Places of Welcome

Places of Welcome

The UK Government’s drive to deal with loneliness and isolation comes at a time when there is increased pressure on local services, particularly those that cater for the most vulnerable and isolated. There are many factors which can induce feelings of fear and isolation, among them threats to our identity and sense of belonging. In the run up to Brexit some members of our communities have certainly felt less welcome than others. It does look as though government policy is on the one hand contributing to isolation and on the other attempting to deal with it. Balanced if nothing else.

To be fair there are many reasons for loneliness and isolation. At particular stages of life feelings of loneliness and isolation can be a particular problem – people displaced from their home, those going through the asylum process, single parents struggling to look after young children, those facing disability issues, the bereaved, the unemployed and the retired to name but a few.

Loneliness can affect anyone including young people and the solution is not necessarily to provide expensive specialist services but in the first place creating spaces for people to feel safe and grow supportive relationships – something the church is really, really good at. Simply sitting down with someone and having a cup of tea or a cake is a great place to start.

Over the last year Wellsprings Together, a joint venture between the Anglican Diocese of Leeds and the Church Urban Fund has been piloting a scheme in Bradford called Places of Welcome. The Places of Welcome network is a national initiative which draws together churches, community organisations and other faith groups to develop safe spaces for people to belong and relate well to one another. The Places of Welcome Network works closely with local authorities to identify areas of greatest need and to make the best use of available resources.

Typically a Place of Welcome will be a volunteer led drop-in which provides an opportunity to meet other people, have some free food or refreshments and a chat. Churches and other community groups have been doing this kind of thing for generations but this new network will provide support for those running Places of Welcome or wanting to open new ones. Working in partnership with local authorities and service providers Places of Welcome can also be places of provision as well as hospitality.

Reducing loneliness and isolation makes good economic sense. With one in four people experiencing poor mental health interventions like Places of Welcome can help take pressure off the National Health Service. Raising people’s levels of confidence and wellbeing through Places of Welcome can lead to much wider benefits.

As well as Places of Welcome, Wellsprings Together also supports school holiday clubs which help get parents and their children out of the home and engaged with their local community. One mother I spoke to said her sanity had been restored when she was able to meet other local people at the holiday club. She said her hyperactive son had learned to cook and was now feeding the family healthy food, “it was the first time he’d ever eaten courgettes” she said.

At a church in Bradford a visitor called John told me he’d recently retired and felt that his world had collapsed in on itself. After getting involved with a Place of Welcome he is now an active member of the church helping other people to feel valued and supported. There are countless stories like these including those of young mothers looking for support, frightened refugees, people dealing with a marriage breakdown, the recently bereaved and many more.

Places of Welcome and other projects which bring different parts of the community together will be part of the new five year strategy for the Diocese of Leeds which aims to see confident Christians, growing churches and transforming communities.

Importantly churches in the Anglican Diocese of Leeds are resources for the whole community and not just for Christians and the vision is for all people to live as God intended free from poverty, fear and injustice.


Mark Waddington is the Social Engagement Officer at the Anglican Diocese of Leeds. If you would like to know more about the Places of Welcome Network please email mark.waddington@leeds.anglican.org or Emily Tidball the Places of Welcome coordinator emily.tidball@faithfulneighbours.org.uk

You can also visit www.placesofwelcome.org.uk

Photography

Be nice if the CofE could do some proper brand advertising

It concerns me that the Church of England for whom I work sometimes equates the transfer of text based information with communication. A word written or read out loud is not the same as a word received.

The written or spoken word in a religious context is often a kind of legal transaction which establishes the terms of membership. The words are a statement of what we are signed up to. We are connected in a formal sense but it requires creative expression to bring the meaning to life. I wish we could be more like the advertisers, or at least learn from them.growing-younger-header.png.576x260_q100


In fact, I spoke too soon! Birmingham diocese has grasped the advertising thing with both hands in this message – “we’re growing younger”. In an unconventional move the diocese wants to install significant numbers of young people in positions of leadership.

Yamaha places a piano in a shopping area inviting the pubic to play.
Yamaha places a piano in a shopping area inviting the pubic to play.  An accessible and creative brand. A live product demonstration.

It has been said that St Francis of Assisi urged his followers to preach the Gospel, “use words if you have to”, but maybe he never said those words, I don’t know. The point is that it’s the stories that make the communication – every colourful detail of how we live our lives becomes our sermon.

We are compelled to tell our story by whatever means we have at our disposal. It is no use saying that words are better than pictures or any other medium for that matter.

What matters is the connection. The famous theme at the start of EM Forsters Howards End is “only connect”. That’s just it – THE CONNECTION. We live in fragments searching for a connection and in the end that’s what we strive to achieve.

Lloyds Bank advertising in Leeds
Lloyds Bank advertising in Leeds positioning banking as part of your life story and values. It takes no time at all to read.

I think it is fair to say that we live in a time where the captured image is the medium of choice when it comes to communicating stories; from films to magazines, to websites.  The power of the photograph to connect with people is extremely powerful.  But we must remember that according to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message. I understand from this that the words on the printed page can be spoken, and that the voice may convey images, and that the images can embody the stories.

Pictures have always been engaging and in our busy, mobile world pictures are now also extremely convenient.  An image can communicate an idea far more quickly than a paragraph of text. It is this convenience in our speeded up world that is the important thing to remember. This surge of interest in photography is not to diminish the power of words at all, it is simply to say that in our busy lives we need to keep it short. In fact pictures can assume tremendous power when accompanied by a few words of text. Poetry is a wonderful form. This leads me on the Twitter.

Twitter is a social media channel that restricts posts to 140 characters with the option of accompanying image, as you may know. The two most striking observations we can make is firstly that brevity (both in expressing and reading) is important and secondly that the message does not persist, by which I mean that it is designed to be visible only for a short time.

iPhone 6
The on-screen image is the message of this iPhone ad. Design and creativity.

So, the way we consume messages today is in the fleeting moments available to us.

As a society we are expected to be in sync with the conversations going on around us as they happen. These fragments of conversation are connected to other fragments of conversation and eventually coalesce into coherent ideas. We must be alert to the conversation.

The ideas are forming collectively with many voices participating. There is a flow and a rhythm to the dialogue which can be a beautiful thing. The connectedness of these conversations is a step towards being connected as humans and so here lies a wonderful prospect.

Yes I love photography and I love advertising because those who excel in these arts have understood that communication is about connection and  relationship not simply the transfer of information.

Uncategorized

Keeping perspective on social media. Oblong, All Saints and the CofE

I have been working with Oblong Leeds, a community development charity for some years now and we are at last getting round to re-working the organisation’s website. I’m also helping to develop the on-line presence of All Saints church in Ilkley and am part of a forum to discuss the on-line activities of the new CofE diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. I have resolved to be a bit more diligent in capturing my thoughts here, flimsy as they sometimes are.

I’m getting involved in these activities because I feel that communities must communicate, there are voices that need to be heard and stories that really must be told.

I’m not a web designer or an expert in social media, though I have worked for the BBC and more recently for ITV as the manager responsible for a news website. I can say that I am passionate about telling stories. Stories about who we are and the places we live should not be left to the professional journalists alone; talented as they may be there is only so much they can do. The world is so much bigger.

The big sparkling new diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, whatever you think of the decision, throws up an opportunity for fresh thinking, particularly in the area of communications. We are not talking about a clean slate because there is much that is good, but the disruption of re-organisation gets people thinking and talking – and talking is certainly what we should be doing. If we want to encourage conversation then Yorkshire is a great place to do it – blunt, diverse and passionate communities of every persuasion and experience.

The incisive question I am working with right now is as follows: How can we equip communities to tell their stories connecting them to each other and with the wider world?

As All Saints Ilkley puts it we are “finding connections with God” and in the process we are finding connections with each other (or is it the other way round?). As I find myself repeating, communications and relationships are absolutely dependent on one another.

At its most profound, communication wouldn’t require technology or language, we would just know. However our relationships are highly dependent on language and technology and if we are to put relationships with each other and God at the highest level then grapple with language and technology we must.

The on-line world of websites and social media is often dismissed by some people as an irritation and a waste of time. I would urge anyone to look at how radically the process of maintaining relationships has changed in recent years. There are extraordinary opportunities for people to open conversations with strangers and experience different worlds. Websites, social media, photography, video if an end in themselves would be a waste of time, but there is real evidence that the creative expression these tools enable is bringing people together with amazing significance. Social media in some parts of the world is literally revolutionary. Shared visual media is extending the reach of communication to those who struggle with words. Power is shifting.

When we’re setting up our social media channels and websites I think it is essential to keep an eye on these higher opportunities for bringing communities together, telling important stories, giving marginalised people a voice, seeing the the world as it really is.

For me, participation is the key which is why I hate the concept of the web-master or the notion that there are ‘experts’ in social media. Intuitive use of these tools should be the aim but I accept that we need people to encourage and share good practice.

Even today at Oblong Leeds we’ve been doing our quarterly planning and on-line communication is playing a big part. We are driving for outcomes in education & skills, employment, raised aspirations, expanded world view, community cohesion – so what activities can we implement? It could be those activities which connect people together, give us a strong sense of identity and self worth, pull people together around a common purpose.

Websites and social media can’t change anything. I cant change anything. I do believe websites and social media may improve the possibility of change just so long as we don’t lose sight of the big goals which can be reached by shared conversations and relationship building.