22 November 2023

Luton: Loving and serving the whole community

Majors Maxine and Ralph Walker

A photo shows the inside of Luton Corps, which is filled with boxes and bags of gifts for packing.

Majors Maxine and Ralph Walker share how the corps is getting things done.

Devotion in diversity

We are now in our ninth year as the corps officers at Luton. We’re a large, ethnically diverse corps with a substantial social programme, serving and supporting people from all backgrounds and beliefs with equal devotion and determination.

In addition to our YP and senior music sections we have a strong African community, who sing in Shona, and drama and timbrel groups for special occasions.

In a town bigger than some cities, with high levels of immigration, homelessness, addiction, unemployment and debt, where anything can become a currency, authorities look to us as the main community organisation offering assistance. We do all that we can with the wide knowledge and connections we have. It’s been a chapter of immense changes, challenges and opportunities to share the love of Christ with everyone around us.

A photo shows people standing on the platform with their hands clasped and their heads bowed in prayer.

Mission in motion

During the Covid-19 pandemic we maintained contact with all our church members, either by phone or by distanced visits. We held online Zoom parties for the children with the YP team, and party bags were delivered to homes in advance to keep in contact with all the family. Meanwhile, we made and delivered more than 16,000 food parcels, for which we were commended individually as officers and collectively on behalf of the corps for our services to the community.

We now average about 280 food parcels a week and issue kettle-packs to those in temporary accommodation with no kitchen facilities. We provide a toiletry bank, sanitary bank, baby bank, clothing bank, food bank, debt advice centre and school holiday clubs with hot meals.

Around a year ago we started ‘eat and play’ toddler sessions after we found that a number of families who were new to the country were coming to the food bank but leaving behind items they were unfamiliar with. After an hour of play, we all sit down and eat a vegetarian meal produced using two or three things that are typically found in a UK food parcel. It’s proved very popular, not only to ‘eat and play’ but also as an opportunity to develop their English language skills.

The mission of the corps is to be there for people, and we are known as a safe zone and a warm zone. We open our Welcome Inn café twice a week to talk to people who are lonely or struggling, and run a fortnightly Cameo club. Our annual Christmas Present Appeal sees more than 1,500 toy parcels distributed to children most in need, who would not otherwise receive any gifts. It’s a mammoth operation that starts in the middle of October and finishes in the third week of December.

A photo shows Luton band playing music on the street.

Valuing our volunteers

We want to especially recognise our amazing volunteers and thank them for all that they do. Because of the vulnerability of our clients and the people in our community, we have incredibly high standards of safeguarding at the corps, and everyone is committed to providing a top-quality service in all that we do. We have an amazing Sunday school team, and one reason why we are blessed with so many children is because they all work so hard.

Inter-faith and inter-agency

Major Ralph sits on Luton Council of Faiths, which holds meetings with a wide range of religious leaders to work through inter-faith issues and provide statements on inter-faith matters. Collaborative working is essential to Luton’s mission and upholding the Army’s mission priorities, particularly serving others without discrimination.

We are known as the people who say ‘yes’ when offered things, as we know we will come across somebody who needs it sooner or later. We work closely with schools and other agencies to meet all sorts of needs. If you want it, we can try and get it. We’re known for getting it done and this has spread by word of mouth, which keeps us perpetually beyond busy!

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