‘God put us in the right place at the right time’

In June 2010, the country was shocked by news of a gunman on the rampage in Cumbria. Derrick Bird killed 12 people and injured many others before taking his own life. Lyn Edwards had recently moved to the area and has since played a key role in restoring hope to the shattered community of Seascale. She tells her story to Lucy Cooper

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.

Our drop-in centre 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 responded without panic. Over the coming days, we became a refuge for anyone needing a cup of tea, a hug, or to draw comfort from each other as they processed 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, I may not have had the courage to come. I was on holiday in the Lake District in 2005, when 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, dragging chains and 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.

I returned to Pembroke and announced I was moving to Seascale. My friends thought I was crazy, but I knew I had to make 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.

We moved in 2006 and then I became involved in the HOPE 2008 initiative. Some friends and I drove a ‘HOPE Mobile’ around the village. It was just a Citroen Picasso with a HOPE sticker in the window, but it enabled us to get to know the young people. With support from the village’s three churches, we gave out snacks and built relationships. We were dubbed ‘the three crazy ladies’, but the young people were happy to chat to us. They told us they had nowhere to go and nothing to do.

I had walked passed the shop I had seen in my dream every day and noticed that the landlord was doing it up. One morning, I took the courage to share my story and told him that 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 100 people giving £1 a week, he laughed, but he trusted me.

The next hurdle was getting permission from the local council to secure the building. But, at a parish council planning meeting, one after another of the young people stood up to say why they wanted somewhere to go and what a difference our HOPE team had already made. God does the impossible and Shackles Off began.

From the beginning, it became a safe place for the young people of the village. Some shared things they had never talked about before. We have had opportunities to help address drug and alcohol problems, bullying, grief, mental health issues, housing and educational needs, and family problems. And we’ve built 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, but first and foremost we simply give them acceptance and allow God to do the rest. Every young person has an amazing story.

I love helping young people find purpose, fulfilment and security and seeing them get free from the chains that stop them becoming whole. Shackles Off provides a space, support, training, advocacy and mentoring for 11 to 25-year-olds. Our young people produced an award-winning Young Person’s Guide to Health leaflet, which has been distributed to every hospital, school and youth centre in Cumbria. We have a youth committee who are involved in making decisions, helping to run the drop-in, raising funds and helping with community events such as the beach clean.

Over 40 youngsters 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.

After the shooting, the community gathered together to remember those who had lost their lives and the image of a simple cross, made from a pair of driftwood sticks, was flashed across the world’s media. It was just some driftwood we had gathered from the beach years earlier and bound together but, surrounded by flowers and messages, it became 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.

In the months that followed, we noticed that people were still avoiding the grass where the memorial service had been held and older adults weren’t sitting on the benches any more. 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 partnerships with the Red Cross and the Council, and it involved sports, laughter, craft, music, barbecue, first-aid training and children’s activities. The day was a chance to help people move on from the tragedy and to continue to support each other. And since then, there has been fun and relaxation on that ground again.

On the June anniversary last year, the village marked things simply with a two minute silence. About 100 people gathered on the green and churches were open for reflection too. Inspired by conversations with Christians in Dunblane, we also had candles in each window throughout the village. This demonstrated the resilience, courage and sensitivity of our community and that we will never forget, but now look to the future.

And the future is looking good for us. We now have a full-time youth worker working with us and continue to have support from the Seascale churches. Our new vision, Nite Watch, is based on the Street Pastors’ idea and will keep young people safer on the streets at night. This is a pilot scheme in partnership with Ascension Trust because we are a rural social project.

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. 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.

Our community has experienced tragedy, shock and grief, and many have asked: “Where is God?” But I have seen him present all along. As one friend commented: “Instead of having to respond to a disaster cold, God had built relationships and circumstances so that everything was set up for you.” I believe there is always hope, no matter what.