This was a truly bustling and industrious summer for EDP. The last two posts in this blog reflected on the Design Training delivered in Manchester and two themed workshops focused on the role and potential of faith buildings to serve their communities. My last activity before going away for the summer was a workshop at the Ely Cathedral Conference Centre, which brought together 22 participants from 8 different churches, mainly located in rural areas, who are currently developing plans to repair and update their buildings to increase their use.
The workshop aimed to help participants reflect on their assets, challenges and opportunities, share experiences, learn from completed projects and get a taste of some of the activities used in EDP to support people to think about the design of their place and their project.
We had run a similar workshop right at the beginning of our research, with 8 different places of worship who travelled to London Lumen from different parts of England for this exchange. This workshop, however, was focused on the particular geographical area around Ely, and the churches were introduced to us through Geoffrey Hunter who acts as Church Buildings Consultant for this Diocese. We also invited participants from the Great Bavington United Reformed Church (in Northumberland), who shared common characteristics and challenges with churches in the Diocese of Ely, despite coming from a completely different geographic area.
The assets, challenges and opportunities exercise
The first part of the workshop is an intensive exercise which helps groups identify challenges that stand in their way and immerse themselves in the roots of those challenges, but also gradually moves to a position where they start unearthing assets and coming up with ideas or ways in which their assets can help them overcome those challenges. Key to this exchange is having another group act as critical friends, helping their peers to externalise and clarify their thoughts and visions, often providing advice, creative input and inspiration. The exercise has two rounds, and people rotate around the tables, so that every group has an opportunity to explore their project, as well as act as a critical friend to another.
Despite those challenges, all groups considered their small, but dedicated congregations as their key asset: a small number of people who invest their skills and determination to help achieve their mission. Participants were also aware of the importance and potential of their buildings as historic places to be a focal point in their community. Key opportunities identified were establishing collaboration with local schools and other institutions active in the area and taking advantage of their local surroundings, footpaths, heritage trails etc.
Inspirational material and taster workshops
The assets, challenges and opportunities exercise was followed by an inspiration presentation where we shared some examples of projects and interventions that we have come to learn about through our site visits to completed refurbishment or reordering cases. This led to a final session of taster workshops, where participants had the opportunity to explore different themes: demystifying design, mapping assets, harnessing conflicts and fundraising.
We have taken the challenges, assets and opportunities workshop to quite a few places so far: apart from Lumen and Ely, also to churches in Chester and Congleton, to Bow Church and to the Israac Somali Cultural and Community Association in Sheffield.
As well as being a vehicle for groups to reflect on what they have and what needs to be done, the feedback we have received suggests that the exercise really helps people to feel that they are not alone in their struggle to make things better for their building, their congregation and their community.