Maintaining momentum for longer term funding projects
Churches are playing a vital role in meeting the needs of the community during COVID-19 but at the same time need to maintain the momentum for other longer-term projects. The Church of the Ascension in Blackheath is an excellent example of this. Craigmyle Consultant Gill Moody has been working with the Church of the Ascension for some time now on an exciting transformation project.
The Ascension is a beautiful building with a notable history of debate and rebellion. It has a tradition of radical and human rights work, and was a focal point for the ‘South Bank Religion’ movement with its focus on supporting the poor and the dignity of all people. The transformation project has a number of key aims: to carry out essential repairs to the building before it becomes unsafe, to clean and redecorate, to reorder the interior, sensitively upgrading the space in line with modern requirements of accessibility and the need to support different kinds of worship and activities. It is also exploring the potential to increase interpretation and open up more extensively to the community and visitors.
We caught up with Bridget Knapper, fundraising lead, to hear how the Ascension Church is managing during Covid-19.
What are the three key issues/concerns facing your organisation at the moment?
We are being very proactive and it is extremely busy. A key issue is to maintain contact, providing pastoral care and practical help for those who need it – not just for our existing congregation but the whole parish community and beyond across Blackheath Ward.
The church building may be closed but the worship continues. We are streaming our services and this has widened our congregation as more people are taking part online. We also offer live prayer at noon Monday to Friday on a Facebook site and services for major festivals are being recorded then broadcast. We are very pleased to have continued our Open Table for LGBTQ+ via Zoom but it is proving quite challenging to run our ESOL project online rather than face to face. We are looking at new ways of doing this, possibly involving a buddy scheme.
Thirdly while focusing on the immediate situation, we need to continue to focus on completing our application for the National Lottery Heritage Fund so that we can maintain momentum for the transformation project as we come out of lockdown.
What are you doing now that you had not anticipated doing before COVID-19?
Our vicar, the Reverend Anne Bennett, has organised a wonderful community response and many volunteers have come forward to help those who are unable to get out, running errands for them such as picking up prescriptions, taking a cat to the vet and so on.
As a result, we are building our volunteer base and will continue to develop this for the future. The Ascension Church has been playing a really important part in the local community and more people are aware of our role and commitment.
How have your fundraising plans changed?
Our application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the transformation project has been delayed as new applications are not being accepted by the National Lottery until at least October this year. We had been planning to complete and submit our bid this June but now we are strengthening the rationale for our application, with a view to putting it forward in October. Gill Moody, fundraising consultant, is working with us and advised us to use the next few months for detailed planning. She has stressed the need to keep to a timetable and has set me deadlines for completing different elements of the bid. I find Gill’s light touch encouragement very helpful and motivating when it is easy for day to day issues to overtake.
We have also decided to use this period to set up a business planning session (via Zoom) for the whole church to consider what is required post transformation, how to diversify income streams and ensure financial sustainability. We are a small congregation at the moment and it is good for as many people as possible to participate and together identify potential gaps in terms of capacity and how to address these.
What are your priorities for post lockdown?
Church services are very unlikely to be the same as they were before the pandemic for a long time so we need to manage expectations about the reality of this and open safely. We also want to find a way of offering individual memorial services for families who have lost loved ones over the past few months.
However, our priorities remain the same – to widen and grow our congregation and carry on with our transformation plans to secure the long-term future of the church. It is important that we continue to build our congregation as this is the key to sustaining its future.
We look forward to celebrating not only our physical heritage but the tradition of our church’s role in progressing the radical inclusion movement in Blackheath and fully engaging in all aspects of society. For example, we were one of the first churches to lead the way with women’s ministry as some years ago our Deaconess Elsie Baker was one of the first women ordained (aged 85) to the priesthood in the Church of England.
A huge thank you to Bridget for taking valuable time out of her very busy day to share her illuminating thoughts about the future. We wish Bridget and all at The Church of Ascension the very best.
Find out more about the transformation project here.
For tips on fundraising during COVID-19 have a look at our checklist.