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Tell us about how the project started, what has developed, how it is resourced and your insight into the keys to success.

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Avonbridge: church and school go green!

Avonbridge United Reformed Church wished to develop a working partnership with the local primary school. This was worked out in a number of areas: elders have been involved in cookery classes for the children; some pupils helped create a raised garden at the front of the church building. The children also designed and painted a wonderful ‘mural’ style painting depicting the life of Jesus in four panels with words summing up what the story of Jesus means to them.

Throughout this time, we learned a number of lessons as a church. Firstly, it pays to do your research. You need to plan carefully, being clear what it is you wish to achieve. This requires the church congregation being fully on-board with the vision. Secondly, you need a clear agreement between the church and the school regarding expectations, for example in terms of physical labour or fund raising.

As no-one in our church had any children at the school, we found it best to work through contacts with the Parents Association, backed up with the chaplaincy work carried out by the minister. It is vital to meet with the Head Teacher early on to gain approval for the project. It is best to have some kind of proposal written down that can be presented, which would include what the finished project might look like, what the educational benefits to the pupils would be, how much involvement is expected from pupils and teachers, and a time-line.

Never stop listening. Make sure that communication is open and frequent, with all involved in the project; wider church members; school contacts and also the wider school community. Be flexible and willing to change the original idea in the light of suggestions. As we got to know the teachers we found them to be a great source of ideas on improvements to the scheme, and alternative approaches. But once the plan has been agreed by all stick to it!

We were greatly helped by Community Support at Tesco’s Supermarket. They provided some sponsorship (including prizes for the pest pupil participation). Don’t be afraid of asking around among the local businesses for some help. The school also applied for financial help from the local authority and won a prize in a competition for community involvement. Make sure of how much finance is available and don’t limit yourself to church funds alone. Indeed, such was the enthusiasm of those backing the Avonbridge project that the church had to find only a small proportion of the funds necessary. So never be afraid to ask!

If the project involves some hard physical work, try and get pupils involved who are “at risk”. And remember that there might be scope for the involvement of ‘Community Service Orders’ from the courts: a group of young offenders did sterling work in clearing away weeds and rubble.

Some may doubt the project at first, some may even object. However if you can articulate the idea, show people what you wish to achieve, get the backing of school and community, and get the ball rolling, you will be surprised at how things turn out in the end. We found it a most rewarding experience, including friendships made with school staff, parents and children. 

Clive McGrory

Avondbridge United Reformed Church