Cowley is a community on the outskirts of Oxford, UK. Oxford is well known for its educational and research prowess, being the home of one of the leading universities in the world. The city has a rich cultural heritage, with the likes of C.S Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien and Dorothy L. Sayers being just a few of its illustrious literary alumni. It is known for its growing international Tech Enterprises. Wealth and intellect combine to make this city home to the U.K’s largest volume of world-leading research in the country. The University is also the largest employer in Oxfordshire.
Many cities in the UK have a large gap between the richest and poorest but possibly none, outside of London, are as pronounced and stark as Oxford. The gap has reached such a critical point that research has revealed the life expectancy of the city’s poorest is 15 years lower than the richest.
The community of Cowley is a colourful and vibrant part of Oxford with people living and working there from a wide array of cultures, a great deal of whom are from Muslim backgrounds.
The stark contrast between the richest and poorest is displayed most prominently in the schools of Cowley. Most of these schools are only a 20 minute bus ride from the resplendent ‘dreaming spires’ of Oxford’s city centre, and yet are full of children from families dealing with broken relationships, material as well as emotional poverty and lack of opportunities, which sits in direct contrast to many of the children just down the road attending Magdalen College School.
As a result, many of the children in Cowley suffer from anxiety from a young age, are in poor physical and mental health and find it hard to study because of the chaos or neglect they experience at home. Their families come from similar backgrounds and so the issues have become generational; parents are often unable to hold down a regular job, are financially illiterate and lacking in parenting skills. Why? Simply because they have never been taught the necessary life skills.
For a long time, there has been a sense of ‘spiritual oppression’ in Cowley; however, we are incredibly pleased to report that recently God has planted three new churches in a small area, so we can already see that He has plans to bless this community.
Currently, we have two workers based in the community: Peter and Lisa who are carrying out ministry both within the local community and the local prison. They are part of a team consisting of people from different churches and are involved in the prison Alpha course seeing God doing amazing things amongst the men there. As members of Prison Fellowship they hold services, as asked by the chaplains, in two different prisons and help run the Angel Tree project each year, which provides an opportunity for prisoners to send Christmas gifts to their children.
Peter and Lisa also befriend people in the local area who are struggling and marginalised. They are part of one of the new church plants, located right by the local shopping centre.
However, we are looking to support this community more. We are looking release individuals into the community to build relationships with local community projects and churches, get to know the community and carry out a full assessment of needs through our Integrated Community Transformation model, looking at areas of need in Food, Freedom and Forgiveness. Once we have established a team and they have built relationships with the community, they will be empowered to invest in developing, alongside other partners, a range of programmes to see holistic transformation of Cowley over the coming 5-10 years.
Lola has recently joined the team as a Catalyst and is currently looking at building relationships with the local churches, local government, businesses, social enterprises, charities, schools and community leaders to assess the assets and needs of the community. She will then be looking to develop a strategic plan for Integrated Community Transformation, which will be shaped locally with like-minded leaders and people of peace. The key will be having local partnerships to support the strategy, so that local and outside resources can be drawn upon to implement it. This will be about linking existing resources, with existing needs and building trust in the community to aid long term sustainability, so the community can be in a state of continuous integrated transformation.
"There are some good projects struggling to keep running because they need more people to help and there is room for new initiatives."