At the end of 2017, Community Church Ramsgate won the Christian Funders’ Forum Gold Award for best social action project in the UK. We caught up with church leader Craig Prentice to find out more.
As with all good stories, it started a long time ago. Craig was just two years old, when his parents moved to Thanet – a deprived district of Kent – to run a children’s home managed by the Christian children’s charity Fegans. Care for the needy was clearly in Craig’s blood, and when he grew up he trained to be a social worker, then took a job with Fegans himself. He worked in the community there for ten years, running a Christian social work project with a huge scope. It included a pre-school, parenting support, a youth work project and work with women suffering from domestic abuse. They later added a schools partnership, where they were able to provide emotional support and counselling for children, and take assemblies throughout the year. The charity had what Craig describes as a ‘gospel-confident’ approach to its work: “We were there to love people, and be kind and compassionate and charitable, but also to look for opportunities to share the gospel, to pray and to encourage people to join a local church.”
Within a few years, Craig and some friends connected to the work began to see a need for a new church in the area, one that would be better suited to the people they were working with. A group of them met to pray, and in December 2010 a dozen of them felt that the Lord was telling them to plant a church in Ramsgate.
That was on a Tuesday. On the Thursday Craig got a phone call from the trustees of the Maurice and Hilda Laing Charitable trust. They said they were looking to do a legacy project with a Christian charity in Ramsgate, and asked if Fegans would be interested in working with them. Craig was able to tell them about a couple of projects that needed funding, and also to explain about the church plant that had been agreed upon just two days earlier. The dream of the planters was to eventually have a building, used jointly by the church and Fegans, for the benefit of the community.
Fast forward through various ups and downs, and in 2017 the dream has become a reality. The Laing Trust bought a plot of land that was ideally situated on the corners of two of the key estates where Fegans was working. They pulled down the existing building and purpose built a facility with a coffee shop with indoor play space, a pre-school (run by Fegans), a community hall and a suite of rooms used for church life and social work, all within the same four walls.
In April this year Community Church Ramsgate moved in and made ‘The Corner’ their home. They opened the coffee shop in June, and within two months it was doing enough trade to be able to open six days a week. Outside of Sunday services, the hall is used by many groups in the community, for Keep Fit, Dementia Action groups, line dances and more. There is a CAP Debt Centre in the building, Fegans have their parenting and counselling work based there, and another children’s charity, Salus, has a base in the building.
It’s this diversity that caused the Christian Funders Forum to give the church the award for best social action programme.
Its pioneering model brings a holistic approach to meeting the needs of the community. It brings together under one roof the best of open community programmes, and statutory and charitable services, with a vibrant and growing church at its heart. The hope and plan is to replicate this successful model in other deprived regions.
Community Church Ramsgate is currently home to around 75 adults and 50-60 children, and has baptised 27 people. They have a good core of families, but are now seeking ways to reach out to the elderly and isolated on the estates.
Craig is adamant, though, that neither the building nor the church is just for ‘the poor’. There is no ‘us and them’ atmosphere. “If it’s not good enough for me and my family,” he says, “why should I expect ‘the poor people’ in Ramsgate to come along?” They didn’t mention the award they received in the local press, because “We don’t want the town to think that you only come to The Corner if there’s something wrong with you. We’re here for everyone.”
CCR has a vision to see similar churches set up in the neighbouring towns of Broadstairs and Margate which, together with Ramsgate, make up the area known as Thanet. The church is already working towards being able to employ an evangelistic leader who can start a CAP debt centre and Alpha courses in Margate in autumn 2018. The hope is that this will lead to more people coming to know Christ, and pave the way for another new church serving its community across a wide range of needs, just as CCR does today.