Helen Harwood meets pioneer graduate Sue Steer, who has completed a diploma with the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course at Church Mission Society.
HH: Sue, I feel like I’ve seen you so much of the way since you joined us in 2012, and seen you really develop your fantastic skills. For those who do not know you so well, can you give us a potted history of the last few years, please?
SS: Sure, I led a project to refurbish a bunch of dilapidated church buildings and turn them into a community centre with a view to refocusing the church to be outward facing and community orientated. We opened Pathways about eight years ago and since then have partnered with groups like the Prince’s Trust, special needs and mental health groups, a children’s drama academy, Age UK to name a few. We also started a few of our own groups such as a community cafe, silver surfers’ club and a meditation group for people with mental health issues. Most recently our focus has been around dementia and wellbeing groups.
Have you felt that Church Mission Society has been an assistance to you as you’ve steered the waters of exploration with us?
CMS has been brilliant for helping me articulate my thoughts and feelings about why I think I’m doing what God wants me to! I also feel I’ve way more tools in my bag to help me with mission work. I know my confidence has grown immensely as has my ability to be ok with not having the answers all of the time.
I was delighted when you talked about your idea of a dementia singing cafe in 2013. My own mother lived with dementia (we sadly lost her in February this year). After many years of knowing my mum with dementia, I wish I had known more in the early days. We had a lot of arguments and disagreements that were unnecessary. I wish I had had more contact with others who were helping family members with this terrible disease. Can you tell us how the cafe developed?
I started the Singing Cafe after caring for my dad who had dementia and struggled to find things to do with him. We both loved music and singing it was something we always enjoyed doing together. Having the community centre and the ability to hold a tune meant I could start the group. We sing, dance, do some exercise, quizzes and drink lots of tea and eat lots of cake! It became popular really quickly in the area and over time it has become a community of people who support one another on their dementia journey as well as many other things that life throws at us.
You told me you are also working in respite care and reminiscence work, can you say more?
After going on the Missional Entrepreneurship Week I decided to have a go at starting a day respite care as there was very little in the way of day respite care in the area due to government cuts. We saw how many carers really needed a break from the 24/7 pressure of caring. It was quite a big step for us as we were moving into caring for people on their own rather than them having a carer accompany them. We are now recommended by the NHS mental health provision unit as well as social services and are nearly full. It’s been a real delight to see how this group has taken off, there is such a sense of friendship within the group as we laugh, talk and eat together. Many of the carers are requesting we put on additional days as they feel both themselves and their loved ones get so much out of it.
At the back end of last year we also were successful in attaining a grant to develop reminiscence activities and now have regular reminiscence sessions at Pathways as well as going out to other community centres and care homes. The carers love the sessions as do the people living with dementia and we learnt so much from them about their lives!
Singing is a big part of our reminiscence work too, as is dressing up outfits from the different eras as well as dancing around to the ‘Wash Day Blues’! (The ‘Wash Day Blues’ is a bunch of songs reminiscing around ‘wash day’.) We also laugh a lot!
Other work we do is around developing dementia awareness in our community as a founding member of Hinckley’s Dementia Action Alliance. We train people to become Dementia Friends and we partner with Age UK and the Alzheimer Society who use our Community Centre as a base for their Dementia work in the Hinckley area. All our activities have more of a family feel to them rather than it feeling like a service provision. Personally, I think this is because our ethos is about developing relationships rather than just about providing a service. Saying hello and goodbye to each other with an arm around the shoulder or a kiss on the cheek is common place for these groups. This is about Christ incarnate for me.
You’ve told me you are on the move. Can you share some of this with us and also tell us how you will make provision for the continuation of the work you started?
Yes I’m on the move…just down the road to some muddy fields called Lubbesthorpe. Currently it’s a few farm buildings and a bridge that’s half way built across the M1. There’s nothing there yet but within the next few months the building project will start, which will result in 4,250 homes, three schools, allotments, workspace, shops and cycle ways. It’s a 15 year build plan (but I guess it may take longer than that!).
Churches Together in Leicester are employing me to be a pioneer community worker to help build community, in the longer term there is hope that some sort of missional community will be born. I can’t tell you much more than that except to say I’ll be buying new wellies! It was a difficult decision to leave where I am but feel I am ready for a new challenge. A new Pathways manager has been appointed to replace me, there are two very capable dementia workers handling the dementia work and a whole army of people who support the work. It’s time for me to let go and let God continue his mission there. God has been amazing in the way he has provided the right people to step in and take over from me.
Lastly, Sue, how can we pray for you?
That I will be able hand over Pathways well and it will be a good ending for me and a great start for Ruth who takes over. There’s an emotional attachment in Pathways for me too as well as in the dementia work so I know it will be hard to leave. My youngest son will be off to uni in September too so that’s another change for us. I know that the role in Lubbesthorpe will be a lot quieter for a start than my current environment. I’m going in alone as well (fortunately my husband is going to be around too!) so please pray that God will send people who will be open to being on the journey with us. Finally please pray that the developers will come up with their promises of a community house, plenty of green space, cycle ways, a community centre, allotment and the planting of new woodlands which are all promised. I really want to pray that they have a heart for creating a community not just for the money to be made through selling houses.