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MP's accolade

12 September 2014

KEITH BLUNDY ASSOCIATES

"THIS is the most successful community project in Shildon probably ever - certainly that I have seen in 20 years," Helen Goodman (left in photo), MP for Bishop Auckland, in County Durham, said. She was commending Shildon Alive, run by St John's, Shildon, which has a community hub in the centre of the town, plus two community gardens, a credit union, a food-aid project, an alcoholics' support group, carries out adult literacy work, and runs various other activities.

It is building on the legacy of nearly 200 years of community engagement, the Priest-in-Charge, the Revd David Tomlinson (right in photo), says. Its aim is to improve the health, confidence, and skills of more than 2000 local people.

It was Ms Goodman's first visit to the project, to stage one of her regular surgeries there. "This project meets people where they are at; it speaks their language," she said. "There are more people involved, and I wonder if that is because it is church-led. You have people with a strong sense of mission, and it is more purposeful.

"It is important that this is a long-term project, not just a quick fix. The church has been in Childon for 180 years, and will be here for another 180 years."

"Not all the legacy of the church is positive," Paula Nelson, a full-time community development worker in the project, said. "Some of our visitors are frightened of going into church, and get tongue-tied when talking to someone like a vicar. They see them as somehow different."

But Mr Tomlinson has challenged that part of the legacy by creating what he calls "the porous church", which is now paying dividends: families are coming to church for the first time, and then continuing to come. And now a house group is beginning, where "new mums" explore issues of faith.

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