Blog Post, Project information

Saints’ Alive!

A Blog about a creative art project at All Saints’ Church Westbury

As I said in a previous Blog I have spent a good deal of time during 2021 in a volunteering capacity as Churchwarden of All Saints’ Church Westbury.

Churches as community spaces

I am passionate about sharing the church building with the wider community of Westbury and helping them to engage with its history and heritage.

Churches like All Saints’ Church are grounded in their communities. The recent survey of the building carried out by the Wiltshire Medieval Graffiti Survey demonstrates that (another topic for a Blog!). The names of those who lived and worked in the community are literally etched into the windows and walls of the building.

The disengagement of people with churches and church life is a much bigger topic which I have no intention of exploring on these pages but the result is, it seems to me, a perception that non-churchgoers are unwelcome or don’t have the right to enter and enjoy their parish church.

I often hear children cry out as they pass the open door that the church is open and express a desire to enter but all too often I hear their parents say no. This makes me sad. Of course it may be just lack of time and the need to be somewhere else but that feeling of awe that young children have is soon lost. The danger is that in time, they too feel that the church is not a place for them.

Inspired by a presentation from Annie Lucas about her National Lottery Funded Project in St Cubert’s Church, Cornwall at the 2019 SWFed Conference in Plymouth I decided to see if I could do something on a smaller scale here in Westbury.

Source of inspiration

The vision was to hold workshops that enabled members of our community to create something themselves using our beautiful Grade I church building as a source of inspiration. I wanted those people to be welcomed and feel that they too owned the space. I hoped that they would leave feeling that they could return and explore in their own time and tell others about us. I saw the workshops as a way of helping more people to value and appreciate the church as a community resource.

Our church building has stone carving, woodwork, textiles, stained glass and ceramics all providing colour, beauty and interest and every inch telling a story.

I reached out to artists and creative practitioners via social media and the Arts in Wiltshire blog and was really pleased with the response. I asked those who expressed an interest to complete an online form so that I could see what they all had to offer. I wanted to make these workshops available to adults and young people.

Funding

Next job was to secure funding as the Church could not afford to underwrite these themselves. Grants would enable us to pilot some sessions, without risk, to see if the concept worked before considering holding these more regularly in the future.

I applied to the Westbury Community Area Board for a grant to support this work. This was part of their programme to support older people and in particular those suffering from social isolation which is said to be at high levels in Westbury. I was grateful to receive one early in 2020 with the intention of holding the workshops that summer.

Delays to the programme

Then of course the pandemic hit!

Like everyone, I initially thought the Covid 19 scare would be over by the summer and we might be able to hold them in the summer of 2020. But as the virus continued and before vaccines were available it was clear that the time wasn’t right and that those people that were intended to benefit from these workshops would be unlikely to want to risk contact with others.

So we waited and in early 2021 I started to make tentative steps with the three practitioners we had decided to work with to see if we could make them happen in 2021.

We made plans, we looked at being ‘Covid-secure’ and how we could manage the sessions following the various levels of guidance available and we felt that the roll out of the vaccine programme would mean that people felt safe enough to sign up. We agreed a programme of three workshops. Each one very different

All systems go!

I was really keen to try and reach those people that might really benefit from some activity after such a long period of isolation so I contacted the Community Engagement Manager for Westbury and Warminster and the Local Area Coordinator for Westbury and Dilton Marsh to ask for recommendations of individuals and groups who are in touch with older and in particular socially isolated individuals who might welcome the opportunity to begin to meet with others again. We also contacted those people who had been bereaved in the past year that our clergy had supported who might be interested in attending these sessions.

In May 2021, the following groups were contacted:

  • White Horse Surgery
  • Alzheimer’s Wiltshire
  • Age UK Wiltshire
  • White Horse Surgery Patient Voice
  • Care Support Wiltshire
  • Carers in Wiltshire
  • Warminster Open Door
  • Westbury Friendship Group
  • Westbury Court

Those contacted were provided with a poster in .pdf and .png format and an information sheet which aimed to answer questions and provide sufficient detail about each session. The Wiltshire Council Local Area Coordinator also circulated to his contacts. Despite a reminder email, many did not reply at all, others responded positively, seemed to welcome the idea and said that they would pass it on to their users. However, we are aware of only one person coming through this route which was disappointing. More work would be needed to find out why those who were contacted through these organisations did not attend. A more fruitful approach would be to work directly with specific organisations in partnership to create a bespoke activity which met the groups specific needs.

We decided to hold off advertising the event publicly to give these target groups time to circulate to their members and to book in.

In the end we used social media including paid for advertising on Facebook and the local press to reach out across the local area. Participants were asked to book in via Eventbrite.

Success!

The feedback reflected the high level of positive comments received on the day. Those that came were appreciative of the warm welcome and really enjoyed exploring the church in a new way.

The participants were a mixture of people who had not been before some expressed Christian beliefs many said they had none and one participant told us that she was a Muslim.

Conversations at each session and following have shown that they had a real impact on those people that came. For many it was the first time that they had been with others like this for over a year.

Feedback forms were produced in hard copy for the first two and sent as a Google form for the third session. The form was designed to:
• measure satisfaction,
• record the number of people who had not visited the church before
• find out if they would feel comfortable coming into the church on their own in the future
• explore the interest in those attending on returning and
• if they would pay for the experience in the future

Did the workshops work in the space?

The Church proved to be a successful venue for the workshops. There are a variety of spaces available. The Chancel proved to be a useful open space and its stone floor meant that mess could be cleared up easily. The building also provides quiet areas for solo or small group working. There is power and water. A microphone is available for larger groups and there is a screen and projector available. Background music can be played if required.

There is level access for those with mobility issues but it is a big space for someone with limited mobility.

Each session lasted for 3 hours with a break for refreshments in the middle.

Longer sessions could be accommodated, there were several comments from participants that they could have spent all day enjoying the activity. There is a kitchenette in the corner of the Church which enables light refreshments to be served and people could be asked to bring their own lunch if the session lasted longer.

All the professional artist practitioners enjoyed the space, found it inspirational and found it a good place to hold a workshop providing both indoor and outdoor space.

Lessons learned

Reaching our target audience

It was disappointing that our attempts to reach out to specialist support groups appeared not to be successful. Bespoke programmes working with an individual organisation would undoubtedly be a more productive way to reach this aim. A more extended programme might lead to more success through the building up of relationships and it may be that these groups would rather have an event tailored to their needs. However, the feedback and comments from the participants showed that there is a general need for opportunities to spend time together and meet new people.

Individual stories demonstrated that there is a need for these kinds of activities in Westbury. Some of our participants were new to Westbury and it was an ideal way to get to know the town and meet other people in a safe space, others had been recently bereaved and found the church space suited their needs. Some participants revealed that they had demanding jobs that had been more stressful during the pandemic and that the sessions provided much needed escape from working from home.

Our workshops were limited to those aged over 55 due to the funding conditions but feedback on Facebook indicated that there was an interest in getting involved from many people under that age. This demonstrated that future workshops would have wider appeal and something to consider for future events.

Marketing

Facebook provided a good marketing space and ensured we reached a local audience. Working with other partners would provide a wider audience and a longer period would help reach a wider range of people.

Our boosted (paid for posts) reached far more people than our average posts with over 1,000 engagements when our normal posts reach less than 200.

Eventbrite was an effective way to book participants in but there were some participants who found it difficult so providing a phone number to book is necessary.

Charging

The response was that people would be happy to pay a moderate charge for future workshops. If the workshops are repeated a grant could help to make future events affordable by subsidising them.

What happens next?

We are hoping to work with a business in Westbury run by local artists who regularly provide sketching and other art and craft workshops. Art workshops is not the ‘core business’ of the Church of England and so as a church community we need to balance the time it takes to develop a programme of workshops with other activities. Working with a partner might help to reduce some of the time managing a programme of workshops would take.

We’d like to provide these workshops at a price to keep them affordable and even consider providing some free spaces (or pay what you can afford) so that they are accessible to all. We are exploring sources of funds to help make this happen.

We are very hopeful that we can hold more workshops in 2022 and have three workshops for young people planned for the February 2022 half term – watch this space!


The church building is open daily from approximately 9am to dusk – why not come on in and get creative yourself?


I’d like to thank Jo Taylor, Marie Hillcoat and Matthew Tett for their support in planning and leading these workshops and Wiltshire Council for the Community Area Grant which supported the workshops.

Blog Post

What have I been up to?

I’ve been neglecting this page in 2021…It’s been a busy year.

Throughout this year I have spent a great deal of time working in a voluntary capacity alongside my professional projects. In this Blog I reflect on using my skills to bid for and manage a £24,400 Cultural Recovery Fund project in a voluntary capacity.

All Saints’ Church, Westbury Spring 2021

I have been Churchwarden of All Saints’ Church, Westbury since 2019. It’s been a steep learning curve. The role of Churchwarden is an ancient one and is the senior lay (non-ordained) role in a congregation.

The role has taken on a new meaning during the Covid 19 pandemic with endless checking of government and Church of England websites to remain up to date with the latest guidance followed by a review of risk assessments and procedures. My digital skills have improved and the sudden disappearance of volunteers (as many were in the “vulnerable” category) has put a lot of pressure on the younger members of the congregation including myself.

Our finances are precarious at the best of times but the pandemic hit our fundraising opportunities hard. We didn’t qualify for any of the grants from either national or local government. So when the Cultural Recovery Fund Round 2 was announced and the ChurchCare team at the Church of England encouraged churches to apply I thought I’d use my professional skills to see if we could seek support to help the Church reopen after the long period of closure.

I know from talking to other colleagues that I’m not the only one who struggled to put together a well thought out proposal in the short time scale allowed. The tight deadline meant that it was tough to really work out the priorities on the long list of things that we would like to do but in the normal run of things simply don’t have the capital to implement. Church communities don’t move quickly as a rule and it was difficult to get others in the leadership team to move fast and make quick decisions. Then we had to ask contractors to supply prices on sketchy briefs and ask them to work superfast when there was no certainty of getting any money at all.

Being closed for an extended period of time meant that our usual cleaning hadn’t been taking place and the building was getting damp due to lack of use, exacerbated by various leaky patches on our roof and rainwater goods that had seen better days. We had also missed the usual annual checks like fire extinguisher and boiler servicing. With the resumption of ‘normal life’ on the horizon and a return to daily opening we were conscious that a lot of work needed to be done before we could be sure that visitors would see us at our best and we were safe to open.

We were also conscious that we needed to ‘up our game’ on what we offered visitors and find ways to diversify our income from beyond our congregation to the wider community and visitors to our town. We hoped that due to the expected rise in domestic holidays and ‘staycations’ that we might see more visitors to our small market town. All Saints’ Church is the only Grade I listed building in Westbury and the oldest, with origins dating back to Saxon times and the current building dating from the 13th Century onwards.

Cut a long story short and after several days of work and lots of tearing of hair putting the bid together it was submitted and to our delight (and a certain amount of trepidation) we were successful in receiving a grant of £24,400.

Again, in common with many others it was frustrating to get official permission so late. Our ‘permission to start’ email was received on 14 April – 2 weeks into the 12 week period that the grant monies were supposed to be spent in.

What was the money for?

Essential maintenance

  • servicing the boiler
  • portable appliance testing
  • servicing the fire extinguishers
  • servicing and maintaining our CCTV system
  • replacing the lead on 6 bays on the roof
  • unblocking, repairing, replacing and repainting all our rainwater goods
  • having the organ retuned after 18 months of reduced use

Spring cleaning

  • a skip to get rid of 20+ years worth of accumulated clutter
  • dry cleaning our curtains
  • shelving to enable us to reorganise essential stuff like cleaning materials away from the visitor route

Improving the visitor experience

  • replacing information panels
  • producing welcome leaflet
  • attractive new external signage
  • new internal signage boards

Improving our long term financial sustainability

  • installing a contactless pay station
  • creating literature asking for financial support

Engaging with a wider range of people

We also wanted to find ways to draw a wider range of people into the building and the grant was the stimulus to finding ways to engage a wider range of people in our activities

We advertised on social media and the local paper for volunteers to help with our spring cleaning events and around a dozen people answered the call.

We invited volunteers to help out with our Open Day to celebrate the reopening of the church after the final lifting of restrictions in July 2021. The Rotary Club offered their support to support with stewarding of our popular Tower Tours. Over 100 people came in to explore the building and venture into the bell ringing chamber.

We also reached out to the Wiltshire Medieval Graffiti Survey who are an off shoot of the Wiltshire Museum’s Archaeological Field Group. They welcome volunteers to assist with the surveying and recording. We had over a dozen people attending at each of their two sessions which took place in June and October 2021. A fascinating way of engaging people with the building providing them with privileged access from the top of the tower to the cellar!

A lecture in November attracted 50 people to hear about the initial findings of the Survey and we hope to welcome them back in 2022.

Lessons learned

Delegation

Due to the short time scale given to spend the grant monies the work had to be shared around. There were some items that I would have liked to have had more input into. I just couldn’t provide the time as I was juggling paid commitments (another CRF funded project) and so had to trust others to do the work. Clear instruction and regular contact ensured deadlines were (nearly) met.

Acceptance

You can only do what you can do. The pressure that the time scale put on us and the very last minute (a week before the deadline) reprieve and extension allowed was very stressful, particularly when undertaking the role as a volunteer and juggling other responsibilities. I was working with volunteers who had no experience of projects like this so I had to accept that they were doing the best that could and just help guide them through the process.

Be Flexible

Because the bid was produced so quickly there wasn’t time to really think about the details of our project and so for example when new ideas emerged such as what media we could use for our information panels we had to be responsive, check prices and options, review the budget and roll with it. We had problems with our preferred roofer dropping out at the last minute and to move fast to get the contract tied down before the end of June deadline. Costings for various elements of the work by necessity had been estimated and so there was constant re-budgeting and review of work that could be completed with the funds available. The continuing uncertainty over the Covid situation and what was and wasn’t permitted meant that everything had to be planned with the knowledge that it could all change at the last minute.

Communication

As the work was divided out amongst the various volunteers, regular get togethers either on Zoom or socially distanced in person helped us to keep in touch with progress. Regular written updates from myself as project manager helped to keep everyone informed, on track and conscious of deadlines.

Gratitude

I was very lucky to have one or two really great people in our volunteer team who supported me during the process and took on discrete elements of the project. It was also good to work with trusted professionals who you could rely to get on with the work and were patient with our volunteers who had not done this kind of work before.

We had a willing band of volunteer labour which enabled us to deliver so much more than the monetary value of the grant. For example:

  • several weekend work parties including a morning spent filling the skip
  • those who took photographs and wrote the text for our new information panels
  • the 3 volunteers who spent a day installing our two new external noticeboards
  • the time given by one volunteer to project manage the roof and rainwater goods works.

Project managing under pressure

I know that all involved in the CRF grant programme were working under pressure at a difficult time. My case officer has been very responsive and helpful throughout the process. However, I know that I am not the only person who found the tight timescale extremely stressful. The pressure was particularly heavy on groups like ours that were volunteer led. The very late reprieve meant that decisions were made very quickly in order to meet the original timescale and better ones might have been made if the decision to extend the deadline had been communicated earlier.

Conclusion

Personally the project has helped improve my bid writing and increased my experience of delivering this kind of project working entirely with volunteers. It’s helped me to improve my delegation skills and given me more patience!

As Churchwarden I am tremendously grateful for the huge injection of cash into our church that the CRF grant provided.

  • It has enabled long overdue maintenance works to be completed
  • It has enabled us to invest in the infrastructure to increase our long term sustainability such as the contactless giving station. We would have found the cost of the unit hard to justify if it hadn’t been for the grant
  • We have attractive information banners to help visitors explore our church building
  • We have smart new noticeboards at the entrance to our church precinct to welcome visitors and show that we are a thriving community. These also include QR codes linking to our online giving platform
  • We have found new opportunities to encourage and welcome members beyond our church community into the building

I know that the volunteers involved found it very hard work as we moved at a much faster pace than is normal for us but it has given us confidence as a community to consider applying for more project funding in the future. We had fun and ate a good deal of cake.

However, I think we would be more cautious with this kind of short timescale programme both in terms of the application process and delivery of the project itself because of the pressure it placed on those doing the work alongside carrying out ‘normal’ duties.

All our objectives were met and we managed to squeeze in more than originally planned due to the difficulties of accurate costing in the original bid. We hope (and pray) that it will put us in a good position as we all continue to emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Time then, all things considered, that was well spent.

Blog Post

Devizes – Caen Hill Locks and more

The Easter weekend sunshine coaxed me out to finally make a visit to the Caen Hill Locks near Devizes that I’d been promising myself for ages. Plainly many others decided to do the same as the car park was busy on Easter Monday.

On arrival, I was delighted to find the Diamond Jubilee Wood funded by the Forestry Commission as part of a national scheme to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and full of native species which will in time create a rich habitat for wildlife.

The Locks themselves are undoubtedly impressive. It is one of the longest continuous flight of locks in the country, with a staircase of 16 locks the centre piece of a series of an incredible 29 locks in total. These were designed by John Rennie to solve the fact that the Canal has to negotiate a 273 ft drop within 2.5 miles as it travels through the Vale of Pewsey.

We talked to a party taking their boat through the locks. They thought it would take them at least 3 hours to complete. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted! This marvellous piece of engineering was created between 1794 and 1810, with the Caen Hill Flight the last stretch to be completed. The locks also have unique side pounds where boats would have waited as they traveled up and down the Canal. It’s heard to imagine this part of Wiltshire as a motorway of the 19th century carrying goods to and from London and Bristol along the Canal before trains and better roads meant that they had fallen out of use by the second half of the 20th century. The pounds are now havens of wildlife as they are not deep enough for boats to use now. The nesting swan close to the towpath would never have found a spot here in the heyday of the Canal.

I remember as a child in the 1970s being taken to somewhere along the route of the Kennet and Avon by my parents who were interested to find out more about the restoration of the canal which was then in its early days. I don’t know which stretch we visited but I do remember seeing the drained canal, the rubbish at the bottom of the channel and the people working hard to repair and clean up the canal so that it could become usable once more. Here I am in 2019 looking at the fruits of their labours.

We walked right into town to the Devizes Wharf where we watched as the MV Kenavon Venture set off to give visitors an experience of travelling along the Canal. This is yet another heritage attraction in Wiltshire dependent on the assistance of volunteers. Canal and River Trust volunteers at the floating visitor centre were friendly and knowledgeable and The Kennet and Avon Canal Trust run the Kenavon Venture and the small museum at Devizes Wharf. Their AGM is coming up soon and they have some volunteer vacancies if you would like to get involved.

A WWII pillbox tucked away near the Marina reminded us that the Canals were an important part of our infrastructure that needed to be protected in case of invasion by the German army.

Devizes is undoubtedly an excellent destination for visitors and one which is often overshadowed by the more famous destinations in Wiltshire such as Salisbury, Stonehenge or Stourhead. The Canal and its Museum, the Wiltshire Museum with its nationally significant archaeological collections, the Wadworth Brewery and Devizes market and independent shops mean that there is more than one day’s worth of things to do here. It’s close to the Avebury part of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site and there are plenty of excellent walks to other sites such as Roundway Down or Adam’s Grave at Alton Barnes.

It also has a thriving cultural scene with its Arts Festival and annual Carnival, independent cinema and plenty of nice places to eat.

The volunteers were able to provide information for visitors on the history of the Canal and things to see and there were a selection of both free and paid-for publications available that were informative, attractive and easy to read. There were clear signposts and information boards to help orientate the visitor. The Canal is a wonderful place to relax, enjoy nature, wonder at the engineering skills of our Georgian ancestors and to give thanks for those volunteers who worked so hard to restore the infrastructure so that we can all enjoy it now. They have a nice cafe too! I’ll definitely be back.

Blog Post

Malmesbury – oodles of heritage and a sense of place

One of the joys of freelancing is that you get to travel around, meet new people and discover new places and stories. I guess I’m basically nosey and I’m lucky to be able to have these opportunities to indulge my curiosity. I had reason to go to Malmesbury on the Wiltshire / Gloucestershire border recently. It’s a town with a huge amount of history and it knows it!

The town’s Neighbourhood Plan 2015 recognises the essential historic character of the town with its hilltop silouhette, central place of the Abbey and the ancient network of streets at the town’s centre


The setting to Malmesbury and its Abbey in
particular will continue to be the most
distinctive feature of the town’s appearance.
This aspect will be protected and enhanced over
the coming years. Its historic buildings and the
pattern of its streets, paths, public spaces and
alleyways will be conserved and the public realm
enhanced.

Malmesbury neighbourhood plan 2015 volume 1 A7.1

I first went to Malmesbury a couple of years ago with colleagues from the Wiltshire Archaeology Service to see some of the projects that they were working on. This included a house under restoration whose garden, an old burgage plot, met the towering town walls. The views were spectacular. It’s one of the many towns in Wiltshire where you just have to scratch the surface to discover something fascinating and ancient.

On this visit I discovered Malmesbury’s beautiful Market Cross, which Pevsner describes as “one of the finest in England”, had been damaged by a recycling lorry late last year. This Grade 1 listed structure was constructed in the late 15th century and has some fine carvings. The photograph below shows the extent of the damage. A post on the Malmesbury Town Council website dated 12 February 2019 notes work is progressing and that this is a ‘lengthy process’. Having cared for historic buildings with English Heritage I feel their pain and frustration with the time that a repair of such an historic structure will take. However, it seemed that there was a missed opportunity here.

Malmesbury’s Market Cross

It may be that I am unaware of such a project, but it seemed that the time that a conservation project like this takes could be used to its advantage and that some community engagement could be undertaken to help the residents of Marlborough understand the Market Cross better. A Town Council minute notes that the Civic Trust wanted to undertake an aerial survey in 2017 – I do hope that this was completed as the survey will be useful in ensuring that the work restores the Cross to its former state. Some really fun and creative work could be done by local schools and groups to help them discover more about the Cross and the history of the Town. What about an inter-generational reminiscence project asking people about their memories – after all how many sweethearts must have met here?!

After pondering this, on the recommendation of a friend, I sought out the Moravian Chapel. I had read about this fabulous community project run by the Friends of the Athelstan Museum. Although closed, our attempt to enter had not gone unnoticed and one of the volunteers graciously showed us in. I was not disappointed, this is an exemplar project and the quality of the work was evident. It’s a beautiful and flexible space which still retains the character of the Chapel but can be used for a variety of community events. As a result of their work this beautiful heritage building has a long term future.

Moravian Star outside the newly refurbished Moravian Chapel, Malmesbury

Finally I took a trip to the Athelstan Museum itself. I had heard lots of good things about them and was not disappointed. This Museum which is entirely run by volunteers offered a warm and knowledgeable welcome from the volunteer on duty when I arrived and excellent displays, well presented on the various aspects to Malmesbury’s long history – and its all free.

I particularly liked the hats which featured Malmesbury lace and the temporary display on the pubs of Malmesbury as well as the timeline and features on specific events and people such as Thomas Hobbes.

Sometime after my visit I happened to meet up with a colleague that I knew had worked with the Museum. He confirmed that the team there run the Museum well and that he often uses them as an example of best practice. They are an Arts Council Accredited Museum and from my discussions with the volunteers on duty their members are actively engaged in research into various aspects of the history of the town, including the Market Cross. They definitely had a sense of place. It’s so important for us to understand where we live and how it has developed and changed over the years and the Athelstan Museum does an excellent job at sharing this with residents and visitors alike. (Oh and they have a nice shop too!)