Milton Keynes church to get £10,000 slice of £200,000 development grant

A Milton Keynes church has been recognised in the latest round of Development Funding.

Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 12:14 pm
Updated Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 12:16 pm

The Diocese of Oxford has announced that it's supporting 15 churches across Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire as part of their fourth round of Development Fund grant awards.

Among the 15 churches receiving financial support is SS Simon and Jude in Castlethorpe. The funding sent to the church will be used to install a kitchen, toilet and baby unit at the place of worship.

Previously, in the third round of funding £30,000 was awarded to St Mark's MK on Silbury Boulevard. The money was allocated to support two projects currently ran by Reverend Paul Oxley, and his team of six staff and community of volunteers.

Church of St Simon and St Jude, Castlethorpe

The first project was St Mark’s Meals, a scheme that supports families across Milton Keynes struggling with food poverty. St Mark’s set up the project two years ago when it realised that too many families were struggling to provide a nutritious meal for their children.

St Mark’s Meal boxes are stored in 63 schools, children’s centres and community hubs across Milton Keynes and as soon as a teacher or other professional realises that a child will not eat dinner that night, they can invite a family to choose from a selection of delicious, healthy meal options.

Reverend Paul said: “Across Milton Keynes, one in three children live in poverty – that’s about 11,500 children. Once families have to pay rent, this figure rises to around 23,000 – a staggering and worrying number.

“To be hungry as a child means your tummy hurts, which means you can’t focus on your lessons at school, or your body isn’t healthy enough to fight off illness, or you feel embarrassed when your friends snack or talk about dinner. Whatever the reason a family is struggling, it is never the child’s fault and, when you are six, there really isn’t that much you can do about it. That’s why the help has to be ready and in place for the precise moment that someone finds out a family needs help; no child should ever go to bed hungry.”

As well as buying food supplies in bulk, St Mark’s also work with the Milton Keynes Foodbank, who donate 40-50% of the produce needed to supply the meal boxes. The grant from the Development Fund has allowed St Mark’s to buy a new van to replace the old one that Paul says, politely, wasn’t a consistent starter.

By having this van, the team can now travel between schools, suppliers, and storage facilities more easily, allowing them to reach those in need quickly and effectively, as well as adding new schools to their portfolio – since starting the project, they have grown from seven sites to 63, showing just how vital the service is.

The Sanctuary, St Mark’s response to domestic abuse in Milton Keynes and further afield, is the second project that will flourish thanks to the Development Fund. Since its inception, St Mark’s has worked closely with local women’s refuges, however, the team quickly learnt that the women they were trying to help could sometimes be mistrustful of their support.

The Sanctuary is the result of many years of work trying to unpick this mistrust and help churches to support victims of domestic abuse. Resources and training are given to clergy and church groups across Milton Keynes who hail from all traditions and denominations.

Funding for the project has allowed Paul to recruit a team leader, one day a week over the next year, with the hope that churches and groups will subscribe to the programme, thus helping to upscale the project through subscription payments, building a network of support across the city.

The Development Fund was launched in 2019 to offer greater financial support to churches, it has donated over £1.5million to over 100 local church projects.

The biggest grants were given to two Church of England, school-based projects which were awarded £60,000 and £66,000 respectively.

The Diocese of Oxford is looking to address 'a growing gulf between our work and the reality of life for young people and in the culture at large', a spokesperson said.

The publication, Disciples Together, further outlines the church group's motives behind these grants, expanding on ideas around how churches can connect with young people in the modern age.

Reverend Daniel Beesley, vicar at St James the Great in Bierton, applied to the Development Fund. Asking for money to support their new connect family service, online worship and community connections, by improving their audio system and were awarded £2,500. He said: “Whilst we are an ancient church in terms of heritage (the church dates back to the 1200s and is Grade I listed) we certainly aren’t when it comes to engaging with our local community!

"Our old sound system was coming up to 20 years old and wasn’t allowing us to explore new ways of worship. So, with the help of the Development Fund, match funding and a private donation of £1000, we were able to buy a free standing sound system which will allow us to really grow our family services (connect) through things like worship band.

“During the pandemic, our family service congregation (online) grew from about 12 people to 60, so we want to make sure that we continue to offer exciting ways to work with these people and the new, improved sound system is just one way of doing that."

The Diocese of Oxford funding is closely linked to a New Congregations programme, aimed at growing 750 new congregations over the next decade.