Speaking Truth to Power is the theme for this year's Church Action on Poverty Sunday on 23 February.

As Gateshead are leading the way with the launch of their Poverty Truth Commission on 5 March, Church Action on Poverty North East’s event will take place at:

St Peter’s Church, Low Fell
3pm
Sunday 23 February

This will be an opportunity to hear more about the Gateshead Poverty Truth Commission, as well as the first-hand experience of other local initiatives like Bensham Food Cooperative and Joe’s Place.

It will also be a chance to catch up on Church Action on Poverty news and the latest campaign action.

We hope you will be able to join us, and ask you to promote the event as widely as possible. 

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

How do you run a food bank in a pandemic? Here are 6 steps we’ve taken

Talking global solidarity in Byker

Reporting poverty well: another step forward

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

Hannah Brock-Womack, facilitator of our Church on the Margins network in Sheffield, talks to network member Siggy Parratt-Halbert.

This blog post is mainly about not giving up.

Siggy doesn’t give up easily, it seems to me. She works where she lives in the village of Woodhouse, to the east of Sheffield, for Unlock Urban. Woodhouse is a place where everyone knows everyone. They’re justifiably proud of their long industrial history, including having one of the pits where the Bevin boys were trained. It’s just down the road from the Orgreave where the biggest confrontation of the ‘84-’85 miners’ strike happened.

Unlock aims to share the Bible with people who don’t usually read that much. It has a really laid back and non-intrusive way of working, giving people the chance to have conversations about faith, knowing that no one is going to try and convert them at the end of the conversation!

Siggy started off her work for Unlock spending several months talking to people at coffee mornings. It felt like slow work. In fact, the first two years of that job didn’t go that well. She felt like things weren’t moving in the right direction. When asked if she wanted to keep at it for another two years, she almost said no. When she agreed to keep going, she decided that it had to be be by doing something that she enjoyed, so that she could keep going, even if it was tough. And one of the things she enjoys is drawing.

 

Inspirational women

I first met Siggy when she came to our Church on the Margins reflection day here in Sheffield a few months ago. On that day, she wowed us with the cartoons she’d drawn, which are of modern-day women and a Bible character that they have something in common with. These aren’t pious women who no one can now relate to, they’re inspirational women who changed the world with their vision, like Rosa Parks and her scriptural counterpart Hannah (from the book of Samuel), or Radclyffe Hall, a lesbian and author who was ‘out’ long before it was safe to be, who’s a bit like the Witch of Endor (also from Samuel), another powerful woman who nailed her colours to the mast and was at risk of death for doing it.

Siggy’s drawings on show in her church in Woodhouse

This project was the thing that kept Siggy going, and got connections all around the community flourishing. She drew them at the coffee mornings and other community events, starting off with those from the book History of Britain in 21 Women. Then everyone got involved, suggesting different women she should include. The last picture was of Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor Who (from Sheffield) – because where do you go from there?!

In the end she drew 51 pairs of women – including lots from the Bible that many who’d been going to church their whole lives hadn’t heard of. The people at the coffee morning are different from the people attend the church on a Sunday morning, so it was a way of getting the whole community (not just church-goers) to pull together around a shared, creative project. But it was also a way of making scripture more accessible, and bringing the tales of these inspirational women into the modern day. It makes the Bible more relevant, in a way, said Siggy, because, really, the lives we’re living haven’t changed, in a lot of ways.

Bringing the community together

Around the UK today it can feel like people are living more insular lives, needing to concentrate on their families to survive difficult times. It’s hard to make a living in Woodhouse too, so Siggy was making links with the local shops, letting them know they’re supported.  There have been several community projects that involved local shop workers, including giving out postcards of the four days of Christ’s Passion that Siggy had drawn. These offered lots of opportunities for non-churchgoers to ask questions about Easter that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to ask before.  There were a lot of interesting conversations!

There’s also a homeless hostel in the village, which is quite a transient place to be. That means there are lots of young men passing through, with sometimes chaotic lives.  There’s a big disconnect between those who live in the village long-term and those who are there for a short time only at the hostel. The transient community often gets blamed for anything that goes wrong. Siggy wanted to encourage folk to reach out to each other but in reality, they were a bit too scared. One thing the project has done, though, is to encourage everyone who uses the church building to want to make contact with each other. That means two church communities that use the building, as well as the karate club, breastfeeding club, and the toddlers’ group and more.  She is confident that the men from the hostel will soon be included in this list. Baby steps!

As we’re both part of a Church Action on Poverty network, we talked about what being part of a church community means for people who are struggling to make ends meet. Siggy reckons that when people do go to churches that are working well, the thing they get out of it most is the family feel and the fellowship – you’re held. If anything goes wrong, or if you’ve got something to celebrate, there are people who are there for you. Knowing that other people have got your back is really valuable.

“It’s not about bums on seats, it’s about the kingdom”, Siggy said.

She hopes that churches can be seen as places where, when people have nothing, and don’t have the support mechanisms they need, they know that support is available. The faith side of things might come later.

Keep on going, even when it’s hard

The Bible Women cartoon project sounds like an incredible piece of work that really brought diverse people together. Right now it’s available to hire out, so you can bring it to your church if you’d like to!  Get in contact with Unlock.

When we met we talked a lot about perseverance, and what you need to keep going when you feel like you have a passion to do something but it’s not working out. The answer in the end turned out to be quite simply: do something that you enjoy and that makes you feel alive, so that even if it doesn’t have the impact you imagine, you are still being fed, and you are less likely to get despondent. It reminds me of the quote which is a bit of a cliché, but is nonetheless true:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
(Howard Thurman, African-American civil rights leader)

Siggy’s other advice to those who are struggling to keep going? Be creative. Find something that gets people involved and makes your community ‘bite’ and come together. Use your gift (everyone has one!), or find that someone in your community who has the gift that you need.

And also…

“If it took Moses 40 years in the desert and he still didn’t see the fruits of the seeds that he sowed, who was I to complain?!”

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

How do you run a food bank in a pandemic? Here are 6 steps we’ve taken

Talking global solidarity in Byker

Reporting poverty well: another step forward

Food banks can’t meet this demand. We urgently need a new plan

A video message from Nick in Sheffield

How 5 of our partners are maintaining community from a distance

How are you and your community responding to Coronavirus? Complete our survey and let us know

Staying connected on the fringes – can you share stories of your experiences?

Stay at home, stay connected

No one should go hungry because of Coronavirus. Call for urgent action!

Coronavirus food alert: Support our calls for Government action

Gateshead Poverty Truth Commission launch

Humanity, dignity, poverty

Church Action on Poverty’s approach to Coronavirus

Speaking Truth to Power in Gateshead

“I rang our food bank supplier but there was little they could do”

Food Power Toolkit

News release: Hundreds of community church leaders join call on UK Churches to speak truth to power

Speaking Truth to Power: North East event for Church Action on Poverty Sunday 2020

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

People in Smethwick will be able to save on their weekly shopping bills, thanks to a new project that officially opens today, 21 January.

Smethwick CAN has set up the Smethwick pantry, to be run and used by local people, at Smethwick Library.

The project is the latest in the growing Your Local Pantry network nationally, and the third in the Midlands.

Pantries are membership-based food clubs that enable people to access food at a small fraction of its usual supermarket price, improving household food security and freeing up more money for other essential household costs such as rent and utilities. The weekly fee at Smethwick is £4.00, for which members will be able to choose ten items, with a total value in excess of £20.

Membership opened in October and has already exceeded the initial target. Organisers hoped to have 100 members within six months but hit that in a week and are now nearing 150.

Christina Murray, the Food Hub Manager for Smethwick CAN, said: 

“Smethwick Pantry has been a great success, providing good quality food to local people struggling to make ends meet.

“This is the first Pantry in the country to be based in a library. This has been a great benefit to both the library and the pantry. Footfall into the library has increased and the location for the pantry is ideal as it is directly on the main high street with easy access to public transport.  We have formed an excellent working relationship with the library staff who have all been very supportive of the pantry.”

One of Smethwick Pantry’s customers, who visits every week, has said it is a real lifeline for her and her family. She enjoys visiting the pantry as the volunteers are friendly and make her feel welcome.  It’s nicer than visiting a food bank because she can choose the food herself and pay towards the cost rather than be given a hand out.

Pantries are sustainable, long-term, community-led solutions that can loosen the grip of food poverty in a particular neighbourhood. They can be part of a progressive journey to help people move beyond foodbank use, or can help reduce a family’s need for a foodbank.

They provide members with more choice over the food they get than is possible at food banks, and are controlled by the members, strengthening the community’s ability to prevent food poverty or to progress out of food crisis.

Pantries source their food from a variety of sources, such as supermarket surplus via food recycling charity Fareshare, and by developing relationships with local food businesses who offer surplus food, which helps to reduce food waste and puts savings in the hands of people who are struggling to cover their weekly outgoings, potentially creating a virtuous circle.

Stockport Homes and the charity Church Action on Poverty are supporting the roll-out of pantries across the UK, under the banner of Your Local Pantry, after initial projects in Stockport were shown to have brought social, financial and health benefits including reducing isolation, averting food poverty and improving local people’s mental health. An impact report last year found pantry members had saved £650 a year on average on their shopping bills, and that every £1 invested in pantries generated £6 in social value.

Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty, said: “We know the Pantry model brings many benefits to communities up and down the country, helping to loosen the grip of poverty. They nurture community, alleviate isolation and reduce people’s food bills, to ease the pressure. It’s fantastic to see the first library-based pantry opening, showing the diversity and flexibility of the project.”

Anybody interested in setting up a Your Local Pantry in their community is invited to email gillian@church-poverty.org.uk

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

How do you run a food bank in a pandemic? Here are 6 steps we’ve taken

Talking global solidarity in Byker

Reporting poverty well: another step forward

Food banks can’t meet this demand. We urgently need a new plan

A video message from Nick in Sheffield

How 5 of our partners are maintaining community from a distance

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

Click on the right to download the latest issue of SPARK, our newsletter for supporters of Church Action on Poverty.

Food Power Toolkit

SPARK newsletter winter 2020

Scripture from the Margins: Bible bookmark