Church and community organisations in Minchinhampton are working together to support local children, families and young people to help them get a better start in life.
When the local youth group closed, Holy Trinity Minchinhampton and Minchinhampton Baptist Church were concerned about the impact its loss would have on the community. They decided to take on the group and start a volunteer team to keep caring for the children of the community.
Minchinhampton Rector the Revd Howard Gilbert said, “About 40 to 50 children come to the youth group on a Wednesday night, so it’s now very popular. We have had concerns about challenging behaviour, including the sharing of pornography and concerns about weapons. We believe that the youth club provides an important service for young people and so we called on support from community organisations to allow it to continue safely.”
They formed a volunteer team from the community and local churches to run the youth club, and a committee to oversee the team’s work. This allowed them to receive guidance from the local school about how to safely support all their young people, whatever their challenges.
Howard said, “Our Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) started coming every couple of weeks, meeting the young people, getting to know them and building trust that the police are a helpful presence, not a threat. A trained social worker also offers her expertise and experience, both as a volunteer youth worker and as part of our support network.
“Our young people are now being offered different enrichment experiences like cricket coaching, graffiti art, bicycle maintenance and Forest School.
“Behaviour is much improved, and the youth club works with parents and young people to promote positive relationships. The young people themselves are starting to take on leadership roles, volunteering as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Award. Young people who really struggle with their time at school are in some cases becoming really valued members of the team. Involving them in the running of the club seems to give them just what they need to feel in control and keen to make their club the best club it can be.
“In addition to the youth club, we have also been keen to support other young people. Care providers in the community all met to discuss practical ways to help local people that would really make a difference in their lives. Organisations like our churches, doctors’ surgery, school and library discussed possibilities and decided to focus their energy on helping pre-schoolers get the right kinds of support they and their families need.
“Our community started a mother and toddler group as we wanted to offer services that would really make a difference to people in the situations they found themselves in. Our families have invited people in to give advice on all kinds of things. The school runs reading and singing sessions. Fitness for mums and toddlers and the community nurse have all been particularly popular. Other invaluable supporters have included Homestart, P3 and even a hairdresser.
“These groups have no explicit Christian content, although a large proportion of the volunteers are members of the worshipping communities in Minchinhampton. We found that lots of people were concerned that the Church might be trying to use this as a way to force their beliefs on their children. The church is mindful of these concerns and the group has been purely a way to serve the community’s needs.”
Children’s early experiences have a significant impact on their development, health and behaviours, and ultimately how they see themselves and their place in the world.