Thought for the Week – Changemakers Programme

Lucy Winkett introduces the Changemakers Programme, an initiative aimed at nurturing young leaders from diverse sectors to drive positive social change, rooted in the church’s values, while highlighting the programmes’s core objectives and its launch event featuring prominent speakers.

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Whenever we speak about the Wren Project we often find ourselves using words like catalyst, rejuvenate, transform.  The Wren Project is a vision for St James’s that grows organically from the communities that belong here now, gains inspiration from the exceptional history of this place, (an aspect of which we have just celebrated in the inspirational figure of Quobna Ottobah Cugoano), and commits to a different future that takes net zero carbon targets seriously and transforms the buildings fit for the 21st century outward-looking church we want to be.

But we have, from the start, said that this is not a building project that is restoring a religious museum. I, Lucy, personally was reminded in a new and powerful way when I was here during the pandemic, living in a deserted 1684 building, courtyard and garden, that the church is the people. The Wren Project is a people project more than a building project. And last Wednesday at St James’s Palace, just a stone’s throw from the church, this aspect of the Project sprung into life.

The patron of the Wren Project, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, kindly allowed us to hold the launch of the St James’s Changemaker Programme at the Palace, and the historic venue encouraged people to come who might not feel so inclined to come into a church.  Over 200 people came, and 20 of our own PCC, church wardens, clergy and staff colleagues were hosts.

The St James’s Changemaker Programme is an 18 month invitation for 25 young people at a time to become changemakers in society. Many church leadership schemes grow leaders for churches. This one is different, because it wants to draw out of young people their own potential, dreams and action plans to be agents of change in the areas of society that they choose. We invite them not to change the church but to change the world. There are five strands to the programme: civil society, the performing arts, environment and science, music and business.  The idea is that young changemakers get to know each other and learn together across these disciplines, rooted in the values of St James’s, and open to people of all faiths and none.

On that launch night, we were honoured to have an amazing panel of speakers who themselves have been agents of change in their own areas. Kwame Kwei Armah is the Artistic Director of the Young Vic, Debbie Weekes-Bernard is London’s Deputy Mayor for Communities and Social Justice, Sharon White is CEO of the John Lewis Partnership, Paul Roseby is Artistic Director of the National Youth Theatre, Amy Meeks is founder of Kids Against Plastic, Natasha Porter is CEO of Unlocked Graduates, Heather Mitchell is Chief Risk Officer for the Carlyle Group, Harry Christophers is the founder of world-famous vocal ensemble The Sixteen. Our own Mariama Ifode-Blease, as co-founder of the Programme, was on the panel too and it was chaired by Sir Trevor McDonald.

A lively conversation roamed around the various aspects of society represented by each of the panellists, and the key issues of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion were addressed, along with other barriers to change such as class, economic inequality, and the difficult challenges of inertia, fear and vested interests too.  The launch of the St James’s Changemaker Programme on Wednesday was to introduce this idea and programme to an audience of people who could help make it happen, if they caught the vision and believed in the idea.

The St James’s Changemakers Programme is a new idea and initiative that aims to develop young leaders across of range of sectors who are committed to positive social change. Rooted in a holistic understanding of human beings, and convinced of the need to recognise interdependence and inter-connectedness as pre requisites for the flourishing of society, the programme aims to:

  • Empower young leaders to imagine the world to be different and act to make it so
  • Equip these leaders to be change agents through values-led leadership
  • Develop their skills and network so that they can make greater impact in their field/sector
  • Deepen their understanding of how our interconnectedness can facilitate societal change
  • Prepare young leaders to understand and bear the cost of being change agents with others

Over the course of 18-months the Changemakers will be involved in five programme strands (in parenthesis) that work symbiotically. The Changemakers will meet together to learn how to tell their story effectively and share the importance of their work (Gathering). They will build a new network through their cohort and attendance at two residentials and an annual lecture (Ubuntu Network). They will develop existing and new skills though masterclasses delivered by sector leaders (Resources and Training). Our Changemakers will engage in professional and personal development through 1:1 mentoring (Imagining the Future). Finally, the programme ends with the opportunity to develop practical experience through a six-month internship (Being a Change Agent).

We are looking for funding now, and if we find it, we will develop this programme into a reality for 2024.

In a week where the news is relentlessly grim, with violence, inequity and climate crisis filling every bulletin, we at St James’s want to make our own small contribution to making a difference, encouraging leaders rooted in the values that have been lived out over centuries in this place,  to make positive social change, for the planet and for its people.  And in a week where we will remember the generations of young people who have died and are still dying in wars, it is an insistence that faith, hope and love remain. And that true hope doesn’t just wish for a different future, but takes action, and takes risks, to make that future irresistible.

Please let Mariama or me or any of the clergy team or wardens know if you are interested in supporting this programme. In time we will need all sorts of support, from mentoring to accompanying, to catering to befriending to financing. For now, we have launched our ideas, believing that positive social change is necessary in our hurting world. It’s time now, as part of the Wren Project to make them happen.