Newsletter 8th April 2018

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Important

Please note our newsletters will stop appearing as blog articles from May 2018.

All previous newsletters will be removed from the website at that time. They are available to the public as part of the launch of the new website to promote the work we do for good causes, our church and our community.

Removal of the newsletters will also help us to conform to the new General Data Protection Regulation coming in to effect on 25th May 2018.

If you wish to continue to view our newsletter and have not subscribed to our mailing list please sign up here.

Newsletter 1st April 2018

View it here! View it here!

Important

Please note our newsletters will stop appearing as blog articles from May 2018.

All previous newsletters will be removed from the website at that time. They are available to the public as part of the launch of the new website to promote the work we do for good causes, our church and our community.

Removal of the newsletters will also help us to conform to the new General Data Protection Regulation coming in to effect on 25th May 2018.

If you wish to continue to view our newsletter and have not subscribed to our mailing list please sign up here.

New Worship Community

Over the past eight months there has been a series of meetings, workshops and sessions to get to grips with the Parish’s aspiration for a new and additional form of worship. The aim is for one that will be attractive to a congregation new to St Thomas and, in particular, works well for young families. These discussions have embraced who we are aiming at, what elements we need to include, for example the welcome we give to each person, and, given we are all different, how do we make sure parts of the new service work for everyone i.e. a mix of different activities. All this discussion is now being moulded by the Vicar into a firm proposal to put before the PCC. The goal for the new worshipping experience is for it to be fun, flexible, and informal.

The proposal to the PCC will also clarify any accompanying changes to the existing Parish Eucharist service so that Sunday morning works well for everyone.

Put the 24th January in your diaries – this is the date of the next PCC meeting where the proposal will be debated and voted on. All are welcome.

If the PCC approves then we will all need to gear up to launch the new Worshipping Community in the next couple of months. Please think if you can help or support in any way. If so please talk to the Vicar or the Churchwardens.

And don’t forget to include this new venture in your prayers – it could be the start of something exciting!

A Supply of Faith?

Many, many churches operate in a similar way to St Thomas’ – a heavy reliance on volunteers to maintain the operation and fabric of the church. This includes tasks such as

  • Building and service preparation
  • Stock control
  • Marketing
  • Security
  • Financing
  • Fundraising
  • Cleaning
  • Meetings (including agenda and minute preparation)
  • General administration

And that’s a quite a short example list! But it does indicate the variation in activities and roles that happen behind the scenes. It’s no wonder parishes and churches look to outsource more and more of their maintenance and buying activities. A Google search reveals, on the first page alone six organisations offering one or more of the following facilities

  • Telephone and broadband
  • Lighting
  • Energy
  • Furniture
  • Insurance
  • IT hardware and software
  • Photocopiers
  • Fire safety
  • Boilers
  • Other office products and supplies

More and more companies are now doing this (indeed consumers, through national organisations and local councils are getting together for the best deal through their combined utilities purchasing power). Without collective purchasing schemes (note the difference between this and group buying), the volunteer aspect of churches (and some charities) means hours, sometimes days researching, contacting and employing (switching) suppliers to set up new contracts. Once in place there is always some form of administration whether that’s updating software, changing light bulbs, reading meters, restocking supplies, dealing with problems, paying invoices etc. Of course there can be downsides to collective purchasing which include some loss of control, the requirement to join on a specific date (which often means entering an interim, and usually more expensive arrangement until the next round of purchasing takes place) and the uncertainty of whether the group scheme is better value (taking in to account the costs which must be consumed by the group buying administrator).

The main point of my post is to share my experience of one business utilities provider and the no-brainer decision to switch to a collective purchasing scheme. If I were to go in to full detail the length of this post would be worthy of a small novel. Instead I will bullet point recommendations suppliers must concentrate on to retain customer loyalty (or indeed retain customers, full stop!)

In summary my remit, after taking over management of gas and electricity from a previous volunteer was to

  1. Work out why the church was receiving incorrect paper bills
  2. Establish why the address and contact across all four accounts (2 x gas, 2 x electricity) were different
  3. Establish a new, best value contract with a reputable and preferably single supplier
  4. Move to online account management

I almost, almost achieved all four objectives. I suspect some people, given this position and my dealings with the supplier would have given up far sooner but I am a firm believer in giving everyone more than two chances to prove that loyalty is extremely important to them.

Incorrect paper bills

After much investigation (much of it before I took up the mantle) it was established we had been “sharing” our gas supply with a St Thomas’ in Kent! Insistence with the supplier that we were in fact over 160 miles from Kent fell on deaf ears.

Recommendation – take back control of your software. Mr Lucas and Mr Walliams have a lot to answer for by making the phrase “computer says no” humorous and palatable..

Differing account addresses and contacts

You might think this falls in to the same category as above but differing addresses in this case meant different post codes for the same location. Contact names for some accounts were volunteers who had handed over their duties some considerable time ago. The supplier indicated the differences meant the accounts could not be grouped under one umbrella account. More on that later. But:

Recommendation – take back control of your software.

Establish a new contract

I said earlier I believe in giving the benefit of doubt. It turned out the current supplier, after a small amount of negotiation were also the best value. Am I gullible, have my head in the sand or just plain old trusting? You decide..

Move to online account management

It turns out moving from paper to online (and eventually paperless) billing with this supplier entails closing down the existing accounts and setting up brand new ones (possibly tied to the differing address and contact information previously mentioned). A scary prospect given the apparent insurmountable issues already encountered above! Three of the accounts went online without a hitch. The fourth did not. Duplicate billing, warnings and debt collection letters ensued. I made one firm but fair phone call, stood my ground (on behalf of St Thomas’) and waited for the supplier to admit the error, reset the billing and offer a big fat zero in way of compensation (should I have asked for some? My Christian instinct tells me to not ask for what is not rightly mine).

Recommendation – take back control of your software.

There’s a simple theme here. I do understand software (I code myself) so I know the solution is not as simple as the problem suggests. But that simple theme – the software controls the operator/agent/human (or whatever you wish to call us) – is prevalent in many computer systems and I’m certain you have all experienced this just as much as I have (or have I been extremely unlucky?)

Suppliers: in many cases putting the keyboard and mouse aside, listening to the customer, taking the concern away with you and passing it up the chain of command will earn you no end of brownie points, even if the computer does say no. And those brownie points may well turn in to loyalty points..

I appreciate there is an enormous amount of goodwill, empathy and support in everyone therefore I pray that this post inspires a sense of purpose so that suppliers invest in understanding how what their systems can and cannot do greatly affects how much faith their customers put in them.

Welcome!

Have you visited St Thomas’ lately? If you haven’t you’ll see we have:

  • New masonry – much needed repairs to external brickwork completed.
  • A new entrance ramp with ornate handrails on the south side of the church.
  • New internal automatic doors.
  • A new toilet inside the church – coming very soon – not all that exciting but very useful for families with small children, people with impairments or disabilities and indeed all our visitors.
  • A new floor in the church hall.
  • New walls (redecorated) in the church hall.
  • A new Director of Music – Mr James Lloyd Thomas.
  • A new(ish) Priest-in-Charge – Reverend Andrew Sillis.
  • A new Parish Administrator – Mrs Emma Leek.
  • A new email address.

And now we have a new website – fully responsive (adapts to the device you are viewing it on), modern and incorporating a number of features we hope you will find extremely useful and interesting:

  • A regular blog with articles about our services, recitals, missions, fundraising events, history – indeed any news we think you will find entertaining and informative. Let us know if you have a topic you would like us to cover – we’ll do our best to accommodate!
  • A full, comprehensive and searchable events calendar – see what’s on, regular community events and available slots for booking our rooms.
  • A subscription service to our newsletter containing even more information about your church and your local community. On signing up we’ll email our newsletter and keep you updated with events and activities.

Please add our website to your favourites and keep in touch – visit or contact us – we really have saved a seat for you!