Project Route Map

Learning from Retail – Mary Portas

Posted on: 30/01/2013

Holywell_High_StreetThe parallels between the retail sector and the church is an area that is of great interest – retail has much to teach the church, but the key question is drawing the right lessons and not the wrong ones. Revd Philippa Boardman’s excellent session at the recent National Archdeacons’ Conference at Swanwick told the story of rebirth of St Paul’s Old Ford in East London and brought out some wider lessons. For me the highlight was her co-option of The Portas Review, and particularly her section on ‘My vision’ which, if you want to see the original, is on page 14.

To demonstrate the proximity of church and this vision for the future of the high street, Philippa took this vision statement and simply substituted the word “church” in place of “high street”; the text then read as follows:

My vision

I want to breathe economic and community life back into our high streets churches

 

Let me spell out my vision of the future.

 

I don’t want to live in a Britain that doesn’t care about community.

 

And I believe that our high streets churches are a really important part of building communities and pulling people together in a way that a supermarket or shopping mall, however convenient, however entertaining and however slick, just never can.

 

I want to put the heart back into the centre of our high streets churches, re-imagined as destinations for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning. … The new high streets churches won’t just be about selling goods worship. The mix will include shops space for worship but could also include housing, offices, sport, schools or other social, commercial and cultural enterprises and meeting places. They should become places where we go to engage with other people in our communities, where shopping worship is just one small part of a rich mix of activities.

 

This will be the new value.

 

High streets Churches must be ready to experiment, try new things, take risks and become destinations again. They need to be spaces and places that people want to be in. High streets churches of the future must be a hub of the community that local people are proud of and want to protect.

For me this is as compelling a vision for the church as it is for the high street and provides lots of food for thought.  Clearly the church is (or should be) all about standing in the centre of the local community; and yet I suspect there are few churches that could not learn something from the vision statement above.

Look out for further posts that pick up some of these ideas in more detail.

Peaceful Protest

Posted on: 17/11/2011

The current occupation of the area outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London has captured the national and international media spotlight for a number of reasons. However, my interest has been stirred by the apparent dilemma that faces the St. Paul’s establishment. That dilemma, as I see it, is that the church, as commanded by Jesus, is supposed to be sticking up for the poor and needy, and marginalised in society. And that is exactly what the protesters outside the Cathedral front door are claiming to do. So in effect, both the protesters and the church authorities are “singing off the same hymn sheet” (so to speak).

So why the controversy?

Well, the answer to that question is best answered by other, more politically astute commentators, but I am intrigued that the Cathedral leadership seem to be unsure of how to handle the situation they find themselves in. First they shut the doors, then they open them again, then they threaten legal action to evict them, then they don’t. It all looks a little confused.

I am at the moment dipping into a book by Giles Fraser called “Christianity with Attitude”. It is a series of articles written by Giles for The Guardian newspaper, and extracts from his appearances on Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”. Mr. Fraser, as you may recall, resigned from his post as Canon Chancellor at St. Paul’s in October. In an interview with The Guardian following his resignation, he said-

“I cannot countenance the idea that this would be about Dale Farm on the steps of St Paul’s. I would want to have negotiated down the size of the camp and appeal to those there to help us keep the cathedral going, and if that meant that I was thereby granting them some legal right to stay then that is the position I would have had to wear … I believe that we embarked upon a course of action that would lead to a place where I didn’t want to go.”

What would Jesus Do?One doesn’t have to read too far between the lines to see that the St. Paul’s authorities (with the apparent exception of Giles Fraser and possibly a few others) didn’t want the protestors camped outside the cathedral. The possible reasons for this are many, but surely it is the command of Jesus to take a stand against poverty and the causes of poverty and injustice, and to stand up for the marginalised? Even if the cathedral did not accept the protestors’ apparent argument that the actions of the traders in the Stock Exchange were the cause of all of society’s current problems, isn’t there a case for supporting a peaceful protest to raise awareness of such issues?

A question of space

And if the answer to this question is yes, then what about considering creating space in our expressions of church buildings for such actions? In looking at how we might redevelop or rebuild our churches, or construct new ones, it is easy to consider where the “usual” things should go – dais, pulpit, font/baptistry, kitchen, vestry etc etc. But such things are all primarily internal fixtures and spaces, visible only when you are inside the building. What about a space externally, where the church can publicly express itself? Often the space around the outside of a building is resolved last – trying to squeeze in enough car parking and landscaping to satisfy the local planning authority. But what if it was considered at the same time as the internals – as a place to hold (for example) an outdoor Easter service? A prayer meeting? An area to wash cars and give out bacon sandwiches – free- on a Saturday morning? Even a place to hold a peaceful protest about a local or national issue, to draw attention to it? Or a place to invite other groups to protest over issues that are aligned with Christian values and principles of social justice and the eradication of poverty?

Too often, in my experience, we get excited about our expression of church as it appears inside the building in the form of fixtures and fittings, and even the style of worship. What about – when the opportunity presents itself – giving some thought to how we can express ourselves as a church body outside the church. If this is a thought that fills you with fear and dread- then it might just be that it is the right thing to do……

[hr]Colin Smith is a planning consultant and a member of Keystone Domain.

Holiday Club!

Posted on: 04/08/2011

 

Internal view - Holiday Club in action

Holiday Club in action | Nigel Walter

Inside…

Each year in the first week of the summer holidays Histon Baptist church hosts a Holiday Club, with over 200 children attending activities each morning. This year was the first time the holiday club had been held Holiday Club bannersince the reordering works were completed. The newly created flexibility of the space has made a huge difference for activities such as this.

“The Baptist Church re-ordering made for a much warmer, user friendly space. It felt open, light and warm yet retained a feeling of intimacy. With a group of over 200 children it gave us much needed flexibility for both all together times and small group times. For us, it is an excellent change.”  Tim Blake, Leader

This is a great example of the additional value you can add to a space with an imaginative reordering – the space simply couldn’t be used in the same way in its old format.

…and outside

The space in front of Histon Baptist Church

Histon Baptist Church during the Holiday Club Barbeque | Nigel Walter

The week was rounded off with a final session on Friday afternoon, followed by a barbecue. Parents are invited to come and see what the children have been up to. For a long time the church has had the benefit of a large expanse of open space at the front, which is the perfect setting for the barbecue. This becomes a great space for an open welcome – there are no divisions between the fully public realm of the road and pavement, and the church’s public space of the lawned area.

The Barbecue Crew

The ‘turn and burn’ crew | Nigel Walter

This ‘forecourt’ is a great asset when used for events such as this – it becomes a space of welcome and inclusion, and provides the church as a whole with a much lower ‘threshold of engagement’ with the community.

And in this case there is space for those working hard on the barbeque too…