WHEN the Revd Daniel Ramble and his wife, the Revd Judith Ramble, moved to their new parish, St James’s, Hill, in Sutton Coldfield, in 2017, on the surface it seemed a vibrant church in a leafy suburb. But the couple soon uncovered some of the huge social needs that existed, many of which were hidden away behind closed doors, in their new parish.
Rather than leap in immediately with suggestions of ways in which the church could respond, they managed to get funding from Tearfund to conduct a “community-mapping” exercise. This discovered some startling statistics, including the fact that the parish had the highest number of people living with dementia in the West Midlands, and a rapidly growing number of single-parent households.
Mr Ramble said: “We received nearly 1200 responses: a one-in-ten response rate from the people living in the parish, which was fantastic. We then spent a year praying about it with our lay leadership team, and then we held a parish listening exercise. Of 232 people on the electoral roll, we had 200 responses to this. Again, we spent a year praying about it with our lay leadership team. Then we brought both studies together at our vision day to establish [our] short-, medium-, and long-term vision.”
THIS vision has resulted in a network of partnerships with the private sector, town councils, and charities to offer a host of services that try to meet the needs uncovered by the survey, all housed under the banner “Hope for Sutton”.
The services offered include a memory café for people with dementia and their carers — thanks to a partnership with a private care provider, which is providing trained staff and trained volunteers.
There is also a café that is run five days a week for people to come together, to try to chip away at the loneliness experienced by people of all ages, a need which also emerged from the community-mapping exercise.
And, in partnership with a specialist college for young people with additional needs, Wilson Stuart School, a group of students are helping a chef to prepare and serve meals in the café, as a way of improving their skills and mixing intergenerationally.
The church’s café was renovated to ensure that it met commercial standards; grant funding was obtained from the town council. All the food comes from local supermarkets, including the Co-op, Sainsbury’s, and M&S, as part of the charity FareShare, which redistributes food that would otherwise go to waste.
A separate programme to help build good mental health in young people was begun after the suicide of a teenager in the parish. The church has received funding to send a trained youth worker into schools, to help children with the transition from primary to secondary school, and build resilience for any challenges that they might face.
OTHER projects are also emerging, such as an outreach music ministry in primary schools, working with children with disabilities from disadvantaged backgrounds; and the church has also rehomed the toy library, which was about to close.
It has been a steep learning curve for the leadership team, lay and clergy, and the wider church community, which had been largely elderly. But, Mr Ramble said, “We have learnt to manage and pace the culture change, which has bought many new families [to the church].
“We believe any church can grow intergenerationally, through being open to partnerships, collaboration, and social action with the private sector and civil society. If the vision is simple and clear, then the church is seen as a credible partner by other organisations.
The Revd Daniel Ramble with visitors to the memory café
“We were aware, as cuts have been coming to services, that there is a clear gap between what is needed and what councils and the NHS can do — and that is where churches across the country can relate to people and their needs.
“It’s about the common good, the Anglican social gospel, and it is based in both Benedictine and Augustinian spirituality. Churches across Britain have been doing this ministry of compassion for a very long time.
“We are now seeking new partners with whom we can share our learning, and also looking at various faith-sector funding agencies who would like to come and work with us.”
The projects have been supported by £150,000 in funding so far — not a penny of which has come from a church body, but from the private sector, and council and corporate CSR budgets. Mr Ramble, however, said that the team was getting ready to put in a Strategic Development Fund bid in the future.
“We feel really blessed — by the bishops who understand this vision, partners who trust us to deliver, people who have joined this movement, and our team who shares this vision. Without their prayers, support, and hard work, none of these things would have been possible.”