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Churches try to respond strategically to new housing developments

10 May 2018

Baptists Together, Fresh Expressions, and Churches Together in England form the New Housing Hub

Alexandra Lee

Reinforced message: echoing the Oscar-winning film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, three billboards appeared last month outside St Mary’s, Stoke Newington, in London, to highlight the fight against homelessness in the borough of Hackney. The Rector, the Revd Dilly Baker, erected the boards to draw attention to the estimated 6167 homeless people in the borough. They also highlight the shelter and foodbank hosted by the church, and urge passers-by to donate. More than £1 million has been raised to fund a community centre to meet increased demand. An additional £250,000 is needed, and Ms Baker is appealing to local businesses, and planning a sleep-out underneath the boards. “Every day someone knocks on the rectory door asking for help,” she said

Reinforced message: echoing the Oscar-winning film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, three billboards appeared last month outside St Mary’s, ...

A NEW network has been created to co-ordinate the church response to the housing crisis.

The New Housing Hub, an ecumenical grouping, met for the first time last month to share experiences and knowledge between its members, with a view to acting more strategically.

“There are so many different denominational groups networks etc doing great things,” the Revd Alison Boulton wrote to those attending the meeting. She is a co-director of the Hub, and a Baptist regional minister for Pioneer Mission Enabling. “Wouldn’t it be great if we all knew what was going on and blessed each other?

“Sadly, I keep coming across situations where different groups and denominations are unintentionally overlapping in one new housing area — not always helpfully — whereas another new area has been overlooked.”

The Hub’s first conference was organised in partnership with Baptists Together, Fresh Expressions, and Churches Together in England (which already runs the Churches Group of New Housing Areas). It was addressed by a series of church leaders with experience of serving communities under construction, including the Revd Sue Steer, a Pioneer community worker in New Lubbesthorpe, set to become a new small town on the edge of Leicester, with 4250 houses, schools, shops, and community facilities.

The construction industry has suggested that the Government is on track to provide one million new homes by 2020. The development of 14 “garden” villages and towns is an important strand of the Government’s strategy (News, 6 January, 2017). Dioceses have expressed a desire to engage at the very earliest stages of development, some establishing parishes years before residents move in (News, 9 December, 2016).

Last year, the diocese of Chelmsford received £2 million in strategic development funding towards its work to establish worshipping communities in the new housing areas that will see the population of the diocese increase by more than ten per cent over the next decade. Plans include church-planting and sponsoring two new church schools.

Among those attending last month’s conference was the Assistant Curate of St John the Baptist, Hillmorton, the Revd Stephen Gold, who is planting a church, St Gabriel’s, in Houlton, Rugby, where 6000 new homes are planned.

One aim of the hub, co-led by the Revd Penny Marsh, also a Baptist minister, is to encourages Christians and churches to be “a prophetic voice of welcome rather than protest and to advocate for the ‘not yet’ residents of planned new housing areas”. In addition to the conference, a series of regional hubs are being developed, and a database is being built of Christians engaging in new housing developments.


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