Our Hammyhill: Developing a community-led vision for Hamiltonhill from the ground up.
What creative ways can a church express its mission at the heart of the community, for the benefit of the community? How can the church engage in what the Parish Collective calls the ‘New Commons’ in such a way as to fulfil the promise of Jeremiah, that ‘we will prosper if we seek the prosperity of the city to which we have been called’ (Jeremiah 29:7)? Our Hammyhill was a weekend event, designed and delivered by local residents (peppered with members of Clay Church). The goal? To develop a community-led vision for Hamiltonhill from the ground up. Our Hammyhill took place in April 2017, in a part of Possilpark in North Glasgow which is very near the bottom of the multiple-deprivation indices, but full of life and community assets nonetheless. As local residents ourselves, folks from Clay Church got involved in different ways, simply acting as citizens and agents for the common welfare of our whole community. This was instinctive and natural: we are already deeply entwined in community life, and have built up rich reciprocal neighbourly connections with those around about us. Supporting – and helping catalyse - this was a natural to us as fish swimming in water, because we have deliberately cultivated this connectivity to our place over many seasons. Read about what happened here: Our Hammyhill.
What was Our Hammyhill all about?
As citizens and neighbours alongside other residents and friends, we wanted to take ownership of our role in the process that has been emerging for some time to put a major development of 600 homes on our doorsteps. After more than two decades of feeling like the land and built environment has been razed in front of our eyes, and poor community engagement from our social landlord, we wanted to explore what a community and spatial plan for our place might look like. In collaboration with other local residents and our local community connector, we decided to apply the best principles from an Asset-based community development (ABCD) approach, and the values of the Project for Public Spaces, by combining them at a grassroots level. ABCD is a superb framework for any church to embrace that wants to work alongside its community for the betterment of all. It focusses on discovering the gifts and resources of the people and local area, connecting them to one another in associational life for particular, tangibly realised actions, and creating spaces of hospitality where people can meet and share their aspirations and do something about them. It focusses especially on involving the gifts of people at the margins, and welcoming the stranger. It asks three basic questions: ‘what can we do for ourselves?’ ‘What can we do with help from outside the community?’ and ‘What do we need to ask others to do for us that we cannot do for ourselves?’ The order is important…empowerment starts by creating space for the community to tackle its own issues first. Even if appropriate and timely outside help is then sought. The fascinating thing about ABCD, which is becoming flavour of the month in community development circles in Scotland, is that it has been theorised by a Christian, John McKnight and encodes some powerful theological ideas, without using jargon. McKnight himself was influenced in his thinking by a Catholic priest and philosopher called Ivan Illich. It is a theory readily used by the CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) in the States, and is applicable to all communities, not just those at the margins. Through ABCD approaches, churches can become abundant communities that can foster and be fostered by abundance in the wider locality. But it starts with churches become relational before becoming solutional. To put it another way, it’s about “discoverables not deliverables”…working with the Spirit to discover gifts latent in the community and seeking first its prosperity and wellbeing. The point about ABCD is that citizens and church members can implement it without paid community development or church leaders needing to be involved. Anyone can kick start the process of building abundant community in their place.
It takes a community to reach a community
We were on a budget…just £4000 from our local Thriving Places pot. But we’ve always been good at being creative on a tight budget round here! Church-members as citizens can help secure these types of funds when they attend community planning meetings and local community councils. Probably my most precious moment was finding a photo of a local lady we know well (at the top of this article) who has had a tough time and often finds herself at the edge, having climbed a local tree and tied a rope swing around it for the kids. This was a local idea, which was made to happen with local resources by local people for local kids, and put in place by our neighbour, with a massive smile of pride and joy on her face. This is ABCD in action…with church in the mix. It is seeking the prosperity of our place in a tangible and simple way as an end in itself in a way that, nevertheless God promises will bounce back to us as prosperity. Kingdom thinking and generosity. Seek first the Kingdom.
The flow and fruits of the weekend
In terms of design, we started with enabling our kids’ vision to emerge and be at the heart of the process. Then we thought about what we could do for ourselves on Friday night, taught ourselves what might be possible with some outside help on Saturday afternoon, and then began to think about what we needed other people to do for us only at the end. On the Sunday evening we delivered a ‘guerrilla playground’ on some abandoned land and had a big community BBQ surrounded by our friends and neighbours. Shalom in action. The goal has been to produce a full-colour brochure with a community and spatial vision for our area that will be delivered to all 1500 homes in the neighbourhood. Ideally in time for the Pre-Application Consultation with our social landlord, so that we as a community can enter that space empowered, confident and convinced as to some of the key community goals that we have for our neighbourhood. Otherwise the PAC will be ‘done to us’ rather than ‘with us’. Not so if we are all holding our brochures in our hands and (in part) communicating what we have already agreed we want. This forms the small-p political dimension of this collective act of resistance to neglectful powers. Starting with the gifts the community has and the relationships we have built, and assuming that what is best for our community’s wellbeing is what is best for our wellbeing, Clay offered its own gifts into the mix and helped generate a rich experience of community envisioning for the whole of Hamiltonhill. And we all had a bunch of fun doing it to boot. If this isn’t our normal experience of church life and mission, why isn’t it? Could your church do something like it in your community? For a further article co-written by the author arguing that churches can develop abundant community in their places through environmental mission, together with practical examples and theological reflection, see Ede, P and Ewell Sam (2016). ‘Understanding the Environmental Realm’ in Mission in Marginal Places (Vol.2). ed, Pears M. and Cloke P. Carlisle, Paternoster.
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