Right place at the right time
Lyn Edwards obeyed clear promptings with courage, moving to coastal Cumbria to work with isolated young people. Her inspiring story, as told to Lucy Cooper, demonstrates that God placed her right there so that she could play a key part in restoring hope to the broken and grieving community of Seascale.
On June 2nd 2010 I received a call from a neighbourhood-watch co-ordinator warning that a gunman was heading into the heart of our village. My son and I rushed out onto the streets and the beach, which was busier than usual due to half-term, urging everyone to take cover. It was amazing how quickly people moved, without questions. There must have been something about that moment that made people realise it was true.
We suddenly became the base for emergency services and police investigations. One injured man received treatment inside, in front of our banner with the graffiti words “where is your safe place?” Everyone was in shock, but our young people did what was needed and served wholeheartedly without panic. Over the coming days our Drop-In became a refuge for anyone to have tea, talk, have a hug, or comfort each other, while processing the horrific events. God had put us in the right place at the right time - we just opened our doors.
If I had known the challenges that would arise, back in 2005, I may not have had the courage to come. While on holiday in the Lake District, I had three vivid dreams. In the first one of my youth group was singing the song ‘Shackles’, the second dream involved teenagers with heads bowed and dragging chains, with a voice asking ‘Who will tell them of a God that loves them and a Saviour who cares? Finally, I pictured young people chatting happily in a café with a Shackles Off sign above, next to a tunnel by the sea. I had no idea where this place was until the following Sunday when I visited Seascale and I saw the empty shop. On returning to Pembroke my friends thought me crazy when I announced we were moving.
All I knew was that I was making myself available. I was nearly 60 and a retired teacher, but you never really retire when you’re a Christian. God uses us till we have breathed our last breath and he takes us home.
My involvement in HOPE 2008 was detached youth work, driving a ‘HOPE Mobile’ around the village with two friends. It was just a Citroen Picasso with a HOPE sticker in the window, but it enabled us to get to know the young people. An embroidered HOPE banner was made too. With the support of the village’s three churches, we gave out snacks and built relationships. It didn’t take long for all to know who we were – dubbed ‘the three crazy ladies’. Young people said they had nowhere to go and nothing to do.
Another step along the road
One morning, that March, a landlord renovating his property thought I was mad when I took the courage to share my story and said I had seen his building as a café in my dream. He didn’t believe in God but said if someone had moved house because of his shop, he would take my interest seriously. When I said we would fund rent through a hundred people giving a £1 a week he laughed, but trusted me.
Setting up was not easy because locals expressed strong concerns, telling me I would never secure the premises. A Parish council planning meeting saw young people, one after another, step up and say why they wanted somewhere to go and what a difference our HOPE team had already made. God does the impossible - Shackles Off began.
A safe place
For many, Shackles Off is their ‘safe place’. Some are talking about things they have never told anyone in their life. One girl wrote a book called ‘Through young eyes’ which tells of her experience of June 2nd and demonstrates glimmers of good throughout. It helped her process her shock. We have opportunity to help address drug and alcohol problems, bullying, grief, mental health issues, housing and educational needs or family problems – you name it. We have strong links across the area which means if we can’t help we can find someone who can.
There is nothing we won’t do for our young people if they have a genuine need – we just give them acceptance first and foremost and allow God to do the rest. Every young person has an amazing story.
I love helping young people find purpose, fulfilment and security in a place where God’s love is felt and seeing them get free from chains that stop us becoming whole. Shackles-Off provides a space, support, training, advocacy and mentoring for 11-25 year olds. Our young people produced an award-wining ‘Young Persons Guide to Health’ leaflet and it was distributed to every, hospital, school and youth centre in Cumbria. We have a youth committee who have a voice and make decisions. They help run the Drop-In, raise funds and help with community events such as the beach clean.
Over forty drop by during Friday sessions and attend music and sports evenings at the Methodist Hall. X-treme is our fresh expression of church on a Sunday and the young people know that this is the one day we will explicitly talk about God. A prayer box is always on our counter for anyone to use.
The Seascale cross
This cross was flashed across the world’s media on June 6th, as our community stood together to remember. It was just a pair of old drift-wood sticks we had gathered from the beach, years earlier, and bound together. Surrounded by flowers and messages, it was the focal point of our grief and suffering, reminding me and many others of the cross on which Jesus died for the salvation of all.
Bringing joy back to the seaside
In the months that followed the shootings, we noticed that people were still avoiding the grass where the memorial service was held and older adults didn’t sit on the benches anymore. Our youth committee decided that they would reclaim the land and run an August fun day called Seascale Seaside Special. They did it all, building partnership with the Red Cross and the Council, and it involved sports, laughter, craft, music, BBQ, first aid training and children’s activities. The day was a chance to help people move on from the day of sadness and continue to support each other in grief. That was just one way that the community has been pulling together to grow stronger and closer. Since then there is fun and relaxation on that ground again.
On the anniversary the village marked things simply, which was a relief after the media had overwhelmed us the year before. There was a two minute silence and a hundred people gathered on the green, churches were open for reflection too. Through my conversations with Christians in Dunblane, we gained an effective idea to have candles in each window throughout the village. This demonstrated the resilience, courage and sensitivity of our community and that we will never forget but we now look to the future.
I have decided to live life one day at a time because we are never promised tomorrow and God only knows the new things He will bring. Great to have a full-time youth worker join the team recently and the continued support of Seascale churches. Our new vision, Nite Watch, is based on Street Pastors and will keep young people safer on the streets at night. This will be a pilot scheme in partnership with Ascension Trust because we are a rural social project. I encourage others to ask God directly for His vision for their life and community. My experience tells me that, even if it takes ages, God will speak - nothing is impossible.
I can’t help but agree with my friend: “Instead of having to respond to a disaster cold, God had built relationships and circumstances so that everything was set up for you.” Throughout tragedy, shock and grief, many have asked the question ‘where is God?’. All I can say in reply is that I have seen Him present all along. There is always hope, no matter what.