- Together Apart
- Next Gen
“You need to come and meet these people in Bilston, they’ll amaze you”, urged Tim one Thursday morning in July. I had a to-do list as long as my arm and could have done without the unexpected interruption but I’ve learned over the years that when Tim Fellows recommends I meet somebody, it’s usually for a very good reason!
And that’s how I found myself walking around an old, converted Church building in the heart of Bilston.
As I walked around the Centre, I listened in amazement to the people around me and became a convert to their vision of growing faith through community service.
On one level, much of what the centre offers is mirrored in many communities across the Black Country by other Christian-based projects. Bilston Recourse Centre (BRC) serves local people by providing them with the essential resources they need to make their way in the world. The main focus is to help disadvantaged people who may be ‘falling through the net’, through lack of essential skills and training.
In a society where an inability to speak or write English, do basic maths, or use a computer, can leave you relatively excluded from society at many levels, and particularly through unemployment, BRC provides specialist information, advice and guidance to help people with CVs and job applications. Qualified and skilled trainers meet people where they are at and help them acquire the skills and qualifications they need to enable them to become full members of society.
What really amazed me was the heart and vision behind the centre, and the way it was put into practice by the father and son team of Simon and Adam Bhardwaj, supported by their committed management and staff.
“This area does not need another Church building”, explained Simon, founder and Manager of BRC. “A Church building is just a temple. A building needs to serve the community around it in any way it can, so that the Church’s influence is not confined between its four walls.”
It’s easy to see why so many people make use of the centre’s resources every day. Simon and Adam are infectiously passionate about what God has called them to do in the community in which they live and serve. What is more, they have clearly been provided for with other dedicated and capable managers, volunteers and staff to ensure the service is carried through and sustained in the most effective way.
The origins of BRC go back to 1988, when the Asian Evangelical Church was established, (now known as St Michael’s Neighbourhood Church), first as a house group, later meeting in the local community centre, and then, in St Leonard’s Church (Parish of Bilston). The small congregation, made up of just a handful of families, saw a need and developed a dream to serve disadvantaged members of their community. It was clear to them that there was a lack of local amenities not just to cater for the needs of the large Asian community of which they were part, but also in the provision of support and development opportunities for disadvantaged people of all ages and races living in Bilston.
After acquiring and refurbishing a semi-derelict building called St Michael’s Mission in 1993, their dream was finally realised when in 1994, Bilston Resource Centre (BRC) was established as a way for the Church to reach out and empower the disadvantaged in the Bilston area.
From the start, BRC saw a need for an active engagement in the social and economic issues facing the local community. Activity was focussed on the needs and requirements, through outreach work, of the Asian communities in Bilston and the wider Wolverhampton area. BRC soon recognised there were cries for help from all sectors of the community. Accordingly, BRC’s doors have always remained open to anyone who wants the organisation’s support.
For the first four years, the Centre was run entirely by unpaid volunteers. However, in 1999, BRC attracted significant regeneration funding which enabled the Centre to employ staff to deliver IT training, Job Search, Literacy & Numeracy and ESOL for members of the local community.
Now a registered charity, BRC’s mission is “to develop a high quality Information, Advice & Guidance and Training Centre, serving the needs of the whole Bilston community”.
The work that BRC do is very impressive, but what struck me as most revolutionary was this small but significant fact: as the work of the resource centre has grown, the size of the traditional Church gatherings meeting there have basically stayed the same, with just a small handful of families attending. “We still only attract 15-20 people each Sunday and our weekly offerings are rarely more than £100”. When Simon shared this little detail in a nonchalant passing comment, I’m not quite sure he anticipated the profound impact it would have upon me.
In that moment, I found myself reminded by The Lord that He is able to do anything through anyone, however and wherever He chooses. He does not necessarily need a large congregation to reach a community in the way that BRC does, nor does He always use such a work to simply increase the size of the local Church congregations. Instead, He seems to be using the staff at BRC simply to demonstrate His love and care to people in need, whatever their background or ethnic origin, in order to impact and transform the very social structure of the community. As soon as you walk in the doors, the presence of God is evident and I find it hard to believe that anyone who has encountered the staff at BRC have left feeling anything but valued, supported and cared for. In a very real way, the love of Jesus is permeating into a community by the most unlikely means. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed….”
BRC’s vision for the future is to extend the buildings to provide catering facilities and more space for hosting networking meetings which will help BRC to provide a more self-sustaining service and a wider reach into the community. Opening times for BRC are: Monday to Thursday – 9.30 am till 4.00 pm and Friday, 9.30 till 12.00pm. For more information, please visit their website.