Revd Bill Braviner

(I’m one of three clergy in the Billingham Team Parish, and my role has a particular focus on engagement with the community. We are one of a number of parishes in the Diocese of Durham participating in an Asset-Based Community Development project “Modest Experiments in ABCD” which has recently got going).

Making a Modest Start

I value the use of the word ‘modest’ in the title of our project, because it sums up for me one of the key attributes of the asset-based approach – that we are not seeking here to run some kind of big-splash programme, nor are we setting up some kind of a grand project with funding and goals and expected outcomes, against which we’ll measure whether our community is a ‘success’. Rather, we begin from the starting point that our community is already successful at embodying the gifts and talents and abilities and passions that we need to flourish and thrive – our role is to uncover them, release them, nurture them and celebrate them (and, of course, to work together to bring into our community the additional resources we might need to get the best out of what we’re doing).

Our parish is a large one by C of E standards – 40,000 people give or take a few. The majority of the parish is the town of Billingham, and around the edges of that are some smaller communities which retain a village culture and character. To the east is the community of “The Clarences” – Port Clarence and High Clarence (separated only by a footpath!) You may have seen this community on TV if you saw the series of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet in which they dismantled the Transporter Bridge and shipped it to the USA, because Port Clarence sits at one end of that bridge, across the Tees from Middlesbrough. (Don’t worry, they didn’t really take the bridge away, it’s one of our community assets and it’s still there!)

there’s a palpable excitement at beginning something new, by the community for the community

One of the issues in The Clarences is isolation, due to poor public transport infrastructure. It’s very difficult for residents of this community to access facilities and events in the wider area. There’s a need for things to happen in The Clarences for local people to be able to participate.

So, with an ABCD mindset, we began talking to people. What could they imagine themselves doing for their community? What were the top priorities for The Clarences, to make a real difference to the richness of community life? What would be transformative?

The answers were clear – there was a willingness, a desire, and a perceived need to have things running for the primary school children in the community. There were a core of people willing to offer their time, talents and enthusiasm to getting something happening for that age group – something which would be an expression of the church’s commitment to be there and to work with the community. (There hasn’t been a church building there for several generations, and there had been a history of various Christian groups coming into the community, working for a relatively short period, and then pulling out again. We in the parish have been trying to model something very different over the past few years, being there regularly and building relationships).

So, we have met together, and talked together, and planned together. The first thing we got off the ground has been a summer holiday club, supported by CUF (Together Durham) which has drawn over 100 participants each week so far during the school holidays. People from the wider parish have been working with people from the local community in The Clarences, and wonderful stories of possibility and potential have been coming thick and fast. People have had the chance to use their gifts and exercise their passion for this community, and all we’ve seen are beaming faces and enthusiasm! One young man (Stephen) has been loving it so much that when, after week 4, he got a job, he asked his new employer for his first two Wednesdays off, so he could continue to volunteer at Holiday Club!

Following on from this, and to continue the fun, the holiday club volunteers from The Clarences are now preparing to form the leadership of a new Church Lads’ Church Girls’ Brigade (CLCGB) company for the community. We’re being supported in this by the diocesan brigade HQ – it’s a great example of harnessing what we have in our community (which will form the core of what we do) while bringing in outside resource and support where we need it.

The CLCGB company has grown out of those initial conversation questions – what are we good at, and what can we offer the community? The holiday club has cemented the resolve and relationships within the group, and there’s a palpable excitement at beginning something new, by the community for the community. Thanks to ABCD, the team of volunteers have come to realise that they are the assets which can help their community to flourish!