Danielle: Let’s start with a bit of background. Tell us about you, and about Oasis Hub Hull!
Claire: I’ve been a part of the church (originally Hull Community Church) for 20 years since I moved to Hull to do my PhD. The church celebrated its 40th anniversary during Covid. Several years ago, we bought an old Lutheran church – and eventually built a new building on the site, which is where we are now. If you took a map of Hull and put a pin in the geographical centre of the city, you would put the pin right on our church! One of the strengths of our community is its diversity – there’s a real mix of different nationalities, backgrounds, ages, and needs. We’re a five-minute walk from the University – and equally close to a large housing estate. Hull is one of the most ‘deprived’ places in the country, so there is a lot of need. But there are also more affluent areas as well. Here they sit side-by-side, all mixed up.
Danielle: What are the biggest needs that you see as a community?
Claire: There’s lots of poor-quality housing – especially private rented accommodation that’s not well maintained, with poor insulation (a real problem this winter when people can’t afford heating). There are high levels of unemployment locally – and often work is seasonal, transient, or on unpredictable zero-hours contracts. There’s also a significant Romanian community locally, and many of them have faced racism and discrimination.
Those are the obvious things. Some things are more hidden – like loneliness, which we come across a lot. A couple of years ago I spoke to someone working locally in public health and asked her the same thing – the two big things she talked about were gambling and suicide risk.
Danielle: How has all of that shaped what you do as a church – a hub?
Claire: About five years ago, we quite radically changed what we did – particularly during the week. We used to have a friendship club for older people, a youth club, a toddler group … We stopped all of that because it split people into different groups. You had to fit a box to come to a specific activity. So instead, we just opened our doors, called it ‘Open House’, and invited everyone in. One important principle for us is that everybody has got something to give, as well as everybody has got something to receive. Some people come to us because they’re in a place of need – some people just turn up curious about what’s going on here. At different times we all have something we need help with, but we all also have something to give back.
Danielle: I’ve seen that principle in action. One of the things that Oasis Hub Hull is already ‘famous’ for in Oasis, is that if anyone visits you, you won’t make them a cup of tea!
Claire: But we will show you where the kettle is! Of course, we will make you a cup of tea if you need us to, but we really believe in participation! If something needs doing, we might just say – ‘would you mind helping out with this?’. That’s a crucial part of how we have formed community together. We don’t talk about providing services. Our job is to provide space for community to develop. The magic happens when people turn up and engage with each other. We create space; and community happens here.
Danielle: What does that look like in practice? What are the anchor points, the things that create space?
Claire: We do some of the usual things you might expect – we run a weekly food club and café – we started that during Covid, and it’s really popular. We’ve always got tea and toast on the go, and board games out. People bring craft activities. Our team will also help with one-to-one support. We describe it like being each other’s extended family. We help people make sense of forms, bills, sit with them while they make phone calls. For the last year we’ve had a Romanian-speaking Community Support worker who helps with translating official letters, communication from school, making appointments.
We’re lucky to have a beautiful large building – including a space called ‘World of Wonder’ – which was codesigned with our young people. It’s got a hobbit hole, an indoor tree with a slide in it, a music room, and a bounce room. It’s a great play space for families after school – but we also use it to do ‘trails’, organised experience and activity days. The last trail we did in the summer was called the ‘rainbow trail’ and it told the stories of seven local families.
One fun project we’ve done recently was funded by the Ideas Fund – it’s all about making connections. We’ve created a beautiful friendship bench – where people come and sit, have a conversation with someone, and help each other out. It’s created this space for people to share their story. We’re also working with a researcher from the University of Hull on a language project. As part of that we’ve added a large tree to the wall – all the roots are different languages. People come and write their name where their language is, along with things about their language, where it’s from, some words. That way we can share a bit about each other’s culture and start conversations. All of these things are ways of trying to reduce barriers and help us get to know each other – to form relationships that are meaningful, and community that will both be the place where we can thrive – and the network that will support us when life is hard.
Danielle: What does the future look like for Oasis Hub Hull?
Claire: Joining Oasis has been great. We were looking to be a part of something bigger than us – and found that we shared two really important things with Oasis: an inclusive theology; and a holistic vision for community transformation – which is church from beginning to end. We’ve got lots of ideas about how to grow – we’d love to fill our building with partners and other organisations as well, so that we can be a ‘one stop shop’ for the whole community. We’d love to run some social housing here. But maybe most importantly, we want this to be a place where people feel they are welcomed, and they belong. That’s honestly it for me! Are we motivated by love? Does that show? Have we created a place for real community to flourish?
If you’re interested in joining Oasis’ growing network of churches, get in touch with us at email@example.com