History of Open Blue
In December 2001 the Project was initiated to
address issues of rural poverty and exclusion within Wiltshire.
By the end of 2002 £30,000 was raised to launch project and
Dayspring Church underwrites the Director’s salary to 2005. In
September 2002 Andy Weeds begins part-time to research with the
brief to initiate and establish a mobile community centre for
North Wiltshire. By January 2003 the decision was taken to focus
on three areas in initial phase: team & confidence building in
secondary school, parent and toddler groups in more remote
communities with facilities for adult education, detached youth
work in areas where there is no present provision.
By March 2003 a double deck bus was purchased
and conversion work begun and volunteers for the conversion work
recruited.In May 2003 The Open Blue Trust gained
charitable status. Then in June & July 2003 Contacts with Sure
Start, Social Services, Young Peoples Support Service and the
Youth Service were made and volunteers for schools and youth
programmes began to be recruited.
August 2003: Three
schools have requested programmes. By the end of September 2003
the bus conversion was complete.
April 2004 Parent
toddler group, after schools club in a rural community. Health
visitors, play leaders, a toy library and story telling from the
June 2004 Started
in a second community partnering with the army.
Youth work on the streets begun in 2 different areas. Partnering
with other churches.
2005 Continued to
operate in three schools and 2 communities as well as partnering
with NWDC on a Pilot youth project on out of town estate.
2006 Continued to operate in three schools
and 2 communities as well as partnering with NWDC on a Pilot
youth project in isolated rural community.
Attended Body and
Spirit fair in Marlborough in the autumn 2006 & 2007
Easter Family Fun Day, Monkton Park.
Also saw us
approached by North Wilts District Council to be one
of four projects they wanted to put forward for Lottery funding.
The funding was secured and we appointed a playworker/bus driver
who began to run the bus to Lyneham, Lacock and Malmesbury.
Sessional workers were employed and a larger team of volunteers
2009 The bus was visiting 6 communities during the daytime and 3
in the evening each week throughout the year. It was very busy.
The army opened a drop in centre for the estate the bus had been
visiting and asked Open Blue to run it once a week.
2010 the bus continued to operate in all 9 communities each week
2011 March saw funding finish for some communities and the
financial climate meant we had to stop work in 4
communities. A project in Swindon came to an end as
they received a brand new community centre.
October 2011: some funding enables a return to one of the
communities and continued work in 3 communities.
The Open Blue Story. The last
Nineteen years ago Open Blue
was established to provide increased opportunity for people
in Wiltshire who were isolated because of their rural
location. Andy was its director from the outset and using
his craft and organisational skills developed as a technical
teacher and Sixth Form head, he took a redundant
double-decked bus and with enthusiastic help, built into it
all the elements of a mobile community centre.
For the last decade, Open
Blue has reached thousands of rural dwellers, some briefly
but for many others developing long term relationships and
building confidence that creates access to transformative
opportunities. Programmes across much of Wiltshire from
Malmesbury to Salisbury and from Corsham to Calne and
Swindon have created a platform for a wide range of social
agencies: fire, police and health services; housing
associations; churches and education services among others.
Open Blue has gained local credibility in innovative
community development, winning the Community Group of the
Year Award from Wiltshire Life as well as being shortlisted
by Faithworks for a national Community Innovation Award. The
range of groups the bus has served is described below.
Wiltshire’s military bases in
some ways are typical of lonely rural communities and the
families of Buckley Barracks in the north of the county have
been a long-term commitment. Wellington Place is a small
housing enclave set between World War II aircraft hangars,
‘outside the wire’ and equally isolated from the local
civilian community. After more than eight years of
involvement, the bus is no longer needed as the army has
dedicated and fitted out a drop-in centre where the Open
Blue team are still in demand, moving family activities from
on board to a ‘dry land’ environment.
Toddler groups on the
carpeted top deck of the bus offer a chance to get out for
‘stay-at-home’ mums. They provide a developmental
environment for children and according to a specialist child
health worker, a learning experience for parents, too.
Innovative one-pot cookery courses have led to new cooking
skills using fresh ingredients and have helped people gain
confidence to access courses in Maths and Literacy and even
After-school clubs not only
provide a buffer between home and school with computer games
and craft opportunities but space to do homework with safe
internet access. The bus also visited a local agricultural
college as an evening venue for residential students aged
between 16 and 18. Open Blue provides the churches in Calne
with a base for the biggest open access youth club in the
area attracting funds from the police and the Co-operative
Society as well as local individuals.
Rural isolation can be at its
most acute for older people. The Corsham Road estate is an
isolated housing area separated by the A350 from the
historic village of Lacock. The residents’ café on the bus
has been a long-term lifeline for elderly residents,
according to the local vicar, ‘improving well-being and
enabling the bus volunteers and staff to be aware of times
when older members of the community are vulnerable, unwell
or needing extra support’. The group continues to meet in a
resident’s home even when the bus is not there and has been
one of Open Blue’s most successful projects in building
links between churches and the bus.
Following a trip to France,
Andy developed a particular interest in making contact with
the local traveller community. Though initially suspicious,
the idea of a community facility on six wheels meshed well
with their mobile lifestyle and over several years the team
has developed a strong relationship with local families.
Traveller education has been reduced by austerity measures
and the visits by Open Blue have served to reduce the impact
on the children and families. For adults as well as
children, getting online has been a particular benefit to
this community. As with the army, the success of the bus has
been recognised by those planning a more permanent community
facility on the site. At an early stage in the process, Andy
took community leaders to find out how other traveller
groups had influenced local authority provision so that they
could offer considered views
Early on, Andy developed a
course for increasing confidence and social skills for
pupils who were at risk of exclusion. He saw over fifty
children each year during the three years that Open Blue
delivered its programme and many made very good progress
integrating into secondary schooling
Working with Churches.
The work of the bus
demonstrates, to varying degree, each of the Five Marks of
Mission and has supported many events that reach church
networks, such as a course specifically tailored for church
teens, facilitated by a professional coach and older
teenagers. Open Blue is a committed Christian project that
serves all comers without discrimination, encouraging people
to consider the spiritual possibilities of life and at
times, partners have been able to help people engage with
local church communities. More specifically but without
telling the stories of individuals, there is clear evidence
of long-term spiritual development. The older residents’
group has boosted a sense of belonging and by their
evaluation, modelling reflective activity has increased
confidence in prayer and spiritual discussion. Messy Church
has been welcomed as a child centred activity by army
families and as well as serving local participants, an Alpha
course has impacted volunteers, increasing their contact
with church and their faith development. Travellers have
chosen to discuss spiritual issues with the team, Andy has
been involved in healing prayer for one man following a road
accident and contacts have been made with a traveller church
that some of the community attend. For children, following
good practice, prayer is sometimes available on an opt-in
basis and it has been noticeable that in that context some
who take part choose to identify issues that bother them.
Supporting other agencies.
A wide variety of agencies
have commissioned the bus as a bridge into communities that
otherwise they would find very difficult if not impossible,
to reach. Those who have worked alongside the Open Blue Bus
Fund intervention programmes in rural schools
Associations, giving tenants a voice
Centres, reaching parents and children that simply
couldn’t make the journey to the centre from their
isolated village or estate
Council contacting young people, encouraging them to get
involved and have their say in the running of youth
Just recently, GreenSquare
Housing Association, a major provider of social housing and
one of Open Blue’s most frequent partners said, ‘The bus is
an essential resource for us to conduct outreach in the
towns and villages our properties are spread across’