Church Growth Trust (CGT) spends a lot of effort and time matching up people/churches and properties. However, from time to time, CGT is also able to support Christian projects through funding. Ruth Leigh looks at some recent cases.
CGT was trustee of a property called Rock Dene Cottage in Rochford, Essex, the former manse to a chapel which had long since disappeared. The house was sold in 2015, at which point the Trustees, following the requirement of the Trust under which the property was held and, in consultation with the Charity Commission, felt that it was right to give away the sale proceeds to independent evangelical churches within a 25-mile radius.
This is the story of what happened when four of these churches received a grant from Church Growth Trust.
At Westcliffe Free Church, the leaders were both surprised and delighted when the letter from CGT arrived, inviting the church to put in a bid for funding. “We knew of CGT and in fact had recently visited their website,” Ian Douglas, one of the Leadership Team, recalls. “That said, the letter came out of the blue. It was a lovely surprise as we were trying to find funding for building work at our church to help us support our local winter night shelter.”
Westcliffe Free is one of seven Southend churches which helps to run a winter night shelter. The church offers homeless people a bed for the night plus a hot meal on a rota basis. The church received a grant of £30,000 to put in new toilets, including a unisex wheelchair access facility with a shower, and a complete redecoration of the kitchen. This has had a huge effect on what they can offer, as Ian explains: “Our building is used by a number of groups during the week, but it’s the night shelter which has benefited most from our refurbishment. We have had some lovely feedback from some of our guests saying that the fact that they can now shower, either before bed or when they get up, makes them feel as they would if they were in their own home. The grant was a godsend, as we had discounted a number of projects we really wanted to get up and running, as we simply didn’t have the funds.”
The church building is in a residential area on the main road into Southend, in a high density mixed neighbourhood. “We have a good relationship with our community. Our hall and kitchen are used for three weeks out of every month for parties, regular groups and so on. We don’t have an official hire charge, but simply ask for a donation. We use the hall for youth club on Fridays, and now that we have our new kitchen and toilets, we are seeing so many benefits for us as a church and our community. The grant has had a massively positive impact on us all.”
Three miles away in Rochford, David Clayton is the Senior Leader at Rochford Community Church. “This town is such a mix. We have houses worth £2 million and serious social deprivation within half a mile of each other. There’s second and third generation unemployment, limited expectations and huge house building projects. Rochford is struggling. The banks have closed, as has the supermarket. We met up with the Methodist minister and suggested we got together. They were seven years away from their bicentenary and were, with regret, expecting that they would have to close due to their ageing and dwindling congregation. In fact, the opposite happened! Their 25 strong elderly congregation are very open minded and willing to try new things; hence our collaboration.”
Generously, the Methodist Church opened their space to Rochford Community Church as part of their collaboration, and this is where the grant money came in. “We received £20,000 from Church Growth Trust to part-fund hall improvements and to develop an outside play space. We’ve created a vibrant and multi-use community hub which is home to a variety of groups from toddlers, to a dance collective, to a local mental health trust.”
“The grant was a godsend, as we had discounted a number of projects we really wanted to get up and running, as we simply didn’t have the funds.”
Having raised £30,000 from a gift day, the grant from CGT meant that the hall could be transformed. “For a relatively small area, we have a high volume of use. On Thursday alone, we have seven different things happening in the building! The Methodist Church own the hall and we partner with them for all our activities. They’re in it for the Kingdom. The money from CGT allowed us to insulate the hall, board it out, plaster and build in storage, as well as turning the outside space into a safe play area. It’s making a huge difference to our community. It also gave the Methodist Church the boost to raise a further £30,000 to repair the roof, adding further value to the CGT money!”
Stephen Hall is the Church Secretary and a Trustee at Broomfield Road Evangelical Church in Chelmsford, who received £5,000 from Church Growth Trust to help refurbish their kitchen. “We needed to update our kitchen facilities to comply with environmental health standards. We run a playgroup, a group called CAMEO for the more mature and meals at Christmas. The letter from CGT was a God-given opportunity and the grant of £5,000 was exactly the right amount.
“God has been in everything we do, and this latest opportunity to reach out to our community comes from Him. We are starting to make relationships with the people living on the housing estate next door to us. It’s built on an old factory site and came with a car park. When the factory closed down, a large corporate retailer bought the site. They sold it on for housing, but the Housing Association didn’t want the car park so it was sold to us for £1.00! It’s great to have that space. The estate is a mix of flats and social housing and there is little community spirit. We picked up on that and now we run a monthly 4 o’clock Sunday “messy church” style service aimed at young families. We’ve got loads of people coming in.
“Our toddler group has 80 families on its books, which is remarkable. We’ve got a new pastoral worker three days a week, with a great heart for our community. We are building on relationships with our neighbourhood and, now that our new kitchen is fit for purpose, we can offer so much more. We’re so grateful to CGT for the grant – they are always so interested in us and our fellowship.” CGT owns the property and visit regularly to see how the church is doing and offer help in many practical ways.
57 West works closely with the unemployed and homeless in Southend. Their hub was housed in a small shop which they were rapidly outgrowing. Pam Davies, Associate Minister, explains: “Our drop-in community café had been based in a very small shop, but one day, we had a chat with the people at Clarence Road Baptist Church, who had more space than they needed. We realised that this was an ideal way to repurpose the building and grow our ministry of evangelism and love. The only problem was that we didn’t have enough money to do it! The grant of £35,000 from Church Growth Trust made it happen.”
The leadership team, spearheaded by Dan Pratt, who had the original vision, used the grant to put in new windows, a separate entrance, new WCs and kitchen and a security system. They also completely rewired the space.
Peter Dominey pastors another local church and is a trustee at 57 West. “It’s great to see the youngest church in Southend sharing space with the oldest. Although things are going well now, it wasn’t an overnight success. We worked very hard and struggled for the first year, often questioning ourselves about the direction we were taking, but it was all worth it.”
57 West offers a drop-in community café from Wednesday to Saturday, then a church service on Saturdays, followed by a cooked lunch. Being able to offer so much more from their new space is really bearing fruit, as Pam explains: “We welcomed a lovely homeless man to our community café, but come spring, we didn’t see him for a while. One day he walked in, smartly dressed and upbeat, to tell us that he’d been offered local housing by an agency we’d signposted to him. He wanted to say thank you and is now thinking about joining us as a volunteer. Experiences like that are a huge encouragement to us all.”