local gems

Over the last month or so I have gone on a number of day-trips to locations such as Croydon, Runcorn and Sparkhill.  I have tried to venture further afield, but things are a bit volatile in West Africa, and anyway it’s quite nice to be home for tea.

Just a month ago I was filming a man in a house in Runcorn, a man I’d just met for the first time, with tears in my eyes, thinking “I must never complain about my job ever again.” (It does sometimes happen).

Tearfund do some brilliant, but little-known, work in the most deprived part of the UK, and I have started a new project to help tell some of the stories of the projects they support, and share their collected wisdom. Just three visits in, I have a mounting hoard of inspiring stories from the provinces and I have to start getting them out.

I’ll start with Birmingham because I was there last week, and I’ve been raking through the footage this afternoon.

The Mosaic in the lobby, based on the Tree of Life…

The Springfield Centre started about 18 years ago with a small group of mums in a church who wanted to start a playgroup.  They prayed, and waited for all the other mums in the area to show up, and then slowly realised that they probably needed to go out of the church and meet some of the mums in the area first…but from these beginnings a big and beautiful thing has emerged.

The local authorities had to ask them twice before they agreed to become an official Children’s Centre, even though they were already doing everything a Children’s Centre does.  The team were worried that they’d have to cover up their Christian-ness, which is right at the heart of the project.  But it turns out they didn’t.

As soon as we rocked up we were introduced to a gaggle (what’s the collective noun for mums? a mumsnet?) of young mums.  80% of the local population is Pakistani Muslim and yet here they were in an enormous church.  Unfazed.  In fact, they were queueing up to tell us how wonderful this place was, how they’d not encountered anything like the level of welcome, support and care anywhere else.  They’d been helped with their children’s disabilities, they’d done courses on parenting and budgeting and feeding fussy kids, they’d got to learn English.

There are plenty acute challenges in the local community that no-one mentions.  Arranged marriages regularly bring over partners who speak no English and struggle to navigate British culture, services and education.  Domestic abuse is a huge problem.  Economic poverty is endemic.

Mid-afternoon Ginny and I spend a hilarious fifteen minutes with an ebullient mum keen to tell us how great the centre is, but who speaks no more than one word of English at a time.  Her friend, who speaks great English, is there to help her, but can’t be filmed because she must remain fully covered in public.  So we have a smiling, giggling mum on camera speaking no sense at all, and an articulate translator who we can’t film. It’s nice that they want to be involved.

I’m not going to tell you the whole story of the place – that’s for the film – one thing I’ve been mulling over was something that the Centre Manager, Angie, said.  She says she doesn’t get much direct contact nowadays with the kids and families, but she’s convinced that the way she supports, nurtures, encourages and seeks to develop her staff, is the way that they will invest in the children and mums they work with. Now there’s a theory of management I haven’t much about before. But what a brilliant gift to those kids.

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