Making a Bigger Difference with Thames Valley

Citizens from across the Thames Valley area will be gathering on the 11th June. This assembly will not happen at the Church of Christ the Cornerstone – as originally planned – but online using Zoom.

This will be a significant event, marking the launch of Thames Valley Citizens – which will link community alliances in Milton Keynes, Oxford and Reading. 

This is a high priority for Milton Keynes Deanery, and is supported by the Diocese of Oxford, as part of the “Making a Bigger Difference” priority.  The Bishop of Oxford will be speaking, and the agenda will reflect issues that have been agreed by local people.

The aims are to:

  1. Bring key leaders from MK, Reading and Oxford together to take action together as part of Thames Valley Citizens;
  2. Enable civil society institutions across the Thames Valley to reflect together on the challenges they face because of Covid-19, encourage solidarity, and begin to envision what a more just post-Covid Thames Valley could look like;
  3. Celebrate the contribution made by local government, NHS, police and emergency services, listen to the Covid-related challenges they face now and in the future, offer the support of civil society, and seek their support to make the Thames Valley a more just place post-Covid.

We need to get as many people to come to the event as possible, because “turnout” demonstrates our interest.  Three of our parishes are members of Citizens MK in their own right, but we have committed to bring a further forty from the rest of the Deanery.  Please register here if you want a Deanery ticket.

11th June 2020 from 6:30 to 8:30pm

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Meet the Candidates

There will be a General Election on December 12th.  As Christians we are called to play our part as members of society.  For some, this means standing for election, but all of us have an opportunity to engage positively and vote.  We are therefore organising an Assembly with our partners in Citizens MK.  This will be an opportunity for us to talk about the issues that our members are most concerned about, to listen to what the candidates have to say, and to ask questions.

It’s really important that we get as many people there as possible, so that we can show how much we care.  The issues that our members will raise will be:

  • Mental Health – the top priority identified by MK Deanery
  • Climate Change – a Diocesan priority and a big concern for local schools
  • Refugees – which has been a big priority for us as churches since 2015
  • Hate Crime – which is a big issue in our diverse city
  • Fair Work – which is about the way people are treated by employers

If you want to know more and book a ticket, please see Eventbrite

This is an important opportunity to speak to people who may have the power to make a difference.  We want to have a positive relationship with the MPs in Milton Keynes – whatever party they may belong to.  This will be a way to build that relationship so that we can work together with them for a better MK!

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World Refugee Day

You are Welcome!

Thursday June 20th: To celebrate World Refugee Day meet us at 6pm at the MK Rose in Campbell Park for a short ‘gathering’. Deputy Mayor Andrew Geary to attend.

 6.30pm onwards at MK Gallery event space (short, accessible walk from the Rose) for informal celebration, conversation, nibbles and soft drinks.

Come to both or either.

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Understanding Mental Health (UMH): Report for 28 March 2019 Deanery Synod

Where we Started: I was looking back recently at the initial notes those on our table made a year ago before UMH met to form a group. I found it interesting to see we are still engaging with all those initial ideas, but I thought it worth reminding ourselves of 3 in particular:-

1. Make church a place where people feel SAFE; feel they BELONG, feel ACCEPTED; and feel is HOSPITABLE.

2. Equip ourselves – our churches – to be BETTER LISTENERS.

3. TALK ABOUT IT (Mental Health) – in context of whole self – the theology of mental health.

I really like the closing thought, which was to “Decide where to focus our efforts. We can’t do it all, but we can do something if we work together.”

What We Asked of You: I don’t think anyone would disagree with points 1 and 2, and in fact I’m sure we all want that across the board for anyone coming to church, not just for those with MH issues. No 3 seems to be more challenging. Our request for each church to bring our project to its PCC and to get feedback about whether their church was ‘mental health friendly’ (and if so, in what way), has highlighted some difficulties. Some misinterpreted the question, feeling uncomfortable about asking people about mental health or targeting only those with known MH conditions, when actually we wanted to know what congregations felt their church’s ATTITUDE was to Mental Health. Nor are we setting ourselves up as experts, or expecting you to be. We had hoped to collate the feedback to give you tonight. However, the response in general has been poor, and few churches or LEPs have engaged with us, never mind got a clear understanding of what we’re asking. In fact only 3 members of the clergy responded out of 27, so thank you to Catherine, Sharon and Matt. I found that really shocking to be honest. I think it’s difficult for lay members to do much without clergy support, but we’ll see how things develop. The members of UMH – all busy people – have invested many hours of their own personal time in this project over the past year – myself included. I’m not doing this as part of my job! I believe everyone in the group is happy to continue to do this as we feel it’s what God wants and as long as it is produces fruit eventually. God has clearly shown he’s opening doors for us, such as being invited through a WI friend of mine to join the Campbell Centre group, and finding when we got there that the Secretary is a member of Sts Peter and Paul’s Church in Newport Pagnell! A new member has also now joined the group as result of our presentation at the last Synod -Iola Samuels from St Martin’s Fenny Stratford – so we’re delighted she’ll be joining us at our next meeting.

Where We Were: Even last March there was the recognition that this subject is vast. The more we’ve learned since, the more overwhelming and urgent it seems to become, and the more we see the cross-over into other areas such as homelessness and addiction. Moreover, other areas of community are affected. The Police now spend 90% of their time dealing with calls concerning Mental Health – and this after only 45- 60 minutes’ training. How does that leave them adequately prepared to deal with the issues, or time to do other police work? What knock-on effect is this having?

What UMH Has Been Doing: We’ve made great strides in our research and have continued to strengthen our relationship with the Campbell Centre and build trust, primarily via the User and Carer Improvement Group, in which Gill and Linda have now been accepted as members instead of onlookers, so we are able to contribute suggestions and help influence improvements in care while we work towards identifying where we can best offer future help through our churches.

In January a member of the Quality Care Commission (QCC), who was carrying out an inspection of the Campbell Centre, joined the group. Kingsley Akuffo, the new Service Manager, has also attended several meetings, though sometimes the managers’ meeting clashes or over-runs. Therefore from June onwards the meeting day is going to change to ensure managers are able to attend.

Gill and Linda have also finally managed a meeting with Re-Think and this is a charity we might be able to partner with in the future.

Separately, through Citizens:MK (of which the Deanery is a member), Gill has met up with Patrick Gillespie, the Interim Service Director for MK Mental Health Services at Central and NW London Foundation Trust (CNWL). Unfortunately we’ve just learned that his temporary term has ended and a new Service Director is being sought, which is a bit of a setback for all concerned, not least because of the time this may take. A few weeks ago we managed to arrange a meeting of the UMH team (including Tim), with the Campbell Centre team. Sadly there was an emergency, so it ended up with just 4 of us with Mark Sanderson, an Associate Practitioner and Chair of the User and Carers’ group. Nonetheless we learned a great deal. They have been trialling what they call a Recovery College, which consisted of 18 sessions on a variety of topics. It has not been particularly well attended, but this was most likely due to inadequate advertising, coupled with the bus route being changed due to road works. If this Recovery College is rolled out, (which it may not be, due to a lack of response), it is certainly an area we could engage with, not least through helping to advertise it, or offering venues for it to take place.

We were aware that the Point was to close imminently and that The Mix Drop-In was actively seeking an alternative venue. However, they turned up one day to find The Point padlocked, and no notice had been given! Thankfully it has temporarily re-opened, as the number of attendees for a couple of hours on a Monday has now risen to over 90. The high numbers are worrying in and of themselves, as many people with MH issues do not like large crowds or noise. However, it’s the only thing of its kind available, for a few hours once a week, and I understand one of the main draws is having a member of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau there. As well as that they have 3 qualified support workers, and I was told that a member of The Samaritans attended recently, though the Council has just cut the position of the fully-trained MH Social Care Assistant, so it’s a case of ‘win one, lose one’.

We believe our churches are ideally placed to hold similar Drop-Ins, and it would be amazing if we could have one or more open and welcoming on each day of the week across MK. So this is another area we’re keen to get involved with, and it’s been hard not to just jump in with offers of help. However, we’re mindful that the right structures and support need to be in place first, and our help needs to be appropriate and sustainable. To this end our intention is to raise awareness, offer training, and ensure we have consistency in volunteering, otherwise we could do more harm than good. Hopefully we will be able to say more on this in July.

Since the last Synod Linda and Hilda have done a mapping exercise, drawing the parish outlines on a map, and putting different coloured dots to signify what we understand churches are doing, and identify where there might be potential for involvement.

UMH has also continued to hold its own meetings, one of which took place at Cornerstone following Citizens:MK’s Delegates’ Assembly in February. We were expecting to meet up with Alison Webster, Social Responsibility Adviser for Oxford Diocese, to discuss training and draw on her considerable expertise, but unfortunately she was ill that week.

Where We Are Now: UMH was elected by you as the highest concern to your churches. To be clear, the intention was never to set ourselves up as a Counselling Service, or as experts in dealing with the more serious MH conditions. However, we could make a huge difference if we could offer places of safety, refuge, belonging and understanding, even to those with depression, loneliness, and isolation, which can themselves lead to homelessness, or addictions such as gambling, or drug, alcohol or food misuse, or internet/phone addiction. (I learned from Mark that there are now detox centres to help those addicted to their mobile phones…)
UMH is not asking for your support – quite the opposite. We’re saying we’re here to help you if in fact you are ready to accept the help the Deanery is offering, and which you’ve said is a priority for your church. We’ve therefore decided to extend the deadline for feedback to the end of May, and to offer more specific help, because I believe some churches do wish to get involved but don’t know how to begin to get the information we’ve asked for. (Please consider this during the time of worship.)

Where We Go From Here: I thought what we’d asked for in November would be easy to achieve – one conversation a month with one person at church. After asking you to do this, I realised that in some churches this would mean only getting feedback from 3 people – hardly a cross-section viewpoint! So it was tempting to ask more of you. However, as even this first goal has not yet been achieved, we’d like to offer the St Frideswide’s model as an achievable way of carrying out the request.

St Frideswide’s Model: Prior to the PCC meeting following the November Synod, we sent an email to PCC members explaining the Deanery context, what we hoped to achieve, and asking them to think about the answer to the question before the meeting. At that meeting we made virtually the same presentation, and members then discussed the question in pairs, then gave feedback. They were then tasked with asking the same question of their spouse/partner/significant other, plus one other person, before sending feedback (in writing) to Gill or I. We tried to get the views of a cross-section of age groups and backgrounds, with a potential total feedback of at least 40 people. If you would like one of us to come to one of your PCC meetings and talk about UMH and what we are trying to achieve, I’m sure this can be arranged.

Summary: People turn to a variety of sources to help them cope with the stresses and strains of daily life, such as bereavement, loneliness, anxiety and depression, debt, bullying, etc, but these can lead to addiction and suicide. That’s not what God intended. He is clearly at work amongst us, judging by the opportunities we have been presented with. UMH will soon be ready to assist those churches who choose to join in. It just depends which way we move forwards when assessing risks vs opportunities, and who is ready to step out in faith.

Linda Kirk (on behalf of UMH)
27 March 2019

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‘House the Homeless’ Day of Action: 16 March

Three of our churches/partnerships are Member Institutions of Citizens:MK, a diverse alliance of community organisations acting together for a thriving, inclusive and fairer Milton Keynes. On 16 March, Citizens:MK partnered with the YMCA Milton Keynes for a day of action to promote awareness and support for the new strategy of MK Homelessness Partnership and MK Council in addressing homelessness in MK. The aims of the Day were to:

1.Educate MK residents (including children) about homelessness and what city organisations such as MK Council, voluntary organisations and businesses are doing about it;

2.Celebrate the achievement of MK Homelessness Partnership (MKHP) producing its first ‘Strategic Review December 2017’, and MK Council approving a new ‘Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy’ to reduce the number of people sleeping rough to zero by 2021; and

3.Collaborate in building power to support MK Council and MK Homelessness Partnership in achieving their goals.

First, at lunch time, pupils from three local primary schools enjoyed a facilitated Q&A session with four people who have experienced rough sleeping.

At 7.30pm, guests had an opportunity to quiz those in positions of leadership in addressing homelessness: Cllr Peter Marland, Leader of the Council; Gamiel Yafai, Chair of MK Homelessness Partnership; Simon Green, CEO of YMCA MK; Lawrence Morgan and Suzanna Raymond of the Citizens:MK’s ‘House the Homeless’ campaign. Guests asked questions about the recommendations in the Strategic Review and their personal experiences of developing and delivering them.

At 9.00pm, 55 guests attended a ‘House the Homeless Assembly’ at which Gamiel Yafai received a Citizens:MK Gold Award for MK Homelessness Partnership for developing a strategy with the goal of ending homelessness in MK. Our 3 church Member Institutions (Christ the Cornerstone; St Frideswide’s and Stantonbury & Willen Ecumenical Partnership) sent members to support this community action.

Towards the end of the Assembly, a film was shown of Summerfield School Choir singing a song about homelessness, ‘We Will Fix You’. It was a really moving rendition, and there was much blowing into tissues at the end of it.

After the Assembly, Ian Roberts and band played live music to entertain ‘Sleep Easy’ volunteers as they prepared to bed down in the cold to raise money for the YMCA. Although the temperature didn’t get below freezing until 6.00am, the one-night volunteer ‘rough sleepers’ felt the chill and discomfort of sleeping rough in winter.

Truby’s Garden Tea Room, sponsored by Meals by Malik (a local Muslim Woman caterer) and the owner of a small Muslim led printing company Good Response, provided meals for those sleeping out and refreshments for those attending the Assembly.

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What’s the Big Problem?

Deanery Synod on the 15th March was part of Tim’s Deanery Organising project…

The aim of this meeting was to identify the “Big Problems” that our parishes are concerned about and form teams who might develop some ideas. Tim sent out the following note before the meeting:

Tim speaking at CornerstoneI’m going to ask each parish to present three “problems” that they would love to solve. They could be problems for their churches, like metal theft, money or a lack of engagement with young people. Or they could be problems for people in their area, like poverty, housing or mental health. 

There will be a chance for each parish team to raise their “problems” and we’ll form table-teams to discuss what we could do as a Deanery to address them.

I am hoping that a few of these teams might decide to take this further and meet again to develop their ideas. If so, we’ll be looking for  a convener and team members from more than one parish.

At our next meeting on May 24th, we’ll be asking What comes first? because we can’t do everything. The teams will present their ideas and we’ll vote on what we choose to support.

Obviously, it would be great if Deanery Synod members could do a bit of thinking about this before the meeting.  Could you take some time to speak to church members and church councils before the meeting on the 15th March? That will really help you find out what your people are most concerned about. Even if you only speak to a couple of people, that would be hugely appreciated.

Synod isn’t a “talking shop” where we go to listen to speakers, or discuss ideas – without taking action. It’s a big gathering of people from across Milton Keynes who represent over thirty churches – and we could make a big difference if we choose to! Spread the word in your churches and bring people along. I’m looking forward to seeing how this experiment develops.

Tim introduced the concept of Community Organising, with the following definition:

Community Organising is
a set of principles and methods
which help individuals and groups
build powerful relationships
resulting in action or change

He also explained that our “Deanery Organising” experiment would focus on the following methods:

Relational Meeting: Building power with…
Vocation: What are you called to do?
Aligning Agendas: What can we achieve together?
Relational Power: Acting together…
Evaluation: Learning from experience…


The parish groups were then asked to say “What are the top three concerns for your congregation and wider community?” They produced a wonderful list of possibilities – and then narrowed this down to six specific problems that people wanted to spend a few minutes thinking about in more detail. 

The six teams were asked to think about the following questions:

  • What might we do as a Deanery?
  • Who could we work with?
  • Do you have a team convener?
  • Do you have team members
    from more than one parish?

Four of the teams decided to move forward with their projects, and will have a chance to present their ideas to Deanery Synod on the 24th May. These will be focused on:

  • Parish and Deanery Finances
  • Domestic Violence
  • Mental Health
  • Young People

It was an interesting evening, and there will be more to come…


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Making a difference nationally

The Citizens UK Council meeting on Thursday was very productive, in spite of the snow! We had a record turnout of leaders with all eleven chapters represented in some way. It was a challenging meeting (starting late, finishing early and a delayed lunch) but everyone was disciplined and we got through the agenda (mostly).

Tim was chairing the meeting (which was fun!)

From the MK perspective there are a couple of things to note:

a) Voting Age Campaign: We approved a campaign around lowering the voting age to 16. Some of our Secondary schools will be keen to get involved in this.

b) National Organising: We had presentations from the five National Organising teams: Fair Deal, Welcome not Hate, Refugees and Migrants, Mental Health, and Housing and Homelessness. There will be paper reports from the teams in the next two weeks and local chapters (like CitizensMK) will be asked to look at them. On June 29th there will be a national assembly at which we will be asked to vote to approve the national campaigns. We will also have a public action on one of the campaigns – probably refugees and migrants, since Council voted this as the top priority for this occasion.

c) Refugees and Migrants: The Refugees and Migrants campaign will probably be the focus of the June 29th action. Although Refugees Welcome is not a core campaign for Citizens MK this year, we did set up Refugees Welcome MK (which is now a CIO in its own right). Key themes are likely to be: 1) maintaining the levels of refugees welcome under VPRS and Community Sponsorship, 2) Cutting the costs of citizenship for children to cost price, c) ensuring that ESOL provision is available at local level.

It’s great to be involved in big national issues like these, and MK people are very involved!

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New Premises for Citizens:UK

Citizens:UK have now moved to new premises (down the road!) at 136 Cavell Street, Whitechapel, London. Members of MK Deanery shared in the celebrations, and The Rt Rev Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney in the Diocese of London, who works closely with Citizens:UK, came to bless the new premises.

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Deanery Organising

The aim of this project is to investigate the use of community organising in an Anglican Deanery.
There will be three key areas of investigation which are closely related:
1. The role of the Area Dean as an ‘organiser’
2. The use of an ‘organising cycle’ by a Deanery Synod
3. The partnership between a Deanery and a ‘broad-based’ alliance

Deanery Organising Cycle

The aim of this project is to discover how the methods of Community Organising might be applied at Deanery Level. This will be done by following an ‘organising cycle’ during the course of a year. For the purposes of this project the Area Dean will be acting as a ‘community organiser’ with a view to discovering how a lay or ordained organiser might facilitate mission in a deanery.
Note: Existing deanery level mission projects like ‘refugees welcome’ and ‘Christmas advertising’ will be open for discussion as part of this process and will not be given ongoing support unless Synod agrees to do so.

Training: Listening for a Change 6.00pm February 4th

The project will start with a training workshop. The workshop will focus on a) the organising cycle, b) one-to-one conversations, c) running a listening campaign.

Deanery Synod: What’s the Big Problem? 7.30pm March 15th

We will use one hour of this meeting to discover which big ‘problems’ the churches of Milton Keynes want to address. Each parish will have an opportunity to present three issues/problems that have arisen from listening to their church members and the wider community. We will then see if there is sufficient interest to develop specific projects. Only those projects with a convener and leaders from more than one parish will be pursued. ‘Research groups’ will be commissioned.

Training: Getting SMART 6.00pm April 15th

This will be a workshop focussed on ‘Setting SMART Goals’. The research groups will meet and refine their proposals/goals.

Deanery Synod: What comes first? 7.30pm May 24th (Revised Date)

We will use this extra meeting to decide which projects will get priority. The top priority projects will get a) staff time, b) financial support, or c) partnerships (i.e. through Mission Partnership or Citizens MK). They will also have priority at our July Synod. Research teams will present their proposals and Synod will ‘vote’ to decide where our resources will be applied. Project teams will be commissioned to continue the work.

Training: Taking Action 6.00pm June 10th

The new ‘project teams’ will be moving forward on their goals, but this will be a training session focussed on the community organising concept of ‘action’.

Deanery Synod: What do we want? 7.30pm July 10th

An hour of the Synod meeting will focus on the projects that have been given top priority and need this time. We may also bring in ‘power holders’ if we need to ask for a particular reaction. This meeting can only be planned in detail when we know what our priorities are.

CitizensMK Leaders Forum October 2018

The Deanery will have an opportunity to present problems at the CitizensMK Leaders Forum for consideration. The Deanery could also offer to take the lead on a specific campaign.

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