One of the things that we notice about the young people in Niddrie is that many of them like bikes, both the pedal kind, and the motor kind. So bikes present us with a great opportunity for contact with many young people and also with other organisations working in the area.
As a church, we want to build bridges and relationships in the community to enable us to share the gospel with the people around us. We have a number of significant partnerships in the community on the youth work side of things. These include Castlebrae Community High School (our local high school), Make It Happen (a Church of Scotland social care project), and The Bike Station (a local cycling charity) to name a few.
These partnerships have either come about, or have benefited from NCC’s interest in bikes. I confess, we wussed out a bit when it came to the idea of motor bikes – health and safety, and insurance concerns probably got the better of us – maybe we could/should have made it work…
Anyway, if you’re not already aware of our Bike Project, have a look at this short promotional video.
If you’re involved in community based youth work, I’d encourage you to look at what the young people in your area like doing, and see if there are contact points where you might bridge the gap between the youth and the church. And look at other organisations in your area that you may be able to partner with. Are there ways you can scratch each other’s backs? Here’s a couple of examples from our situation.
E.g. The Bike Station is an Edinburgh charity that takes old, unwanted bicycles and strips them for spare parts or refurbishes them and sells them on. They aim to promote cycling as a healthy lifestyle choice, and they receive funding from various sources including the National Lottery and the Scottish Government. In addition to the sales, they also run training courses. Through our relationship with The Bike Station, we’re offered places each year for our young people to attend their Build A Bike course. It’s a course that runs for one week, (Monday to Friday) for six young people, they get to build a mountain bike from scratch and keep it when they’re finished. They learn all the mechanical skills along the way, and even get an outing to a Glentress Forest to do some downhill biking on their new bikes. For the past few years, we’ve used this opportunity to help support the local high school, Castlebrae Community High School, and broaden our contacts up there by asking the school’s guidance department to nominate pupils who they feel would benefit most from such a course. Everybody wins.
E.g. Make It Happen is an early intervention initiative designed to identify children and young people that may become at risk and vulnerable, in the east side of Edinburgh (including Niddrie). I can’t remember when I first met Mark, the project worker, but we’ve since developed a very positive working relationship. We regularly meet for coffee up at Starbucks and discuss our work. It helps that Mark is another committed Christian youth worker and has similar aims in his project to me. Mark’s main involvement with us has also been through our Bike Project. Every few months we take Mark and 2 or 3 of his young people for a downhill biking day, again at Glentress Forest. We charge Mark’s project a nominal fee which helps us to make our Bike Project financially sustainable – maintaining our equipment and paying for petrol to Glentress. It also gives us the opportunity to make contact with young people in the community that we don’t have existing relationships with. Mark gets to take his young people mountain biking, and open them up to this new experience at very little cost. Again, everybody wins!
What is it about the Bike Project that makes it a great way of building relationships with other organisations, particularly those who don’t share our faith commitments and values?
It’s probably because there are aspects of the Bike Project that other youth work organisations (both secular and Christian) can buy into, and even benefit from. Schools and other public funded agencies are under intense pressure to demonstrate that they’re collaborating with others in their fields. If there is no outright statutory requirement for this, there will almost certainly be funding limitations imposed by grant making bodies on organisations who are not engaged in partnership work. No partnering, no funding!
The church doesn’t have these same limitations – there is certainly no statutory requirement to engage in collaborative work with others. If churches are applying to similar grant making bodies to fund particular projects, they may be subject to similar restrictions; though I think the majority of churches generally fund their activities in the same way they always have: through the wallets and purses of the individuals in their congregations.
In all this talk of partnerships however, we must be careful to maintain our distinctions as a church. The church isn’t the same as other organisations, agencies or institutions in the community, it’s a life-and-love entity built around the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel. We have a unique identity and purpose as God’s people on earth. We do what we do in community because of the gospel – it’s our desire to see young people transformed under the Lordship of Christ. And we need to be up-front and clear cut about this, otherwise young people will get confused and our message, witness and impact will be diluted.