There is something different…

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Two years ago CYM changed their schools work from being ‘visitors’ where they would undertake specific activities, to being part of the school communities, through the creation of Chaplaincy roles. A few weeks in to the new academic year, and CYM are significantly increasing their work in this area. Network Suffolk met with CYM Director Simon Scott, to learn more about the growth of this new work for the organisation, alongside the now well established African Adventure project.

Network Suffolk; So, Simon, tell us about the growth you have seen in the work of Chaplaincy.

Simon Scott: When we started the idea of School Chaplains we hoped to set up with two posts. We found however that there was a big interest from schools in what we were doing, and by the end of last year we had already ended up working in eight different schools! We also now work with Suffolk New College – supporting the multi-faith chaplaincy and also supporting the chaplaincy at the Treehouse Children’s Hospice. Amazing growth! We are currently looking to start work with Stoke High School, and at the early stages of talking with a tenth school.

NS; So is there a typical day in the life of a Chaplain?

Simon; A key part of their work is to be visible and available at the sociable parts of the school day. They need to be around at the school gate, welcoming children in at the beginning of the day, and saying goodbye when they leave. They are available at lunch times and during breaks. The aim is to have a consistent presence – to be available and build relationships – that people know who they are. Sometimes we go in to school lessons, especially where there is an element of asking what is a faith aspect to a subject, or asking what a Christian believes about a certain topic. But predominantly we are there to listen and speak positively in to the lives of the children and the staff. There is a large amount of one to one work – either because the school have referred an individual to the Chaplain or the individual themselves seeks out the Chaplain. As trust is built in the school community there is more of that.

We support the ‘wellbeing’ of the child and schools see the value we bring to their own responsibility for the social, moral and cultural aims of the school .

We also do some larger work around specific events – Christmas, Easter, remembrance – where we may do a bigger piece more prominently in the school, inviting children to take part by asking a big question. Loss and bereavement is a big issue for young people, the findings from the survey ‘Who Cares’ supports this and it becomes a big emotional issue, where Chaplains are able to talk about their concerns.

NS; Earlier this year you sent out a communication looking for more funding.

Simon; Yes, we need funding to allow us to move in to something that is growing at a tremendous pace – the challenge is keeping up with it! All our financial support comes from our supporters, whether they are individuals or Churches, and we then look to supplement this with gaining access to funding streams, but these tend to be for specific items rather than salaries, which is the main need for the Chaplaincy work.

NS: So schools are wanting you to be there more of the time?

Simon; We started in most places at two days or three days a week, with some Chaplains working over two different schools. But at Chantry for example they wanted us to provide a full time Chaplain, and with some additional funding we have managed to increase our provision to four days per week this term. Ideally a Chaplain works best in one school rather than split over two, and there are others who would have us in their schools full time if we could afford the cost.

If God is opening doors for us to grow then we want to be in a position to walk through them!

NS; So it seems that the opportunities are there already! What additional funding do you require to meet these ambitions?

Simon; We set ourselves a target of raising an additional £70k for this work to grow in to these opportunities. We have asked current givers if they can give more, but also, we are seeking new supporters. If there are schools approaching us, asking us to work with them, then we want to be able to respond positively. Currently we have seen pledges towards over half this amount, but we are still seeking new supporters that are excited about what we are doing.

NS; And is it providing something that wasn’t there before?

SS; It’s another layer to the school system. Schools have great pastoral teams, but they often get caught up in issues of attendance, behaviour and working with other agencies, so someone who can give time without necessarily the need to be elsewhere is a big benefit to schools – a listening ear that isn’t a teacher, where our chaplains are known by their first name. A less formal approach in the school environment.

Before we dropped in to their school, did our thing and left. Now we are part of the school community.

NS; Has this work changed perceptions in schools of your work?

Simon; We were previously visitors to the schools – even to wearing a visitors badge! But now we have staff lanyards, and the schools know that we are available to them.

We recently shared our vision of our work with staff in the schools, “To provide a positive and passionate Christian presence in the lives of the young people and staff we work with.” We asked the school staff how they felt about that – has working alongside us changed their perception of Christians and faith on any level? A number of people have said that it has helped them realise you can be pretty normal and be a Christian! They have said that, “You aren’t someone pushing religion on to us all the time, but that in being here, treating us the way you do, and living the way you do, there is something different about you that is a good different!”

NS; In contrast, African Adventure has been running for over 10 years now. What are your thoughts on how it is going, and its future?

Simon; African Adventure continues to be a popular venue for schools. We were concerned earlier in the year because PGL moved in to Bawdsey Manor and they can accommodate significantly more pupils. But whilst they have the high end activities such as canoeing and abseiling, there is something special about African Adventure and the ‘atmosphere’ it creates. The feedback time after time is that, “You treat us as individuals”, “You learn our names”, “We have the most amazing experience when we come here”. We see in the region of 18-20 primary schools every year. This gives us good opportunity to have great conversations and make relationships with schools, the children and their parents, especially where we work with the schools outside of the African Adventure project.

Volunteers keep African Adventure going – from cooks to activity leaders, but this is becoming more difficult to resource, and we are always open to new people joining us – not just on site but helping to organise the weeks as well.

NS; So is African Adventure purely educational or does it have a Christian element?

Simon; We have the African story which is at the core throughout the week. We look at many issues such as cleanliness of water, disease, working in teams, but we also have opportunity to weave in Bible stories that are relevant to what we are looking at. We have a thought for the day and most schools allow us to say grace at meal times! We will often ask schools if we are able to pray with them. The overwhelming feedback is that there is something different about the place and about us!

NS; And I hear that you are continuing to provide GAP years for young people wishing to explore whether youth work is for them?

Simon; Yes, we have a really big heart for people thinking about schools ministry and youth work. Our GAP year is for anyone over 18 years old to volunteer for one academic year. They are given many opportunities to work alongside all of our mainstream activities and to learn new skills. This includes one to one mentoring and safeguarding – working with chaplains, being involved in seasonal activities, working with partner churches, and in the later months being very involved in African Adventure. We have seen so many people who have been on our GAP years become youth workers, teachers, and children’s workers. There are currently two people on our GAP year but it is not too late to join!

 For further information on any of the issue featured in this interview, you can contact CYM direct by clicking here, or telephoning on 01473-216712