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Community Link, Cradley Heath

Published: 2nd February 2022

The outside of Community LinkThe Community Link is run from two empty shops on Cradley Heath High Street. Initially set up in partnership with St John’s Church in Dudley Wood, it is now developing into a deanery project, led by Paul Latham, a member of Christ Church in Quarry Bank.  Along with supporting people from the local community, Paul is hoping that they can help other churches access funding and establish their own community projects.

Each Wednesday morning, a group gathers together in The Link for a time of informal worship.

Prayer group at Community Link“We can be interrupted by people popping in for coffee, or collecting school uniform, but it’s a chance for us to come together in prayer and bible study,” says Paul. The group started with four people but has steadily grown over several weeks with up to 11 now taking part. “We’ve attracted people from different churches and denominations and some for whom this is now their church.  After we finish, there is more coffee, tea and biscuits with a chance to chat about issues affecting people at the moment and ideas for how The Community Link might develop in the future.”   This is then followed by a “Men's Afternoon”, offering an opportunity for men to share in a time of open fellowship, sharing their thoughts and encouraging each other.

The centre is very overt about its Christian background but welcomes anyone who needs support and help.  It is open as a mini café on Mondays and Thursdays, with a foodbank also open every Thursday.

packing bags in the foodbank“On average we give out around 3-400kg of food each month, but in November the amount given out was just under 1,000kg. We are linked to the Black Country Foodbank, but largely operate independently with generous donations being received from individuals, local churches, the local community and occasionally directly from our local Tesco store.”

giving out winter coats at community linkThe Community Link has established strong links with Sandwell Council, through which it has been possible to run a successful school uniform bank and also give out winter coats to children whose families are unable to afford these.  Paul is also hoping to offer suits for young people going to job interviews thanks to donations from Oldswinford Hospital School.

Networking is one of Paul’s strengths. Through the council and a local drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity he has arranged to take people who are overcoming their addictions. They work in the café for a couple of months and are provided with training in the kitchen, in front of house or as a barista enabling them to gain qualifications and confidence. Through another link with the owner of Damascus coffee shops in Birmingham, it is also hoped that long-term employment will be able to be shop at community link

“Our café is so important to so many people.  They just wander in, are often lonely, have mental health andor drug and alcohol problems. We try to just sit, listen and chat to them, find out what their needs are and signpost them to help if they want it,” says Paul.

“One of the moans that we sometimes hear, is about young people hanging around on the streets. When I left school, I was able to do half a day each week on a car mechanics course, this got me thinking about whether we could do something similar. I reached out on LinkedIn and Halfords responded. They are now helping by providing bikes and other equipment, so we can enable young people to learn how they work and safely fix them when things go wrong!”

Through this latest project, Paul also hopes to repair children’s bikes which will then go into primary schools, as well as adult bikes to give to families so they can go cycling together. The aim is to bring local people in to work with the youngsters so that they begin to get to know each other in a friendly and co-operative atmosphere.  Sandwell Council has provided premises to initially enable the project to run from a local park, and the Canal and River Trust has also applied for funding to improve an old stable block, which they’ve said the project can also use.

Paul is keen to use his skills to help other churches look at the resources The Link has, so that they might consider establishing their own community projects and has already actively supported the Brierley Hill team in running their own school uniform bank.

“It makes sense for us to work together” he says. “The funding that we’ve been able to access is there for other churches to apply for. The same funding streams in Sandwell Council are also available in Dudley and other places. I can help with making applications along with sharing other contacts that could be helpful when setting up projects.”

Paul at Community LinkThe area that Paul finds hardest is having enough volunteers to do everything he’d like to! “It would be great if others in our churches would like to come and support what we’re doing at The Community Link.  It’s so important for us to keep our Christian focus, so I’d love all our volunteers to come from our church communities, however we do welcome everyone.  Please do get in touch if you’d like to help!”

Kath Davis is a member of St Andrew’s Wollescote and helps at Community Link.  She said: “I initially came into The Link to support Paul after he completed the Bishop’s Certificate Course which I led. I have ended up volunteering on a regular basis and giving so much more than I originally envisaged – it is a joy to share with those who come through the doors.  The people who come in find we offer a safe place to share some of their fears and concerns.  They are often desperate for help and just want someone to sit and listen to them. We have lots of different ideas of what else can done and it would be great if people would support us, either financially or with their time, and of course remember us in their prayers. We always appreciate it when people just drop in and let us know they’ve been praying for us!  We have a permanent Prayer Wall, it is encouraging to see that this is regularly used by both volunteers and visitors.”

Page last updated: Monday 7th February 2022 3:32 PM

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