IN RECENT months, in a village in Lancashire, a new form of transport has been launched for its older population. The residents of Buckshaw Retirement Village now enjoy regular days out in colourful, battery-powered rickshaws, piloted by an array of volunteers from the area.
It is a creative community project that is the initiative of a pioneer minister, the Revd Andrew Kesiak, who says: “I wanted to do something unique, even crazy.”
They can be seen whizzing along the tree-lined pathways, taking in the views, and waving to schoolchildren as they pass. “It could be a visit to the shops, or a trip out to get ice cream,” Fr Kesiak says. “It has taken a while to get this off the ground, but it has been worth it.”
Sara CuffThe Revd Andrew Kesiak
Fr Kesiak was appointed pioneer minister in 2018, with the remit of finding new ways of doing, or being, church. The pioneer post was originally an ecumenical enterprise, jointly funded by the Methodist and Anglican Churches Together in Chorley, Buckshaw, and Leyland, Lancashire.
Three years ago, Blackburn diocese withdrew its funding, but the post remained, and so did the mission. For Fr Kesiak, a former Roman Catholic priest, who arrived in the UK 17 years ago from Poland, that meant working with people who do not attend church, but who would benefit from contact with people of faith.
“In 2018, I had been given three main areas to address: first of all to work with people who belong to the 50-plus age bracket. In Buckshaw, there’s a totally new housing development of several thousands of people, mostly young families with children, and there are loads of different activities for them, but not for people who are 50 and older.”
His second remit was to connect with people who work in Buckshaw Village; and the third request was to build on the relationship with Buckshaw Retirement Village, comprised of care facilities and 400 properties with communal facilities.
“There was already a Christian presence there,” Fr Kesiak says, “because different churches from Chorley and Leyland provide that with weekly services, both Methodist and Anglican. My role for the past five years has been to build on that, and add something more.”
THE only formal church in village is an Anglican church called Buckshaw Village Church, which was planted by St Andrew’s, Leyland, in 2010, and meets in the Community Hall. Fr Kesiak connected with them and, after initially offering music therapy at the retirement home, embarked on other projects in the village, such as “20 Guitars”, Gregorian chant, and “Soul Children”.
Then he decided to try something more ambitious. “A lot of residents told me how they used to love cycling — the feeling of the wind in your hair, fresh air on your face. So, I thought nowadays, when you want to take an elderly person out, you go in a car. And that is good in itself — some of the older people are isolated, it gets them outside.
“But you go to your destination and come back, and, actually, apart from that final point, they don’t see anything, because they’re behind the window. They don’t experience anything. And I thought it would be brilliant to give them the opportunity to feel that freshness again.
“A rickshaw seemed to be an excellent solution. You’re on a bike. You don’t pedal, but you have the same experience the same sensation. And it’s about the journey itself. You just can stop and experience nature.
“You can engage in conversations, and become again a part of the community you may have felt disconnected from, reducing social isolation. I found this aspect to be particularly significant and fulfilling for them; something they had been longing for.
Maria KesiakResidents enjoy a ride in a rickshaw
“The other element is the driver. Part of my remit was to engage people in the community — lots of young people I met were interested in getting fit — and they could do this, free of charge, while connecting to the older people, creating relationships, friendships: a two-way thing.”
Key to the success of the project in his eyes was the Christian witness that the rickshaws would provide. “The rickshaws are unique. You see them in London, but not in Manchester, and certainly not in Chorley. I wanted them to spark curiosity, and for people to see the Christian presence on our community — and how we care about our people.”
His enthusiasm for the rickshaw project was infectious, and soon a partnership was formed with the Anglican Buckshaw Village Church, the Chorley and Leyland Methodist Circuit, and Buckshaw Retirement Village.
Obtaining the rickshaws was difficult. “The only place you could actually get them was Copenhagen. And, at that time, they wanted €9000 for one rickshaw. We needed two or three.”
A fund-raising campaign was launched, and he was approached by an anonymous donor from the Buckshaw congregation who offered to meet the remaining cost. Then, lockdown began, and the project was grounded.
“After two years, we restarted our project,” Fr Kesiak said, “And, unfortunately, because of Brexit, and because of the pandemic and other things, the prices rose again from €9000 to €14,000; so I had to start looking again. And, to my surprise, I found a source. In my home town, in Poland, there was a very small factory which had been making rickshaws for the past 20 years, and I had never heard of them. Not only that, but the price was significantly lower.”
THE rickshaws were delivered to Buckshaw Village in February 2023, and, in April, a launch event was held at the retirement home.
“The community response has been immense — the level of energy and support has been incredible. Now, the rickshaws are a regular feature of village life, with the retirement home residents taking in the air, enjoying the views, and waving to schoolchildren as they whizz past. I think an important aspect to this has been the fun of it. And we are still recruiting the volunteers.
“For me, it has shown that what may at times seem impossible can actually be accomplished. And, when we work together, when we just have a vision and we are determined, and we just keep pushing, a multitude of things become achievable.
“I’m glad that we managed to do that in an ecumenical setting, uniting people from different backgrounds. The majority are not regular churchgoers; but, when you share with them your passion, and introduce them to the right concept, they place their trust in you and willingly provide all they can.
“And this is what I experience in my role as a Pioneer Minister: almost every day, I encounter community volunteers who often identify themselves as non-religious, or even atheists. But, they have good hearts, and they give their time and money and help with the projects. And my experience of five years has been that God is at work everywhere.
“We need to believe in people, because there’s lots of goodness in them. That’s what I discover every day. And we need to be creative and courageous in reaching them. We can’t approach these individuals with a message like, ‘We want you to come to church, become a Christian, embrace this and that,’ because they’ll immediately decline.
Maria KesiakThe rickshaw and passengers on a ride
“A good number of them were once part of the Christian community, but have since distanced themselves. Some experienced significant pain and harm from the Church during their upbringing, perceiving it as a harsh and unkind environment. Some people are just indifferent. They don’t care about any sort of religion.
“But, if you present them with a good idea, and they see that you don’t have an agenda; if you’re actually generous and don’t expect anything in return, they will follow you wherever you go.
“Doing something good in a community, like this project, is a new way of doing church. It is Christlike, though not everybody will accept that. But I can sense God at work here. And, sooner or later, an encounter with the sacred will happen.
“The best way, the quickest way to reach people is just do something good. Create a project, which will be based on universal principles or values, and then you will discover how many people are around you, people you normally don’t see every day.”