The origins of CREST Waltham Forest lie in much hard work and thought that took place in the church and wider community in the late 1960s. By the year 1971, CREST’s parent body, the Waltham Forest Social Responsibility Council, was in the position to be able to establish a second project to stand alongside the already established Voluntary Work Centre which was based at Peterhouse in Forest Rise in Walthamstow. Based at Marsh Street and Trinity Church in Orford Road, Walthamstow:
“… the vision was that CREST should become a centre which would help the churches of all denominations in their outreach in serving the community in the borough, and in work in the sphere of education. We recognised that foremost among the needs of Christians is that we should ourselves experience renewal in our faith and worship (hence Christian Renewal for Education and Social Tasks).”
But as well as an ethos of Christian service, CREST also from its earliest days embraced the need to challenge injustices and participate in creating a better society: “… part of the work of CREST is to examine society and see where the structures are pinching and creating casualties. It has always been part of the Christian tradition that we not only educate our children for the society in which they will live, but that we also educate the society so that it is better fitted to receive its children.”
Much of CREST’s early work was in the sphere of education, organising conferences and seminars. Residential conferences for girls and boys at Senior Schools were a regular feature throughout the decade, and seminars with titles such as “The Just Society” and “Planning and Human Need” were organised. A Housing Aid Centre was set up at Greenleaf Road Baptist Church on Saturday mornings and CREST sponsored the Cambridge House Language Scheme, which was an early venture into the field of English for speakers of other languages. Regular Supper Clubs were organised with talks on such topics as “The Needs of Homosexuals”, “The Aftercare of ex-Prisoners” and “The Problems Faced by Battered Wives”. These regular meetings were attended by many and were a fertile ground for social concern in the borough.
As well as social concern, CREST was active in exploring the spiritual dimension of community life. Revealing its early desire to promote inter-faith dialogue, Religion Ins were organised to give the opportunity to understand the different religions represented in the borough. In addition, several Quiet Weekends and Ecumenical Retreats were organised – at least one of them attended by Desmond Tutu and Canon ffrench-Beytagh.
In 1974, CREST established in collaboration with Adult Education a two-hour Social and Discussion Group for Older People with a Disability, focussed on supporting the most isolated members of the community. In its first year over forty people enrolled. Following its success, at the request of the local authority, a second such Group was set up in Leytonstone at the end of the decade. These two Groups, alongside their younger sibling, exist to this day. Hairdressing and Dressmaking Classes were established to enable families on low income to save money and CREST was also involved in arranging a Child Minders’ Course. By the end of the decade a regular newsletter was in production and CREST was providing a secretariat to the newly formed Waltham Forest Council of Churches.
Concern about race issues and the corrosive effects of racism was a major feature of CREST’s evolution during this decade. Spawned by ground-breaking work done in the East End of London, the Waltham Forest Zebra Group was formed in 1980. Its work involved talks on topics such as “How Do We Define Racism?”, “Racism in Children’s Books” and “Death, Dying and Bereavement in Black Families”. Joint community educational projects were arranged between Christians from both black-led and white-led churches, In 1984, an ITV Open Door documentary programme focussed on the work of the Zebra Group Field Worker and a programme of racism awareness training primarily for church members was organised.
Death and bereavement also featured highly in the concerns of CREST during this period. Following a number of courses and talks, several initiatives including The Circle Bereavement Support Service were set up in the early part of the decade. The two Social and Discussion Groups were joined by a third in Chingford in 1982. By the middle of the decade 150 people weekly were being served at these three venues. In 1982 also the first CREST Adult Holiday for older people with a disability was organised to Hengrave Hall.
Concern for local people’s spirituality continued to have a high priority. Julian Contemplative Prayer Meetings were instigated and the tradition of arranging Quiet Days was continued, to be joined towards the end of the decade by the weekly Oasis, Prayer Days, a Pilgrim Group and Prayer Cells.
The Hairdressing and Dressmaking Classes continued to function throughout the decade. August 1984 saw the first CREST Summer Play Schemes, organised at four centres to provide an educational and recreational scheme in each area of the borough from pre-school age to school leavers. These were to become an annual feature of CREST life. At this time also, the CREST Volunteer Thank You, Annual Service and the annual fundraising CREST Fayre were instigated. CREST began to provide a secretariat to the Waltham Forest Borough Deans Group, and produced the first ever edition of the Directory of Churches and Church Life in Waltham Forest.
With its registration with the Charity Commissioners in 1985, CREST finally severed its links with the old Waltham Forest Social Responsibility Council. In that year also CREST moved its office base to the heart of the borough at Truro Road Community Centre, just off Walthamstow High Street.
Towards the end of the decade Crest’s concern for the mental health of the borough became more evident. CREST took a prominent role in the organisation of the monthly Mental Health Forum which looked at such topics as “Black Mental Health Under Oppression”, Compulsory Treatment in the Community” and “Access to Mental Health Care for the Homeless” . In 1989 CREST assisted with the setting up of a local branch of the Association for the Pastoral Care of the Mentally ill. During 1989, north-east London experienced an influx of refugees from the war zone in south-east Turkey. CREST arranged for eight churches across the borough to be left open for a week to act as reception centres for unwanted bedding and clothing and delivered 150 sacks to a church in Stamford Hill accommodating 200 refugees.
After extensive consultation, CREST’s work in the field of racism awareness evolved into a programme of Multicultural Development with workshops with such titles as “Partnership in Mission”, “Worship in Black-led and White-led Churches” and “Multiracial Churches” being arranged alongside multicultural social evenings and gospel concerts. Several multicultural videos were produced.
CREST’s Summer Playschemes continued throughout the decade and, in 1985, were joined by CREST’s first After-school Club set up on Avenue Estate in Leytonstone. By the end of the decade, the number of after-school clubs had expanded to three. The Social and Discussion Groups continued alongside the Annual Holiday, and CREST assisted with the establishment of the East London Churches Housing and Homelessness Alliance.
CREST’s Pastoral Programme of prayer activities continued apace as did the bereavement support work. A monthly Moving On Group was instituted in 1995 providing a supportive social environment for those who had lost a partner and who were looking to build new friendships. A second edition of the Directory of Churches and Church Life was produced. Following a devastating burglary in 1992, CREST’s office base moved from Truro Road Community Centre six doors up Truro Road to self-contained offices.
In 1996, CREST celebrated its first 25 years. In the early part of this decade, an emphasis developed on Celtic Spirituality with several Journeys to Iona arranged for local people. CREST’s Pastoral Worker also arranged several day workshops looking at Disability and the Church. In 1995 CREST took responsibility for the Waltham Forest Mental Health Befriending Service, a new development which grew out of an initiative developed by the Chaplaincy team at Claybury Hospital, a local psychiatric hospital. Within the first four months of its commencement, 31 users had benefited from it.
In 1995 CREST entered into the Charity Shop market with, over the next few years, several shops entered into on a free or cheap-let basis before taking on a commercial lease on no 55 Walthamstow High Street. During the latter part of the decade, CREST benefited enormously from Community Teamwork’s, a volunteering initiative of City finance house, Goldman Sachs. Volunteers painted the CREST offices as well as arranging parties for both the after- school clubs and older people’s groups. Also at the end of the decade, CREST produced its first three-year Business Plan and was selected by The Shaftesbury Society to develop Truro Road Community Centre in central Walthamstow as a multicultural family centre.
Behind the scenes throughout the majority of the 2000s, much work was undertaken on an unseen transformation of CREST – from a simple charity to a charity which was also a company limited by guarantee. CREST’s budget was growing as were its obligations and liabilities in fulfilling professional contracts. This transition was intended to reassure trustees of the extent of their liability in carrying out their role. The change was eventually achieved on 1st April 2006. In March 2007, the CREST Committee adopted the following Mission Statement:
“CREST is committed to working with those of all faith traditions and of none to serve the community by empowering disadvantaged and marginalized groups through health, education, leisure and social action projects.”
First started in 1984, the 2000s saw the eventual closure of CREST’s comprehensive Childcare operation. By the turn of the century it was operating from three centres across the borough – Edward Redhead School and Priory Court Children’s Centre, both in Walthamstow, and the Nexus Centre serving the south of the borough in Leytonstone.
The decade started well with significant funding being received from City finance house Goldman Sachs to underpin the work of our Childcare Co-ordinator. As the decade progressed however much energy was being expended in sourcing new funding streams with little success. In addition, in the world of childcare many new providers were entering the market-place and the rules surrounding childcare provision regulated by Ofsted were becoming increasingly complex. By 2005 questions were being asked internally as to whether CREST should still be undertaking childcare and, eventually Edward Redhead School took over the childcare facility on their premises and that at Priory Court Children’s Centre became self-administering. July 2006 saw the end of CREST’s childcare when responsibility for Avenue Kids’ Club was taken over by a board made up of local residents. It (and Priory Court) continue to this day.
At the beginning of the 2000s, funding was also received from three large trusts (Tudor Trust, Bridge House Estates and the Esmee Fairburn Foundation) to continue and develop the work of the Waltham Forest Mental Health Befriending Service and in addition to set up an out-of-hours drop-in service for people with significant and enduring mental health problems. On Saturday 14th February 2004, Valentine’s Day, the Sunshine Club officially opened at the Ferguson Centre just off Markhouse Road. Over forty people attended and they all went away carrying a free red rose. This was to be followed by a Thursday evening service based at Trinity Church in Orford Road. By December 2005, 18 active befriendings were taking place and the Sunshine Club was averaging 25 users every Saturday and 15 every Thursday. Despite getting additional funding from both MIND and Waltham Forest Primary Care Trust, the Sunshine Club eventually closed due to lack of funds in March 2007.
Funding for the Befriending Service looked fit to end by August 2005. But then, at the eleventh hour, the Service was able to access a new Department of Health funding stream, Capital Volunteering which, as well as encouraging volunteers to support people with mental health problems, was also focussed on encouraging people with mental health problems themselves to take part in volunteering. CREST’s part of this venture included the employment of an Asian Befriending Project Worker, based at local Asian agency Qalb, to promote mental health befriending among that distinct community. Also as a part of Capital Volunteering, in 2006 CREST organised a conference entitled Stigma and Mental Health attended by over forty people which, as well as the editor of the local paper, even attracted over a speaker from Chicago University. Funding from Capital Volunteering for befriending came to an end in June 2008. Funding bids continued to be made including an unsuccessful lottery bid. Isolated befriending continued in to 2009, but it became increasingly difficult to provide adequate support without funding and eventually ceased.
And then, in September 2008, CREST learnt that Waltham Forest Primary Care Trust was seeking to commission on an initial 18-month contract a third sector organisation to deliver a new Mental Health Community Bridge Building Service. This was to provide support to those presenting to primary care professionals with mental health problems to access mainstream activities such as volunteering, employment, faith, arts etc. It was also about enabling organisations to support people with mental health problems accessing their services.
CREST entered an expression of interest and went through an interview before being awarded the contract. Seven staff members started on 5th January 2009 and, within a short period of time, there was a highly successful launch of the new Evolve service at Vestry House Museum and the real job of selling the service to GPs had begun. The original aim was to support 175 people within a twelve-month period – this target was actually achieved within eight months.
For many years CREST had had both a President and Patron both of whom needed replacing. Eventually three long-standing CREST volunteers – Kath Osborne, Gwladys Grimwood and Maureen Wrigglesworth — replaced ex-TUC leader and local Methodist Len Murray as Patrons of CREST. The role of President was never filled. 2006 marked CREST’s 35th year and this was marked by a special event.
Also at the beginning of the decade, CREST was invited to join a working group with the intention of setting up a Credit Union in Waltham Forest. By September 2002, CREST was already employing developmental staff with the objective of achieving registration for Waltham Forest Community Credit Union with the Financial Services Authority (FSA). These were to be eventually TUPE’d over to the new body. In 2003, CREST trustees entered in to a lease on 152 Walthamstow High Street which was to be the first shop-front for the Credit Union. By 2004, it had seven collection points across the borough. Its eventual launch took place at Harmony Hall and was undertaken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Then in 2006 disaster struck as the landlord of the Credit Union’s shop virtually doubled its rent. As a result it moved its base for several years in to a room at Harmony Hall. But, by the end of the decade, the Credit Union had found a new home in previous Council premises at the corner of Hoe Street and High Street.
CREST’s services for Older People with a Disability continued apace. Funding streams were sought (unsuccessfully) for a new Sessional Worker but, in 2002, CREST entered in to a pilot project in partnership with London and Quadrant Housing Association (L&Q). This project involved extending the existing half-day’s provision to a full day offering exercise and healthy living sessions, the opportunity to access hairdressing and other facilities, and a cooked lunch alongside the existing educational element. In return for free use of facilities at L&Q’s Gainsfield Court extra-care unit in Leytonstone, a number of L&Q’s most vulnerable users were able to access the service.
Following the success of this pilot, in July 2005, the partnership was extended to Albany Court as a base for our Walthamstow provision. In November 2008, we learnt for the first time of a potential sea change in funding for such day services as ours – away from the award of traditional block contracts and favouring the personalisation of services and the move to individual clients purchasing a service via direct payments. This began to cause concern about the need to restructure in order to accommodate people with greater need and the appropriateness of continuing to offer a service with volunteers.
Having failed to find a satisfactory alternative venue for our Chingford provision, this group was extended to a full day in its existing premises in early 2009 following the award of a grant from Walthamstow and Chingford Almshouses to purchase a set of appropriate armchairs.
Throughout the decade, CREST continued to benefit from the Goldman Sachs Community TeamWorks scheme with them in 2005 helping provide a Volunteers’ Thank You Event at Chingford Assembly Hall and, in 2008, redecorating the CREST office.
In the early years of the decade, negotiations were taking place between CREST and the Shaftesbury Society over a new lease for the management of Truro Road Christian Community Centre. The existing centre staff decided not to continue under the new management and a new staffing structure was put in place. A process to find a new name took place and Truro Road Christian Community Centre eventually became Harmony Hall offering spaces in the “Rhapsody Room” and “Melody Room”.
By 2006, Waltham Forest’s Community Learning and Skills Service (CLaSS) had become a major partner in its development offering a whole raft of new classes bringing the centre close to full capacity. In May of that year, a mural designed by local artist Alan Hush was added to its northern wall depicting the activities taking place within at the time (including Flamenco!). Towards the end of the decade concerns were being raised about the possibility of fundamentalist groups using community premises, causing us to review and tighten up our policies and procedures for the acceptance of bookings. In November 2009 the CREST Committee was considering an interesting proposal to extend Harmony’s performance potential and consider the provision of exhibition space for local artists.
Throughout the decade, much work was done also to extend our work to encompass two more community centres – the Jubilee Centre in Leytonstone and the Crossroads Centre in Chingford, a part of South Chingford Methodist Church. However, by 2006, the decision was made not to continue with negotiations over the Jubilee Centre and South Chingford Methodist Church finally made the decision to develop community usage of its premises without the support of CREST.
CREST’s Charity Shop at 55 High Street continued throughout the 2000s to serve many local residents. Staffed entirely by volunteers, discussions took place about replacing its frontage (never achieved) and whether to continue to renew the lease (achieved).
By the end of the decade discussions were being had about expanding CREST’s work in to other boroughs and about reconnecting with the faith communities in this borough. The decade ended on a sad note with the death of Patron Maureen Wrigglesworth. Last but not least, in 2009 a volunteer from a small user-led mental health group called thinkarts! designed our Annual Report.