Talkin’ ’bout my regeneration

This was the LOVE SOUTHEND Beach Bash in July 2005, and Irishman Shane Lynch was taking questions from the crowd, as part of the roadshow that afternoon: the Bash was the conclusion of a remarkable week in our town with Urban Extreme, which saw hundreds of young people from scores of churches across the Borough, coming together to love Southend.

ONE OF the key parts of LOVE SOUTHEND is, through acts of generosity and social concern, we try to symbolise God’s unconditional love for everyone…in our own hometown.

One important aspect of this is the vital work of the Street Pastors. Another is urban regeneration. The very public, but quietly understated Christian witness of cleaning up, fixing up local areas for no reward other than the satisfaction of knowing that these places will now be just a little more pleasant to live and work in.

WHAT BECAME known as Urban Extreme Week, was already well along in being planned, months beforehand. But urban regeneration under the LOVE SOUTHEND banner began in late January 2005 – when Chairperson Jonathan Ullmer was photographed by the local press alongside members of ChurchFromScratch, redecorating the Homeless Day Centre in Valkyrie Road after they’d given the garden there, a makeover.
Initiatives, at a rate of roughly one-a-month, were implemented after that, uniting local Christians of different denominations with one particular church usually taking a lead: Kings Church, Coleman Street Chapel, Avenue Baptist with pupils from St. Bernard’s’. Local residents in Cavendish Gardens saw hundreds of shrubs planted after nearby green-spaces had been tidied up; the only green-area in the Milton Ward was cleared up and made ready for future public use; something similar was done among the Coleman Street flats; same too, for Fossetts Farm, believed to be a site of Anglo-Saxon historical interest, behind Waitrose.

And the Council saw that it was good.

URBAN EXTREME was a somewhat different proposition, in that it attempted to bring together more than two hundred youth from different churches, over six days for prayer and teaching in the morning, regeneration work in the afternoon, before worship and celebration at night.

It was great hearing of church youth groups going out across town together to places like Bonchurch Park in Leigh, Cluny Square and the Kursaal. The council and an editorial in the Evening Echo were really impressed that these kids were actually paying for the privilege of picking up litter, painting playgrounds and cleaning off graffitti. Neighbours would come out their homes at times, delighting in the likes of rubbish – which had been left to build-up for years – suddenly being cleared away. One team filled hundreds of black bags with refuse, including newspapers going back to 1986! Elsewhere, teams were also running Pamper Parlours in parks, seeing scores of mums and grandmums being helped to ‘feel special’, for an afternoon. Our thanks go to our sponsors Debenhams, whose cosmetics staff remarked on how happy and enjoyable those afternoons were. Can we come back again? Many teams were putting on activities for kids and families, and one memorable afternoon saw 200-400 mums, dads and grandparents at St. Clements’ in Leigh Broadway, learning and playing circus skills. Many meaningful conversations were had.

As local residents were querying why the teams were doing all this, it proved the worth of sacrificial, Christian service. Knowing that they were Christians, locals were keen to talk religion as a result, and many a good chat was to come about naturally, in a non-threatening context. Members of different churches – Leigh Road Baptist, Vineyard, Southend Christian Fellowship and many more – were literally mucking-in together. Chris Hammond and others at Holy Trinity in Southchurch provided an evening meal for a large number of ‘delegates’ one day, and such adult help, whether cooking meals, praying or giving lifts, was much appreciated. It gave the feeling that the churches were really pulling together. Which they were.

Different speakers and musicians (like Bar ‘n’ Bus’s Collective, above) came and contributed. Blokes from nearby boozers brought their beer bottles with them, and came and watched the Beach Bash with great interest. A free public barbeque had also been held in the middle of Cluny Square on the Friday, where amidst all the families, some of our youth were able to identify and deal with, themselves, a matter of bullying among the local teenagers. They talked to, and reasoned with, the antagonists and when the bullied lad had his cap stolen, our volunteers clubbed-together and went and bought him a new one.

Another team clubbed-together to get a pair of wedding rings out of a pawn shop. In probably the most emotional scenario of Urban Extreme, a recently separated couple had witnessed the selfless giving and hard work of LOVE SOUTHEND Youth on their estate, and, so moved by what they saw, reflected and decided to give their marriage another go.

Because of their finances, they hadn’t the money to redeem the rings…until the volunteers went and paid the price. In a tearful moment, they then asked the team leader to publicly pray for them, as they ‘recommitted’ themselves to each other.

Well done to all those involved! Please keep checking this website for information regarding future regeneration projects.

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