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Heartsease - Norwich

Heartsease is a post-war housing estate in Norwich within the city boundaries but just outside the outer ring road. St Francis Church sits at the junction of two roads in the residential heart of the estate. St. Francis’ buildings are in use throughout the week, and with activities for all ages and diverse interests. The church recently underwent remodelling to make it more comfortable and energy-efficient and to open it up as a place for community groups to make better use of the improved facilities. It is the base for the Heartsease Community Project, an ecumenical project also involving the local Methodist and Baptist Churches that runs a luncheon club and a coffee bar.

Origins of the project

Heartsease Community Project began over 30 years ago when local clergy got together to see what they could do for the community by working together as a joint venture of local churches working to reach out to the community on the Heartsease Estate. In recent years we realised that there were many vulnerable older people in the community who were not being helped by the project. A community questionnaire helped confirm this as did the local statistics of the estate’s demography. As the estate was built in 1956, there are many older people as well as a lot of new, younger families. As we already had a good team providing existing services, there was some scope for development here as well as the opportunity to widen interest with the expansion of our activities.

Evolving activities

Since its origin, Heartsease Community Project has run a luncheon club for older and disabled adults and a drop-in coffee bar. The luncheon club happens weekly and has an attendance of over forty people. In the past, there has been a waiting list to attend, though this is not the case at present. The coffee bar also happens once a week. About twelve people attend. They bring and share their own food and chat and/or play games such as cribbage.

At one stage, there was a Listening Ear project with volunteers who attended an Acorn Listening Course. This was allowed to run down as there was little take-up though a listener could still be provided if requested.

The Project hosts a lunch three times a year for local professionals working in the community and this activity moves around the partner churches.

The Heartsease Project is now in a partnership with Age UK Norwich, which is enabling us to develop new services for older people. Age UK have seconded a development worker one day per week to Heartsease. At present, there is experimentation with additional activities either before or after the luncheon club, such as a quiz or hiring a minibus to go to a tea dance. There have also been some taster sessions in bank holiday weeks (when the luncheon club is closed) to give people the opportunity to try new things and test their popularity.

One example of an activity has been ‘reminiscence’, which has also been the theme of a joint project with the Youth project. Older people have gone into the Church primary school to share their memories with the children. In return, young people have been to help with the luncheon club. It seems likely now that reminiscence will be offered as an ongoing activity.

The development worker is also able to do more outreach work to identify people who would benefit from the services offered. He is negotiating relationships with local GPs, which may both lead to more referrals and provide ideas for new forms of provision. Age UK are working with the local authority to set up community service hubs. In effect, the Heartsease Project is becoming one of these.


Two years ago, the Heartsease Community Project became a registered charity run by a management committee appointed by three local churches. Each church can appoint two lay members and one clergy, though the two Free Churches are not necessarily taking up all their places at present. There is an annual meeting open to the public.

The main leadership comes from the management committee and its chair, the local Vicar. St Francis’ is clearly the most active partner. In part, this is because its buildings are good and centrally situated, so that it tends to be the one used, though in principle there could be lunch clubs at other churches. In part, it may also be that, because the other churches have gathered congregations and their members are widely scattered, they are less rooted in the immediate locality.


The project is self-sufficient through the sale of meals. St Francis Church premises are used, but there is the potential to use other premises as well. The Church charges rent which is covered by the proceeds from the luncheon club.

The Development Project has been funded by a CUF Mustard Seed Grant. The development worker post (1 day a week) will be taken on by Age UK Norfolk when funding runs out. From time to time, free activities are made available through external funding and there is some capital which can be used for new activities.


All the activities are underpinned by volunteers: the kitchen and front-of-house staff for the luncheon club, the coffee bar co-ordinators and many of the activity leaders. New volunteers receive informal on-site induction. The lead luncheon club staff have all been on a hygiene course.

Many, but not all, of the volunteers are themselves retired. Many, too, have been involved for a very long time. There is now a need to grow volunteers for the extension of activities. Recruitment can be through an appeal; through the local churches; or through Age UK which has a wider catchment area. Although some of the longstanding volunteers are from the Methodist and Baptist Churches, recent recruits have mainly come from St Francis Church.

Calculated on the basis of paying the minimum wage for the time contributed, volunteers contribute at least £250 per week.

Other support and links

There has been little need for external support so far, for example, from the diocese, but this may become necessary as the project develops. The connection with Age UK Norfolk is very important.


There are many stories of lonely and less mobile people who have got their lives back through the project.

Success factors

As well as good food, the project offers friendship and support to clients. It relies on the volunteers both for its effectiveness and its sustainability. As the labour for the luncheon club is all provided free, we are able to charge a modest amount for the meals and still make a profit, which means we are not dependent on external funding. The integration with the Church is also important: a number of members of the PCC are volunteers as well as members of the management committee.

Challenges and opportunities

The challenge is to renew the organisation so that it can respond to greater need. For that, new volunteers will have to be recruited. It can be difficult to move forward to reach new people, to overcome an element of ‘cliqueyness’ and recruit new volunteers when existing volunteers do not welcome change. Having the Age UK development worker provides the opportunity to progress. Not only will he have time to work with existing groups but his element of detachment might help to enthuse them with a renewed vision. In the current economic climate all services seem to be struggling even those with supposedly ring-fenced budgets. It seems certain, therefore, that there will be new needs and new opportunities to extend our provision for older people.

Revd. Peter Howard