Over £200,000 awarded to 15 projects across the Diocese of Oxford in fourth round of Development Fund grant giving

The Diocese of Oxford has announced that they will be supporting 15 churches across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire as part of the fourth round of Development Fund grant awards. 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 over £1.5million to over 100 local church projects across the diocese.

Grants to support Church of England schools in the diocese and children, young people and families saw the largest share of awards, with two school-based projects being awarded £60,000 and £66,000 respectively. The award of these grants continues to put our work with children, young people and families at the heart of diocesan life, something we committed to with the publication of Disciples Together, which was a significant moment in our life as a diocese; we all know that there has been a growing gulf between our work and the reality of life for young people and in the culture at large. This groundbreaking report explored how we can embrace the key shifts we need to make for the benefit of God’s world and outlines steps for future ministry.

Growing new congregations is also a vital part of our common vision, and two projects were awarded funds to support their work in finding new expressions of church. A population at least the size of Edinburgh will move into the diocese over the next 15 years,and the New Congregations programme is the diocesan response to this change, centred around the aim to grow 750 new congregations over the next decade.

Revd Daniel Beesley, vicar at St James the Great in Bierton, applied to the Development Fund to support their new Connect family services, online worship and community connections by improving their audio system and were awarded £2,500.

Daniel says,

“Whilst we are an ancient church in terms of heritage (the church dates back to the 1200s and is Grade I listed) we certainly aren’t when it comes to engaging with our local community! Our previous sound system was coming up to 20 years old and wasn’t allowing us to explore new ways of worship. So, with the help of the Development Fund, match funding and a private donation of £1,000, we were able to buy a free-standing sound system for £6,000 which will allow us to really embed Connect worship into our ministry.

“During the pandemic, our Connect congregation (online) grew from about 12 people to 60, so we want to make sure that we continue to offer new and exciting ways to worship that work in our congregation’s context and setting and the new, improved sound system is just one way of doing that.

“Although it was a large financial commitment at the outset, it has allowed us to futureproof our work and also shows that by researching and really understanding what your community needs, you do not need to spend a fortune to provide a first-class worshipping experience!

“Having a new sound system also means that the church can be used more effectively by community groups and third parties – really bringing the church back into the heart of the community.”

Revd Angela Brennan, first-year curate at St Barnabus, Thatcham, submitted their application to help establish a group for new parents, thus supporting local families and strengthening community links. They were awarded £1,850, and Angela says,

“The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on everyone, but what we noticed from engaging with our community and from reports in the media was that new parents felt really isolated – having no groups or sessions to attend made early parenthood quite a lonely experience.

“Whilst it’s great that parents are now able to attend groups, St Barnabus is in an area that has quite a high level of deprivation and often it can cost up to £100 (paid upfront) for a term’s worth of activity. In normal times, this is a lot of money, but for many parents who are on maternity leave or perhaps who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, this is a cost that they just can’t afford. So, after one of our Zoom Sunday services, we asked the congregation what they might like to do to help and almost unanimously the idea of a parents’ group was agreed upon.

“This won’t be a fresh expression of church; rather it is about providing something that is lacking in our community – we have the time and skills to run a group and so this is our opportunity to support those in need.

“It is my hope that we’ll get a steady flow of new parents coming, knowing the group is there and it’s free and that there is no expectation; we are offering a safe, non-judgemental space. If parents do need professional support, then we will work with our local partners at the Families Hub and baby bank – we really want to be enablers to help support the community.

“The grant from the Development Fund will help us to be financially solvent in terms of food and rent but of course, if there are any local suppliers of cakes and treats, we’d love to hear from them to see if they can support us!”

Listen to Revd Angela Brennan chatting to Paul Coia on BBC Berkshire about St Barnabus’ New Parents Group, which has been set up as a result of their Development Fund grant.

Icknield Benefice were awarded £600 to help develop pastoral care and bereavement support by providing Cruse bereavement training to a lay-led team. Rector at Icknield, Revd Daniel Thompson, says,

“Pastoral care can be complicated at the best of times due to the size of our benefice, as we are spread across four parishes, but with the onset of the pandemic, we were mindful of those who might fall between the gaps due to isolation and illness.

“Several volunteers began working with us to offer ‘in-person’ support (in line with government guidelines) and they were incredible throughout the lockdowns, but we wanted to empower them and help them grow in confidence in the often delicate area of bereavement support.

Rev Daniel Thompson, Rector of Watlington, Val Kearney, head of Pastoral Care, and members of the pastoral care team

Rev Daniel Thompson, Rector of Watlington, Val Kearney, head of Pastoral Care, and members of the pastoral care team

“Cruse offer excellent training but at £600 it was beyond our budget, and we didn’t want to ask people to pay for it themselves as they had already done so much,” Revd Daniel continues. “Thankfully, the Development Fund has allowed us to pursue the training without having to draw on other funds and we will be able to support ten volunteers through their training.

“This will be beneficial in a number of ways, including helping the community to reconnect after a period of turmoil and trauma and allowing us as a church to engage more with our community, not just the congregations of the parishes. The grant really will allow us to open up a raft of possibilities that previously were impossible.”

The amount of money available to parishes and benefices in the Diocese of Oxford is c.£1million per year over the next three years. Grant applications must support local projects that are missionally creative, reflect where God is at work in the community and encourage wider learning across the diocese.
Janet Rogers, Programme Manager, said of this cohort of applications,

“We know that there is some incredible work going on across the diocese, in both large and small parishes, and we would encourage anyone with bold, innovative ideas to apply. We support a range of projects, from the very large to the small, and no matter the size, the Development Fund really can make a difference – whether that be helping to provide improved audio-visual facilities in churches or expanding social action projects such as meal provision and domestic abuse support, to developing youth-focused ministry – if you have an idea, we’d love to hear about it and support you on your journey.

“A full list of projects we have supported can be found on our website, as well as useful guidance on how to apply.”

The Development Fund 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 is now open and closes on 30 April 2021.


Read an article from Oxford Mail from 23 April.