Thursday, 13 October 2016

Why is the Church failing to Connect With Men?

Research quotes by Christian Vision for Men suggests that there are two women for every one man in our churches.  Whilst I don’t have access to this research my own experience is that this is the situation in many churches although there are some churches which achieve almost equal numbers. I don’t think I have every experienced a church where men predominate women in terms of numbers.
Christian Vision for men also suggests that the most likely person to be attending church is a middle class women and the least likely is a working class man.

The research they quote also suggest that if a dad finds Christ then in 93% of cases their family will follow yet if a mum finds Christ then only in 17% of cases their family will follow and if a child finds Christ only 3.5% of their families follow. 

As Bill Hybel said:
The key to reaching unchurched families was to reach husbands.
The key to reaching husbands was to create church where men weren’t embarrassed to worship.
Once Dad was in the door, the family would happily follow.

While Richard Rohr points out:
We are not a healthy culture for boys or men. Not the only, but one reason is that we are no longer a culture of elders who know how to pass on wisdom, identify and set boundaries to the next generation. Most men are over-mothered and under fathered.
So it’s worth asking the question why in our mission activities isn’t a greater priority given to working with men alongside initiatives aimed at children, young people and women?

Issues for Men
At the same time there are some serious issues that affect men, for example, the most likely cause of death for men under fifty is suicide.

Obesity is also higher for men and data for 2014 showing that 61.7% of adults were overweight or obese (65.3% of men and 58.1% of women).  (England, 2016)

There are other issues of isolation, loneliness and depression particularly for older men who are no longer working, their former working environment having provided a group of daily companions and a sense of value through their work.  The danger on their retirement is that a man’s daily activity can drift in to passivity watching day time television or sitting in a pub or working men’s club bar, making a drink last all afternoon. For some men there can be a drift in to alcohol abuse, obesity and the use of pornography, which sadly is high in towns such as Harrogate. 

This drift from being active, physically engaged and in control of one’s life in to one of being passive and being done for, with limited control is dis-empowering,  demotivating  and can lead to a lack of self-worth and respect and in my view may lead to the alcohol and other abuse noted above and even suicide. Which sadly is the main cause of death for men under 50 and in areas such as Kirklees is a great deal higher for men than it is for women. 

In addressing this there is a danger that well-meaning caring professionals and in particular women, may in fact further dis-empower men as they take control and organise or do things for men whilst trying to be helpful. The result can be a further erosion of men’s confidence and self-worth resulting in a loss of joy and fun and potentially leading to depression.

As Carl Beech the president of Christian Vision for Men puts it “There is an epidemic of loneliness among men and real lack of joy”

As was reported in a recent article the New York Times research in to longevity has also shown that having good friends is one of the most important contributory factors in increasing life expectancy by as much as 22%. So isolation and loneliness will have a major detrimental effect on the life of men in our communities.

Addressing Isolation
If we look at places when men socialise these are often associated with engaging in some form of activity such as participation in sport or practical task group such as railway modelling, helping at a heritage railway or being involved in a men’s shed. Often the conversations are one to one or in a small group of perhaps just two or three people will talk as they work together on a project.

The general pattern is of engaging in activity together rather than being passive recipients even attending to watch a football match can hardly be described as a passive activity.
These interests are reflected in the titles and content of men’s magazines with cars, fitness and sport being titles being featured on newsagent’s shelves.

The Australian Men’s shed’s movement has identified this pattern and describe this way of communication as talking shoulder to shoulder. At the same time socialising may take place after an activity for example in a sports club, bar or village pub after game of rugby or cricket. However even here the layout of the bar will encourages men to talk shoulder to shoulder as they stand at the bar or sit on a stool at the bar.

Richard Rohr in his book Adam’s Return says.
“Men crave male attention at all ages but cannot openly ask for it. So they hang around other men at sports events, in bars, in Lions Clubs, at military academies, in wars and at work sites and hope that it will rub off somehow. It looks too much like weakness and neediness to name it consciously, so we garner male attention in all kinds of macho ways. As strong as the sexual drive is, and as beautiful as the company of women is, men all over the world create venues and situations where the can be together.”

Why is Church failing to deliver for men?

One of the reasons why the church may be off putting is that it can seem very feminine for many men.  To those of us familiar and brought up with a tradition of attending  church we are used to our patterns of worship and other gatherings but to a man unfamiliar then church can be a very alien and off putting environment and especially if numerically dominated by women and women’s culture.
Richard Rohr puts it like this: “I would assert that Jesus was being very much a man and very much a layman in the way that he practiced religion. Today’s religious male has been told that to be religious he should be feminine, sensitive, churchy, and what some call SNAGs (Soft New Age Guys) and it is not working or even appealing to most men of the world”.

An example is the pitching of songs in keys which are in appropriate for deeper mail voices and as Dr James Melton, Chair of the Department of Music at Vanguard University puts it  in Designing Worship for Men that:

“Often our songs are pitched too high for the men (and often the average women) to sing comfortably.  Many songs are taken straight from the latest worship CD or studio to the worship service, and often don’t work practically.  The melody is often in the upper registers, even for tenors, so men that are baritones or basses just “drop out.”  Often, the rhythms may be too difficult for the average guy to pick up as well.”

With David Murrow pointing on the Church for Men’s website pointing out that the lyrics may also be inappropriate for a guy and uses the example of the words of a worship song:
“Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate
I feel I’m moving to the rhythm of Your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place

Why do worship leaders choose such girly songs, filled with romantic imagery, even when they perform at men’s events?”

Compare this to hymns and songs such as Rise up O Men of God.
Rise up, O Church of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.

How great is our God
How great is our God
Sing with me
How great is our God
And all will see
How great, how great is our God

This may seem funny if it wasn’t true but the surplice warn in many Anglican churches for those unfamiliar with church traditions and history  may appear to men visiting, that the male leaders are dressing in a feminine style by wearing a surplice are in fact wearing a women’s dress or even night attire.

Not only this but churches with pretty lace alter cloths and linens, which would appear more at home in a tea room than a place of a working man’s world, give the impression that a church is no place for a hard working bloke.

For men, who as boys found academic subjects at school a struggle and who chose a career perhaps in construction or a practical subject, listening to a sermon and worshipping in a word ordinated world is going to be the last thing that appeals and perhaps reminds them of how at school the girls dominated academic achievement, which caused them to follow other paths.  

From what we have seen above about the way men socialise the idea of a bible study or fellowship where members are sit in a circle and talk about beliefs in a group will be not only be unfamiliar but its structure and style may make it inherently difficult for many men to participate.

As David Murrow points out in Why Men Hate Going to Church: “Women and elderly are more security orientated than men and young people.  This is why we see so many women and old folks in church. They’re in the market for security. But the missing men are looking for adventure, risk, independence, and reward. If they can’t find these things in church they’ll look elsewhere”. 
It is therefore perhaps not surprising that that there are few working class men and their families in our churches. 

Jesus Ministry
Jesus in his ministry seemed to have the knack of connecting well with the working men of the fishing villages and perhaps there is something we can learn from his approach.

Often when people talk about Jesus’s method of discipleship they refer to the twelve disciples; however I believe when we read the New Testament we find that Jesus was in fact working with a core group or team of 3 or 4 guys.

First of all we see him down on the shore of Lake Galilee where he called Peter, James, John and Andrew, Matthew 4:18-22. We she him showing them what he did, one example is the healing of Jairus’s daughter, Luke 8:40-56. Jesus tells everyone else to leave and takes with him the parents and Peter, James and John. The same three were with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Much of his discipling also took place in the outdoors around boats including some adventurous night and rough weather sailing. We also often find him teaching in small groups over meals ether in people’s homes or fish cooked on open fires on a beach.

Developing Discipleship Programs for Men
Jesus commands us in Mathew 28v16 to go and make disciples and I very much believe he is ahead of us in this mission. Therefore we can assume he is ahead of us drawing men to himself so we can adopt a discipling relationship with all that we meet.

As the Christian Vision for Men’s (CVM) evangelism strategy points out, the first stage must be to develop friendships through engaging in activities with men. It’s not about inviting them to church or a gospel message but about building good solid friendships. As we have already noted men socialise through doing activities together and therefore  CVM suggest that we should engage and invite men to be involved in activities such as cycling, canoeing, paintballing, bowling, walking, i.e. activities that emphasise having a bit of fun together and also the opportunity for the challenge of a project or an adventure together.

Following this CVM suggest that men are invited to share a meal together perhaps a curry and a decent spread, during which time perhaps a guest will tell something of their story.
Over a period of time through regular activities together and occasional meals together friendships and trust are built.  

It’s interesting to see that one of the Methodist churches city centre outreach projects in Liverpool “Somewhere Else “developed by Barbra Glasson combined both the activity of making bread and eating together.  This connected with a significant number of men. This seems to be a strategy which can be replicated in engaging in an activity where men talk whist working, sharing food together with the development of a worshipping community. See

The conclusion for me is that discipleship is developed by inviting men in to doing things together; in serving the community together rather than teaching and head knowledge discipleship and is transferred through following the example of other men in the doing of the Kingdom and in following the call of Christ in a particular context.

Men’s Sheds
In terms of developing deeper and longer term friendships particularly with retired men a Men’s Shed could be a good way to do this. Men’s sheds were initially developed in Australia with some being run by Churches a few years later. There are over 900 and they have also taken off in the UK with the UK Men’s Sheds Association reporting over 300 and some 84 in development.

A Men's Shed is a larger version of the typical man’s shed in the garden – a place where he feels at home and pursues practical interests with a high degree of autonomy. A Men's Shed offers this to a group of such men where members share the tools and resources they need to work on projects of their own choosing at their own pace and in a safe, friendly and inclusive venue. They are places of skill-sharing and informal learning, of individual pursuits and community projects, of purpose, achievement and social interaction, a place of leisure where men come together to work.

A few churches have developed including Kiaros Network Church in Harrogate where a group of men gathers in a church basement under a group name Resurrection Bikes  to repair donated bikes to support mission charities as a group project.    The group has already drawn in a number of men on the fringes of the church and men unconnected and have occasional gatherings to share meals and hear speakers from the Christian charities they support. 

Also in Harrogate a group of men as part of the Joshua Project works to support people on low incomes by helping renovate their properties so they can have a pleasant and attractive place to live.
In a way this is like in the early church, where Christian engaged in social justice issues caring for widows, visiting prisoners and it was through these actions that people were attracted to the Christian community and joined it. However it wasn’t until after a long period of involvement and teaching by a catechist and the demonstration of a changed lifestyle that induction through Baptism in to the church took place.


Perhaps men could be attracted to the church community through being invited to take part in activities which make a difference in their local communities.

Through volunteering in this way, they will not only make friends and but can potentially address issues which bring men down such as passivity and lack of self -value and thereby address negative habits and self-harm as noted above and be brought in to the community of the church and become disciples of Christ

Discussion Starters
  • What are the needs and issues of men in our community? Do men suffer from isolation and a lack of joy and depression amongst the men we know and if so what are the reasons for this?

  • What is the gender split in our churches and what might be the reason for this? Could for example our pattern and style of worship be off putting for men and in particular working class men?

  • How might we best connect with men in our community? Are there projects or activities that men could gather round?

  • As relationship form and the opportunity arises to invite men to be part of our Christian community is inviting them in to the existing pattern of worship the way forward or should we look to other structures cantered around activities and active participation and sharing food together? 

Books and Resources

Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly (This is an amazing book and a core reader about men)

Christian Vision for Men   ( A rule of life for men)
CVM have a number of resources and the DVD called Men is quite interesting see

From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality Richard Rohr Link:

Adam's Return - Five Promises of Male Initiation:  Richard Rohr

Why men hate going to church revised by David Murrow Link: See accompanying web site

The Map by David Murrow Link:

UK Men’s Sheds Association
Designing Worship for Men:

Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul by John Eldredge

The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom by Alan Kreider Link:

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Masham Sheep Fair

One of the great joys of living in a rural county like North Yorkshire is the number of events organised by local communities to support local charities.  Masham is no exception and this year the Masham Sheep Fair celebrated thirty years. Each year different local or regional charities are supported and this year it was the turn of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance

What amazed me, being at the fair for the first time was not only the fantastic atmosphere but also the number of different local organisations that co-operated and worked so hard to make the event so successful.

Local businesses such as Black Sheep Brewery and Theakston’s were there, as were teams of Morris Dancers including Ripon City Morris and both the Church of England and Methodist churches were fully involved.

The event was also a great social opportunity to catch up with friends and to network with other organisations.

Graham Lilley of the Farm Community Network and Revd David Cleves of Masham

Food always helps people enjoy themselves and it was good to find that wood fuel was being used by the “Wood Fire Dine” company of Leeds to cook some really great pizzas. (Insert Picture) and the members of the Methodist church were busy serving refreshments.

What was good to see were the different varieties of sheep on display not just the ones well known in the Dales such as Swaledale and Masham but also Ryelands (White and coloured)  Dorset and Zwartbles which originate from Holland, just to name a few of long list in the schedule.


White and Black Ryeland sheep

Entertainment was provided by a series of sheep races, a sheep show, processions, and sheepdog demonstrations as well as the judging of the different breeds of sheep and commentary and explanations of the different attributes of the different breeds.

The Saturday evening entertainment included “Sheep Tales” with a Pie and Pea Supper which raised funds for two important rural charities the RABI and The Farm CommunityNetwork.

In the Parish church there was a spectacular display of flower arrangements as well as demonstrations of hand bell ringing.

The weekend finishing with a Songs of Praise service in the Methodist church.

All in all, a great weekend with lots to enjoy and in aid of great causes. Next year’s Sheep Fair will again be held in a weekend in late September see for details. 

Friday, 23 September 2016

Some Thoughts on Rural Mission

Many years ago I heard a lecture on missionary work by Lynn Green, the then International Director of Youth with a Mission. Lynn outlined the work of Don Richardson an American Missionary who worked from the principle that God is always ahead of a missionary and it’s the missionary’s role to identify where God is already working and to connect with this and interpret the signs of God at work to the community.  See Don Richardson’s books: Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts.

In my mind this is what Jesus may have meant by "Seek First the Kingdom of God", i.e. our first priority is to identify where God is already at work in our communities and then and only then to proclaim that God is already at work in that community and the good news that God has come among us in Jesus.

One example of this is the concept of redemptive analogies; these are stories and traditions embedded in a culture which speak of the Trinitarian God of love.  For example Don Richardson refers to Saint Paul on Mars Hill using the altar to an unknown God as the starting point for his proclamation of the good news of Christ. He goes on to recall stories from his missionary work in various cultures, contexts and the different redemptive analogies and how building on these this has resulted in the successful proclamation of the gospel and how whole communities have been turned to Christ.

In many ways the work of Don Richardson is similar to the work of the Catholic Missionary, Vincent Donovan, who engages in a process of dialogue with the Masai people of East Africa. Donovan had identified that after over the 100 year of traditional missionary work in the area where the Masai people lived, providing schools and hospitals, very few had connected with the church and become Disciples of Christ.  He therefore left the apparent security of the mission compound and travelled to be with the Masai people and engaged in a process of dialogue and discussion.

Donovan finds that in Masai culture there are many stories which can be used to point to the one true and living God.  Donovan’s work is outlined in his seminal book “Christianity Rediscovered”, which tell the stories of how through dialogue and discussion and establishing relationships with community elders, whole Masai community together turn to or reject Christ.

This aspect of working with whole communities may come as a surprise to many evangelical Christians today with what has become a traditional emphasis on personal salvation and individuals turning to Christ. However, I suspect it was how many communities in England where originally evangelised. If we look at scripture we see that the great commission in Mathew 28v19 also implies working with communities rather than individuals:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

The word for who is to be made disciples is clearly “nations” and thus Jesus is not referring to individuals but rather groups of people or a community with their own identities. In fact the Greek word that is used here is “ethnic” from which we get our word ethnic i.e. a community of shared values and culture rather than a political state.

Now I know from a career working with rural communities in Shropshire, Cumbria and Yorkshire that each rural village and community is different and has its own shared values, understanding and belief structures which will be different from a neighbouring village, that may be just a couple of miles away.  This is possibly one of the reasons why it’s difficult for different villages to work together as multi parish benefices and why it’s unlikely to find people from village willing to travel to another community to worship. As many rural clergy will tell you it is like pushing mud up hill and more often than not we are better off finding ways for people to gather in their communities to worship.

Now if the emphasis is on bringing a community to Christ rather than an individual how do we go about this in rural England particularly, if the community has become alienated from the life of the local church?

If we are first to seek the Kingdom of God, our first priority must be to observe and listen to the community and discern where God is already at work. I.e. where are there signs of his Kingdom emerging? Where are captives being set free, where is love being sown rather than hatred, where are people finding ways to love and serve there neighbours and who are the people of peace, that Jesus in Luke 10 tells us to connect with.

One way to do this is to follow the footsteps of Vincent Donovan by this I don’t mean by making a trip to Africa. What I mean is that we must leave our church buildings and church community and engage with the wider community where they are at, rather than expecting people to come in to our buildings and to join our communities. I.e. church starts with the church community going out rather than expecting the wider community to visit our buildings and to join our communities.

A good example of this is the “Church About the Dale” project. This is an ecumenical project based in Wensleydale. Here different churches have worked together; have purchased an exhibition trailer which they take to the local agricultural shows.  Besides providing children’s activities and literature on various support services such as the Farm Community Network, the space provides an opportunity for people from churches to listen to the stories of the local community and to connect with people in their environment rather than expecting them to come in to a church building.

In a similar way the Church on Show stand at the Great Yorkshire Show provides an opportunity for thousands of people each year to connect with Christian spirituality in a friendly and welcoming context without the need to visit a church because the Church has come to them.

If we are to work with communities rather individuals we may first have to find ways in which communities can gather together around shared experiences and understanding and baptise these activities for Christ.  If we look at English history and culture stretching back over the years we find that the seasons of the year are profoundly important. It’s something that is imbedded in our culture and is a key driver of our conversations which are often about the weather and the changing seasons. 

The changing seasons are also intrinsically linked to Anglican churches year and the seasons of the pagan calendar which predated it and can still be found in the traditions of the Sami people of Scandinavia.
Unsurprisingly there is a pattern of community events connected with the changing of seasons.  In fact this pattern is reflected in the historic quarter days and festivals which are often associated with our community gatherings and celebrations.

·         Christmas: December 25   (Christmas parties)
·         Lady Day: March 25   (Around Easter)
·         Feast of John the Baptist/mid-summer: June 24 (Village fates and well dressing) 
·         Michaelmas: September 29th  (Harvest festivals and rush bearing)

In addition to this are other traditional community/ church gathering points which fit neatly in-between.

·         November (bonfire night and remembrance)
·         Feb (beginning of spring – Mothering Sunday
·         May (Whitsun May Day etc.)
·         July/ August (Agricultural shows traditional Lamas or first harvest)

It’s therefore possible for churches either to be present at community events and shows, thereby providing an opportunity for dialogue, service and discussion or to organise events outside their buildings, which connect with the wider community and their interests and concerns.

If these events are arranged on a regular basis is possible to build on the quarterly festivals by adding extra events so there are eight to twelve community/faith events for people to gather around.  Gradually a pattern of regular worship and fellowship by the whole community can be established and whole community can together respond as one to Christ.

For example a year could include the following

Plough Sunday blessing of the agricultural year.
Candlemas or Saint Valentes Blessing of Married couples and those in Love combined with a village Dance
Easter services Palm Sunday processions with donkey and the blessing of cattle as they are turned out of their barns for the summer  grazing
Out-door Lambing Service
Parish /Rogation Walk / Blessing of May Pole linked to Trinity Sunday or Pentecost
Well Dressing / services by the river linked to Fest of John the Baptist and open air baptisms
Village/ Agricultural show service and church stand
Summer Barbecue, Garden Party social fund raising event for the Farm Community Network, RABI, Addington Fund etc. ending with compline.
Harvest service and supper
Pet/ Animal  blessing and service of St Francis
Remembrance/ All souls/ Light party 
Christingle / carol singing around the village nativity on a farm.

Rogation Walk in Nidderdale 
Plough Sunday in Ripon 

Many churches organise some of these events with some developing the strategy in to an informal yet strategic approach in rural mission. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Vertically Integrated Milk - How Some Yorkshire Dairy Farmers are Increasing Their Profit Margins

Many of us will have heard of the plight of British dairy farmers who over recent years have been victims of the way the dairy industry is constructed and wider world pressures.

Milk may seem cheap to the consumers with supermarkets using milk as a loss leader, selling it for less than the cost of spring water. Yet it costs some 30p a litre to produce and some farmers only receiving 15 p per litre. Many farmers are losing money on every litre of milk they produce and therefore are leaving the industry.

Other factors which are outside the control of farmers include currency exchange rates, and low price milk imports which impact on the cost of production and the price farmers receive.

British dairy farmers are not alone in this problem with similar issues of low prices being reported in Australia.

Some retailers are putting in place pricing mechanisms that support their farmers and pay a price above the cost of production – these include Tesco, Sainsburys, the Co-operative, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer.

A number of farmers are also developing ways to increase how much they are paid for their milk by vertically integrating the diary business; by integrating production, processing, bottling and distribution of milk in one business.

One farmer Jeremy Holmes of Delph House Farm near Denby Dale (HD8 8XY) for example has installed a milk vending machine. This enables him to sell raw unpasteurised milk direct to customer cutting out the processors and supermarkets and enables him to be paid a higher price for his milk. Although the milk is triple filtered, it’s not pasteurised, a process which kills off bacteria in milk.  It’s therefore not suitable for consumption by people with low immunity or pregnant women and babies.

Another farming family, the Goodalls, from Scarcroft near Leeds (LS14 3HQ) have for a number of years not only been dairy farmers, they have also been processing their milk including pasteurisation, homogenisation and bottling. This they sell direct to customers via a door step delivery service; which covers north Leeds and villages between Leeds, Harrogate, Knaresborough, and Tadcaster including the town of Wetherby.

The Goodalls are also investing in the latest technology which includes robotic milking machines which milk the cows in the fields and they proudly displayed this equipment along with their cows at the 2016 Great Yorkshire Show.

If you or friends want to support our British Dairy farmers then look out for the Red Tractor symbol on the dairy products you purchase and where possible purchase direct from a farmer who is geared up to retailing their milk.

Yorkshire Farms that sell milk direct to the public include:

Delph House Farm Denby Dale High Flatts, Denby Dale, Huddersfield, HD8 8XY    01226 762 551
Beech Grove Farm, Scarcroft, Leeds, LS14 3HQ     0113 2892229
Longley Farm  Holmfirth, HD9 2JD  01484 684151
Town Head Farm, Grassington, Skipton BD23 5BL  01756 752 296
Town Head Farm, Askrigg, North Yorkshire, DL8 3HH   01969-650325
Brymor High Jervaulx, Masham, Ripon, HG4 4PG
Lyon House Farm Lyon Road, Eastburn, Keighley, West Yorkshire BD20 8UX
Dean House Farm, Luddenden, West Yorkshire, HX2 6TP      01422 882 234
Old Crib Farm Old Crib, Halifax, West Yorkshire HX2 6JJ       01422 883 285
Heath Lea Farm, Barkisland, Halifax, HX4 0BZ         01422 823 201
Dyson Cote Farm, Snowden Hill, Oxspring, Sheffield S36 8YR  07788 477 825
Cliffe House Farm, Hill Top Road, Dungworth, Sheffield, S6 6GW   0114 233 3697
Lawns Farm, Morthen, Rotherham, South Yorkshire, S66 9JH    01709 700 788

For a Map of farms elsewhere in the country selling milk direct to the public see HERE

If you are a farmer who is selling milk direct to the public please send me your details and I will add you to the list. 

You may also find my blog on: Cows, Cattle Breeds Milk Proteins & Enjoying Milk on Breakfast Cereals, after a Sixteen Year Gap of interest. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

How to Save the Village Pub

Occasionally I get the opportunity to learn more of the work of other organisations that support rural communities. One such opportunity recently presented itself when I was invited to join a group of people looking at how rural communities had saved their village pub after it had been closed by the properties companies that owned them.

The event was organised by the Plunket Foundation which helps communities to take control of their challenges and to overcome them by working together.
Plunket was founded by Sir Horace Plunkett, who believed that rural communities didn’t have to wait for someone else to make life better for them; they had the potential to do it themselves.

The theme of the tour, in addition to visiting three rural pubs which had been saved by their local communities, was “More than a Pub” and hence we saw a number of examples where pubs had developed new ways to connect and serve their local communities.

The First Pub visited was the George and Dragon in Hudswell near Richmond in North Yorkshire.   Following a tenant over borrowing and being unable to keep up his payments, the pub had been re-possessed by the bank and put on the market.

As the people we met remarked during the period the pub was closed there was little focus in the village for community life, it was as though the village had died, the welcoming light in the window, a warm fire in winter and people in the bar had all been lost.
Following a public meeting in the Village Hall it was agreed that efforts should be made to save the pub and bring it into community ownership.

This was done by establishing a Social Benefit Society, a form of Co-Operative whereby local people could invest in the project, be paid a small return on their investment, perhaps 3or4% a year and could after a couple of years have their money back, provided the business was still viable and others wanted to purchase their share. The value of their shares would not increase in value but could go down if the business was unsuccessful. Each shareholder had one vote.

The purchase price was raised with a grant of £50,000 from the Rural Access to Opportunities Fund and the help of the Key Fund which bought £20,000 of shares as well as £120,000 worth of shares purchased by local people and supporters. 

Volunteers helped to renovate the pub and a board of eight directors now manages the operation which included finding a tenant who runs the pub on a daily basis, with the rent set at a level at which they could make a living.

The current tenant has embraced the culture of the project and sources local food and has a wide range of beers on offer from smaller breweries. Following the theme of More than a Pub, part of the premises is now a community shop and stocks mainly essentials, which where possible are locally sourced including local organic milk and cheese.  

With a large part of the pub garden being converted into community allotments where a couple of bee hives are sited. On the front of the pub there is also a community defibrillator.  There is also a small library in the porch.

The second pub we visited was The Foresters Arms at Carlton in Coverdale again in the YorkshireDales National Park .

This time the pub had not only been closed but much of the equipment had been taken out and the owners wanted to turn it in to three houses and were in the process of applying for planning permission to do this.

Again a public meeting was held in the village hall where Martin Booth of the George and Dragon told their story. At the meeting a group was formed to work in a similar way to the group that had saved the George and Dragon in Hudswell.

This time the asking price was a lot higher and over £250,000 was raised through a share issue for the purchase and £150,000 for refurbishment. Some 60% of investors are local people with many others being owners of holiday cottages.  Amazingly the committee reported they didn’t have a problem raising the money for the project with investments ranging from a few £100 to £20,000.

Through the building project there was a requirement for considerable liaison with officers of the National Park Authority as the building was a listed structure and could easily have contained a bat roost.   However a full refurbishment has now taken place which has made the rooms much lighter and attractive. Again, like the George and Dragon, a tenant was found and appointed. 

The final pub on the study tour was the Dog Inn in Belthorn near Blackburn.

In 2014, the pub closed its doors for what could very well have been the last time. The owners at the time were unable to find a suitable landlord so in February 2015 they put the pub and adjoining land up for auction. That sale was completed in early March and Belthorn’s last remaining pub had actually closed its doors for the very last time… or had it?

However local people registered the pub as a community asset with the local authority. This would give the community time to develop a bid to purchase the pub. A meeting was arranged in the school hall to gauge support and following this, discussions where started with the developer who had purchased the property. In March 2015 an agreement in principal was reached for the community to acquire the pub. A business plan was developed and a Limited company established and a share offer issued to raise the £180,000 to purchase the pub and some working capital.
In June 2015, sufficient funds had been raised to enable our acquisition to proceed and contracts were signed.

This was followed by intense work on refurbishing the bar area and on 15th November 2015, the pub once again opened its doors, with the pub managed by a manager employed by the directors of the Social Benefit Society.  

Along with the bar, a café area has been developed, which is an informal and family friendly area. A shop is planned in addition to upstairs community meeting rooms and outside, community gardens are being established.

What for me has been so exiting about all three visits is that communities have risen to the challenge of saving something that is important to them and that through this they have been able to fulfil the vision of Sir Horace Plunkett: “That its possible for rural communities to make life better for themselves”, in these cases by saving local pubs and making them in to a foci for community life.

For more details of the Plunket Foundation see
For Details of Assets of Community Value Right to Bid click HERE
The George and Dragon

Thursday, 30 June 2016

“Have we lost the glue that holds our rural communities together?”

At a recent meeting of Christians who work or are involved in rural matters from local authorities, businesses, agriculture, the third sector and churches, one of the concerns that became apparent was the loss of the glue that binds rural communities together.   This glue was not one particular aspect of rural life which had been lost but rather something less physical; something like magnetism or the rhythm of the tides, the loss of which has meant that people are less connected and less supportive of one another.

For several months I have been reflecting on this and then a comment at Rural Action Yorkshire staff team meeting the Chair, Jan Thornton used the words “Social Ballet” to describe community life.

This was like firing the starting gun in my mind and I was quickly making some notes as I reflected on this phrase and the idea that living in a rural community is like being part a “dance”.  What’s more I could see connections with the idea of God as Trinity.  In some branches of Christian theology is the idea, that the three persons of the Trinity (Father Son and Spirit) are not only co-equal but that they are in a perpetual loving and supportive relationship as they dance together.  As Jonathan Marlowe puts it “The early church fathers and mothers looked at that dance (perichoresis) and said, (That’s what the Trinity is like.) It’s a harmonious set of relationship in which there is mutual giving and receiving.”

Reflecting on this I can see that in a traditional villages such as the one where I was born there were several shops, church, Chapel, village school, women’s institute, pub, village hall committee running events such as fruit and veg shows and a Cricket club which held an annual barn dance and pig roast which was attended by young and old.

I can even remember the first village hall folk dance I attended where a band lead the music, a caller explained the steps and called the moves of dances such as Strip the Willow and the Gay Gordon’s.

Since then many of these touch points where people meet and interact have been lost. The result is that people see each other less often, have less interaction and will clearly know and appreciate one another other less well as the relationships have become weaker.

It also perhaps explains why people in towns and cities feel they are isolated. As although there may be a myriad of places to shop, play sport, eat out or worship, the people that are at each of these places are different so relationships are, as a result, likely to be superficial and shallow.

In terms of addressing the loss of glue in our rural communities it’s not so much as their being one magic bullet or even one particular initiative such as a luncheon club, fresh expression of church that’s required to turn things around. It’s the development of a whole series of these so that people are able to make connections throughout the week with all members of the community at some point.

Two things I think are needed to be borne in mind in this process. Firstly, the need to realise that community and context has changed. Patterns of work and demographics have changed in rural communities so that the age profile is likely to be older. So perhaps rather than say constantly trying to prop up a cricket club perhaps  the answer is for a cricket club to transform itself into croquet or bowls club.  

Secondly the answer is not one particular initiative or one group such as the church or the village hall to see themselves as the saviour of community life but for each to look for ways to act in concert so that all may thrive.  Generating different occasions and providing places where people can come together and build their common life together.

Rural Action Yorkshire has perhaps put their finger on this by producing a list of 52 (Almost) Painless Things Your Community Can Do!. With ideas ranging from: Setting up an oil-buying cooperative, starting a community choir or holding a wine-tasting evening.

From a church perspective this isn’t about the church being the centre, it’s about recognising that God works through all people of peace and goodwill in the community to bring about change for the common good.  We are called to seek and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom.  If we open our eyes and ears we see and hear stories of the Kingdom all around us, of God at work in and beyond our churches. If God can use an ass to direct Balham in Numbers 22 or the King of Salem known as (Melchizedek) to bless Abraham then surely he can use people beyond our churches to speak and bless our communities. We shouldn’t be like Balham and his ass and ignore them at our peril but rather like Abraham and Melchizedek seek out people of peace, acknowledge the blessings they bring and then working with others as co-workers bring blessings to the whole community.

Perhaps this is what’s so special about the rural church. Where the edges between church and community become fuzzy and where people in churches embed themselves in the community so that everyone is blessed.

Producing a myriad of initiatives providing opportunities for people in our communities to come together building up our common life and join the social dance as Jan puts it.  Rather than sitting on the side watching others.  May be we will then regain that community glue of the social dance.  Perhaps we can then dance like the community of Mabou on Cape Breton Island in Canada I once visited. Here folk-dancing is so imbedded in village life that there was no need for a caller at the village Cèilidh, everyone joined in and all knew the steps and the tunes. 

Watch the people of Mabou dance in their village hall here 

Cows, Cattle Breeds Milk Proteins & Enjoying Milk on Breakfast Cereals, after a Sixteen Year Gap

Since I was young I had always had milk on my breakfast cereals and was partial to real dairy ice-cream, hot chocolate made with milk as well as strong cheeses such as Stilton and Shropshire Blue. 

Then some sixteen years ago I started getting bouts of severe upset stomach, we thought at the time this was due to a recent visit to India and so after a discussion with my G.P. I was treated for Giardia, as one of the side effects of Giardia can be as intolerance to dairy products and I had noticed a connection between being ill and eating cheese or ice cream.  The majority of my symptoms got a lot better immediately but still some sensitivity remained.

It was therefore suggested that I was tested for lactose intolerance at the local hospital. The day came and the test involved drinking a lactose solution and then breathing into a machine that measured expelled hydrogen; as it has been found that people with a lactose intolerance on eating lactose expired hydrogen. I fully expected the needle to jump but nothing happened. Afterwards it was explained to me that it must be the milk protein I was having problems with rather than lactose.  

I was still having a grumbling problem and it was suggested I consulted a dietitian who explained that milk and whey found its way in to many products such as bread and margarines so after I removed even the slightest element of milk from my diet I found I was completely back to normal. Unless I accidently ate a product containing milk, I even joked I could be used as an expert witness to detect milk in cakes and biscuits.

One day I was eating in an Italian restaurant with a colleague, who I discovered had a similar problem.  He explained to me that different animals produced different milk proteins and that I would not find any problems from eating Buffalo mozzarella cheese.  I enjoyed my pizza and to my surprise he was right, I next tried goats and sheep’s milk feta cheese all produced no ill effects but was still affected by cow’s milk.

So now sixteen years later with a taste for black tea and coffee, high cocoa fat dark chocolate and goat’s cheese has come the latest twist in the story. For a while I had been wondering whether different breeds of cattle produced different milk proteins. So I decided to do a web search to check this out.  To my delight this was indeed the case and the story is even more fascinating.

There are two main types of cow’s milk protein know as A1 and A2, however a few thousand years ago there was only one type A2 then due to a genetic mutation cows started producing A1 protein as well.   So now most cattle herds in the UK are made up of cows which produce milk containing either both A1 and A2 protein or only A1 protein, with only a minority of cattle producing solely A2 protein.  However certain breeds of cattle in India, Africa and Guernsey cattle produce nearly all milk only containing only the A2 protein. In fact it is thought that 95% of Guernsey cattle and some 50% of Jersey cattle produce milk only containing the A2 protein.

What was even more pleasing to find out was that an Australian company had started selling a brand of milk which only contained the A2 protein. Via an arrangement with a British dairy company they have worked with a select group of British farmers to supply milk only containing the A2 protein to supermarkets in the UK and this was available in my own town, sold under the banner A2 Milk.  

I decided to take things slowly at first drinking what amounted to less than 5cc of A2 milk. Over a few days I built this up with no adverse effects whatsoever culminating in a mug of hot chocolate.  The next day I enjoyed milk on my cereal the first in some sixteen years. My next idea is to make some yoghurt and to track down some ice cream and cheese made from milk containing only the A2 protein.  

Not only am I pleased that I can enjoy milk on cereals but I am also pleased that I can once again personally support the British dairy industry by consuming their products as dairy farmers have been suffering from low farm gate prices for their products down as low as 18p a litre.

One farmer supplying milk to the A2 milk company in May 2026 was being paid 30p a litre. 

So if you find, if you have a problem digesting cow’s milk you may find that A2 milk is the answer to your problems. However; if you are allergic to milk you must check with a doctor first before trying any milk products.

One a wider scale many people in Asia are intolerant to A1 milk protein so this potentially offers new markets for milk which can be produced free of the A1 protein.  

A recent Radio 4 You and Yours program looked at the issue of A1 and A2 milk protein; you can listen to the program by clicking HERE and then on  A2Milk. 

To find a supplier of A2 Milk click here:

Farmers wishing to test their cows to identify the cows which only produce A2 protein should contact a DNA testing laboratory.  One company that carries out this service is Weathersby’s Laboratory  

DNA Laboratory
Weatherbys Ireland Laboratory
c/o The Irish Equine Centre
Co Kildare
Republic of Ireland
00353 4587 5521

The test is noninvasive and simply involves sending a sample of  c15 cow's hairs with their roots to the laboratory and costs around £8.00p per sample. Samples must be clearly labeled to identify the cows it's from and that the test is for A1 A2 DNA testing.  (Cost correct in June 2016)

More information on some of the science of the genetics of cow's and A1 and A2  Beta-Casein in milk see

Let's hope that greater awareness of the difficulties that some people have digesting A1 milk protein and the solution will go someway in restoring the fortunes of the British dairy and farming industry and may even open up new markets.  

You may also find my post: Vertically Integrated Milk - Mow some Yorkshire Diary Farmers are Increasing the Profit Margins of interest.