church that still hold very fast to some more traditional forms of evangelism and mission, so they're expecting me to run endless Alpha courses and go door-knocking all day with tracts. So there was some kind of obstacles in a sense that there wasn't an appreciation of the kind of church-planting fresh expression mission and how that works, so that was a difficulty to overcome and communicating exactly what we're doing and our ethos and how we're going to go about doing it. Another more Methodist difficulty has been my position as a lay leader, and an unending conversation really about this, but how do I lead an authentic sacramental community and yet remain lay - and that has deep theological implications and ecclesiology and all the rest of it - but that's been another point as well, how do we release lay leaders but enable them to authentically lead ecclesial communities.

Interviewer: That seems like a very natural moment to hand over to Tim. We'll come onto that, but how and why did the circuit want to support this initiative in the first place?

Tim Crome: Well the scale of the development in our area, as Bart implicated, are huge. I mean he said 35,000 in our current circuit, we're just going to link with three other circuits and within that area we're looking at 90,000 to 100,000 houses. So we're very aware of the need to try to respond to this scale of challenge. And of course you need to have a number of different responses possible. And God's timing I think was absolutely right, other denominations had tried to do things and it was too early, the building didn't happen, and so things fell apart. And yet this time it just fell into place, we made the appointment, Bart arrived, we then discerned the place and we got the team together and we go the house and the land - so it just fell into place at the right sort of time. But we've also got all the time to think that it's not just on the Bridge estate. That's a small estate, only 1,500 houses, when you come to some of the other estates where there are going to be 4,000, 5,000 houses, then we need to have models to work. This may be one, it may be one of a number of approaches, but that's the sort of mission orientation that the circuit's been working at for nearly 20 years before we've pressed the go button and appointed Bart.

Interviewer: That's great. The big word though is sustainability isn't it, particularly when a permission-giver - not only when the leader moves on but when a permission-giver moves on like yourself. What about that?

Tim Crome: Well I think that the... you know we are funded through the national connexional church and the district - the region - and also the local circuit is committed to this because they've put aside finance and housing and all that kind of stuff. And so it's about trying to say this is our project not just Bart's project, and that's a constant issue that I think is needing to be done there. But it's also to say that it's owned regionally and nationally - that has been an immense help, to be able to say to local people you are on the national agenda - you know I said to people this week we're going to Oxford this week, because of this. And it just helps them to realise ah, yes, actually it's really important - because sometimes it's too close. But I think also the linking between the local folk - we couldn't have done this without an expert from outside. But that then enabling role of getting the team that is local to begin to run it, and already we're looking at what's phase 2 going to be. What happens if and when Bart moves on. How do we draw up local leadership to own and run this and to trust them to carry it on. So we've got that sort of built into the - I say programme, that sounds very designed, it's not as fixed as that!

Interviewer: So you've got... now the Beacon is a VentureFX initiative, which maybe you can explain a little bit more of in a moment. Do permission-givers, or anybody, tend to want to put anything labelled as pioneering under VentureFX, or is it possible for that sort of work to exist independently? If you could just very quickly tell us about VentureFX.

Tim Crome: Well I mean this project was going before VentureFX started, so it could have continued on its own... in its own direction. But when we looked at the criteria for VentureFX, which is aiming at this sort of young adult grouping, and the nature of the Beacon as an estate was aiming at the same sort of age group, and we recognised that we fitted all the criteria and so why not get linked into that, which actually helps the sustainability and that kind of support because you've then got the national level in as well, which helps and I think that will help that sense of 'ongoingness'. Have I answered the question Karen?

Interviewer: That's very very good. And I'd like to thank you for your time. There obviously... all we can do is literally touch upon some of these areas today, but we will have opportunity later on for feedback, there will be other resources available and ways in which you can hear more from Bart and from Tim. Thank you very much.

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