Perhaps the secret of their success is their hardcore attitude. Leao tells me a number of times that reaching out to their neighbours is teaching them how to die to self, put others first and how it's “not all about me”.
But that Doug and Leao Tildsley are being used by God to transform their neighbourhood is undeniable. They have lived on their street for only three years, but in that time have helped forge an incredible sense of community in the area and have seen many come to faith in Jesus Christ.
The street garage sale
They have three boys aged 8, 6 and 5 and live opposite Starforth Reserve. “Our home just became an extension of the park, with kids spending time at our place”, laughs Leao. “We have tried to make the kids feel that this is a safe house for them and if they ever feel unsafe they are welcome to come to us. Only a handful of the homes around us are based on married, stable relationships.”
Once she has got to know the kids Leao introduces herself to the parents. She is bold enough to say 'Hey, my kids go to Sunday School, would yours like to go too?' The Tildsleys bought an 8-seater van to make that possible. “Most of the children I've taken along have become Christians – maybe 8 or 9. Somehow that doesn't seem so amazing to me, it's just life,” she muses.
Their boys go to Henderson Valley Primary, and Leao started a school 'walking bus' – a round trip of nearly 5 kilometres. “The Lord has opened up opportunities with parents and with the school. The hour and a half it takes is time I can spend with the parents I walk with. I was able to help one parent with her very defiant child and shared with her that she needed a heart-change that only comes from Jesus. She became a Christian!”
As good as all this is, they dream of much more. “We want to help build the Kingdom of God here. I don't just dream of us working together as a street, I want us to be the envy of other streets!” she laughs. And she has already done much to see this dream become a reality.
One Saturday they planned to have a garage sale, then thought 'Why not make it a street garage sale?' They put a pamphlet in letterboxes, announcing a community garage sale at the reserve. “People brought their stuff, and then we had a huge barbecue afterwards just so that we could get to know each other better.”
Artists Leao Tildsley and Anna Henry with their mural
The reserve didn't have any bollards restricting vehicle access, and inappropriate behaviour was taking place in cars parking in the bushes. Leao led the way in asking the council to put up bollards, which they did, making the reserve a much safer place for children.
Leao is hugely grateful for the support she has received over the few years she has lived in the area from the McLaren Park Henderson South Initiative. “I go to them with my ideas, and they go 'yeah, let's go with your idea'. I've gone to them and said 'hey, there are lots of solo mums around here, can I have a picnic to get to know them? And they have given her the opportunity to supply everything including the food to help her engage with them.”
Leao is an artist, and most recently she got funding from the Initiative to do a mural on either side of a wall in Starforth Reserve, which took all summer to paint. On the one side is a grapevine, with clusters of grapes. The mural facing the skateboard park is 'funkier'.
The Tildsleys attend Peace Chapel in Henderson and they asked the church to come to the unveiling of the wall to get to know their neighbours, and for the pastor to pronounce a blessing and pray for the street. Leao spoke of the grapevine representing their community (which historically is a wine-growing region) and the children being the fruit of the community. She also spoke of the biblical significance of being part of the vine. “God was really glorified that day!” enthuses Leao.
Her next project is to start a community garden where the neighbours can all pitch in and learn to know each other, and also a neighbourhood homegroup.
“It's all about relationships”, says Leao. “It starts with a smile, then you talk about their kids or their dog. When I see someone new in the park I always head over to say hello. You have to be prepared to get involved in people's lives and let them get involved in yours. Who is God holding us accountable for if not our neighbours?”
The basketball side of the wall