The REACH Ely project has produced the first batch of case studies.
illustrated case studies cover urban (Newnham in Cambridge) and rural parishes (Foxton,
Linton, Bartlow, and the Abingtons) of the Diocese of Ely, each offering themselves for the study. Case materials have been written based on research
observations, desk-based research of community level data, and personal in-depth
interviews with the clergy, parish churchwardens, and members of parochial
The key focus of the case study
exercise is the capacity of churches in reaching out towards their diverse
communities. Church buildings of the Church of England, while respecting their
age, location and historic significance, are essentially community assets. In
the Church of England, buildings are owned by the Church and managed for
community benefit by local groups of volunteers. Although church buildings are
primarily used for religious services, for the benefit of the community it is
essential that churches become real tools for mission, provide complementary
uses of the building, and welcome the wider community on any day of the week
rather than being exclusive sites for Sunday worship.
Case studies offer
a snapshot in time of the more or less innovative uses of church buildings. The
publications are designed around the following themes: church buildings and
their local community, fundraising and income generating activities, community
events, communication and engagement, and challenges and lessons learned. The project team accepts that
there are some limitations to the case study method in conducting the research on a large scale because of the
in-depth nature of the data and individual insights. Yet the cases provide a general
evidence base of a change in the way church buildings are being used, reviving
the wider civic and community roles churches had in earlier centuries. At present, as the
findings illustrate, there is an understanding that churches need to change, both their
buildings and their approach to community engagement, in order to meet
community needs. An essential step towards this can
be the installation of kitchen and facilities, however, as the cases illustrate,
this effort does not
on its own guarantee success. The physicality of the
building with improved heating, lighting, wheelchair-friendly access, and the welcoming
appeal are also some of the ingredients of success. The cases demonstrate
creative fundraising ways to realise community engagement plans, a variety of
complementary uses of church buildings, and the crucial lessons learned by
churches – to be able to listen to and be constantly present in their
The research team of REACH Ely encourages the reader to ask whether
churches have been able to engage with the population that do not attend parish
churches – in the Diocese of Ely, these comprise about 97.7 per cent of the
weekly attendance figures) – and
how they have achieved or attempted to do that. Some churches and communities
are effective at reaching out to ‘the 97.7 per cent’, and their
experiences and learned lessons can be illustrative and inspiring examples for
other parishes. Still many churches and communities are in search for optimal
and effective community engagement opportunities.
The REACH Ely
team is thankful to all respondents who enthusiastically participated in case
studies and shared their insightful and inspiring experiences.
Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed in the case studies are those of the participants. The second batch of case studies is currently under review and to be published in August. In total, the REACH Ely project will produce 35 individual case materials comprising all deaneries in the Diocese (the Cambridge North and South, Granta, Ely, Yaxley, St Ives, St Neots, Shingay, North Stowe, March, Huntingdon, Fincham and Feltwell, and Wisbech Lynn Marshland) and depicting multitudes of successful or struggling ways of serving local and wider communities.
Text, design, photography Dr Timur Alexandrov, Research Associate, Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School.
Editorial board Dr Helen Haugh, Principal Investigator, Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School. Geoffrey Hunter, Church Buildings Consultant, Diocese of Ely.