Much more than just a school

Park Community School


Last week I attended just some of the amazing sessions at the Food Power Festival. So many people, churches and groups are finding innovative and yet simple ways to support those suffering food poverty. Looking for good examples where dignity and solidarity are paramount. This is the story of a journey to love and support estate life born out of collaboration.

Park Community School is based in a ward that is in the top 10% deprivation areas and has been for a very long time. Our students are 98% white British and parent’s majority working class. The ethos of our school is ‘Much More Than Just a School’ which means that whilst we will do everything we can for students to achieve the right number of GCSEs we also offer wide ranging opportunities many of them off site. We will shortly be returning, after Covid restrictions are lifted, to being open till 10pm at night and a minimum of 9-6pm at weekends throughout the year, we even open on Christmas Day.

What I want to write about is how partners can aid community cohesion, parental and student buy in to what you are trying to achieve as an educational establishment. One initiative that made significant difference to us and everyone they linked with was called PO9 Pioneers.

Park Community School
A community school initiative for children and young people


he Churches in the area combined to create two posts and they were called PO9 Pioneers. The background of these two individuals was that they were Baptist Ministers. When I was introduced during our first conversation I was concerned that this was going to be about introducing those they were helping to religion.  But I couldn’t have been more wrong. They brought care, compassion, empathy, counselling, support in many guises, signposting, new ideas and links to those in our community we found as a school hard to engage with.

To read the full summary of how Park Community School benefitted from using PO9 Pioneers to reach the community download this PDF:

Please contact me for further information at

Susan Parish

What about a good film to watch?

The Florida Project

This film was made in 2017 fiction reflecting fact as it shines a light on the hand to mouth existence of children living on the peripheries of Disney World. Highlighting the life of those in poverty against an idyllic backdrop. As well as a compelling story it shows the complexities of life experienced through the eyes of children.

I found a resonance which reminded me that children see life as normal whatever their experience until someone shows or tells them otherwise. There is childhood innocence, pleasure in the small things and vulnerability which brings a human beauty to what is a hard and heart-breaking life.

If you would like to see the trailer the link is

Holy Nativity Easter Joy

Holy Nativity Easter Joy

Holy Nativity shared some hope for the future with the local community as it gave 500 Easter eggs to local children. Revd Robb and the church community organised the eggs for every pupil at Ash Green Primary School.

“This past 12 months has been so hard for everyone, none more so than our children” says Revd Robb.  “We have seen childhoods disrupted for everyone.  Lockdown has taken it’s toll on the whole family and it is important to ensure that children in our communities have a future to hope for.  For The Church, Easter is the greatest hope we have.  We remember that in the midst of the horror of Good Friday, God brought transformation.”

Worship at Home Resources for Holy Week and Easter

Holy Week

This time last year, we were trying to get our heads around not being in the church building for Holy Week and Easter.

Actually, that’s not quite right: we were trying to get our heads around not being able to gather for Holy Week and Easter. In Hodge Hill in recent years, many of the ways we have journeyed together through Holy Week have happened in spaces other than the church building: Palm Sunday has included a raucous, rag-tag ‘procession’ across Hodge Hill Common; Holy Saturday evening has been around a fire-pit in one of the patches of local ‘wasteland’; and we’ve greeted the Easter dawn by walking the Paschal candle through the streets of our estate, yelling ‘Alleluia!’ loudly on street corners. So what we missed, in Holy Week 2020, was even the opportunity to root the story of Jesus’ passion and resurrection, together, in the ground of our neighbourhood.

Our church community is well-connected in many ways, but not digitally. Only around 1/3 of our congregation have been able to use Zoom over the past year, and fewer than that are on Facebook. And in line with our ‘guiding principles’ to shape our communal life during COVID, which we first articulated together in May 2020, we have resisted making our ‘core activities’ anything that we were not all able to participate in, in some way. So our default position has been (and remains) ‘worship at home’: a weekly worship pack delivered to doorsteps, and via email / Facebook / Whatsapp for those with access, for us all to use, ‘together, apart’. Soon after Easter, that was complemented by a weekly audio recording of readings and reflections, that could be accessed via a local phone number of downloaded as an MP3 file.

Paschal Candle

The worship packs included relatively simple liturgies on paper, designed to be said by one person or more in a household, but the words were accompanied by physical resources, and suggestions for bodily actions and movement as well. Over the course of Holy Week and Easter, worshippers would have lit candles, held crosses, waved branches, kindled fires, held and decorated stones, and sent text messages or made phone calls to share an Easter greeting of joy and promise. They might have sat at their kitchen table, but also on their balcony or doorstep or in their garden (if they had one) – and gone for walks in our wider neighbourhood. We tried to use lots of pictures, and not too many words (we’d all been bombarded with too many words already, even back then).

We also wanted to recognise that the ‘great interruption’ that has been COVID-19* had done something very strange to our living-through-time. Lent had been interrupted by lockdown, and yet in a sense the deprivations of Lent were enduring well beyond Easter. Good Friday arrived on a particular day, and Easter Day followed two days later, and yet our lives, from the most local to the most global levels, seemed to be wave upon wave of ‘Good Fridays’, seemed often to be stuck in the waiting, grieving space of ‘Holy Saturday’ time, and ‘Easter Day’ was only ever arriving in the faintest, most elusive of ways. And so we offered liturgies for Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Dawn, with exactly the expectation that they would be used both on those particular days, and on days that felt like those days in the weeks and months to come.

Revd Dr Al Barrett, vicar at Hodge Hill and author of the blog  This estate we’re in

To download the worship packs designed by Al for Holy Week and Easter click on the licks below:

Palm Sunday 2020 [home worship version]

Reflective prayers for Maundy Thursday 2020 [worship at home]

FRIDAY – Stations of the Cross (Koeder & O’Tuama)

SATURDAY – Grieving & Waiting [worship at home]

SUNDAY 1 – Greeting the Easter Dawn [worship at home]

SUNDAY 2 – Eastertide booklet 2020 [worship at home]

SUNDAY 3 – Emmaus Road reflection [worship at home]


* Ruth Harley and I explore this ‘great interruption’ further in our book, Being Interrupted: Re-imagining the Church’s Mission from the Outside, In (SCM Press, 2020).

Story of the Little Free Pantry

Little Free Pantry

By Maria Lee, URC Church-Related Community Worker, Chelmsford

People on the North Avenue estate faced uncertainty. After 90 years of working with local people, North Avenue United Reformed Church closed (as a church) in 2018. Not long after the closure they were informed by Food Bank Chelmsford that North Avenue Christian Centre (NACC) was going to be closed as a distribution centre. The Jubilee Community Café (JCC) team, who worked with Food Bank Chelmsford at NACC, were very disappointed by this final decision.

North Avenue is one of the most so-called ‘deprived areas’ in Chelmsford. People’s needs for basic foods and personal care items are high. Following the closure of the Food Bank, people on the estate carried on knocking on the NACC’s door to get foods and essential goods. The JCC team did as much as they could by serving hot meals at a reasonable price twice a week at NACC. Nevertheless, I wanted to tackle the poverty-related social issues such as child poverty, hardship in lone parent households and mental health-related isolation. The team and I were keen to find effective ways of continuing to support people on the estate.

After a long discussion with the team, I found an interesting project called the Little Free Pantry (LFP). It began in 2016 in the United States. I contacted the founder, Jessica McClard who kindly explained how she started the project. LFP is a grassroots initiative and the concept is free for anyone to implement in whatever way they choose. I told Jessica about North Avenue’s situation and she encouraged me to adapt the LFP for our own context.

The LFP at North Avenue is for neighbours helping neighbours. If you have an extra tin of soup, you can leave it in the pantry, and then someone who needs the soup can take it. It is simple; you do not need to bring a voucher and there is no time limit to using the pantry. You can access it whenever you want to.

During the planning stage, concerns were raised about the possible misuse of the pantry, vandalism, for example and the potential for it to be used as a drug box, since the area has some drug-related issues. Although these are legitimate concerns, it was reassuring to find that during the three weeks prior to the launch day, the prepared space was not damaged at all. We had a launch event with local residents and church members. I shared the passage, from 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, about generous giving. A blessing was made over the pantry and we left the shelves full of useful items.

I went back the following day and was surprised to find the pantry was almost empty. I found an envelope in the back of the shelf which said, ‘Thank you’ and there was £1 coin in it. I felt overwhelmed. I am convinced that this kind of gesture shows a little step forward towards building a happier community and how to live more co-operatively.

When I discussed this new initiative with the JCC team, we decided to use Butterflies as a symbol for the LFP. The story of how the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly is a metaphor for the process of transforming states of consciousness from one dimension to another.

I pray that the LFP at North Avenue may be used as a tool for transforming an area where, in spite of poverty, people care for one another, give generously and develop a positive sense of community.

Please check the website below, if you would like to know more about the Little Free Pantry project.

Help for Families in Mixenden for Half Term

Good News
From the left, Revd Robb Sutherland, Ash Green Community Primary School headteacher Mungo Sheppard and Halifax MP Holly Lynch, delivering vouchers to students’ homes.

As half term approaches we have some good news about how Holy Nativity Church in Mixenden have stepped in to help hungry families.

Ash Green Community Primary School provide breakfast packs and food parcels to the most vulnerable families and families have been able to access the government free school meals vouchers.

To fill the void during the holiday, Holy Nativity has secured funding to provide every child in the school with a £10 shopping voucher. The vouchers are being hand delivered, abiding by social distancing guidelines, by school staff, Reverend Robb Sutherland, vicar of Holy Nativity Church himself and school governors.

Ash Green’s staff members regularly undertake house calls during lockdown to check on children’s welfare, deliver food, hand out prizes for outstanding remote learning work. They support families with any concerns that can’t be dealt with by phone.

Revd Sutherland said, “We hope that a £10 Morrisons voucher for each child at Ash Green will help families across the estate and make being stuck at home in the coldest and darkest part of the year a little bit brighter.”

You can read the full story here.

Have you got good news to share about how your estate church is helping families during the pandemic? We would love to hear all about it. Please get in touch with and we will put this on the website.

Interview with Guvna B

Christian Rapper

Guvna B, a double MOBO Award winning rapper and author from East London, was recently interviewed at the Everything Conference, the focus of which is how Christians can renew culture. Guvna B has faced challenges and disadvantages in life but has nevertheless achieved some remarkable things. How has God has used these weaknesses or the disadvantages in his life to more effectively serve Him?

Here are some extracts from the interview as Guvna B reflects:

“Well, I grew up on a council estate in East London and a big disadvantage would be the lack of opportunity…

I actually started out rapping about girls, guns, drugs, and I realised that I didn’t do drugs, didn’t have a gun, didn’t get any girls…

I’d say the only thing more exhausting than standing out and being true to yourself is waking up every day and having to put on a mask and pretend that you’re someone that deep down you know that’s not you…”

His talk about being true to yourself and God, despite the pressures of growing up in a tough area is really inspiring and honest. If you would like to read more of Guvna B’s reflection visit:

Sara Barron NECN Executive Director

The Board of Trustees of NECN are delighted to announce the appointment of our new Executive Director, the Revd Sara Barron.  Sara comes to NECN as a former trustee and Vice-Chair and brings with her a wealth of experience of, and passion for, estates ministry.  She introduces herself below and she will take up her role in January 2021.

As a Board, we are very much looking forward to Sara leading us in this next phase of NECN’s life and development, and we continue to be grateful to Allchurches Trust for their generous funding which enables us to develop our work in supporting estate churches, practitioners and evangelism nationally.

New Executive Director for NECN

I am excited to introduce myself as the new Executive Director of NECN. I am looking forward to getting to know lots of you but here is a little bit about me.

I am married to Barney, we have four children and are both Baptist ministers. We moved to Cornwall 2 years ago to a missional listening role in the economically poorest county in England. However, previous to that I lived and worked for 16 years in a large estate of 33,000 called Leigh Park, close to the city of Portsmouth. Here we started ‘Café Church’, a place for those who had no experience of church to come and explore the gospel story. The last few years in the estate, having established the church, I worked as a pioneer for the Diocese of Portsmouth to grow new and different work with the local schools and addressing food poverty, amongst other things.

Alongside that for the last 5 years I have worked for Curbs project (Children in URBan Situations), a small charity which resources, trains, and supports those working in urban and estates ministry with children and families. During my time in Leigh Park, I got involved with NECN and became a trustee and later Vice Chair. This gave me an opportunity to be involved with the Estates Evangelism Task Group as it forged a strategic plan to encourage flourishing Christian presence on every estate. I am excited about NECN’s role in supporting and encouraging those called to serve in our countries’ housing estates.

Please be in touch if you would like to share your story of estate ministry or join one of our many local support groups around the country. I look forward to sharing my love and passion for estates ministry.


News from CURBS

CURBS logo

CURBS is a small Christian charity set up in 1996 in response to the need for resources and training for church-linked children’s workers in inner cities and on outer urban estates.

Like many charities we have been hit financially by COVID and they’re currently £8000 short to keep going this year. Because of this they have lauched a 100@5 campaign. They’re asking 100 members of our community to commit to giving just £5 a month to keep CURBS going. Can you help?

CURBS would like to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has already supported them in their 100@5 campaign. They are currently at 55 regular givers on their way to the target of 100, and your support so far has kept CURBS going through this very difficult time and will continue to do so up till Christmas so thank you!


They’re not out the woods quite yet and would so love to reach the target of 100 regular givers giving £5 a month. Just 45 more people supporting CURBS in this way would make CURBS much more sustainable and pay for their development worker’s wage to the end of the financial year.

So if you meant to set up regular giving but never quite got round to it, or if you know someone who would be interested in supporting them please  visit the website


Despite lockdown, tiers and restrictions, the HUBS continue to be busy around the UK, working out different ways of how to connect with children and families during this difficult time. From days of prayer for children, to delivering packs through doors, to patiently meeting up again slowly but surely, they’ve been inspired to hear what people are doing. You can read  Stories from Lockdown here. 

CURBS continues to be an important voice in the conversations happening around how churches are reaching in to estates. It is wonderful to see this topic being more widely talked about and we look forward to seeing where God is taking us.

We thank you for your continued support of CURBS and you’ll hear more about this from us soon!