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Story 4 - Community Development

Houghton Regis
David Skinner
 
Establishing a church, when a new housing development began, has been an important idea for more than fifteen years and part of prayerful discussion for at least eight. There have also been conversations with the local authority for the last seven years. It’s been a long time coming, with many delays, but now the houses are arriving and it’s finally starting to happen!
A local group of churches are currently seeking to call a pioneer community worker to live and reach out to the new development that is being constructed in Houghton Regis. Much of the infrastructure for up to 10,000 new homes has now been built and people began to move into the first new homes before Christmas 2019. Over the next 15 years the population will more than double.
To begin with we’ll be focusing on Bidwell West ( HRN2). Built on the edge of the green belt we hope to contribute to the growth of a healthy, vibrant, thriving and inclusive community, through a partnership of local churches and other stakeholders.


Alongside engaging a pioneer worker, we’re in negotiation to put up a significant community centre building. It will be designed to be an open, welcoming and inclusive facility, available for local groups of all kinds, including in time, a home for a worshipping Christian community. As we’ve considered what to do, we’ve been excited by:
the pioneer community work of Ali Boulton in Swindon, where a new local Christian community has formed from local people who as often as not didn’t have a church background.
the community engagement achieved at the FBC Centre in Finchampstead, where so many people come into a community facility which the church is delivering for them.
and the social prescribing models on offer at Bromley By Bow Healthy Living Centre that bring engagement and wellbeing through a wide range of creative activities. We were encouraged ‘to think big’ and ‘plan for something significant’ and that’s helped to engage key agencies.
Houghton Regis itself, is the most deprived area of Central Bedfordshire, close to the M1 on the borders of Luton and Dunstable. The local community are hoping that the new development will also bring wider benefits.
At the outset we wondered whether the local authority would be interested in a proposal coming from local churches and where the resources would come from, both to employ a worker and build such a centre. We’ve been encouraged that these have slowly come together and there have been people with expertise who have given their time generously to support the initiative. We’ve formed the Houghton Regis Community Development Charity to provide an efficient way of overseeing the initiative.

We are : 
  • Challenged by the scale of what we’re trying to undertake but thinking if it can happen here it’s a way forward that might be taken up elsewhere.
  • Excited about repositioning the church into the heart of the community where it is able to play an important and central role for local people and indeed statutory agencies.
  • Looking forward to all that God may bring as we welcome new residents, seek to let Christian spirituality shape the new community and share Jesus with people as they make a new beginning in our area.
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