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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 library services.
June 2004 Started in a second community partnering with the army.
September 2004 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
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.
The Open Blue Story. The last 12 years.
Twelve 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 employment
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 include:
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’
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