Lessons from HS2 for Online Community Building

Four years ago my life split apart at the seams, along with the lives of 200 other families on the estate that I lived.  Emotions ran high.   Anger and fear and sadness.  Some people hid in their homes.  Others sought out solace in those around them.  News crews swarmed and reported and blew out of proportion.  What would happen in the end?  Nobody really knew.  But I knew that if we were going to get through it, we had to pull together.

The news of HS2 coming through the estate where I lived happily brought so many similar things to what society as a whole is feeling today as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.  Yes it was on a much smaller scale, and the outcomes are very different.  No-one was going to die of HS2, and nobody was stock piling toilet paper!  But the feelings that it brought were very similar.

I decided that standing out on the street and crying wasn’t the most helpful of reactions, and instead set up a Residents Facebook Group.  We needed to be community, to strengthen each other, and the best way to do that when we had no community hall or space to gather was online.  Today we see many churches and organisations trying to figure out how to be community online.  And I wanted to share my wisdom and learning from what happened with us four years ago.

Not everyone will want to be involved

My heart for setting up a Residents Facebook Group was so that no-one would have to deal with that news on their own.  I imagined a utopia of support and encouragement, community events off the back of it with happy smiling faces, everyone patting me on the back and saying how great it was.  But that is not the reality.  Truthfully, not everyone will want to be involved in an online community, and THAT’S OK!! Maybe they already have their own support networks – leave them to do their own thing.  Maybe online isn’t for them – pop round and see them instead.  Maybe they just want to deal with it on their own – you can’t force them not to!  But providing an option for those who are feeling scared and vulnerable to connect with others in the same boat is a really valuable thing to do.  Don’t let those who don’t want to be involved stop you from doing it.

emotions will run high – don’t take it personally

In the first few weeks after the news had dropped on our estate, everyone was dealing with it differently.  My husband was calm as a cucumber.  I was crying at every little thing.  My next door neighbours were angry with the government and ready for a fight.  Emotions were right on the surface and people were all to ready to share them online.  Yet there weren’t so good at accepting others had different views to them.

I felt like, as the admin of the group, it was my job to calm everyone down and make it all better, BUT IT WASN’T!!!  We must not fall into the trap of feeling responsible for the wellbeing of those in our online community.  Let them process what is going on.  Let them share their fears and emotions.  Let the group as a whole minister to them.  And don’t take emotional outburst personally – you are just the person providing the forum for it.

aim to be a peacemaker Not a peacekeeper

Sometimes, as the admin of the group, you are going to have to make controversial and difficult decisions.  You won’t always be able to placate everyone and keep the peace.  Sometimes you will have to stand up and MAKE the peace (read my keeper vs maker post from 2016!).   Fight for what is right – freedom of speech but not those who abuse others from behind their keyboards.  Maybe sometimes you’ll have to offend or upset your friends or neighbours by doing that.  It is really really hard to be the keeper for an online community.  But try being a good role model, sharing positive and encouraging things, and praying for those in the group.

digital detox will be needed

Some nights I literally could not put my phone down.  There would be a constant stream of notifications and comments to vet on the the group.  It started to take over my life and head space.   And with so much of our lives likely to enter into an online space over the next few weeks you may just end up with square eyes!!!

So schedule in some digital detox time.  Put do not disturb hours on your phone so notifications don’t ping all night long.  Make it clear on your online group when you will or won’t reply to comments.  And then switch off.

A HS2 related update (March 2018)

I just want to say thank you so much to all my online friends who have sent me cards of encouragement, keep commenting to let me know they’re praying for me and just generally being interested in how we are doing.  I thought it best to write an update post on where we actually stand in regards to the train and our house (rather than just a emotional/spiritual post like my last few!).

So, we have now lived in Mexborough for coming up to 4 years.  It is 19 months since we received the letters to say that our homes would be needed to build the new high speed railway, and a lot and not a lot has happened in that time!  Nothing has changed in that the government has not changed their minds on this new route, and so in April last year me and my husband decided to file a blight notice and officially start the process of selling our house to the government.

The government gave no guidance, no step by step instructions, but luckily we have been guided by lots of other helpful neighbours who are going through the same process.  The first step was to have our blight accepted, which it was shortly after we submitted it.  We then had our house valued by our own independent surveyor, followed by a surveyor from HS2.  They both came up with their own idea of what the “market price” for our house was and then commenced war.  All of this was put on hold with parliament having a nice holiday over the summer, and so we recommenced negotiations in September.  At this point, we weren’t in a rush to move and so it wasn’t a big deal for us.  The values HS2’s surveyor was coming back with were atrocious and wouldn’t give us enough money to move anyway, so we were happy waiting.

After Christmas I felt this strong change and prompting from God to step out and actually start looking at some houses.  The offer from HS2 had increased and we could afford to move at a push.  So we stepped out in faith and did some house viewings, eventually agreeing on a house that ticked most of our boxes, in one of our preferred areas of Doncaster and hopefully would come in at a price we could afford.  After a week or so of haggling with the vendors we agreed a price and the wheels were in motion!

We were told by our surveyor then that it was likely our offer would go up, and so we waited until just into February before officially accepting HS2’s offer on our house, getting a little bit closer to its actual value by doing so.  Solicitors had now been instructed, surveys on the new house being done and it started to feel like things were looking up and moving forward!   A few weeks passed and we hadn’t heard from HS2’s solicitors.  What we hadn’t been told (yet another thing missing from the step by step instructions) was that we had to submit our claim form (a form detailing all of the costs that we would incur in moving home involuntarily) for the process to start legally.  So we rushed to get all our quotes (removals vans, solicitors costs, etc) to submit, which we did at the end of February.

Now the solicitors have been in touch and all the legal paperwork is being drawn up.  This is a good sign, and things are moving forward, but we are still unsure as to how long the next part of the process will take.  I would love to be in the new house by the 13th April, but in reality forms have to be signed off by the Department for Transport and a million other people in HS2/government to allow them to buy our house.  I had hoped this move wouldn’t be that stressful given that most of the costs were paid for, but actually we have had to shell out for a lot of things up front, getting the money back later down the line.  We are out thousands of pounds, sat waiting for who knows how long, but at least we are in the process.  Everything takes “up to 10 working days” and so you are never sure when it could actually happen.

So for those of you who have been praying for us – thank you so much.  Please can you continue to pray that we would trust in God’s timing for all of this, that forms would move smoothly and quickly between all the different parties involved, and that we would be able to move into our new home in April.

mum on a mission versus the train

UPDATE Nov 2017: Mum on a Mission VS The Train

mum on a mission versus the train

It has been a fair old time since I’ve written an update about how I am doing with the whole HS2 situation.   I thought perhaps I had better write something and share where we are at and how I am doing with it all.

The answer is quite simply, we’re still here!

Everyone told us it would be a long process selling our house to the government, and they were not wrong.  But unfortunately in our case, with all the complexities of us being on a new housing estate and so many of us doing this all at once, things are moving even slower.  We are waiting for HS2’s surveyors to give us a valuation on our house that will actually enable us to afford to move, and until we get that we aren’t going anywhere.

So even though we haven’t moved forward with that, it is still an emotional drain on us all.  Me especially.  I have found it very emotional with Sam starting school and settling in so well.  I am making friends with the mums there and wanting to get involved, but then part of me is always reminded that he might not be there next year.  It is so hard to build relationships not knowing if they’ll be destroyed if/when we move.

Physically it is having a toll on my health still.  Although I have tried to give it all over to God and not to worry, sometimes my anxiety kicks in and I end up suffering with headaches, tiredness, jaw ache and faintness.  Constantly carrying a question mark about your future around with you all the time is hard work!

Every time a new letter drops or progress is made  it all comes flooding back, and my poor husband gets the full force of emotional Rachel.  The verse that God has been giving me lately is this one:

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” Exodus 14:14

Spoken to the Israelite’s as they faced their first battle after leaving slavery in Egypt, Moses reminded everyone that it is the Lord’s battle and not theirs.  God reminded me of this too – that ultimately He can see the offer that we finally get given, He can see the house that we will move in to and His hand is over all that to bring about His purposes for our future.  The battle is already won.  I need only to be still.

A year of drought – reflections on the impact of HS2

Last week I sat and looked at the walls of my house.  I read, and re-read, the verse that I had put upon those walls when we moved in.  The phrase “It has no worries in a year of drought”  kept spinning round and round in my head.  “A year of drought“.  Was that was this was?  Some years you just keep plodding on, some are filled with happy and exciting news, and some are filled with drought.

Drought doesn’t have to just mean a lack of water, but I think it refers more to the challenges you face.  When there is no rain, it is soooo much harder to farm and produce crops.  It is not impossible, but it is blinking hard work.  And that is what this year has been like.  It has felt like hard work.  Emotionally stressful, tiring, draining and exhausting.  Just to keep going at day to day things has been tough.  It would have been easy to barricade myself in the home and become seriously depressed, and it breaks my heart to know that some people on my estate have been in that place.  But thankfully I was not one of them.  Why not?  Because of the river I am planted next to.

Before the words “HS2” ever crossed my lips, I had sunk my roots firmly into Christ Jesus.  I had studied his words and listened to his teachings.  I had put my faith in the one true God, and he has not let me down.  He has sustained me in this year of drought and kept me going.  He has given me a sanctuary of peace to hide in when needed, faith to step out and be bold when required and words of hope to show me the way out.  It is only because of him that I will “bear fruit” during this season.  By helping me not hide in depression, I have made new friends, invited people to alpha courses and been there to support others.

So today’s news that the consulation results have basically been ignored and the government is sticking with the decision to put HS2 through our estate has not shocked or angered me.  It has saddened me as I know the impact on others will be great.  It has saddened me that the man making that decision would not come out and face up to the consequences of it in person.  It has saddened me that my year of drought will continue a bit longer than a year (probably another year to go!).  But I am hopeful that God will bring us out into a year of amazing fruitfulness and into a new community that we can love and serve.

How to use your Fruit of the Spirit

another week of shock

This week I was dealt another shock announcement.  I drove home from nursery to more film cameras on my estate, voicemail messages from ITV and a confused look on my face.  Four hours later I had a hand delivered letter in my letterbox and a radio presenter on my doorstep.  HS2 had decided to try and bribe some good press out of us by offering us £30k to stay on a doomed estate.  An offer which would have to come off the price of our house if we did eventually have to sell to them.  So effectively a non-offer.  And it made me sooo angry.  But then I started to think, how would God want me to react?

using our fruit of the spirit

Over the last 8 months I have been studying the fruit of the spirit, one verse a week, through my mummy meditations method.  It has really deepened my understanding of what these gifts are,  why they are important, how we can develop them and that a lot of the time we can make a choice to grow in them or not.  This got me to thinking about whether I could use them in deciding how to react to this news.  We cannot control life and what happens to us, but we can definitely control how we react to it.  Our reactions, if guided by the Holy Spirit, can show a difference in us and point others to Jesus.

I sat down and worked through each fruit, carefully considering if my reaction to this news displayed that to others:

  • LOVE – Did my reaction show love to those on my estate and to those who don’t deserve it?
  • JOY – Did my reaction show that actually it doesn’t matter what happens here on earth as my treasure is in heaven?  Did my reaction show that my life is full of joy regardless of my circumstances?
  • PEACE – Did I react in an argumentative way or did I try to be a peace maker in my community?  Did my reaction show that my ultimate peace comes from God?
  • PATIENCE – Did I show patience with those delivering the news?  Did I rush to a conclusion or did I wait and gather all the information before reacting?
  • KINDNESS – Did my reaction show unusual kindness to those caught in the crossfire?  Did I not only seek to be kind to those affected, but also those delivering the news?
  • GOODNESS – Did I seek to keep my own morals and beliefs in the midst of this news? Did I act in a good way?
  • GENTLENESS – Did I sit and listen to how others felt and address their concerns with gentleness?  Did I accept that others might deal with it in a different way?  Were my words gentle when dealing with the media or news bearer?
  • FAITHFULNESS – Did I trust that no matter what the news was, my God is still there for me?  Did I cling to God in the midst of this news and show others that He is my rock?
  • SELF-CONTROL – Did I stop myself from reacting in an angry or bad way?  Did I control my emotions and instead listen to the facts?
how has this helped me?

Thinking through this list really helped me not to over-react or react in a way that I would regret, but to focus on God and how He is there for me whatever happens.  By doing this I was able to rise above the emotion of the day and choose to rest in the Spirit, something which I wasn’t able to do when I first heard news of HS2 coming through our estate.

I believe that God leads us to study things at exactly the right time, and I am so grateful for him drawing me into the Fruit of the Spirit.  Not only has is made me thirst for a closer relationship with him so that I can grow in them more and more, but it has shown me that they are deeper and more astounding that just the simple words we read.  It has also given me a practical framework to think through whenever I get news or changes to my life.  Thank you Lord.

pray more worry less

Pray More, Worry Less

Pray more, worry less” has kind of become my mantra recently.  Since the stress of HS2 news dropping on me last July, I have been slowly sinking in a sea of anxiety and stress.  I had been feeling overwhelmed to the point that is was physically affecting me.  I had constant headaches, normally dull enough to cope with, but more often than nope escalating as I felt the stresses of each day rising.  Normal painkillers had stopped working, and the doctors couldn’t find anything else wrong with me, so I deduced it must be stress.

I knew why.  I hadn’t been actually giving these worries to God.

pray more worry less

I knew the verses, and could tell you them before well meaning people quoted them at me if I mentioned my stress.  But it wasn’t until I actually accepted that I had a problem that I was able to start dealing with it.  When I went to Captivated Conference I decided enough was enough – I had to get over  this.  I bought a book dealing with anxiety and contentment and started reading.  I am still only a third of the way through, but one story in the first chapter hit me.

It was a story of a night when the author couldn’t sleep.  Something was worrying her.  She knew the verses too – pray about everything and give it over to God.  She prayed.  Got back into bed.  But it still kept bothering her.  I really identified with that.  I knew that there were times when I prayed out of habit but still kept hold of that worry, and so the thing she said next really hit me hard.

She said that she got up and prayed again.  And she repeated the process until she had actually given that worry to God.  That was when it hit me – I needed to keep persevering in prayer, to be praying until the anxiety went.  I had prayed but only briefly.

So now I am trying to pray until the feeling of uncertainty and anxiety leaves me.  I am trying to pray away the worry.  I am praying until I feel God lift the weight off me and take it into his burden.  And I do feel better.

I have had significantly less headaches since then (ask my husband if you don’t believe me!), although driving to unknown places often sets them off no matter how hard I pray!  I have had no more panic attacks or days of overwhelming anxiety.  I am now looking for physical reminders to do this and make it easier for me to remember to “pray more, worry less“.  I am thinking a notebook I can carry around with me might help, where I can write any and all prayers for any and all worries during the day.  We shall see!  Does anyone have any other ideas on how to deal with this?  Do share below….

(P.S  the artwork on this post is taken from an amazing notebook that I got sent by God at My House.  You can read my review of it here)

mum on a mission versus the train

Mum on a Mission VS the train – Acceptance

mum on a mission versus the train - acceptance

The final stage of grief is acceptance.  Acceptance that what has happened has actually happened and that you can move on with your life.  I am there.

Perhaps not 100%, but I have come to the point where I have stopped fighting the inevitable – HS2 is coming through my home whether I like it or not, and there is nothing that little old me can do to stop it.  The only thing that can change this (in my opinion – and I know others might disagree) is for the government to change its mind about the whole project or run out of funding.

So where does that leave me?

It leaves me sat here looking at solicitors, surveyors, compensation, blight notices and all this mumbo jumbo.  Luckily I have a husband with a law degree to help me out, but it is still mind boggling.  Three years ago I chose a place to settle with my family, and now I have to chose all over again.  I don’t know where we will end up.  I don’t know when in the next few years we will move.  But move we have to.

I am still loving this community, and everytime I see neighbours in the street and enjoy talking to them it is tinged with sadness.  I am still loving the home that we have made here and how we have decorated it to suit us.  But it is just bricks and mortar, and the words of a favourite song keep coming back to me lately:

“Where you go, I’ll go.  Where you stay, I’ll stay.  When you move, I’ll move.  I will follow.” (Chris Tomlin – I will follow)

I have always said that I will listen to God and go where he wants me to.  I followed him to Mexborough and rooted my family here, but now he is saying to get up and start looking for a new community to light up and a new home to build.  If the light stays in just one place, then how will the whole world see it?

Please pray for wisdom for me and my family as we step into this period of action and start to look for a new place to call home.  Thank you x

Inspirational Stories – what is yours?


So this week I was featured on Emma Reed’s “Inspirational Stories” series (you can read it here).  It was a real honour to be able to share a bit of my story with a new audience.  But it got me doubting as to whether I really am an inspirational person, or am I just something that has had something awful happen to them?

What makes someone inspirational?

In my opinion anyone can be inspirational if they give someone the confidence or encouragement to do something positive, or if they act to bring about a positive change in the world.  I can’t say for sure if I have encouraged others to do something positive, but I really hope that I have helped my local community connect and given them a marketplace to share opinions, events, ask questions and just get around each other.  Maybe some would say it is worse being able to do that, but I hope some would say that it has helped them through the past 6 months.

What I would really love to come out of my story being shared is that others have strength to stand up and actually do something in their community. It really is a simple as setting up a facebook group for your street and seeing what people want to do to grow community.  It really is as simple as being the person to say “Hey, why don’t we do a treasure hunt for the kids for christmas” or “does anyone need help with their gardening, I have a free hour”.  We all have the resources to be a positive influence in our communities, but a lot of the time we just can’t be bothered or are scared we’ll do it wrong.  Yes there might be backlash or negative comments, but just think about that one person you are helping and make that your goal.  Because every person matters.

what’s your story?

What is your inspirational story?  If you don’t think you have one, then why not step out and start being an inspiration today.  Don’t forget to hop over to Emma’s blog to read mine and many more inspirational stories today.

2016 – highlights and praise points

I was going to call this post “the good, the bad and the ugly” but after seeing a flashback to 2014 where I spoke about my praise points of the year I decided to ditch the negativity and chose to praise God for all that has happened this year.  Yes, 2016 has been a crazy year – Brexit, Trump, HS2.  But so much amazing has happened amidst that choas, so here are my highlights:

1. Celebrating 5 years at Teenage Cancer Trust – Not many people have the joy of saying that they love what they do or that they look forward to going to work, but I am one of those.  Ever since starting at Teenage Cancer Trust I have loved every second and grown and flourished.  I may have a had a few breaks for maternity leave, but this December marks my 5th anniversary of working for one of the best charities in the UK and for the best boss in the world. 
2.Many special birthdays – 2016 contained my Grandad’s 80th, Husband’s 30th and Dad’s 60th so its been a mega year for special birthdays!  All have been celebrated with joy and occasion, and I have loved being able to treat my husband to a few surprises. 
3. Reuben turning One – yes I survived a year of being a mum of two children!  Reuben is such a cutie and it was great to celebrate his first birthday this year.  We went out to a local farm for the day which both boys enjoyed.  Things are very different now to the first few months, and I am sure they are going to get even crazier when Reuben starts walking but bring it on!
4. Comelybank Community – 2016 did indeed bring the sucky sucky news of HS2 coming through my estate.  But instead of focusing on this, I am just so thankful for the new friends and community that has grown over the past 6 months.  I can truly say that I have some amazing neighbours and my christmas card list is three times as long this year because of it!
5. Grandparents moving closer – Both our parents were planning to move this time last year, and all the stress that comes with that.  Well I am well and truly praising God that both sets of grandparents are now in their new homes and closer to us.  This has been such a blessing when kids have been poorly, and hopefully will mean much more time with our families in 2017.
6. Spree weekend – Me and Rob had the privilege of being on Urban Saints Midlands and East Spree again this year and sowing into the lives of the service crew.  It is always refreshing to spend time with young people, and amazing when God uses us to speak into them as well (plus the joker of the day hat is always good fun!)
7. Family holidays – who doesn’t love a good holiday!  And this year was our first as a family of four.  We all survived a week in a tent at Withernsea and had lots of fun on the beach.  Looking forward to some nice time away next year too.
8. Rob finishing his masters – The biggest celebration of the year (in my opinion!) was my lovely husband completing his masters in theology.  He has studied so hard over the last 3 years and we are now praying into what his next steps are.  
9. Mummy Meditations starting and growing – after the guilt of not being good at daily devotions, this year I have enjoyed starting up my regular mummy meditations series on the blog to motivate myself to keep going it in and hopefully encourage other mums to do the same too.  It has been great to see this start to grow and blossom, and to welcome Naomi as a partner in this towards the end of the year.  Watch this space for even more developments in Mummy Meditations in 2017!


Mum on a Mission VS the train – UPDATE

So, that’s it.  The announcement has been made.  Chris Grayling’s preferred route for HS2 is the one that goes through my house and I can now officially apply for compensation and sell up to the government.  But I don’t feel any better.  Actually, the announcement made is not what I was expecting – its less clear and means another year of uncertainty for us all here on our estate.  They are still undecided about the Sheffield/South Yorkshire part of the route and will be doing lots of consulting on this with a firm decision to be made in 2017.  
This morning I have spoken to almost every news outlet on the planet and I am exhausted by it all – but I wanted people to see what the impact was on normal people like me – the stress, the uncertainty and the loss of community.
I was chatting to some people at church on Sunday about how this is all like grief, but also not.  People accept that you have to grieve when someone dies, but with news like this that you can’t control it is not accepted that you might feel the same way.  Why should you get as attached to a house and community as to a person?  I feel the same emotions but its not acceptable to others to feel this way because I should just move on – after all it is just a house.
But here are my five stages of grief over HS2:
  • denial – well this happened on the first day when I couldn’t really believe what the letter through my door had said – there must have been some mistake that this was happening to me.
  • anger – I know I have certainly felt this at various times!  Mostly angry that if this was ever a possibility that this estate shouldn’t have been allowed to be built.  Angry that we have no clear information.  Many others on the estate are really angry at Strata for not supporting us more and at HS2 employees for putting us in this situation. 
  • Bargaining – I guess this is probably what the campaigning has been all about for the last few months – trying to grasp at any straws that might change this outcome and make it different.  I think I have come to the end of this and entered the next phase
  • Depression – At the moment I feel completely hopeless with it all and resigned to the awful fact of having to move.  I am not excited by this and the thought makes me really depressed.  I am focusing on other things to try and get through this period.
  • Acceptance – I know the day will come and I look forward to being able to accept what has happened, apply for compensation and start planning a new life somewhere else.  But when there is still a small glimmer of hope that the consutation may change the outcome for us then I can’t get here.  


Sorry this has been a slightly depressing post – as usual I write how I am and how I am is slightly depressed today.  But I guess to finish on a positive – I still have the joy of the Lord in my heart, because I know that he will work this out to his glory – wherever we end up and whatever happens this has been an opportunity to get closer to God and closer to others on the estate and I will always love that.