Building Community in Southampton
Church Army has had a longstanding presence in Southampton, investing in the development of a Centre of Mission in 2010. At the heart of this mission is the dedicated Evangelist, Ruth Hills, who tirelessly serves the local community in the Townhill Park area. The neighbourhood has been promised substantial redevelopment and regeneration.
While this long-term strategy may hold potential, current residents find it hard to develop any sense of community
, all while grappling with substandard housing, over-crowding and financial and relationship difficulties. With the support of Church Army, Ruth explores ways to overcome these obstacles, nurture genuine connections and create a thriving community where everyone can flourish and meet with Jesus.
There are a lot of problems for people living in the area, an area of high deprivation. There are redevelopment plans for the area which have been ongoing for a long time, flats and shops boarded up, it is very run-down. There are families who have been put on notice that they will be rehoused at some point, but they don’t know when or where they will be moving to. They have no choice about it which is a difficult situation for anyone to live in. Consequently, some families are living in houses which are not fit for habitation, with landlords being reluctant to spend money to improve them as they are due to be demolished at some point.
I have been involved with a family who were living in a house with a leaking toilet that wasn’t being fixed and they were living in dire circumstances. Another family in our community have a problem with overcrowding, there are two adults and three children, including a teenager, in a two-bedroom property. The council acknowledge it is inappropriate, but they have not moved them to more suitable housing.
Because the area is in a constant state of transition, the numbers of people in the community is always changing with people moving in and out. Maintaining a sense of community is difficult and we find families are reluctant to get involved and put down roots if they think they will soon be moved on, but we are working hard to combat this.
We run a parent support group and a toddler group on a Monday and two community groups running on a Tuesday – one is a very deliberate discipleship group and the other is a bit of a lighter touch but still a place for people to meet Jesus, where we are watching The Chosen together. Every fortnight we have the Edge+, a fresh expression of church which is well attended with around 40 people regularly attending, but numbers fluctuate as people move out of the area. It is exciting to see the community beginning to ‘own’ that, participating in running it.
During the summer, as many families could not afford a holiday, we put on a Summer Fun two-day event and around 400 people attended, it created a real buzz in the area.
After many years of trying, we are delighted to have secured a building to use as a base for people to come to, Edge Community Hub. The community are involved in cleaning, painting and furnishing it and I hope that once this is up and running soon and with the help of our wonderful volunteers, it will encourage a new sense of community for people to feel a sense of belonging.