The beige gravel made a comforting crunch under my tyres as I turned off the A458 and into the long, tree-lined driveway of what appeared to be a farmyard, complete with a huge, rustic-looking house and numerous converted outbuildings. It was a beautiful but bitter cold January morning. The overnight hoarfrost had coated the ground with a thick, white, glittering blanket that sparkled in the winter sunshine. The effect was stunning and I felt like I’d driven straight into a location for a Jane Austen period drama.
The grounds were extremely impressive. The gardens were meticulously maintained, complete with vegetable patches, a wooden play area and a sweet little summer house that would provide a wonderful vantage from which to take in the spectacular open countryside and farmland that surrounded the huge property. The large, double-fronted house looked warm and inviting despite its size and I half expected to see one of the Bennett sisters reading quietly in a window seat or roaming the stunning gardens, picking winter flowers and enjoying the clear, crisp morning air.
For a minute, I thought I’d arrived at the wrong address. There was no way in the world this gorgeous place could be the location of a Residential Family Centre for vulnerable new or expectant mothers and families in crisis. Facilities that worked with people in such complicated and difficult circumstances weren’t located in exclusive locations like Stourton. I’d always naively pictured such places in urban inner-cities, where the need was great. Yet the familiar sign I’d driven past so many times on my way into Stourbridge erased any doubts I may have had about my whereabouts. This was definitely Living Springs and the story behind it, I was about to learn, was utterly jaw-dropping.
The vision for Living Springs was conceived in 1985 in a literal dream, given by God, to a quiet, unassuming young woman called Jane Chapman. Having suffered several miscarriages at various points in each pregnancy, Jane had spent countless hours in anti-natal units, each time impacted by the number of teenage mothers she saw considering abortions because their personal circumstances made keeping their babies seem like an impossibility. Rather than causing Jane to become bitter about her own failed pregnancies, her faith in God remained strong. He in turn inevitably used these experiences to inform the vision He gave to Jane in her dream, where she saw a big house with lots of mums and small children – a home providing care, support and above all, hope.
In obedience to the call, Jane, her husband Robert and eventually their much-cherished and long-waited for baby son Peter, purchased and moved into Barratts Coppice Farm in Stourton, opening their home to young mums and their babies and converting it into the incredible centre it has become today, 25 years later.
“’Family’ means different things to different people”, explained Jane as she showed me around the grounds. “The reality at Livings Springs is that ‘family’ can be a single mum, a single dad, a pregnant girl, parents with learning disabilities or a young couple struggling to cope with their children. To us though, they are all part of God’s family and in His eyes, all families matter”.
Everything about Living Springs speaks of how much these families matter. The outbuildings and barns have been converted into beautiful self-contained apartments, all of them surrounded by stunning views, offering vulnerable families comfortable housing in a warm and supportive environment. The babies and children are provided for with an impressive playroom and baby sensory room, as well as their very own outdoor park. An allotment is available for families to grow their own vegetables and a communal kitchen has been created to encourage resident families to prepare and eat healthy meals together. Social workers and counsellors are available on-site to provide professional support 24-7 to offer families on the brink of breakdown a chance to address the issues they face, keep their families together and get their lives back on track. A Community Support Worker also provides ongoing assistance for families after they leave the centre.
They say it takes a whole community to help raise a child. At Living Springs, it takes the incredible support of numerous individuals and organisations to help the charity survive financially, practically and spiritually. “We would not have achieved all that we have without the commitment of our supporters and volunteers to help us mend broken lives,” Jane explained as she showed me around the office spaces that have been created to aid the ever-expanding work of the centre staff.
When I visit charities working with people in tragic circumstances like Living Springs do, I always find myself seeing visible, tangible, literal obedience to the Lord’s words in Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was ill and you looked after Me”. Sometimes it’s easy to read the words of Jesus from a detached distance and forget what He really meant when He said them. Robert, Jane and all of the staff at Living Springs have proven and lived out their understanding of this scripture and have seemed to grasp, in a very real way, that whatever they do for some of neediest people in our society, they actually do for Jesus.
My visit to Living Springs was incredibly humbling and I would encourage anyone who has been moved by this article to pray for the charity and the work they do. The need is great and the financial burden always present yet the impact they have had over the last quarter of a century is the reason the charity continues to do the amazing work they do. What better way to conclude than by sharing the heartfelt thanks of one former resident. Nothing speaks the truth louder than those who are living proof of it:
‘When I had no hope and no light you gave me shelter, faith and hope and for that I will never forget you.’
For more information on Living Springs and to find out how you can support this incredible charity, please visit www.livingsprings.co.uk.
On behalf of Love Black Country.