Paving the way for new communities

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WHEN you pick up the keys to your brand new home, the sound of diggers and cement mixers can be heard as the houses that your new neighbours will eventually move into are still under construction. That’s the scenario for thousands of people moving to new estates across the diocese. The Door explores how the Church is responding to the growth of new communities.

By Peter Morgan

Diocesan New Communities Officer, Peter Morgan.

Diocesan New Communities Officer, Peter Morgan.

With the General Election looming, one area where there is consensus between all three major parties is the need to address the “housing crisis”.

During this election campaign the Government will claim that house building, during its administration, is recovering from the financial crash of 2008/9 and that under their direction, more affordable housing has been built than under the previous administration. These claims are allied with the recent announcement by the top ten house builders that their profits have surged by an eye-watering 34 per cent, and have almost returned to pre-crash levels.

Such crowing is in stark contrast to one report commissioned by the homeless charity Shelter in which they claim the industry is building 100,000 fewer homes per year than is needed to remedy the housing shortage. So on this issue the battle lines are being drawn and manifesto pledges put into overdrive – the Conservative Party say they will build 200,000 new homes for first time buyers, the Labour party have pledged 200,000 a year – the Liberal Democrats a staggering 300,000 a year by 2020.

Given the past performance of successive Governments on this issue, we could treat these claims with some scepticism. However, one thing is certain – delivering new housing and, more specifically affordable housing is set to be a major concern for the next Government. The Oxfordshire Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) 2014, concluded that Oxfordshire alone would need to build up to 100,000 new homes by 2031 to meet anticipated demand. Whilst this of course takes account of the existing pipeline to 2026, this number is still eye-wateringly high.

Local councils are trying to find available/deliverable sites to meet this demand and are updating their Local Plans to ensure new development can be delivered in a managed way. New housing is an urgent challenge for our local authorities, as new communities which will inhabit these places are an urgent challenge for the diocese. Given the election promises made by the major parties, this sense of urgency is set to continue for some time to come.

Peter Morgan is the New Communities Officer for the Diocese of Oxford. This edition of the Door was put together in the run-up to the 2015 UK General Election.

Continued growth in Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes as a ‘New Town’ came into existence in the late 1960s and is still expanding with new building going on all the time. The Revd John Robertson, the Director of Ecumenical Mission, chairs the New Communities group in the area.

“We have building going on constantly. We have a meeting with the council looking forward to the next 25 years and how far the boundary will extend,” says John. Currently there are 13,000 new houses planned, a figure that looks set to increase.

In the east ‘A Church Without Walls’ is a developing Christian community headed up by the United Reformed Church minister, the Revd Ruth Maxey, to serve the Broughton and Brooklands area. Her house is provided by the Diocese of Oxford in an ecumenical project. There are aleady 2,800 relatively new homes with another 3,000 set to be built.

“That’s a good example of shared work,” said John. “Ruth has started the work from scratch largely by developing networks and contacts through wider community work. There is now a solid core of involvement with a wide variety of people engaging with ‘Café Church’,’ Dinner Church’ and now ‘Forest Church’.

Another Fresh Expression is St Mark’s, a community of people mainly in their 20s and 30s and run by the Revd Paul Oxley.

John added that construction to the west of the town is well under way with some 6,000 houses planned.  He said: “Here, among other things we are looking at the possibility of the diocese expanding its schools’ provision to serve the community as it grows.”

Helping Warfield thrive

The process began for Warfield Church in Berkshire in the autumn of 2012 when we began to grasp how 2,200 new homes and 7,000 new people would see the shape of the parish change forever.

The church needs to be heard and heard very early on in the process. Churches may be the largest provider of youth and children’s ministry in the area, the largest provider of activities for older generations, be the most engaged in their schools and hold a huge volunteer force.

We understand our communities and recognise what will make them thrive. For Warfield, we knew that many of the new homes would be filled with young families; we didn’t want to see them cut off. In January 2013 we invited the Bracknell Forest head of planning to talk to us. We invited Peter Morgan, from the Diocesan New Communities Group to come too. He is an expert in planning and development. The diocese have provided us with an exceptional resource in Peter.

The initial plans contained two primary schools and a community centre. And so we began with one of the schools. I was already a governor at the one-form entry Church of England school, so an initial discussion with the chair of governors and headteacher soon revealed that we would be up for moving to a larger school. We then asked the head of the Local Education Authority to visit us at the church office and we discussed the possibilities. It was clear that he didn’t want to lose the existing school, but it is was also clear that a new CofE school would mean that new houses would sell like hotcakes. Discussion soon led to a plan to keep the existing school and add another two-form entry church school, under the leadership of the same head and governors. The new school will open in September 2016.
When it came to the community centre we began to present a vision for something that Warfield could be proud of, inspired by the Finchampstead Baptist Centre.

Eventually we took everyone involved to Finchampstead where we laid on a buffet and invited councillors to come and talk to us about how a partnership with the church could result in such superb facilities.
The result was that plans for the Warfield Community Hub are being drawn up. The church has offered extra finance to expand this project, along with vision, energy and capable people. This is all still being worked out and Warfield Church has encouraged people to stand for the parish and borough councils so that we can influence the infrastructure.
There’s still a way to go and some more areas to engage with. But here’s my quick summary:

  • Engage early
  • Bring in diocesan support – New Communities Officer
  • Recognise your significance – your community needs you
  • Know what you want to achieve
  • Run at it. And when it looks like it’s not going to happen, run at it some more!

Revd Dr Mark Griffiths, is the Vicar of Warfield Church and part of the Diocesan New Communities Committee.

A Garden City

by Ian Biscoe

THE Government recently announced that Bicester is to become a garden city. This will mean up to 13,000 new homes being built in Bicester, doubling the population of the current town. The development is broken down into three key areas of Bicester, Kingsmere, Eco Town and Graven Hill. Working in collaboration with the other churches in Bicester we are trying to respond to this rapid growth. Within the Bicester and Islip Deanery we also have a further 1,500 houses in development at Heyford Park. (See page seven for more on the Bicester and Islip Deanery.) New housing development brings huge challenges for the local church but also huge opportunities.

Children plant flower beds at the site of the new St Edbury's School on the developing Kingsmere Estate. Photo: Dave Fleming

Children plant flower beds at the site of the new St Edburg’s School on the developing Kingsmere Estate. Photo: Dave Fleming

We are fortunate to have a Church Army evangelist, John Bentley, who is working with St Edburg’s Church and a group from the Bicester Baptist Church reaching out onto the Kingsmere estate. They deliver a home baked cake and welcome pack to every new resident. Emmanuel Church Bicester is exploring ideas for church planting on the Eco town. This includes a new monastic community, church families moving into the new homes and a possible new place of worship.

Caversfield St. Lawrence are working at developing and improving their church building so it can be used for both worship and community ministry within Caversfield and the Eco Town.
On the Graven Hill development Bicester Baptist Church are pursuing ideas for a place of worship and there is an imaginative idea for a centre for training and supporting young people.

The Revd Ian Biscoe is the Team Vicar of the Bicester with Bucknell, Caversfield and Launton Benefice.

Aylesbury Vale – a great place to grow

by Andrew Blyth

THE landscape around Aylesbury and its surrounding villages is changing fast. Churches across our deanery are having to respond to enormous challenges and mission opportunities being created by a string of housing developments. We already have 5,000 new homes built or in advanced preparation and many more have been proposed. One recent estimate suggests that up to 35,000 homes may eventually be created in the Aylesbury Vale area over the next 18 years.

The super-modern Aylesbury Vale Academy when it was under construction. Photo: Gordon Joyner.

The super-modern Aylesbury Vale Academy when it was under construction. Photo: Gordon Joyner.

As Area Dean I’m frankly grateful that the scale of the building means it is obvious that ‘business as usual’ is just not going to be an option. Whether we are looking at the needs of an entirely new community of several thousand people or the impact of several hundred homes developed alongside an existing village community, we know that we have to think creatively about different ways of growing and expressing church witness and life.

So far the clear theme in our mission planning is the need for a ‘mixed economy’ of different styles of partnership working. On the Buckingham Park development a group drawn from long-standing ecumenical partners has enabled local churches to forge links into the new community through the tried and tested path of founding a parent and toddler group and active involvement in the primary school.
With the Berryfields development to the north of Aylesbury, we found we needed to forge a new style of partnership with the Aylesbury Vale Academy school which led to the appointment of the Revd Gareth Lane to serve in a jointly funded role as Pioneer Vicar in the community and Chaplain to the school.

Looking forward to the start of work on the major Broughton Crossing development, we have two adjacent parishes with very different traditions and styles committed to working together on an informal ‘covenant’ basis to combine their strengths. With so much population growth there are of course going to be major challenges for our deanery, not least around personnel and financial resources; however, we share an optimism that God will use these as much for the renewal of the ‘old’ as for the ‘new’. We can’t help noticing that the strapline on the bottom of the signs informing people that they are entering the Aylesbury Vale District reads ‘A great place to grow’!

The Revd Canon Andrew Blyth is the Area Dean of Aylesbury.

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