The Darlington Methodist Circuit is a network of Christian congregations
Darlington is a large market town in the North East of England. At the time of instruction, there were around 600 members based across 10 locations; each operated as autonomous and democratic societies within the district circuit network.
The ten societies occupied community based church buildings that varied dramatically in size, age and condition. Each of the congregations that occupied and used these buildings were similarly varied in their size, profile, interests and programme of activities. Most of the buildings were very old and there were many examples where these built assets didn’t serve the needs or activities of the church societies effectively. In addition, each society was responsible for their own finances, memberships and building maintenance programme; all adding further points of pressure.
Mantes were engaged to support the leadership team through a review of the church societies, occupied buildings, other assets and their uses. The leadership team hoped to reconfigure the network to better enable congregations to flourish; for each church society to be financially sustainable and make further impact on the communities that they serve.
Mantes initially led a district-wide listening exercise, structured in two parts; the first, was a celebration of the history and heritage of Methodism in the town. Members were invited to contribute photographs, newspaper cuttings, letters, books and other artefacts that evoked memories and created a sense of Methodist heritage in Darlington. The response was overwhelming; a large hall was filled with material and a special service of celebration was held.
Complex navigation of influential stakeholders to generate ideas
of data and
and Team building
The second part of the listening exercise sought to capture the thoughts, ideas and opinions of as many members as possible and with as much depth as possible. Over a period of 4 weeks, opinions were captured in a variety of ways and systematic analysis established the strongest themes to take forward.
The circuit aspired to launch social enterprises by using the skills within the network and diversify their physical spaces to provide practical services that meet the needs of the local community. The results of the Listening Exercise were combined with socioeconomic demographic data and detailed analysis of the built assets, network budgets, human capital and volunteer momentum etc. This comprehensive picture of opportunities was then used to determine a strategy for the network and an approximate sequence of events and expenditure.
Mantes also provided multiple team building and coaching sessions that supported a strong sense of team cohesion and shared direction. These included personality profiling and one-to-one sessions with key leaders.
One of the first projects to get off the ground was The Giving Garden, led by an entrepreneurial church congregation towards the north of the town. This is a creative project making use of the church garden to engage visitors of all generations in growing and preparing food. The produce is either given away or is used within their own kitchen during initiatives.
Other planned projects include the creation of a new church society, bringing together multiple congregations and buildings to deliver a new town-centre initiative, a Compassion Hub in one of the most deprived areas of the town and a significant capital refurbishment project to provide innovative social enterprises in the town centre.
Perhaps the most challenging part of the assignment (but also the greatest invitation for innovation) was that each of the ten church societies enjoys autonomous voting rights and could determine the future of their society, building and programme of activity. It was impossible to impose a top-down restructure.
Any reconfiguration of the circuit required the support and participation of society members through a democratic process that included multiple tiers of leadership, each effecting appropriate levels of leadership and governance.
An extremely complex example of sensitive stakeholder management.
To read more about the Darlington Methodist Circuit, please see the website.
Mantes guided us through a listening project, helping us to appreciate the heritage of Methodism in Darlington, as well as to understand what energies and skills are available within the existing Methodist societies across the town.
They also undertook a mapping exercise for us which revealed the demographic, social and economic landscape of Darlington in a fresh way. This led to the development of exciting plans for a new Methodist Society to serve a geographic area identified by the mapping exercise as the priority area for mission in Darlington.
We invite you to watch with interest as we seek to follow the Circuit Roadmap which has been produced: as we transform Pierremont into a Growing Space, Northland into a Compassion Hub, and Bondgate into a Celebration Space, all alongside the creation of a new Methodist Society in central Darlington.
Revd Dr Andrew Stobart