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Home Ministry M4M (Ministry for Mission) Stories of Mission in Dorset and Wiltshire The StreetLight Centre in Wimborne

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The StreetLight Centre in Wimborne

by handrew last modified 17 Aug, 2016 02:34 PM

A Christian skateboard park, set up to be a resource for the local community, to engage those who don't go to church and to impact skate culture in Wimborne.

In a converted warehouse on an unremarkable industrial estate on the outskirts of Wimborne, something quite unusual is happening; a sign over the door reads  ‘StreetLight Centre, Shining Christ’s Light in the World’, there’s the sound of skateboards crashing onto ramps and the smell of really good coffee. 

The StreetLight Centre was launched in 2014 by a team of local Christians led by Andy Putt, Project Director, as an outreach project focused around an indoor skate park and cafe. From the start, Andy’s vision has been to provide a resource for the local community – a place where families, not just young people, can come and spend time.  “We set out not to be a youth centre, but to have a relationship with families,” he says.

There are state of the art facilities for skaters and riders but there’s also a great coffee shop upstairs with big picture windows so that parents can watch their children on the park. The coffee is excellent, there’s good food and cake, and a soft play area for younger children. And if older kids tire of the skate park there’s a pool table and table football to fall back on. 

Some parents might only be here for ten minutes while they drop their children off, but for others the centre is as much an attraction as for their children.  One couple who were struggling with their relationship have told Andy that they would be divorced by now if it wasn’t for StreetLight. It has provided them with the time and space to sit and chat that they didn’t have before. “We have created an authentic community”, says Andy. Engaging people in conversation, showing concern about their issues and following up these up in later conversations has also led to many opportunities to pray for people.

StreetLight has also become a hub for children in care to meet their parents, and also for parents who are separated to meet together. The venue has more than enough to entertain the children, and the parents find the cafe a comfortable, stress-free environment, all of which leads to fewer arguments.

Downstairs the team are also forging strong relationships with those who come to skate and ride. “We see some of the kids more than their parents do,” says Andy. “Their parents have to work, but they’re happy for their kids to be here.” Both Andy and Ben Applin, the Centre Manager, are able to be positive male role models for many of the children who come along. There’s a family feel to the place. Andy has also noticed that the culture of skating is slowly changing in Wimborne: “Outdoor parks have a culture of smoking and drinking. But the younger ones are hanging out here, not in the parks. So when they do go out, they take this culture with them and don’t drink and smoke.”

The parent of one young volunteer told Andy that StreetLight has changed her son. He used to hang out with the wrong crowds at school and in the town, but being at StreetLight has helped him to grow into a more mature teenager. Having not cared much for school in the past, he is now really focused on his work.

As part of their commitment to the community, StreetLight offers free riding every evening for local people. Although this is peak time for numbers, they have decided not to charge but to be a local resource. “We don’t do it for the money, but because we want to engage with the community,” says Andy.

StreetLight deliberately seeks to reach those who do not engage with church and to share the gospel with them. They run two weekly bible studies for the young people. However rather than becoming a church themselves, they refer people who are interested in Christianity back into local Wimborne churches. Andy sees the project as a parachurch organisation, a resource for local churches who can hire the centre’s facilities for their own events and support other events at the centre.

In the two years that the centre has been open, Andy has gained some valuable insights that may help those thinking of setting up a similar community resource. 

Get a large team of people behind you.
Andy spent considerable time with church leaders and key community figures, with Christians and non-Christians, ensuring that people backed the vision and fully understood the aim of the centre before it opened. Maintaining good communication through every stage of the project’s development makes it much easier to sort out any misunderstandings that may occur. 
Communicating the vision well to staff, trustees and wider team builds sustainability into the project, beyond the tenure of the original founder. If Andy were to leave, the trustees carry the DNA of the vision within them and would be able to appoint the right candidate to replace him. 
Andy is regularly mentored by Chris Duffet of the Baptist Union and the Light Project, and StreetLight is supported by Matt Summerfield and Mark Arnold of Urban Saints. Together these three make up the Council of Reference for StreetLight.
Be up front about what you’re doing
If it’s a Christian project, don’t hide it. The very visual Christian elements of StreetLight’s decor make its ethos abundantly clear – skateboards form a large cross on the wall, graffitied with the names of the disciples; beer mats double as prayer cards. This makes it much easier to start conversations about God and to offer to pray for people. 
Professionalism – do it all well

Particularly in the cafe, Andy was keen to ensure that the standard was at least as high as other coffee shops in the area. They use barista-quality coffee machines and really good coffee beans. The cafe is staffed by volunteers who are fully trained and supported.

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