As several council-run children’s and families services in Oxfordshire face cuts, more than 100 people attended a conference last Saturday (5 November) to pledge to work together more effectively to meet the needs of vulnerable people in their communities.
The event at the Church Mission Society in east Oxford was hosted by the Viva-supported Doorsteps network and attracted church ministers, children’s and youth workers, and charity leaders from across the county, and beyond.
Through keynote talks, workshops, testimonies and small group discussions, the aim of the day was to inspire people with fresh ideas and encourage greater collaboration.
Supt Joe Kidman, Police Commander for Oxford (below left), opened the conference by highlighting how churches can impact the whole community and work alongside authorities. He reminded them: “The police and the Church have common ground in keeping young people safe and helping them thrive” and challenged them with the question: “What can we plant to affect generations to come?”
Maria Godfrey, Early Intervention Service Manager for Oxfordshire County Council (above centre), explained that they need to make £6 million of savings by 2018, whilst at the same time seeing 3,000 children in the county requiring statutory social care.“We’ve never seen figures like this,” she said.
Whilst the Council are required to meet these children’s needs, other areas of work are seeing cutbacks, including children’s centres, and its solution is to find a new way of delivering these local services by working more closely with community groups.
Maria said, “We have listened to people and know that social isolation and cohesion are real concerns with cuts coming in. We recognise that we can address some issues but not all of them, and that’s where we feel the Church can help.
“We know that faith groups already take a leadership role in local communities. We encourage you to build on this. Ask us for support too, and we will help.”
Describing how Christian Life Centre in Cowley already reaches out to children and families in its neighbourhood, with 160 young people coming along each Sunday, Pastor Grady Reid (above right) told the conference, “Jesus enhanced the place of children. If children are not valued that reflects the society as a whole. We create relationships and friendships with vulnerable families – it’s the greatest thing church can do.”
He added, “The impact of our church’s love for children and families can result in them staying out of statutory care. If we can love one child, one family, at a time, we set them on a path to being a great contribution in the community.”
People at the conference had the opportunity to attend two out of five pre-lunch workshops on a variety of themes, hosted by different charities and churches.
Hemara Earl from Marston Neighbourhood Church and NOMAD Henley’s Sue Prior told stories of their work with local families, and Alan Guy from 4FamilyUK explained how they help families help themselves.
Alex Walker from Balsam Family Project shared their ideas for reaching families in Didcot, with Jess Casey (below left) giving examples from her church work in Cutteslowe, which is based on proclamation, justice and compassion.
Claire Bankole and Skye Leon from Fusion Youth and Community UK focused on how research can strengthen a church’s mission. Skye said, “Prayer and research should go hand-in-hand. God is the one who ultimately transforms communities. Building trust is crucial. As churches we need to make ourselves available to others in the community.”
Claire (above middle) added, “Research informs your missional strategy. Set up points of contact where you can journey with people. God has placed people in the community – find out their motivation and connect with them.”
In his session, Mark Griffiths (above right) of Warfield Church said, “We must not chase after the spectacular but focus on the relevant. But we must do something. We help children grow up to be all that God created them to be and have a great product, so why don’t we advertise it?”
Four further engaging workshops followed in the afternoon. Sarah Anthony (below left) from Thrive spoke about setting up a mentoring programme, whilst Joanna King from Home for Good focused on fostered and adopted children.
Julia Brown (below middle) from the FASD Trust talked about how churches can best support families and children affected by an invisible disability, and Victoria Lawrence and Cham Kaur-Mann (below right) looked at Cinnamon Network’s Community Transformation Project model.
The final session of the day included testimonies from Wood Farm in Oxford, and Didcot and Kidlington, plus an opportunity for people from the same area or situation to come together in small groups and talk about next steps for working together.
Reflecting on the conference, Katy Thompson, Viva’s Network Consultant for Doorsteps, said: “It was a rare opportunity for churches from across Oxfordshire to gather together to discuss how to better support children and families. It felt significant to have the local authority and police also there acknowledging the important role that the local church plays in the community.”
Katy added, “I was thrilled to see people from diverse churches but similar local areas discussing practical ways that they can do more by working together. I really hope we will see the fruit of this day in the months to come as groups work together in their local community to turn these ideas into practical action, such as family befriending or child mentoring or welcoming health visitors into local playgroups. The possibilities are endless.”
As well as Viva, planning partners for the conference were: Balsam Family Project, the Diocese of Oxford (who also helped to fund the event), Cutteslowe, Cowley Community Church and Home for Good.
For ideas, connections and links to resources, tools and case studies see the Doorsteps network webpage: www.doorsteps.viva.org