Congregation: Growing partnership

“Turf and terms” are great concepts for kick-starting a church discussion around working in partnership – what it might mean for the church and what people think of this. Here I say a bit about this and describe what partnership looks like for a church creating a community garden on the church’s turf (literally) and on shared terms.

Many churches engaging in compassion, culture or commerce initiatives are seeing the benefits of working in partnership with individuals, groups and organisations outside the church. Partnership can look very different depending on the partner organisation – voluntary, statutory, faith, commercial etc – the particular project and funding arrangements. These variables can impact the degree of control the local church will have over terms of the partnership and the activity itself.

Identifying where activities will take place (turf) and who will control what happens (terms) - can help clarify opportunities and challenges and bring to the surface any questions and concerns. It can also help churches reflect on their current or future community engagement and consider how they could relinquish control and do things more on other people’s turf and terms to increase community ownership and impact. Mosaic Creative have devised a Turf and Terms grid with this in mind. It’s part of Stories on the Street an excellent resource for churches who want to engage with and work alongside their communities.

For St Mary’s Hornsey Rise, north London, partnership with two local organisations has been key to getting a community garden project underway on its land. The “Tollyrise Happiness Garden” started in February this year supported by the Mayor of London’s Grow Back Greener Fund and is fast taking shape as a “garden for the gardenless”. St Mary’s is in Islington’s Hillrise Ward which counts among the most deprived in the country and the majority of people live in dwellings with no gardens. The church garden, previously rather overgrown and underused, is now a community green space. It has raised beds for shared food growing, herbs, flowers, fruit trees and pollinators planted and composting is underway. A sensory garden and wildflower area will follow.

As vicar Tamsin Merchant explains “Some people in the church had been saying for years that we should develop the garden, but there was no one to take the lead. Things have now come together in an amazing way”. But it hasn’t happened by chance - the partnership is the fruit of time spent putting down roots in the community, building connections and trust. Interestingly, the lead partner (with responsibility for the funding application and project management) is not the church but the community association on the nearby Hornsey Lane Estate (HLECA). Tamsin had conversations with them a few years ago about a collaborative youth project; it didn’t get off the ground but was significant in establishing a willingness to work together. The Covid-19 pandemic was the eventual catalyst. St Mary’s hosts an independent food bank which experienced soaring demand during lockdown. This led to new conversations around food security, isolation, access to green space and how the church garden could help with all of this. The community development worker from HLECA introduced Tamsin to the Gardening Projects Officer from the Islington-wide Octopus Community Network and the three-way partnership was born.

Put simply, the church would provide the land, Octopus the gardening expertise and access to their community plant nursery and HLECA the project management. Then both the church and

HLECA would draw in the people in the neighbourhood who would shape, use and work in the garden. Following a series of community consultations held in the church garden last August a funding application was put together for a multi-purpose green space where people could relax and also become gardeners themselves, increasing connection to nature, each other and the environment. The bid included the cost of materials, project management and technical support; match funding included the costing of volunteer time including a volunteer carpenter.

The church had to agree to the garden being open to the public from 9am – 3pm on weekdays and the funders sought reassurance that the space would be truly inclusive. These terms weren’t difficult to accept. Due to the foodbank and activities which have grown up around it the church is already open Monday-Friday welcoming many from the wider community. This, along with the church’s “come as you are, do what you can” ethos, makes it clear that everyone is welcome. The garden has drawn in new people through running open days and workshops (eg composting). It is already hosts a weekly play project and expects to welcome other groups in the future, as agreed by all parties.

Working with a church is a new experience for HLECA. The community development worker described some of the benefits “As well as having a community to draw upon it is great to have the building! This means there’s toilets, running water, somewhere for people to have a cup of tea and to shelter when it rains.” The Gardening Project Officer from Octopus is enthusiastic too - following the experience with St Mary’s she’d be keen to work with other churches. And a final partnership tip from vicar Tamsin: “Partnerships are essentially relationships, so invest time in building relationships, wait until there’s momentum for something to happen and then say “yes”. Things don’t have to start big, in fact they usually start small. If God is in it will grow.”

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Date published

20th September 2022

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