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Bootle: St Leonard’s Centre

Bootle is in the Sefton local authority area. It borders the River Mersey adjoining the north of Liverpool and is one of the most deprived areas of the country. The decline of the docks in the 1960s and 1970s saw a rise in unemployment and a fall in population. St Leonard’s is in a super output area (SOA) that is one of the 1% most deprived in the country. Nearly one quarter of the population in the ward is under 16 years old. There are health-related problems such as high levels of smoking and obesity. South Sefton was within the Merseyside Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder area underlining that the locality suffered from housing decline and associated problems, but the funding was discontinued in March 2011.

St Leonard’s Church is part of the Bootle Team Ministry. The congregation numbers about thirty two, most of whom grew up locally, with a number who no longer live in the immediate area. The building combines the church and the Centre.


The Centre’s work began in its present form about 10 years ago. The impetus for the current work came when the current Team Rector arrived. He saw the need for more work with the local community because of the extent of deprivation. The hall building was not in a good condition and had a leaking roof, there was no funding in place, and just two small sessions of volunteer based youth work happening. Funding was found to do some interior decorating on condition the roof was fixed and, following a loan from the Diocese, that was done. From this, one of the local Registered Social Landlords (RSL) started to fund increased and regular sessions of youth and community based activities. Bit by bit, in small steps there was an increase in community usage and dramatic improvements to the facilities.

St Leonard’s Centre

Regular activities in the Centre include:
· A Parent and Toddler Group once a week, which is run by paid workers, partly with a view to it informally offering parenting skills.
· An Out-of-School Club for 5-11 year olds on three days per week between 4 pm and 6 pm.
· Holiday programmes and trips for young people
· A Community Lunch run twice a month by St Leonard’s volunteers.
· Courses such as sign language and cooking for one.
· Tenants and Residents meetings.
· Older people’s activities such as Tea dances.
· Gardening and entry into the Britain in Bloom Competition for urban estates.

Following severe cuts and reduction in funding in 2011, some activities have had to be curtailed, meaning that most of the Youth Club activity has had to close. The Centre has a sports hall that can be hired by prior arrangement, and local groups are encouraged to use other parts of the building. Sometimes a charge is levied depending on the nature of the group and/or activity.

When Bootle suffered flash floods in July 2010, St Leonard’s responded as the nearest community building and was opened as an Emergency Flood Support Centre. This raised its profile with local people and the local authority. The Team Rector attended the regular emergency co-ordinating group, and Community Development worker/Centre Manager was on the committee that allocated flood support funds raised by local appeal.

St Leonard’s has taken over running the local Housing Market Renewal (HMR) Forum. Prior to the loss of HMR funding, this led to an innovative project – ‘Come Dine with Me’ (see box below).

Centre services have evolved over time. The financial climate has altered. This has affected the sale or refurbishment of some of the buildings. There is also added pressure on obtaining new funding as everyone is oversubscribed and sometimes good services have had to go as a result of a failure to find new sources of money. However, the needs of the community have not altered. Arguably they have increased precisely because all services are under pressure.

Partnership working

There are good links locally with Riverside Housing, the local Registered Social Landlord that owns most of housing stock in the area though the end of Housing Market Renewal money makes it uncertain whether the links will continue in their current form. There are also good working relations with the police, who share information about crime and anti-social behaviour in the area, with the local authority and with Sefton Council for Voluntary Services.


St Leonard’s is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee. The object of the charity is the provision of a community centre for the use of the inhabitants of the beneficial area of Bootle. The Board is chaired by the Team Vicar and the trustees/ directors are elected annually at the AGM. They are currently meeting monthly because of the financial pressures being experienced. The main leadership has come from the Team Rector and Team Vicars.

Ten years ago there was very much a feel of separation between ‘Church’ and ‘Centre’. The desire of integration has been a firm and very conscious move led by the clergy. With encouragement given to the PCC and Trustees, and the secondment of the Community Development Worker for Bootle Team Ministry as part-time Centre Manager this has been realised in the past five years at St Leonard’s. The wider role of the Community Development Worker has been to help rationalise and increase the usage in the Team’s nine buildings, reassess what they were used for and whether they were still needed. In addition, the role has been to increase the volunteer base and organise training for volunteers. She also looked at governance at St. Leonard’s Community Hall and one of the other buildings in the Team which had a separate charity. The latter has now been wound up.

The role of Community Development Worker has evolved. As well as her secondment as part-time Centre Manager for the Community Hall, she has adapted as work streams have come to an end due to funding cuts, and the role has grown in respect of the support needed for emerging areas of activity. Part of her role is to find funding for any new projects within the team. She also works on a consultancy basis for the Diocese[1] with payment going to Bootle Team to offset her salary.

As Community Development Worker, she is line managed by the Team Rector and reports to the Team Council every quarter, which is made up of three representatives from each of the three PCC’s in the Team Ministry. She attends each of the three PCCs when required to report on pieces of work particular or relevant to that PCC. All the other staff are part-time and numbers have recently reduced from 14 to 8. They are all local people.


The original funding for the Community Development Worker’s post came from CUF and Fairshare Fund for the first three years. The latter, which was accessed through Merseyside Community Foundation, has been renewed until 2012. Various funding pots have been obtained for volunteer training, courses and equipment across the team, such as the Hadley Trust, Community Centre Grant, Riverside Housing Community Chest, the Jamie Carragher Testimonial Fund and Crosby Lions. There has also been support and small grants from the Diocese and the PCC.

An earlier Service Level Agreement for work with 14-16 year olds funded from the Working Neighbourhoods Fund finished when that funding stream was discontinued. Smaller one-off amounts of income have been secured for specific activities, such as the flood support.

The Centre also generates a relatively small amount of funding from rental income, for example, from the Residents’ and Tenants’ meetings and Brownies and Guides hall hire and there are receipts from Bingo.


Originally there was only a small group of volunteers, but the group has grown. Five sets run the Community Lunch in St. Leonard’s. Training has been provided. The good thing to come out of the volunteers, who are mainly members of the congregation, are the projects such as Come Dine with Me, where the young people and church members have come together and worked together on a project. This has led to greater understanding and friendships which would not have happened otherwise. Some of the paid staff also come in on a voluntary basis to raise funds to aid current work. Collectively, that equates to about 50 hours a week which, costed on the basis of the minimum wage, amounts to a weekly contribution of about £300.


In general terms, the work in the Centre and the other buildings has enabled more effective engagement with local residents and encouraged church members to look outwards more and recognise that church is not just about a service on a Sunday. It has raised the profile of the Bootle Team with other agencies through their work and what has been achieved. They are respected in the community and highly regarded by the local authority.

Examples of training and capacity building for workers and volunteers over the past six months are:

· 10 attended First Aid training;
· 10 members attended Safeguarding Level 1;
· 15 attended Diversity and Hate Crime Level 1;
· 5 members of staff – all local residents – attained qualification in Health and Social Care Level 3 Youth Work.

In relation to young people, 15 Young Apprentices were encouraged and brought through over a twelve month period. This work with 14-16 year old local young people was in partnership with Sefton CVS and the Working Neighbourhoods Fund.

Success factors include:

· Training for all the staff and volunteers.
· Encouraging church members and community leaders and members to work together.
· Engaging with local councillors and council so that they accept that we can work as a team and that the work we do is of value.


“Even now, we sometimes meet suspicion and wrong assumptions, which may say more about individuals than a corporate policy. Agencies that we work with sometimes assume that as a church-based organisation, we have another agenda, that the only reason for our being here is to get people into church on a Sunday.”

Lack of funding is another barrier especially in the current financial climate. The struggle to gain financial sustainability is on-going in a context where it is difficult to realise ways of generating income.

Challenges and opportunities for the future

“The very evident need all round us is a major challenge as is the constant need to find funds. Although the Diocese is supportive, a bit more involvement and understanding regarding financial position of some projects and the services they provide in their local communities. To some extent there is a tension between the pressures around the Diocesan Growth Strategy (numerical growth on Sunday mornings) and what we feel called to do in our neighbourhood.”

St Leonard’s has increased services to the community by increasing usage of the church side of the building. The worship area offers a large versatile space and is used for community lunches and open days run by Riverside Housing. Increasing numbers put new demands on the buildings and use of space.

Debbie King
Community Development Worker

"Come Dine with Me"

The original idea came when Evolve, the organisation responsible for delivering the government's Housing Market Renewal programme in South Sefton, brought the local community together for an evening, split people into groups and invited them to make pitches for project ideas to a panel. During the evening, the idea of the Come Dine with Me project was born involving St Leonard’s in Bootle along with three local Community Centres.

The Centres set the rules (e.g. each group could only spend up to a certain budget, the group should be intergenerational, the order was decided by pulling names out of a hat). Then it followed the format of the Channel 4 “Come Dine with Me” programme. With a team of 10 people (5 young people, 5 older people) each Community Centre cooked a meal and the other teams would be invited along and then everybody would vote on which Centre hosted the best meal. Each meal had a theme and the centres and teams were dressed up accordingly (e.g. Country and Western, Footballers and WAGS, Hollywood). The evenings were a big success.

St Leonards secured match funding from the CUF Mustard Seed fund and was able to share the equipment with the other centres, which increased the sense of co-operation.

The project had several beneficial outcomes:

· Improved links between young and old: people met each other who would not otherwise have done. Previously, there had been a feeling that the church and centre were separate and there were tensions between the youth club and church, but through the project, they met one another and got on.

· Improved relations between community centres: overcoming territoriality and engendering greater co-operation between the Centres and their staff.

· Great public relations with the local authority: councillors were delighted with it because the events ticked all their community cohesion boxes. They invited all the groups to have a meal together at the Town Hall. Groups of young and old, who previously had no interaction, were now sitting together laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

Rev Roger Driver, Team Rector: “This was one of the most satisfying projects I’ve been involved in 20 years. Often in community work many things feel unfinished. With this, within quite a short period of time, there was lots of energy, excitement and input and you could see results at the end. If you pardon the pun, it left a good taste in everybody’s mouth”.

Debbie King, Centre Manager: "It’s proof that if you give local people money, they know what to do with it, know how to spend it best and economically and get best value".

[1] She delivers ‘Discovery’ for the Diocese, a course run by Tearfund for parishes to look at how their church fits into the community and how they can reach out to their own neighbourhoods.