In 2018 Whitley farewelled Vernon and Jenny Orr after 17 years of ministry in our community, South Reading. Vernon was lead vicar of the local Anglican churches. Soon after he arrived in Whitley, he connected with Marty and Jenny Woods of Fusion International who had recently moved to the UK from Australia.  Fusion’s approach to local community mission resonated with Vernon’s vision for Whitley, and the South Reading Churches’ Fun Day took off. This is a summary of the journey since then.

Strengthening Links

Conducting the research served to further strengthen the links between the Christian community and local government, businesses, and other agencies working in Whitley.

Brought together by a heart for the local community and the annual joint missional focus of Fun Day, leaders of the Whitley churches gathered monthly, facilitated by Vernon, to share life, pray for the community and enjoy a hot home cooked lunch together.  The Fun Days went from strength to strength, and during the year in between, each church found different ways of serving the local community. Soft play sessions started, connections with the local schools, gardening programs, food parcel delivery, to name but a few. A community survey was done by the local council which found the Fun Day to be the top event in the community and the local churches to be in the top 10 good things about the community! It is telling that some of the highlights in the community’s memory from the last few years include the 2012 Jubilee street party, attended by 5000 locals and a funeral, the circumstances around which led to significant community mobilisation. The local churches facilitated the street party and the local Anglican Church (led by Vernon) hosted and supported the funeral arrangements. Members of the community who are not otherwise connected to the church have described how the Fun Day, street parties and other community events put on by the churches have helped to heal rifts between households and neighbours, making a huge difference to the atmosphere in the community.
In 2013 Fusion International’s UK team (now called Shift Youth + Community (SYC)) were invited by this group of church leaders to move to Whitley and help them take their local mission to the next level, as well as start investing in reaching the young people of the community.
The SYC team moved in in April of 2014. They joined the monthly leaders’ lunches and established prayer rhythms for the local Christians in the community. Our local secondary schools were a focus of many of the prayers due to the struggles being experienced by staff and students alike. At least twice in the first couple of years Vernon arranged for us to visit one of the schools during the holidays and pray through the buildings and around the grounds. Subsequently a new Head Teacher there opened the doors to our Christian youth workers to run lunch time programs which led to us supporting students in alternative provision. Since then, as part of the youth outreach strategy described below, a team of Christian youth workers is active in this school for a total of 36 hours every week.
When they first arrived, SYC also conducted some research into the needs and resources of the youth and community of Whitley. Conducting the research served to further strengthen the links between the Christian community and local government, businesses, and other agencies working in Whitley. It was subsequent to engaging with the findings in the research report that the local church leaders decided to join forces intentional to reach out to the young families in the community, and the teenagers.  
Two strategies have now been developed, and are owned by the local churches; one for reaching the young people in the community and the other for reaching the young families. Already as a result, the Families Course (a parenting course) is becoming established, a CAP Life Skills team has been brought together, our work in the Secondary School has grown exponentially, whilst the place of prayer and community events are highly valued amongst us. The strategies will be rolled out over the next 5-8 years; the outcomes we are looking for are both many individuals and families following Jesus and the majority of families and households in the community benefiting practically, personally and socially from the activities the local Christian community.

A bit about Whitley: (Taken from SYCs research report into the needs of the youth and community of Whitley.)

Whitley, south Reading is a large suburban council estate that was first imagined by Reading Borough Council in 1919, but did not get off the ground until 1929 when they purchased 41 hectares from the Whitley Park Estate.

Whitley as an area has a mixed history; it formed part of the Whitley Park Manor, which for around 400 years was granted to Reading Abbey until the dissolution in the 1500s. Part of Whitley became a dumping ground for victims of the plague in the 1300s where those infected were removed to either die or revive. In 1867 Manor Farm in Whitley was purchased by the Reading Corporation for the new sewage works for the town, and in the 1930s it became the first council estate built in Reading primarily for the rehousing of slum dwellers from the town.

 

Up until the 1970s manufacturing was the backbone of Reading economically, and for the residents of Whitley it was the main source of employment. But increasingly manufacturing stopped, downsized, or moved. Within a matter of years the financial services, retail, education, IT and computing became the heart of the economy. With skilled, unskilled and semi-skilled manual workers making up almost half of the population of Whitley many of the new opportunities were outside of their qualifications and experience.

There is a strong heritage of resilience against the odds that the people who have lived in Whitley have displayed down the centuries in order to find life and make a living. The ‘Honour Whitley’ initiative started by the South Reading churches is a much needed re-emphasis of the Whitley story; there is much to be honoured in the people of this community.

A move to Whitley

In 2013 Fusion International’s UK team (now called Shift Youth + Community (SYC)) were invited by this group of church leaders to move to Whitley and help them take their local mission to the next level, as well as start investing in reaching the young people of the community.

In summary:

Whitley has undergone significant positive change over the last 15 years which could not have come about without the consistent prayers of local Christians. The attitude of service that the churches have towards their community is felt and appreciated. The annual South Reading Churches’ Fun Day as a public celebration of the community has contributed significantly to the credibility that the Christian community has in the community. That credibility has opened the door for Christians to legitimately serve, be and bring a blessing in diverse settings in Whitley. The two strategies will help focus the Christian community’s activities in the area for greater effectiveness and benefit for the community.

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