This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Bodmin Way, a social enterprise established in the town by the Reverend Paul Holley, Rector of the Bodmin Team Benefice, and formally registered with Companies House in July 2018.

“The model of a social enterprise was something that would bring a business discipline to what we had in mind,” Paul explains.

What they had in mind was an ambitious plan to help meet the needs of local people in areas where social services had fallen short.

“I felt the demands of the town and its deprivation warranted such an initiative,” says Paul.

His aspirations to develop a major social action project in Bodmin had arisen from work he’d seen and been involved in elsewhere.

Born in west London and raised in Hertfordshire and Hampshire, Paul was in his early twenties, and working as a financial advisor at the Bradford & Bingley Building Society when he’d first felt the call to ministry, although he’d been a Christian for as long as he could remember.

“My family has always been very full of faith,” he says.

Indeed, his grandfather has started a Sunday school on a west London council estate in the 1950s, and Paul recalls attending it himself as a child twenty years later.

He trained for ordination in Durham, served his curacy in Manchester and then spent five years as a vicar in Salford, where he started to develop the kind of initiatives which would come to inspire his work in Bodmin.

“Social action was always for me the big thing, and remains the big thing,” Paul says.

For more than a decade, he lived in Switzerland, where he worked first as chaplain to the English-speaking community, and then, following his involvement with the Anglican delegation to the United Nations, went on set up the Anglican Health Network.

He returned to the UK in 2014, and, after two years serving as a priest in the New Forest, came to settle in Bodmin seven years ago.

“In many ways I related to Bodmin because of my experiences in Salford and other places of deprivation,” he says. “I was ready for not so much a blank canvas but a canvas on which I could paint where such work could be valued.”

He stresses that his ministry in Bodmin has depended upon a strong team of people that he’s been able to pull together.

“I’ve benefited from adopting an oversight model in that I’ve been able to draw ministers both lay and ordained into the life of the church,” he says. “There’s a very good level of participation in all of our churches. We’ve hugely benefited from our self-supporting priests, Readers and other lay ministers.”

Half a dozen focal ministers have been commissioned by the Diocese of Truro in the last few years.

“We have a structure in which I don’t have to be everywhere all the time,” he says. “If you ask church members and church officers what my favourite word is, I think they’d say ‘participation’. I believe everyone’s got a part to play.”

That approach is reflected in his management of the Bodmin Way, which mobilizes a large team of staff and volunteers to support people across the town.

They’ve also attracted a group of directors who offer a strong and varied set of talents.

“We’ve been able to draw people from outside the life of the church, people with skills and experience who can look at things afresh, providing us with the right sort of challenge to make things work well,” Paul says.

The Bodmin Way team have established a broad range of initiatives. These include a Community Larder which, with around 400 members, has far exceeded its original targets, and is now the largest provider of low-cost food in the town.

They’ve set up popular weekly gatherings for the elderly and isolated, and provide home-based outreach services designed as a support network to address those people’s diverse needs.

On Friday mornings at St Petroc’s Parish Centre, their vicar and pioneer minister, the Reverend Elaine Munday, runs a lively community hub, offering local people advice, support, food, fellowship and a guaranteed warm welcome whatever the weather outside.

They work with local schools and support young people through a range of community activities. They also promote the town and its surrounding area to visitors through the ‘Bodmin Way’ walking route which leads tourists and pilgrims around its five churches and the neighbouring countryside.

In addition to all of this, they employ a parish nurse, the Reverend Geraldine Ashton, who works closely with the town’s medical practice to support the health and wellbeing of people in Bodmin.

Through his work with the Anglican Health Network, Paul had become a committed advocate of parish nursing.

“When I met Geraldine, she seemed the obvious person to do this,” Paul explains. “Parish nurses offer a broad holistic approach to health in the community. They can be so valuable, bringing support, encouragement and prayer to people who are struggling. With people like Geraldine and Elaine, we have avenues to help the most vulnerable.”

The town of Bodmin includes areas with some of the highest levels of social and economic deprivation in the country.

“A lot of people need ongoing support in order to flourish in their lives,” Paul says. “We want to provide multiple ways to help them to do so.”

The Bodmin Way team therefore work in close cooperation with other social support agencies in the town.

“But there’s still more demand than we can all fulfil,” says Paul. “So we’re ambitious about our role and how it can expand.”