FOTCH: 25 years and counting

In many ways the last 25 years has gone in the blink of an eye. ‘Time like an ever-rolling stream…’ has seldom seemed so pertinent as when I look back to the foundation of FOTCH and reflect on just how many of the  Founding Fathers and Mothers are no longer with us. So many good times,  so much achieved, so many good Friends.

Reaching 25 is a time for some celebration and satisfaction, but also for   caution and clear-sightedness. The heady days of adolescence are over and the responsibilities of grown-up life are ahead.

What should be the key objectives for FOTCH in its second quarter- century? (Your editor asked me to offer a few thoughts on my views on key things to focus on for our next 25 years.)

One of the founding principles of FOTCH from the very beginning was that it is designed to bring together the interests and values of both the members of the church community within Tring and also that wider town community which does not have regular involvement with the religious  life within the building. By establishing our ‘FOTCH community’ in this way, we bring in the widest possible constituency of support. What has been undoubted from the start is that everybody in the town sees ‘the church in its splendid green setting’ as a real asset – and values its  continuation for a wide variety of different reasons.

In the early days, FOTCH was largely driven by a group of enthusiasts who could see the benefit not only of creating a strong capital resource to  sustain our asset in the future but also in creating a strong social association. Offering a wide variety of events and activities that engaged us in fundraising has also promoted genuine fellowship and social cohesion. That original group, of course, is now 25 years on (25 years  older and more tired – I speak from experience!). It seems very important that we pass on the baton of organisation and active encouragement to the next generation within our town.

Don’t look back – look forward

The world today is already quite different from the way it was 25 years  ago. The position of the Church of England within our society is less assured and open to more and more challenges from those who don’t share that particular faith. Calls for humanism (and many other religions and philosophies) to be included in religious studies continue to grow.  (The first humanist hospital chaplain has just been appointed). It all indicates a lessening of the once powerful grip the established church had on the whole of society.

Surely we must plan to build on the strength FOTCH has in its wide base of support – not just from those who worship in St Peter & Paul’s – and maintain the enthusiasm of the widest possible constituency.

As the town moves forward into whatever future balance society will have in the next 25 years, we need to keep the resource relevant and  appreciated by all. Doubtless the improved projection and presentation facilities within the church (which is still by far the largest concert and event venue in the town) is a step in the right direction. It was very gratifying to see the wonderful Charter 700 celebrations focused within  the church building.

As a centre of significant community events and landmark ‘rites of  passage’ it is unrivalled. We must keep it relevant to all.

Stay close to our members

FOTCH is fundamentally a membership organisation and membership is  open to all. We have not had a significant recruitment drive for three years now and it’s clearly time to top up our members by getting across our core argument to incomers into the community. The rate of residential ‘churn’ or refreshment within Tring is considerable. Positioning the church asset as something for everyone and the church community as a welcoming and open organisation is important. It may well be that the way in which the half yearly lunches are organised needs to be refreshed so that they are not so much about planning and more about celebration and fellowship – and in particular welcoming our newer members. The twice yearly newsletter is also a very effective way of communicating with our  members and also of recruiting new ones.

Most voluntary organisations find it difficult to maintain membership numbers in these frenetic times. FOTCH has done well so far but I strongly believe we cannot rest on our laurels. We must consult our members and earn their continuing commitment and enthusiasm Stay close to the  church community There is no doubt that the church community represents a core constituency of FOTCH membership. We need to remember that, like all groups, the membership of the church community changes really quite rapidly. The clergy and ministry teams change over time. The wardens, members of PCCs and committees are all regularly refreshed and it’s important that FOTCH maintains strong links and a  vigorous involvement.

Whilst the grants and funding initiatives carried out by FOTCH have been of enormous value to the church community over the years, it is arguably the bridge building with the wider town community that is the greatest contribution FOTCH has made. In the early days the May birthday weekend was very much a celebration of membership. In recent years it  has done a much more important job of being an entirely open and welcoming event for the whole town. It is the church with open doors and open arms and it presents a very positive picture.

The pageants we have put on in the past have also had this outreach impact. It is very important that we keep moving forward with these  initiatives. We must take care to be sensitive so that church priorities and requirements are understood by the FOTCH team – and vice versa. A healthy and open dialogue is essential.

Be bold, dream big and plan positively

Over the years FOTCH has done some big things. The Heritage Book and presentation (produced in close co-operation with the schools) is a tremendous asset for those who want to see the church and its artefacts within the historical context. The series of Open Church leaflets which  explains the history and relevance of so many aspects of the church has  proved a very popular initiative for visitors and townspeople alike. The  two pageants which were produced each attracted audiences of more than  800 people and more importantly engaged us deeply with the schools and  other organisations in the town. In my opinion it’s important that FOTCH  does not simply become a custodian of a capital resource but remains at  the centre of big events that attract new membership, new enthusiasm  and new activists.

It’s time for the next Big Idea. (That’s over to you – the next generation of talented trustees, officers, activists and members – what do YOU think?)

Believe in the future

Somewhere in the late nineties FOTCH came up with a slogan ‘heritage is  about the future’ and launched a programme of focusing on the young.  Over the years our youth representatives have done a sterling job of  getting our voice across in the schools. It was FOTCH which set up the  community board linking the asset of Tring School with the town and the  church and launched the Tring Learning Centre initiative. This ran very successfully for some years but is now no longer functioning in the same way as school priorities change.

I believe we need to revisit the initiative of interpreting events in schools and continue to make ourselves open and available as an organisation to help young people engage with the heritage and history of our town. So much has happened here that has been central to the development of the nation. It is a story  well worth telling generation after generation.

Revisiting this ‘interpretation role’ within our community with a new and younger team will, I believe, pay real dividends.

Try new things…

It’s perhaps not surprising that quite a few of the initiatives I have mentioned are to do with things that we have already done. We can now move them forward, refresh and do better.

It would be short-sighted of me not to realise that there are many things we haven’t tried, things that didn’t exist when we started which are now part of our modern culture and we need to embrace them. As well as doing the things we have done rather better, we also need to do things we haven’t yet done and keep ourselves fresh and relevant within our town. It could well be time for the FOTCH App!

Work for the whole of Tring

Central to everything FOTCH has done is the maintenance of our church at the heart of Tring in rude good health as a house for the continuing worship of God. It is also ensuring that the building offers ‘open house’ to the whole community as a place where everyone feels welcome and at home. The more we are together the happier – and healthier – we shall be.

We must work confidently for the future and offer a warm and loving home to all future generations in Tring. Home is where the heart is.

Grahame Senior
Honorary FOTCH President
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