oasis

In 2006, Scarborough Christian Fellowship (SCF) opened the doors to a purpose-built family centre, offering support to parents and, in the words of pastor Graeme Parkins, ‘plugging the gaps’ in local service provision.

“We looked around and we saw the needs,” he says. “And we decided that the one thing we couldn’t do as a church was nothing.”

The Oasis Family Centre enables SCF to have much wider contact with the local community. “We now have over 400 adults and children in contact with the church over the course of an average week,” says Graeme. “Before we opened the centre, we were in regular contact with about 40. So you can see how concentrating onserving families has definitely opened doors for us.”

In addition to several church-run meetings for parents of under-fives, Oasis acts as a venue for community police officers, a baby clinic run by the local health visitors, and maths and science homework clubs.

“The local community workers were chuffed to bits when we opened,” said Graeme. “They were delighted that people were willing to help and had a heart for the community.

“The fact that we’re a church hasn’t been a problem for us in working with the borough council at all. As founder members of Faithworks Scarborough, we’recommitted to serving the needs of anyone and everyone, but our faith basis has never been an issue. The borough council has been very helpful in enabling us to get European funding and helped us from the outset to analyse the need.

“I think it’s very important to get a real picture of the needs around you. We had a good idea, from our involvement with detached youth work in the town. But we also worked closely with the council’s Economic Development Department. They had done the ‘quality of life’ research and had a very good handle on what people inScarborough needed.

“If you’re going to apply for funding you have to be able to prove the needs are real – so using the council’s own research to show where there was a lack in supportgave our funding applications greater weight.

“Also, we felt our main calling was to serve parents with children under five. That has been our priority since we opened. We have links with another church, St Mary’s, which has a Social Action Centre supporting the homeless and drug users. Byspecialising in how we serve the community, we can offer a professional service, which really meets people’s needs.

“Starting out with a project to engage families isn’t easy. We were able to launch Oasis because our building needed redeveloping, and so we had an opportunity to develop our basement floor into the family centre. But starting something like this does require a long-term view.

“We’ve had a dozen people on our management board since day one – and having a team is incredibly important. Also, to finance the development, the church had to take out a mortgage, which in itself is a long-term commitment.

“That, I think, is the key to starting well – you need to plan for the long term from the beginning and be willing to be committed for as long as it takes.”