People: Church Army: Building Bridges
How one pioneering project is taking vulnerable women from homeless to hope by modelling Christian community
Less than 15% of homeless women make it from hostels to successful independent living. In one area of London, this is a challenge that Christian workers refuse to ignore.
The Bridge, Church Army’s pioneering initiative, is less than a year old but is already making a difference. Based at The Marylebone Project in London, the work is all about building trust through developing an authentic and practical Christian presence providing support for homeless women.
Progress is slow - step by step, day by day working with broken, hurting lives as the team take a “whole person” approach to the women and the issues they face.
Richard Thomas and Mark and Heather Dadds are the Church Army evangelists who developed the vision for The Bridge. And it’s up to them to help move women from temporary hostel accommodation to settled independent living within established or developing Christian communities.
Richard says: “The initial focus of our work is on developing authentic community, based on the Christian principles of loving and caring for every individual, regardless of their background or beliefs.
“We build relationships by getting alongside people, listening, spending time with them and gaining their trust and confidence.”
As well as co-ordinating the search for new sources of move-on accommodation for homeless women, Richard runs a film group. Here, he leads discussion on the content of the movies he shows by encouraging the women to reflect on their own life experiences, helping them to understand and apply the Christian faith in their culture.
Richard adds: “The response has been very positive. Some residents have felt able to reveal their faith publicly for the first time, whilst others have said nothing, but I’m sure from the look on their faces that God’s Holy Spirit is at work – and seeds are being sown.”
Heather’s role in the team is vital: “I work alongside residents and the women who use the Women’s Day Centre facilities at the project. I work directly in the ‘women only’ areas of the hostel and I also liaise with leaders of other faith groups in the area - up to half the residents are Muslim - and co-ordinate the multi-faith elements of the ministry.”
Mark’s primary role is working outside of the hostel with the team at the parish church of St Paul’s, developing links between the local community, the church and Church Army’s hostels.
He explains: “It’s crucial to get the local churches involved with the work we are doing at The Bridge and to understand how they can help through prayer, practical and financial support. We are committed to sharing our faith through words and action, but need the help and support of others to make this possible.”
The team meets together regularly to pray, give mutual support and model the Christian community they are seeking to encourage in others. They work to organise social events and other activities for the residents, as well as developing a range of faith exploration courses. They hold prayer meetings and are developing creative services to appeal to residents of all faiths.
The Bridge seeks out suitable move-on housing in the private sector, where small groups of women can together take the path of integration into a new local community. This is helped by life-skills training and team-building exercises focused on building self-confidence and morale. The team negotiates with all parties to ensure a smooth transition, and works to identify suitable local churches as part of the new location befriending process.
Richard concludes: “This is long-term work and there will be challenges and disappointments, but I know there will be successes and times of joy. Often it is in the apparently insignificant things that we see God’s work in progress; the slowly changing attitude, the increased confidence from a woman who had withdrawn into her own world, and the growing realisation for these women that they can make it.”
For more information call Church Army on 020 8309 3519 or check out www.the-bridge-project.org.uk
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