A decade spent transforming a city community
A few days ago I was at a reunion. It was a farewell party given for me by the Braunstone Foundation to say goodbye as I move to be Bishop of Bedford. It was a moving occasion because gathered were many of those who had worked together to bring the Braunstone New Deal Programme to a successful conclusion.
Mercury readers with longer memories will recall how this £50 million social and economic regeneration programme ran into severe difficulties. Ten years ago, when I arrived in Leicester, it was at a point of crisis. The Mercury carried story after story of its troubles, internal dissent was unpleasant and vindictive, and the government were considering pulling the plug. There was real risk that this needy community would once again lose out.
In a First Person column the Bishop of Leicester challenged the city to remain committed and called for new leadership. In fact, he went one step further and nominated me to be the independent chair; a role I held for four years.
Ten years on, Braunstone is a different place. There is the leisure centre, the BRITE centre, the health centre and other new resources; there are new opportunities and people working together for the good of their neighbourhood; and the Braunstone Foundation has an income stream to support ongoing work. It is a story of which Leicester can be proud; and in particular should honour those staff and local residents who led it forward.
One year on from my appointment as chair we held a re-launch of the programme. At that occasion I was asked why I bothered with what was hard work, brought considerable grief and was still at risk. I was clear with my answer. It was a conviction that God values all His people, especially those in our poorest communities.
The good news of Jesus Christ is the potential for transformation in our lives and in our communities; transformation that I have seen in practice again and again across city and county during my 10 years as Archdeacon. I've met prisoners in Leicester Prison who, through the Sycamore Programme, have taken responsibility for their actions; worked with a new congregation in Hamilton; seen the renewal of Launde Abbey and the creation of St Martins House; shared in partnership with our Faith Communities for the common good; and above all else experienced our parish churches as places of life and renewal at the heart of our communities. Thank you Leicester and Leicestershire for 10 transformative years!
Richard Atkinson, Archdeacon of Leicester