this way to get in. a reflection on the Gracespace website

I did say that I would reflect on the Gracespace website – the Bradford Fresh Expressions group.

Take a look at the Gracespace website here

Let me first say that I love what they are doing and it fills me with hope that such a group exists.  I just wish there were more groups like this and that they were easier to get involved with.

One of the great things about boring old church buildings and congregations is that it’s easy to wander in and observe.  A strength of many churches is that when you visit people totally ignore you.  This absence of interest in you means that you can see what’s going on in an unthreatening way and engage at your own pace.  Much better than being put on a church rota five minutes after showing up.  Gracespace looks like a family to which you may have to join by adoption.  Wonderful once you’re in.

Gracespace appears to be a group of friends who meet to explore ideas of faith and creativity together. Their values are around food, friendship, creative expression and exploring together. The core values are explained on a dedicated page.

The website speaks the language of brand which makes it accessible to those outside the church. Symbols and visual shortcuts to establishing values and identity. The coffee cup is such a familiar symbol for people meeting, talking and doing business. I have such an icon on my laptop.

The cafe – itself a symbol of the new business environment and networking – it is a space which can also accommodate elements of a sacred space. To reflect, to pray, receive  sustenance, to congregate, to be creative. Is the coffee cup a contemporary chalice?  Is the website an extension of that space?

The design of the website is from a generic WordPress template (i think)  which has been adapted by adding the name Grace Space and the categories of content.

Templates are used often because they are inexpensive design options which give the website a professional feel. But templates are more than an economical option. In a sense the template has become a brand choice – like wearing Nike or Timberland. Instantly you know what sort of group this is and some of the values to which they subscribe. The design is the clothing and to a large extent the message. Churches sometimes look like they are wearing an old cardigan made by an elderly aunt and using morse code to communicate. This one doesn’t mind adopting the language of Neros or Starbucks.

It is significant that Grace Space has chosen to go down this branding route. Many churches would rather shun these template choices, but don’t have the resources to design their own. As a compromise they might opt for a Christian supplier of templates like 123church or Church Edit. The look and feel of many church orientated templates perhaps reflects the desire of some christians to ignore the visual language understood by the rest of the world.

The challenge for Gracespace in its communication will be to express itself clearly and not get absorbed by the style it has adopted or any bagage associated with the template.  With the absence of a building, a set service or other regular, authentic signature pieces there may be a risk that  it becomes fuzzy in its identity.

There may also be a question about who the website is aimed at?

While many fresh young minded people will be attracted by the look and feel of the website it is not clear how best for strangers to engage. This is probably a word of mouth church, friends of friends are welcome. The church meets at a few locations and as a consequence is a moving target.

As an outreach the website doesn’t provide an easy way for strangers to engage. I really would like to see a big red button on the front page saying, this way to get in.

A transforming wave of whispers. Key to outreach.

In my sphere a lot is said about outreach. We are endlessly looking for ways of drawing people in whether it’s looking for new recruits, securing new income or expanding our networks in some way.   Being outward looking is a good thing, for sure.  Getting outside our bubble brings us new opportunities and ideas.  To be only concerned with our immediate environment, seeing everything from an internal perspective, will lead to isolation. Seems reasonable.

All these things are arguably true but I have noticed a peculiar thing.   The more we focus on outreach the less we have to say of any depth or importance.   Yes it’s possible to travel the world and to broad mindedly embrace other perspectives and ideas but there can be a big risk to this.   If we are not careful we can become tourists who are enchanted by difference but without any reference points or self understanding – or even self respect.

I’m not saying we should’t be outward looking but our own story as it is lived out with those around us is just so terribly exciting.   I think it’s really very important that we share the chapters and verses of our everyday lives in creative and engaging ways.  Taking an interest in people of other cultures and backgrounds is very important but must be balanced with a deep respect for who we are and the relationships with those around us.

In my work in schools, community groups and other organisations I see many people who dismiss their own lives as unimportant and without hope.  They consume the media and see success as out there somewhere – beyond, unreachable.  From my perspective I see them as being superbly talented and engaging human beings, real stars in their own way.   What they need more that anything is for someone close by to reach out to them, not a distant stranger.

But our feaverish concern for outreach and finding new relationships further afield can sometimes mean we miss the point and fail to take care of the people we have been given.

Focussing our care and conversations close to home doesn’t mean that our story won’t reach the ends of the earth. By the same token, reaching out doesn’t necessarily mean we will draw people in.

The most powerful communication take place at a personal level where people talk directly to one another.  Word of mouth is quite simply the most effective way of communicating.  Marketing agencies talk of viral communications where individuals will, for example, share a video or photo, “hey, look at this”.  Sometimes these viral messages will spontaneously reach millions of people.  We believe those we know above those we don’t.

Communication  takes place between people not between technological devices or networks.  Technology doesn’t achieve communication but it does bring people together in order to communicate. It’s the comming together that’s important.  Technology can alter what we mean by local and even what we mean by community but it’s the proximity of people that’s the key.   Shortening the distance between people.

My hope is that the powerful and inspirational stories that come out of walking closely with people can be means of achieving outreach in itself.  Pradoxically by being more local the more global we can become.  The confidence we gain from treating our neighbours with care and respect can set in motion a transforming wave of whispers which speak in a way people really understand.

Oblong at the Woodhouse Community Centre

It’s been a busy time in Woodhouse.

The WCC garden created by volunteers with the help of Oblong staff member Duncan Millard is just such a wonderful space.

Working with the Oblong Media Collective at Woodhouse Community Centre is a joy. Such talented people. First of all there’s Donna who’s making herself a name as an artist Donna Coleman.

There’s Jason who is teaching some of the volunteers HTML and has a passion for poetry and is busy creating a website devoted to Shakespeare.

Jamie and Charmaine who have launched a community news page called Woodhouse Stories.

Ken who has launched the Woodhouse Community Cinema Club showing thought provoking films by local filmmakers. 4th Wednesday of every month.

And there’s recently been an excellent arts project called Objects from the Graveyard with Leeds arts students.  The graveyard is St Mark’s in Woodhouse.  Max, one of the volunteers made this video.   keywords – action, participation, creativity, confidence, talent, community. Plus many more successes.


Brand new cafe and a brand new start for the stars behind Outside the Box

The new community cafe called Outside the Box is now open for business in Ilkley, or at least it will be at the weekend.  If you don’t know where it is there’s a clue in the title.

Outside the Box opened last weekend and will be open again this weekend. It will be great to support the newly opened community cafe simply by being there. If you haven’t seen it yet it’s a creat space and there’s free Wi-Fi I am told.

The cafe is run on a charitable basis and is recruiting.

Here’e a link to more information

And here’s what you may have missed last weekend.

Marvellous Manningham – Photo Walk

Just to say thanks to all those who turned up for the Marvellous Manningham photo walk today, specially Andy who came over from Ilkley and John from Holme Wood.  The walk was organised by David Hartley at St Paul’s Church in Manningham.

If you look at Wikkipedia you can quickly get an impression that Manningham’s glory days were, perhaps, in Victorian times while more recently it’s been associated with the riots and other less than happy news events.

But when you explore Manningham you quickly realise what a beautiful and lively place it is. The aim of the photo walk was to capture the now of Manningham and for the group of photographers to have some lively conversation over sandwiches.

This was a reminder that St Paul’s is a community church with a real interest in the neighbourhood.

The photos will be added to a library of images which will enhance the church’s website which is to be refreshed very soon. We hope that over time the collected images will give an inspirational view of Manningham and St Paul’s vital role at the heart of it.

 See some more pictures on Flickr




Marvellous Manningham – a Photo Walk on Saturday

I’ve been working with three churches in the area to look at communcations – particularly online. The aim is to identify and master appropriate technology and to get great stories out into the public domain. Of course there’s no point in having a communications platform if there is no content – content is king, as they say.


Manningham buildings 053 (1)

So the end game is not simply to have a facebook account and a website, but also to have a passion for making and reflecting stories.

St Paul’s Church is Manningham has devised a community photo walk which will bring together people who perhaps wouldn’t ordinarily talk with one another to see the community through each other’s lenses – literally.



I hope there will be some discussion about the nature of the community, some thought provoking photos and some new friendships. Of course there will some great content for the website.

Saturday 1 June, 12 noon

Join us on a short walk to take photos that illustrate signs of hope in
Manningham. Meet in St Paul’s church hall, Church St (behind the Library)
for lunch (bring your own food but drinks are provided) and a chat with
photographer and media producer, Mark Waddington.

Choose one of the prearranged walks and return half an hour later to St
Paul’s to look at the first results. The best photo will be chosen by Manningham Parish Council and a selection
will be displayed in the church hall and on the parish website.

For more details, and to book a place, contact David Hartley on 01274 494018

Making a difference

When you are part of a small group of people trying to make something happen it’s impossible to point the finger at someone else without pointing it at yourself – equally it’s impossible to praise someone without taking some pride in yourself. I’m reflecting here on how we share success and failure.

gardenAt Woodhouse Community centre we have been discussing how best to structure the organisation that which “manages” the volunteers and helps create an environment of inclusion, creativity and equality. With Leeds TV I have been helping deliver a course called Independent Programme Makers aimed at empowering communities to participate in the new TV channel for Leeds, and in three local churches I have been discussing ways of getting people involved in online communications.

The most significant connection between all the projects I’ve been engaged with this week is that they have been about encouraging participation and a feeling of shared responsibility.

I’ve been struck by a few comments this week from people who quite understandably see the running of things as the responsibility of someone else – the government, the council, the boss etc. The media is responsible for telling us how the world is, the police are responsible for keeping the peace, the council are responsible for making sure the bins are emptied.

I’m not going to make any grand observations or say anything deep here other than to observe that there are some great people I know who are having a go at making change and not blaming anyone else for failure, they are seeing a need and are having a go at making a difference. They are learning as they go, making some mistakes and growing as a consequence.

Thanks to the volunteers who have: built a garden in Woodhouse, set up a community newsletter, preparing to make TV programmes about their community, organised a community photo safari, commissioned articles for a community blog, started a cinema club for a neighbourhood, opened a community cafe, running a talking newspaper for the visually impaired, set up a clothing exchange and so on and so on.