Will and Karin Collins first introduced Bridge Builders assemblies in primary schools in Stevenage and the surrounding Hertfordshire villages during the 1990’s. They worked hard not only to achieve a high standard of presentation but also to ensure that the exciting message of the Bible stories was real and relevant for all their young audiences. As the assembly tour grew in popularity Will and Karin were joined by a small number of volunteers from the local churches who also helped them to run Light House after school clubs for Infants and Launch Pad clubs for Juniors.
The school’s work was growing and so was the number of storage boxes! A rented garage in Stevenage town centre was no longer adequate for all the resources that had been accumulated. In 2001 Bridge Builders moved into their first office space at Ridgemond Park, a redundant secondary school overlooking Fairlands Valley. The buildings were shabby but a coat of paint and a few pieces of second-hand furniture helped create a base where the newly recruited Board of Trustees and the core team could begin to work together to establish their identity and purpose. Imagine the joy when later that same year Bridge Builders Christian Trust achieved its charitable status.
It was the trauma of a Monday morning which was to spark the next significant milestone for Bridge Builders. The assembly tour team witnessed first hand the dilemma of overstretched school staff struggling to provide care for a distraught parent and child amidst the hustle and bustle of day today life in the classroom. Bridge Builders was providing opportunities for children to hear about the Christian faith but there was clearly urgent need for more practical expressions of pastoral support. A generous grant from Hertfordshire County Council’s Children’s Fund led to the appointment of the first part-time paid members of staff and the launch of the MAPS Project: Mentoring And Pastoral Support for individual pupils and small groups in Camps Hill, Giles Junior, Lodge Farm and Trotts Hill.
In 2005 the growing Bridge Builders team moved from their offices in Ridgemond Park to set up their current Resource Centre within St Paul’s Methodist Church. At that time the Church was running a flourishing toddler group but the leaders were about to retire. One of the Bridge Builders team was delighted to take over the group and Open Doors became Toddlerrific! This group ran for 8 very successful years before closing in the summer of 2013.
Thanks to another generous donation Launch Pad Local was opened at St Hugh and St John’s Church in 2006. Under the leadership of a Bridge Builders team member this midweek club continues to link a large team of church and community volunteers with the children in three local primary schools.
This thriving Chells partnership is where many of our developing projects are piloted. It was here that the plans for Easter Journey were first introduced in 2010. The interest was so great that two other churches decided to host the event. A year later five churches were part of the project. By 2012 seven churches were opening their doors to welcome over 1000 Year 5/6 pupils from 29 schools. This was a significant development for the churches in the town but for Bridge Builders there was also the astonishing realisation that they had led the training for over 100 local volunteers of the event.
Bridge Builders Christian Trust is a dynamic organisation constantly seeking new ways to encourage and equip partnerships between churches and the primary school aged children in their local communities. When Will Collins resigned his leadership of the Trust to take up a new post in Staffordshire in 2007 he left a legacy not only of core values, which continue to ensure the trust and respect of head teachers and their staff, but also fun and engaging scripts such as the one used many times each year for Whale Tales.
Sheila Smith served as Project Director from 2008 – 12. In that time the administrative hub of the organisation has been established. The Centre at St Paul’s houses a useful collection of resources and, most importantly, provides a meeting place and training facilities for the ever growing team of volunteers. Relationships have been strengthened with Churches Together in Stevenage and financial support for the invaluable work of the team has grown.
Since Sheila’s retirement in 2012 the Core Leadership Team of John Forster, Tracy Plumpton & Justine Hobbs have been leading the organisation whilst a future director is found.
In the summer of 2013, Alex Horlock joined the Core Leadership Team with her role as the ExploRE project manager. This project runs assemblies, themed events (such as the Christmas Journey & The Easter Journey) & Religious Education support for primary schools in Stevenage and surrounding areas. Over two thousand children visit these events annually.