Roker, Sunderland

The church had voted in favour of an initiative called ‘Opening the Threshold’, which aimed to engage further with the local community by opening its doors as a resource and service to local residents.

Having been a part of a number of local networking groups including “Churches Together”, the voluntary community sector network and ‘faith in our communities’ there was up to date knowledge of what was already happening in the area but they felt that it was time to find out what they could offer too.

They organised an informal ‘drop-in’ consultation event (including afternoon tea 2-4pm!) at the church with invitations delivered to those they knew were already active within the local area including people from the local authority, community and voluntary organisations based in the area, local schools, police, churches, those currently using the building and 300 local residents who lived in the streets surrounding the church.

People were invited to bring promotional material of their own work and services available in the area to share and the church also had the architect’s plans for developments to the building. They provided craft activities for children who attended with their parents and Post-It notes were placed on every table, which, once written on, were added to boards that asked people to think of the local neighbourhood and answer, “Wouldn’t it be great if…” and “what concerns me is…?”

The event also encouraged feedback on the church’s ideas for possible project work. Contact details of attendees were collected, and their areas of interest were logged so that they could be kept up to date with development and dates for future events.

95 people attended the session in total, 82 Post-It notes were completed and several new relationships were sparked which eventually led to the redevelopment of the church vestry space into a computer suite with five refurbished computers, the delivery of children and young people’s activities during school holidays, the sharing of the building with a newly formed community interest group working with people living with memory loss and dementia, and project work with a local artist and a local chef.

A Community Action Team was established to draw all the people now using the building to look at the best way forward for all those passionate about supporting the local community by using their skills and resources together. Three years on and the work continues. A regular newsletter is distributed to the 300 houses surrounding the church to share good news stories and promote the work being done.

The congregation felt that making themselves visible to the local community, meeting people where they were already living and working, and inviting them to hear the church’s story and ideas, provided them with the initial stepping stones for partnerships to develop, evidence for funding applications and a kickstart to achieving the aims of their ‘Opening the Threshold’ initiative.

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