Becoming ‘one of us’ – one church’s community engagement journey

Locality is a national network of ambitious and enterprising community-led organisations, working together to help neighbourhoods thrive. The organisation has been identifying different locations around the UK as ‘Community of the Month’ and has recently recognised a community partnership in Rotherham called Kimberworth Park. Ruth Smith is one of Livability’s Community Engagement Advisors and has been associated with a church in the area that has been active in the local community partnership.

At particular moments during the year our news is dominated by one or other media extravaganzas where the rich and privileged indulge their fancies, stroke each other’s egos (or pretend to) and look to the rest of us to rejoice with them. It’s as if all the world has stopped and nothing else is happening. The Oscars, the Golden Globes, the Brit Awards and the rest. All no doubt deserved by their honoured recipients, but do we need to be saturated in all that glitz and glamour? For myself, I would much rather hear about the achievements of the hidden heroes in our communities and churches who rarely make it even into their local press. So imagine my excitement to receive news that a community with which I have had a long and affectionate association had been declared ‘Community of the Month’ by Locality.

Kimberworth Park is a social housing estate built on the edge of Rotherham in the 1950s. Over the years it has endured the typical estate challenges of deprivation, marginalisation and an unjustified bad reputation which have refused to go away despite the injection of money by various authorities seeking to improve its fortunes. The difficulties persist, as many residents struggle with health problems, isolation and poverty. It’s hard to see how that will change, especially in these cash-strapped times when social distress seems to be off the government’s radar.

But that doesn’t mean that everything is hopeless. There has been positive change in recent years, following the creation of the Kimberworth Park Community Partnership in 2011, when residents came together to stand against the closure of local community services. Some unlikely relationships were formed which made possible a whole range of successful campaigns and projects. Since then some amazing achievements have been made, all for the benefit and wellbeing of the people of the estate. It’s great to see the Partnership being awarded this quiet but significant Locality accolade. It’s well deserved.

There is, however, another hidden factor in this story of success. Around the time when community services were beginning to face elimination, the estate’s Anglican church were getting to grips with their mission to their community. I was privileged to be involved in helping them understand that unless they took the initiative in forming new, positive relationships with others on the estate their mission would not be effective and their church would not survive. We acknowledged that they did not have the capacity to start up any projects on their own; they were ill-equipped even to try to address the challenges they and their estate faced. I was able to help them review their under understanding of mission – which then gradually changed, from trying to attract people into the church, to taking God’s love out into their community; from thinking they had all the answers, to seeing the value of working alongside others with their strengths and skills. And so they joined in the Community Partnership and became invaluable co-workers in improving the lives of estate people. “We don’t see them as the church,” one community worker told me. “They are one of us.”

To hear about Kimberworth Park receiving this quiet distinction has given me great delight.

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