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“Our concrete cows are famous…”

Bishop Steven reflects on his visit to the Diocese of Oxford’s largest centre of population.

Feeding the donkeys with Bishop Colin and Joel, 12 from Oxford, at Pennyhooks Farm in Shrivenham. Photo: Charles Chadwick.

Christ the Cornerstone Church, Milton Keynes. Photo: Paul Cowan

At Summerfield School, Milton Keynes. Photo: Paul Cowan

From left, at Pennyhook’s Farm, Marie Read, staff support worker, Bishop Steven, Joel, Bishop Colin, Lydia Otter, on of the farm’s owners, the Revd David Williams, Area Dean, Jeremy Twynham, the Revd Richard Hancock, Vicar of Shrivenham, Sue North and Richard Hurford. Photo: Charles Chadwick.

With Amanda Hough, the headteacher and children from St Luke’s CE Primary School in Maidenhead. Photo: Nicholas Cheeseman.

Milton Keynes’ famous concrete cows

Just a few days after the terrorist attack in Manchester, I spent a day in Milton Keynes. One of the community visits was to Summerfield, a community school with an amazing blend of ethnic backgrounds and faiths among its pupils. I went to Summerfield’s to launch a competition for pupils across the city to design a poster to combat hate crime. The competition is arranged by Citizens MK sponsored by the local bus company and by the Open University.

I was there with representatives of the local mosques and churches, the bus company and the OU. The winning posters will be in an exhibition next month and the best ones will be on the sides of the buses over the next few months. Summerfield is the kind of school community and the poster campaign is the kind of project which will build a healthy coherent society for the future.

While we were there as guests and visitors the children sang a song, composed by one of school staff. It was set to the tune of the 1985 hit by Starship We built this city on rock and roll (once voted the worst rock song of all time by Blender magazine). The song reviews the remarkable history of MK: 50 years old this year and Britain’s fastest growing community: “Our concrete cows are famous…..We built this city called Milton Keynes”.

The MK story is a remarkable one. Fifty years ago, the population was just 30,000. Today it’s 267,000. That makes MK the largest centre of population by far in the Diocese of Oxford (Oxford itself is 159,000; Reading is 156,000 and Slough is 161,000). The city will continue to grow. Everywhere in the Diocese there are large new housing estates but in MK the population is set to rise to 309,000 by 2027 and 400,000 by 2050. MK is at the centre of the Oxford-Cambridge economic arc; a centre for the advanced technology economy and of higher education. The city is applying to be Capital of Culture in 2023.

The children of Summerfield School were immensely proud of their city. So is everyone else I’ve met who lives there. I came away strengthened in my view that MK is a key part of the Diocese of Oxford: we need a greater awareness of the city in all we do together. There is great work going on across the churches to build a great city, to work with the poorest and to plant new churches. But there is more that needs to be done to keep pace with the growth and change taking place.

I have now visited nearly every Deanery: this week it was Maidenhead and Windsor then Vale of the White Horse. Reading is still to come this month. The welcome everywhere continues to be amazing and there are good things to see in every place. Thank you.

Helping to beat ‘holiday hunger’

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by Jo Duckles

A FRESH expression of church in Milton Keynes has joined the national Make Lunch initiative to ensure poorer children get a decent midday meal during the school holidays.
The scheme was launched because holidays can mean an extra burden for poorer families whose children are eligible for free meals during term-time.

Cooking up a treat: a nutritious lunch is served up by volunteers in Milton Keynes. Photo: St Marks MK.

Cooking up a treat: a nutritious lunch is served up by volunteers in Milton Keynes. Photo: St Marks MK.

According to a report by the MK Community Foundation, one in five children in the town are living below the poverty line. That figure struck the Revd Paul Oxley, who runs St Mark’s MK – a fresh expression of church. The national Make Lunch website states: “…in 2012, when the Archbishop of Canterbury asked a group of secondary school pupils whether they were looking forward to the summer holidays that were about to start, they said no, because they wouldn’t be able to get their free school meals while the school was closed.”

Vicki Offin, from St Mark’s, did the Make Lunch training and the scheme began in October 2015 with 23 hot, nutritious meals being served. This was followed up in February with 109 meals being served over the two days and at Easter, 124 meals were served. Vicki spoke to the Door during the spring half-term week, between Make Lunch sessions. “Lots of families are coming back. It’s really gained momentum and there is more and more interest from the council and other schools.”

For the May half-term the scheme was run in two new venues, including a family centre. There are 40 volunteers, including 14 from St Mark’s, but Vicki said that they need more help with cooking and serving the meals and clearing up afterwards. “I’ve got primary school aged kids who come with me to help and they like getting involved and helping and playing all the games.
“We are now looking at what to do during the summer holidays and want to definitely continue offering meals twice a week,” added Vicki.
Make Lunch is funded by donations from members of St Mark’s, along with food donated from Morrisons, Tesco and the food bank, as well as grants from the parish council and the MK Community Foundation.

As the Door went to press Vicki and her team of volunteers were preparing to serve up lunches for the last two weeks of the summer holidays.

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.

Milton Keynes leaders launch Living Wage City

The Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Revd Alan Wilson, was among the community leaders at the launch of Milton Keynes as a Living Wage City.

Following an announcement of the new national Living Wage of £7.85 per hour compared with the Minimum Wage of £6.50, Council Leader Peter Marland said: “It’s only right that every worker gets a decent day’s pay for a decent day’s work. MK should become the first Living Wage City.”

Bishop Alan, one of several faith leaders present, said: “It is good to see people turning out to raise awareness of social inequality and do something about it.”

At an event organised by Citizens:mk and hosted by KPMG, an audience of 50 guests heard first-hand accounts from workers about the impact that the Living Wage has had on their lives.

Tracy Schembre, pastry chef at The Open University said: “My husband and I both work full time to make ends meet, so family trips to the cinema and bowling have been few and far between. Now I have the Living Wage we can put that extra money aside so once a month we can now have a family day out without worry, which in turn has brought our family unit closer and happier together.”

Alan Burrell, Director of Estates at the OU, said: “We think it is important, as a socially-responsible employer, that all of our staff including contractors are able to provide for themselves and their families. We know that there are potential benefits for the OU too, such as increased motivation and morale. “

Mike Kelly, Head of Living Wage at KPMG, said: “We want to see areas such as Milton Keynes become Living Wage Zones – a defined geographical area in which at least 75 per cent of employees are paid the Living Wage.”

After the event, Living Wage supporters went on a short ‘action walk’ to thank and give cookies to employers on Silbury Boulevard who have responded to a recent Living Wage Survey.

 

Spreading Hope across Milton Keynes

AN ARMY of 135 young people from 23 churches joined in the second year of a mammoth mission event in Milton Keynes.

The 11 to 18-year-olds found themselves doing social action projects from gardening and litter picking to praying for people across the city during Hope MK in the autumn half term.

Breakfast was available at 8.15am with the days starting at 9.30am with teaching, worship, prayer and preparation throughout the mornings ready for the work in the afternoons.

The Revd Ricky Rew, Youth Minister at Spurgeon Baptist Church, led the ecumenical project with 60 volunteers. Another 30 adults were enlisted to cook and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Community teams were sent to social action projects, running activities for younger children, baking cakes and biscuits, and making and delivering food parcels. Some young people were sent to pray for people while others did litter picks, gardening, washing windows and getting to know residents in sheltered accommodation. Others travelled around the city on buses, offering to pray for people they got into conversation with.

On the final afternoon the teams were each given £50 and told to go and bless people and be generous with it. Some were challenged to buy something small then swap it for something of greater value, continuing to trade-up until they had something we could use to bless people with. One team ended up with a dress worth £90. Last year a team was given a donation of a £1,950 wedding dress that was given to a bride to be.

When they returned each day, dinner would be served and they would share stories and pray for the people they had met while they were working.

The week ended with a fun afternoon of activities with inflatables, sumo wrestling, video games and a presentation of the Gospel.

It was the second year that Hope MK had taken place in the Autumn half term, following the event proving a resounding success in 2013. The majority of participants were aged 11 to 14, with those aged 16 to 17 recruited as young leaders.

Ricky said Hope MK will take place again in 2015 and hopes that churches and other organisations will come forward with ideas for new projects. He said: “If churches have a project they would like to run in their area, and maybethey have never had the people to do it before, we can provide a team of about 10 youngsters.”
For more see www.hopemk.com or email hello@hopemk.com

‘Hey good looking – welcome to St Mark’s Dot Com’

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THE headline above is the greeting that meets you on the home page of the website of one of Milton Keynes’s newest Christian communities, St Mark’s.

There the Sunday meetings do not involve formal worship and a group of committed people are working to provide hope in the quickly expanding Buckinghamshire city. The tagline at the bottom of the ‘about’ page on the website states: “When everything else has faded away three things remain; Faith, Hope and Love.” (1. Corinithians 13, vs 13.)

The Revd Paul Oxley, who leads St Mark’s, is a Milton Keynes bloke who moved away for university in 1998. He was inspired to set something up on a trip home to visit his mum while he was completing his curacy in London. He noticed large notice boards about the expansion of Milton Keynes, outlining plans for thousands of people to move to the city.

“We started a conversation with Bishop Alan as to whether we’d be able to start a Christian community from scratch, focusing fully on meeting people outside of the mainstream Church,” says Paul. That was three years ago and since then Paul has moved back to Milton Keynes with his wife Laura and two-year-old daughter, Isabella. Together the family have worked to develop St Mark’s into a community of 25 to 30 people who meet regularly.

Snowdome launch

The official launch of St Mark’s was with a carol service in the Cineworld – the same building that houses the famous MK Snowdome. The service attracted about 200 people.

Sunday meetings take place in the Buzzy, a building that has previously been the Chicago’s nightclub and later the bus station. “Now a youth organisation runs it and they have various activities going on. We use it on a Sunday.

“Our aim is that if you are happy in the church you are going to we don’t want to take you away from that. We are trying to reach people who are not going to a church, who have maybe had bad experiences with church. Everyone has a need for faith and Jesus is for everyone. If we do something we feel will put people off we will scrap it.”

The Sunday meetings include muffins, crumpets, tea, coffee and the chance to hang out and deepen friendships. There is a separate prayer meeting each week, but the idea is that the Sunday meetings are completely accessible to all.

Pub Alpha

St Marks uses other venues too – a marriage course and an Alpha course have been held in the Slug and Lettuce pub and meetings regularly take place in people’s homes.

“We are building a community inspired by Acts 2: vs 42 to 47, meeting in each other’s homes, breaking bread together and sharing fellowship,” says Paul.

This month the girls are planning a Bollywood night with a curry while the guys are going out for a Mexican meal.

“Milton Keynes is a unique place. Eleven people move here every day and it is a unique place in that it does not work in the same way other cities do.

“It can be hard to meet people because we don’t have normal streets so building community is a real key. Our aim is that as people discover faith they will find hope. We work with a couple of charities in the city because we want to help give hope to people that don’t have it. Milton Keynes has a young and vibrant population but is lower than average in church attendance. One in five children live below the breadline.”

See www.stmarksmk.com for more details.