Outreach teams working with YWAM and Forever during the 2012 Olympic Games have been partnering with local churches and organisations to bring a sense of fun and a message of hope to Londoners, and to help in the long-term transformation of communities across the capital.
One such team is the YWAM team from Brisbane, Australia, which has spent a week working in the London borough of Hackney. The team has been taking part in a festival called “Shining Lightz”, which is being run during the Olympics by local community groups in Clapton Park, an area of Hackney.
Tom Haley, Vicar of All Souls Hackney and one of the principal organisers of the event, gives the background: “We’ve been running the Clapton Park Games, which is a federation of local organisations. All Souls Church has historically run a children’s activity club every summer. In the past we’ve done it in the church, but because of the Olympics we decided to hold it out in the square and have it available for all the local children, not just for church children.
“The other activities are being run by other local organisations. For instance, we’ve got the local youth club running a street dance competition, some local artists are running a street arts exhibition project, a group of footballers are running a five-a-side football competition through the week, and a local charity called Social Action for Health are doing activities with people who are socially marginalised through ill health or old age, for instance doing cooking and keep fit and exercise programmes.
“We’re trying really hard to be a festival for the whole of the local community in which each group has the opportunity to present itself and what it does and what’s good about the local community. As a church we want to tell people about Jesus, let them know we’re here and what we’re about, and give people the opportunity to make a relationship with the Lord.”
Into this environment has come the YWAM Brisbane team. The team has been working particularly with young people from the community. Team leader Alex Blom describes their work: “We’ve been running programmes, sports programmes, a football tournament and just relating with the kids and having fun with them.”
Tom continues: “The team from YWAM have been doing activities with the children and looking after the children, building relationships with them and with the other helpers and parents and carers. The work of YWAM has been very important because it’s given us the opportunity as a church of punching massively above our weight in terms of being able to build relationships to provide activities and services for children.”
Chris Newport, who works for a local housing organisation, talks about how the football programme his organisation started “is encouraging young people to play football. It’s pretty simple but it’s a way we can engage the community and develop a great dialogue. One of our aims and objectives is to find out what the needs are in the community, and work with local partners to develop a localised response to local issues that is sustainable, and can hopefully make some improvements over the forthcoming years.”
Chris goes on to talk about how the YWAM team “is basically bringing extra capacity to this area and supporting the work of the church so that people can see [the church activities] are here for the whole community not necessarily just people who would go to a congregation on Sunday, but for everybody who lives here and wants to see the area improve.”
As Chris thinks about the longer-term impact of having the YWAM team, he hopes “their involvement will galvanise the community to get involved and we can use this success for other activity in the future. These guys being here has helped us get the message out to local residents about getting involved so we can build on that relationship over the next two or three years.”
The Bishop of Stepney, the Right Reverend Adrian Newman, visiting the festival, commented: “They run the holiday club here each year, but this year they have people from all around the world. YWAM are here to help them run it and they’ve got far larger numbers and they’re doing something which is far more high profile. This of course is attracting all sorts of people to come and see what’s going on. The mere fact that there’s noise and activity going on here – people have been coming out, coming up to the edge, wanting to find out what’s been going on and then being able to join in.
“Here we have a church in the middle of this part of Hackney. The church is small, in some ways it’s a struggling church because it doesn’t have lots of people. It’s a great thing for them to have a team coming from outside, full of energy, young people who can relate to the other young people who are here and come and bring that energy to bear for the course of the week. I liken it to scaffolding, putting scaffolding around what’s already here allows them to refurbish the building if you like so next year when this happens there will be more young people.”
By partnering with these various organisations, the YWAM Brisbane team has certainly played its part in making a sustainable difference in the Clapton Park community.