St Mark’s Milton Keynes’ update on Development Fund progress

Back in December, we announced that 18 churches across Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire had been awarded a share of over £500,000 in the third round of Development Fund grant awards. One such church was St Mark’s in Milton Keynes, a church that was planted in 2012. Led by their vicar, Revd Paul Oxley, and his team of six staff and community of volunteers, St Mark’s applied to the Development Fund to support two of their ongoing projects and were awarded £30,000.

The first project was St Mark’s Meals, a scheme that supports families across Milton Keynes struggling with food poverty. St Mark’s set up the project two years ago when they realised that too many families were struggling to provide a nutritious meal for their children. St Mark’s Meal boxes are stored in 63 schools, children’s centres and community hubs across Milton Keynes and as soon as a teacher or other professional realises that a child will not eat dinner that night, they can invite a family to choose from a selection of delicious, healthy meal options.

Paul says,

“Across Milton Keynes, one in three children live in poverty – that’s about 11,500 children. Once families have to pay rent, this figure rises to around 23,000 – a staggering and worrying number.

“To be hungry as a child means your tummy hurts, which means you can’t focus on your lessons at school, or your body isn’t healthy enough to fight off illness, or you feel embarrassed when your friends snack or talk about dinner. Whatever the reason a family is struggling, it is never the child’s fault and, when you are six, there really isn’t that much you can do about it. That’s why the help has to be ready and in place for the precise moment that someone finds out a family needs help; no child should ever go to bed hungry.”

As well as buying food supplies in bulk, St Mark’s also work with the Milton Keynes Foodbank, who donate 40-50% of the produce needed to supply the meal boxes. The grant from the Development Fund has allowed St Mark’s to buy a new van to replace the old one that Paul says, politely, wasn’t a consistent starter! By having this van, the team can now travel between schools, suppliers, and storage facilities more easily, allowing them to reach those in need quickly and effectively, as well as adding new schools to their portfolio – since starting the project, they have grown from seven sites to 63, showing just how vital the service is.

The Sanctuary, St Mark’s response to domestic abuse in Milton Keynes and further afield, is the second project that will flourish thanks to the Development Fund. Since its inception, St Mark’s has worked closely with local women’s refuges, however, the team quickly learnt that the women they were trying to help could sometimes be mistrustful of their support. The Sanctuary is the result of many years of work trying to unpick this mistrust and help churches to support victims of domestic abuse. Resources and training are given to clergy and church groups across Milton Keynes who hail from all traditions and denominations. Funding for the project has allowed Paul to recruit a team leader, one day a week over the next year, with the hope that churches and groups will subscribe to the programme, thus helping to upscale the project through subscription payments, building a network of support across this city.

The Development Fund was launched in 2019 to enable missional creativity and to help churches with practical ways to become more Christ-like. Since its launch, it has donated nearly £1.5million to over seventy local church projects across the Diocese. It is open to all parishes/benefices in the Diocese of Oxford, but it is likely to be most helpful to those that have limited financial resources to invest in missional activity. We know that even modest grants can make a significant difference in such parishes. Applications for the next round of funding are now open and close on 30 April.

Listen to Paul chat to BBC Three Counties presenter, Nighat Arif, about the amazing work of St Mark’s and the support that they have received from the Development Fund.