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About Avec

Avec Archives
| Update to 2007 | Interviews 2011, 2015 and memoir

Purposes & Productions

About Avec

Avec Resources are of two quite different but complementary kinds: books and archives.

Avec Books

This website describes books and teach-yourself manuals which help clergy and laity:

Doing these things involves, in one way or another, the ability to do things with people as well as for them, to be non-directive and directive. All the books derive from direct personal experience of and research into all these activities through three major programmes:

From 1976-1994, through an extensive programme of courses and consultancy services, Avec helped thousands of clergy, religious and laity to analyse and reflect on their work, to design their own programmes and projects, to become more reflective and collaborative, to promote egalitarian participation, and to build reflective and collaborative churches and communities. Many people and various organisations have adopted what has become known as the avec approach and are active partners in promoting its use throughout the Church. Consequently, this approach is very much alive, even though Avec as an agency ceased to trade in 1994, due to financial and staffing difficulties.

The Avec Trustees, realising the vital importance of this approach and the experience gained through helping people of all denominations to examine, adopt and practise it, charged the founder directors, the Revd Dr George Lovell and Miss Catherine Widdicombe, to “harvest the work of Avec and to make its intellectual assets more readily accessible”. Tackling that commission seriously has taken ten years of research, writing, and organizing the Avec documents. Seven new books have been published. They, and the earlier books, are described in this booklet and are readily available from Avec Resources or direct from the publishers.

Avec Archives

In consultation with others, we became convinced that much could be gained if people had direct access to the valuable and unique material about church and community work locked away in the vast number of papers describing and analysing work situations, projects, cases and problems. This led to organizing the church and community development work archives at the Wesley and Methodist Studies Centre, Westminster College (now the Institute of Education, Oxford Brookes University), and to producing a comprehensive catalogue which is described in Avec Archives. The archives include papers from the Parchmore development programme, Project 70-75, Avec, subsequent work and the work of T.R. Batten. Much of this material is open to view, but some of the confidential material has been embargoed until 2020.

An open letter to friends of Avec about a second lap of Avec’s history, 1994-2007

From the Revd Dr George Lovell and Miss Catherine Widdicombe

March 2007

Avec’s story up to the point of ceasing to trade in 1994 is well documented. This letter sketches out what we have begun to see as our involvement in a second lap of its history in which we have been privileged to be engaged. Reassuringly we are now seeing the baton being taken on with some enthusiasm by others.

Continually we hear about various ways in which the approaches developed in and through Avec from 1976 to 1994 are being used and adapted in a range of socio-religious work and training contexts. Glimpses of such developments are deeply reassuring and heart warming. They justify the faith placed by so many of us in the non-directive approach to church and community development and the work of Avec. Quantifying or even surveying the impact of Avec and its approach is beyond us and is probably not possible. What we can do, however, is to give you some idea of the work that flows from Avec in which we ourselves have been engaged. Now seems to be the right time to do so because we have completed some projects and the responsibility for ongoing tasks has happily been handed over to other people.

After the closure of Avec in 1994 many of those who had been heavily engaged as “Associate Staff” made strenuous efforts to reinstate aspects of its programme and consultancy services and to organize themselves as “Avec Associates”. For a while some of us continued to be involved in running a few avec type courses but attempts to set up an organization ultimately proved impractical. However, “Avec Resources” a small Charitable Trust set up in association with the Grail maintains the Avec tradition. One of its functions is to make more generally available Avec books and papers, which it continues to do admirably. A generous and substantial bequest from Dr T R and Mrs M Batten and two other large private donations enabled it to make critical and strategic financial contributions not only to publishing, but also to work on the archives and the course on consultancy, both of which are described below. It also met the cost of publishing Avec: Agency and Approach, which George wrote in the aftermath of its closure.

Developments described below result from our continuing colleagueship (now almost forty-years old!) and continuing active and moral support from Molly and others. Some of the work we have done separately with mutual support and some together.

Forming and establishing the Avec Archives was joint work, which took a considerable slice of our time and energy over a period of several years and there is still more to do. Fortunately we were able to employ someone part-time to help us with this formidable archival task. A seventy-five-page book, Avec Archives Annotated Catalogue, which was widely circulated, describes what was involved in classifying the material and sorting out tricky matters related to confidentiality. This Catalogue and its supplement make the extensive collection of unique and valuable papers readily accessible for study and research. They are housed in the Wesley Centre Archives, Oxford Brookes University under the day-to-day care of the Archivist, Dr Peter Forsaith, who made invaluable contributions to establishing them and is now a member of the Trust. After long negotiations a legal agreement has been drawn up to cover this and other collections in the Archives. The Avec Resources Trust owns and oversees them.

The Archives contain papers written by all kinds of workers expressly to help them become more effective particularly in working collaboratively with people to promote development and the common good. They also contain working papers on the design and evaluation of in-service training courses, records of consultancy programmes, internal working papers and research papers and theses. Qualitatively this data is quite different from that obtained through surveys and observational research. By common consent, those acquainted with these papers and records consider they are of especial value as they contain unique information about and insights into the church of the period and attempts to participate, collaboratively and non-directively, in community development from religious bases. And they demonstrate the effective use of theological approaches combined with some from the social and behavioural sciences. This archival material could, therefore, be of interest to a wide range of practitioners and researchers interested, for instance, in such topics as: the history of the Church and the faith and work opportunities and problems of the period; the application and use of community development and non-directive approaches in and by various churches and socio-religious institutions; and the in-service training and support of people through work study courses; consultancy services and independent service agencies. An example of the use of the archives is to be found in a book mentioned later, Pioneers of Social Passion: London’s Cosmopolitan Methodism.

The Trust now has a group of four new of trustees under the chairmanship of Professor Christopher Rowland. George and John Budd have retired and Catherine is continuing for the time being particularly to liaise about the archives and our books. Exciting ideas for the development of the work of the Trust emerged spontaneously at their inaugural meeting last November. A major thrust will be to get essentials of the work of Avec better known in relevant educational and training circles and to get people studying and researching the archival material. For instance they plan to make it available for those pursuing a new Professional Doctorate in Practical Theology. Maintaining close links with the consultancy course mentioned below is a priority for them. To do these things, however, they will need to supplement the rather small financial resources.

Catherine continued to run some courses, to provide consultancy services and to do some project work until 2004 both at the Grail Centre and elsewhere in the U.K. and Ireland. This included work with religious, returned missionaries, diocesan teams, and Christian organizations. In 2003 she went to Nigeria to introduce community workers, who customarily worked and provided for people, to community development approaches. The response was enthusiastic and this was particularly gratifying because it was in Northern Nigeria that T.R.Batten whilst serving in the colonial educational services at the beginning of his career developed working principles that led naturally to his discovery of the non-directive approach.

Aware that most people would never attend a course Catherine was stimulated by what she had learnt to commit to paper the approaches and methods she had been using, in the hope that a wider clientele would be enabled to train themselves. The first book is a practical handbook about making meetings work, which is now in its second edition. The second is concerned with religious community life. Over a long period of time she has worked extensively with many kinds of women’s religious communities at all levels in this country and at international conferences of religious abroad. Drawing upon this experience she wrote a handbook to help religious themselves negotiate the transition from larger single vocational communities to smaller multi-vocational ones. The third, on which she is currently engaged in co-operation with Nigerian trainers in this country and in Nigeria, is a training manual for Nigerian community workers and trainers. She also continues to promote the sale of Avec literature, both by post and through displays at various conferences up and down the country.

Alongside this she has been deeply engaged in the life, work and development of the Grail, both the community in Pinner and the wider membership of the Grail Society. She served as President for three years, inaugurated and served on the Grail Development Group, stimulated the formation of Grail Young Adults, and was heavily involved in the two first ever conferences for members of all the various sections of members. She is an active Grail representative on the Pinner Association of Churches, which she chaired for a year. During that time she ran a conference to review the way local clergy and laity work together.

Since he retired as Director of Avec in 1991 (incredibly sixteen years ago!) George has been variously involved in short and long-term consultancy and project work, short courses, conferences and retreats. For six years he helped to inaugurate and run a post-graduate course in missiology. His contribution was on research praxis and development. Alongside this he has been involved for seven years in facilitating a “continuing Local Preachers’ Development Programme” in the Circuit in which he lives and preaches. This proved to be an interesting application of the avec approach to situational analysis and group and community development work. The next job is to write it up!

Most of his time, however, has been spent researching, developing, teaching and writing up what was learnt about analysing and designing church and community work and providing consultancy services. (Some overall findings about Avec’s contribution are summarized in an article in the Epworth Review, “Some Resources for Contemporary Ministry and Mission” October 2000.) With others he wrote up a popular account of his first serious attempt to practise the non-directive approach in Parchmore Methodist Church. A Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship and a research support group enabled him to examine, through in-depth interviews, eighteen people’s experiences of Avec courses and consultancy services. This was published in Telling Experiences and led him to focus on “work consultancy” whilst he was a part-time Senior Research Fellow at Westminster College Oxford (1994-1999). Having established the vital importance of this and the enormous need for it in churches and Christian organizations, his attention turned to the acute need for training consultants capable of working with people in these institutions. A postgraduate course in consultancy, ministry and mission was designed and inaugurated. This became a cooperative venture between three Methodist Colleges (Westminster, Cliff and UTU). For five years it ran as a University of Sheffield Diploma/MA course at Cliff College under George’s leadership. Now it is well established as a two-year part-time Diploma or Masters Degree at the York Institute for Community Theology under the gifted leadership of Dr Helen Cameron, another new Trustee. George is no longer involved in the delivery of the course. Over the years George wrote several distance-learning handbooks for these courses, three textbooks on analysis and design, consultancy praxis, and different modes and models of consultancy. A small library of resource papers has also been built up. Over the period 2000 to 2006, twenty-four people from six denominations have graduated; five were awarded Diplomas and nineteen MA’s. Currently four people are completing their dissertations and twelve people are on the new course with an intake for 2007-2008 lined up already.

A related development of considerable potential is that of co-consultancy groups for people in ministry. There are only a few of these but they have run successfully for several years. An example, which is still thriving, is described in “Take Three Presbyters…The Role of Co-Consultancy” in the Epworth Review, July 2000. This group has offered support to George from 1997.

Much of last year George, with Catherine’s help, spent sorting out T R Batten’s papers for the Avec Archives, researching the principles implicit in his early work in Africa, 1927-1943, linking them with his original concept of the non-directive approach to community development and examining critical responses to and problems of this approach. The findings are in an occasional paper for the Consultancy Course, a chapter in a book on education and community work to be published later this year, and an article on the life and work of T R Batten is eventually to go on a website, the encyclopaedia of informal education (www.infed.org).

As you would imagine, these developments, which happened in parallel, interacted creatively.

2006 was an unforgettable year for us because the work of Avec gained much attention and recognition. Brian Frost wrote a chapter on it in Pioneers of Social Passion: London’s Cosmopolitan Methodism. The Archbishop of Canterbury awarded Catherine the Cross of St Augustine and George a Lambeth DD for their work. Our indebtedness to those who nominated us is profound. In our wildest dreams we never expected such awards to come our way; our minds have always been entirely absorbed if not obsessed by the work. Whilst we feel unworthy, we are glad that the work of many people, and their faith in the enterprise, and the beliefs and concepts upon which it was based, has been officially recognized. It was not always so! Catherine has written up accounts of these occasions in the Grail magazine In Touch.

Doing all this has been an exciting and fulfilling but demanding way to spend the freedom we gained in our retirement from full-time appointments. It contributes to ‘harvesting the work of Avec and making its intellectual assets more readily accessible’ as the Avec Trustees commissioned us to do in 1991. Records of Avec’s rich heritage have been secured in the Archives for research. And there is now available training in non-directive work consultancy, which was at the heart of all that Avec did.

When Avec was being formed, Archbishop Derek Worlock said that the working partnership between us was a unique gift to the Church and that its potential should be developed not squandered. We are humbled and thankful to God and to so many whom, like you, have helped us to realize some of that potential for nearly forty years and to continue the work well into retirement.

Should you wish to have more information about any of these developments, do visit the website or get in touch with us.

It would be good to have other stories about the successful or not so successful use of the avec and/or allied approaches to church and community development in church and community work. If you have a story to tell please send it to one of us.

Yours sincerely,

George Lovell and Catherine Widdicombe


The Revd Dr George Lovell has reviewed his life and work in an interview in September 2011. Click here for a transcript.

Catherine Widdicombe has reviewed her life and work in an interview in June 2015, revised 2016. Click here for a transcript.

Memoir by the Revd Canon Dr Malcolm Grundy, Director of Avec 1991-4. Click here for a transcript