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James Henderson, the Development Coordinator for the Your Local Pantry network, celebrated our 40th anniversary at a Pantry on 6 July.

Birmingham Yardley Wood Pantry was set up in November 2019 but this was my first visit. The Pantry is located in Yardley Wood Baptist Church and was set up in partnership with Your Local Pantry – a key strand of Church Action on Poverty’s work to uphold dignity, agency and power for all.

As with all of the Pantries that I have visited so far, I was really impressed with the kindness of the volunteers, their dedication to the members and the fun and banter that was happening throughout the session.

Each member was greeted with a warm smile and offered a drink and some cake. Members gathered around neat tables to chat to each other and to the volunteers, offering mutual support and a listening ear to each other. There was even a member of staff from a local advice agency, making it really easy for members to ask about help with rising energy costs and some issues they were having with their benefits. Children quietly played in the corner with some toys and a volunteer, as their parents browsed the shelves in peace.

Sandra and Mark cutting the cake

The shelves of the Pantry were well stocked, with volunteers on hand to chat to members as they shopped. This level of choice was very important to members, helping them save money and help to prevent food waste.

The shelves of the Pantry were well stocked

Being part of a network really helps with sharing wisdom and expertise. As well as the local partnerships that Yardley Wood Pantry have built and invested in, their membership of the Your Local Pantry network means that they can share learning with another 70+ pantries across the UK and participate in joint training. This is especially important, as access to food supply gets more difficult and costs rise.

My visit ended on a sugar high, as I got to sample the brilliant and tasty chocolate cake baked by Donna, one of the pantry volunteers. A huge thanks to all the members and volunteers who helped us celebrate!

Pantry volunteer Donna baked us a birthday cake

Be part of a movement that’s reclaiming dignity, agency and power

We & 55 others say: bridge the gap

What I found when I visited one of Birmingham’s Local Pantries

Stop press! A big step towards better media reporting of poverty

Stef: What dignity, agency & power mean to me

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Baking, walking, listening, giving – how you’re all marking our 40th

Aerial view of Houses of Parliament

The ongoing work to improve the way poverty is reported in the UK media is ready to take a big step forward – and you can help.

An Early Day Motion has been tabled in Parliament, condemning the use of derogatory language which can lead to negative stigmatising.

Aerial view of Houses of Parliament

This is a really positive progression for the Reporting Poverty work that we and others have been involved in in recent years. 

It immediately puts this issue directly before MPs for them to consider directly, it highlights the concerns and reservations of people in poverty, and it calls for a united cross-party response.

To maximise the impact of this, we need your help. Please ask your MP to read and sign Early Day Motion 284.

It has been tabled by Ian Byrne MP, and reads:

That this House recognises the importance of journalism in reporting poverty in the UK; condemns any use of derogatory language which can lead to negative stigmatising; notes that this issue is of ever-increasing importance as the working class face a cost of living crisis and the Government’s Fighting Fraud in the Welfare System plan; further notes that the public increasingly reject the toxicity of discourse and debate in the UK; believes that a common, cross-party commitment to challenging discriminatory language will send a powerful, positive message at a time when it is needed; and calls for collaboration with trade unions and anti-poverty organisations, including the NUJ, BAFWU, and the Right to Food campaign, to challenge discourse and to promote awareness and the rejection of negative media messages about people experiencing poverty.

Why does this matter?

This matters because every one of us is influenced by the stories we hear, and affected by the language around us. Our views on any issue are affected by how stories are presented – by what we are told and shown, and by what is left out. So when complex social issues are misreported, or reported in an aggressive manner, it can really skew the public’s understanding.

For too long, the dominant stories told in the UK about poverty were deeply skewed and misleading. Stigmatising language was used to denigrate people, and to excuse unjust systems and policies.

That made a great many of us uncomfortable, and that’s why for the past six years, many of us have been working together to look at the way poverty is reported in the media, to challenge hostile language.

Church Action on Poverty, the National Union of Journalists, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ATD Fourth World, people in poverty with experience of media interviews, and journalists already leading by example have all worked together on this, producing media guidelines for journalists.

The EDM is a next step, to further raise awareness of the issue and to encourage people in power to be aware of the effect hostile language can have. 

Progress has been made - but this is a crucial time

Rachel Broady, who has led the work at the NUJ, says:

“At the NUJ delegates’ meeting last year, it was agreed that we would try to get an EDM tabled, so I started looking into it. Ian Byrne has been supportive of Fans Supporting Foodbanks and the Right to Food campaign, so I sent him the guidelines that we had all worked on and he thought it was a really good campaign and said he was happy to table the EDM.

“It has to be a cross-party approach, as it’s something that everyone can get behind.

“It would be really helpful if Church Action on Poverty supporters and others can ask their own MP to sign the motion, and explain why it’s important to them as a constituent. We would really like a debate to take place in the House about the reporting of poverty.

“In a lot of ways, the language and reporting has improved in the past few years. The real rise in stigmatising language came about from 2010, to support policies being introduced at the time.

“There has not been the same extent of hostile language in recent years, and issues like the pandemic and the cost of living crisis mean more people have an idea now of how it feels to be in poverty and unable to afford essentials. But the new Fighting Fraud in the Welfare System programme means there is a real risk of that derogatory language coming back, so this is an important time to put the EDM on the table.”

What you can do:

Please contact your own MP and ask them to sign Early Day Motion 284, and tell them why this issue matters to you. If you receive a reply, and are happy to share it, please email us. You can find your MP and their contact details here, and the Early Day Motion is on the link below.

More on our Reporting Poverty work

Be part of a movement that’s reclaiming dignity, agency and power

We & 55 others say: bridge the gap

What I found when I visited one of Birmingham’s Local Pantries

Stop press! A big step towards better media reporting of poverty

Stef: What dignity, agency & power mean to me

A call to UK churches: forge new partnerships and make change happen

Baking, walking, listening, giving – how you’re all marking our 40th

A radical idea that mobilised the UK’s churches

‘To restore one’s soul’

When people-power won the day against loan sharks

Dignity, Agency, Power – new anthology launched today

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Stef Benstead

Throughout 2022, the Dignity, Agency, Power calendar is telling stories of people who bring those values to life. July’s page features STEF BENSTEAD.

Stef Benstead

In 2019, Stef wrote Second Class Citizens, looking at the shameful way the UK state has treated disabled people, and she has also taken part in Manchester Poverty Truth Commission.

At the recent launch of the Dignity, Agency, Power anthology, Stef told Church Action on Poverty supporters about her work:

Why I wrote Second Class Citizens

“Quite often a lot of the policies and decisions being made are made by people who don’t really have enough information – people who have expertise as professionals but not by experience. They’re often not listening to people with expertise by experience, and the result is a lot of policies are harmful rather than helping.

“The reason I ended up writing Second Class Citizens was that I had a background in disability through my own illness and had gone into research. It was very clear that the Government was causing a lot of harm, but I had a lot of friends from a more conservative evangelical Christian background. A lot of friends talked about poverty and sounded like they cared but they felt welfare reform act was good, and I was sitting there saying no, it’s not, it’s awful!”

Stef cites the example of Universal Credit, where some of the founding principle and ideas were good, but where many problems ensued because policy makers didn’t think about how much people really needed to live on, the effect of switching to monthly payments, the impact on couples being paid jointly, and many other practical scenarios.

My experience of Manchester Poverty Truth Commission

“The Poverty Truth Commission takes a similar approach on a more local level. What a lot of professionals don’t realise until they get into a commission is just how harmful some of their policies are. 

“In the commission, you come together and have repeated conversations, to the point where you have relationships, and it’s really interesting.

“Within organisations, a lot of people really care and want to do right, so they’re really distressed when they hear they’re doing wrong – but they’re willing to change. You need people with experience in the room making decisions, because that’s the only way you get good policy.”

Stef: What dignity means to me

“Dignity is about having enough to live off – so you’re not scrambling for money, constantly wondering whether you can afford to have the heating on, the light on, to eat this food or not.

“It’s also a bit more than that – it’s having enough to participate in society, it’s about being able to have a friend come over and not feel ashamed that your house is cold, or having no milk to offer a cup of tea, or if you have children being able to buy them the latest thing and for them not to be excluded but to enjoy the same things their peers have. 

“It’s being able to help friends and neighbours and have a reciprocity, so at least some of the time you have something to give to someone else. Also it’s about having long term security, and knowing you’ll be okay if something goes wrong. Dignity is partly about having that confidence to look to the future and say actually there are systems that will help me stay on my feet is something goes wrong.”

Stef: What agency means to me

“Agency is that control you have over your life, to be able to direct where it goes and to make choices, so if you apply for a job you’re not just stuck taking the first job no matter how awful it is. Or it’s being able to pick the subjects you do at school, or what school you go to – being able to control where your life goes. 

“What a lot of people face is not having that agency. If you’re on unemployment benefits, you’re always being told how many hours you have to do, what jobs to apply for. There’s no trust on you to make your own life better.”

Stef: What power means to me

“Power, I think, is about having an impact on the world around you. Agency is partly about having impact on your own life, but power is going: ‘actually I can make changes in society as well’. 

“Maybe that means being a governor of a local primary school, it might be in a residents’ association, it might mean being part of political or religious association, or maybe it’s just knowing I’m someone who, if you go to police or social care and say there’s an issue, they’ll take me seriously and involve me in the decision making process.

“We tend to have professionals who make decisions, then people who are affected, and there’s a lack of power. In general, the more money you have the more power you have and that doesn’t generally lead to a country that works for everybody.”

Stef: My hopes are for the Dignity, Agency, Power anthology

“Because I’m from evangelical background, I want to see church groupings reading this, and I would like to see Christians take seriously the command of God that we all pursue justice for the poor and oppressed and to have their hearts moved by the stories.”

Be part of a movement that’s reclaiming dignity, agency and power

We & 55 others say: bridge the gap

What I found when I visited one of Birmingham’s Local Pantries

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Stef: What dignity, agency & power mean to me

A call to UK churches: forge new partnerships and make change happen

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A radical idea that mobilised the UK’s churches

‘To restore one’s soul’

When people-power won the day against loan sharks

Dignity, Agency, Power – new anthology launched today

News of an exciting new partnership... and a call for churches to re-immerse themselves in their community relationships.

Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.

That quote by American author and activist Helen Keller is a timeless and vital message to anyone who wants to make change happen. None of us can achieve much by acting alone. But when we unite, the opportunities are huge.

As Church Action on Poverty this week turns 40, we look ahead with optimism. Not because of what we do ourselves, as one charity, but because of the larger, inspiring, tenacious and thriving movement that we are one part of, and the partnerships we cherish. 

A new partnership with Co-op

This week, we are particularly delighted to announce that we have signed a new national partnership agreement with Co-op, to help strengthen the voice and power of people in poverty. 

The Co-op will support a new Speaking Truth To Power programme and the growth and development of the Your Local Pantry network, enabling people on low incomes to start redressing Britain’s power imbalance and to have a greater impact over the decisions and systems that affect their lives.

A growing movement for change

We know that across the UK, there is a vast movement of wonderful people, proactive neighbourhoods, community organisations, residents’ associations, faith groups, charities, activists, campaigners and many others, working to improve everyday life. And it’s when we do so together, in partnership with people in poverty and across organisations, that we see the most remarkable results.

That’s why Church Action on Poverty’s task for the coming years is to focus on working with a wide array of partners to promote initiatives in which local people and communities struggling against poverty can come together, and take collective action to reclaim their own dignity, agency and power. In this way, we can together mitigate the impact of a further economic squeeze but also build a movement against poverty.

Some of our new partners will be very localised and relatively small: individual church congregations, or neighbourhood community groups. Others, like the Coop, are much larger. All can make a difference, and if you want your group or church to start having more impact, then start by looking at who you can partner with. 

Partnerships in practice

Here are some of the partnerships that we are going to be part of in the year ahead:

1: Poverty Truth Commissions

Poverty Truth Commissions bring together people with direct experience of poverty in a town or city, and decision-makers whose professional position enables them to quickly effect change. Everyone works together as equals over 18 months or so, to identify local solutions that will make a real difference. 

No individual commissioner could make informed and effective change happen on their own. But by working together, and focusing on what they can change, commissions can make a difference.

We are now working in partnership with the Poverty Truth Network, to help to set up more commissions around the country.

2: Speaking Truth To Power

Church Action on Poverty has a long history of supporting people whose voices had previously been drowned out, to ensure people with personal experience of poverty are heard by people in power.

We have now teamed up with local partners in Liverpool and London and with the Coop and Joseph Rowntree Foundation nationally, to develop a new programme launching this summer. This will support a new generation of activists, including people personally struggling against poverty, to further develop their skills and confidence to speak their own truths to power.

Being heard is not in itself enough, however. We want the truths people speak to have an impact, and to help change the broken systems that hold people back. We want people to be heard and their messages heeded. In partnership with other organisations, including media partners, we will work to truly engage people in power in meaningful discussions about how we can work together to solve poverty.

3: Your Local Pantry

The Your Local Pantry network was launched in 2014, and has grown especially quickly in the past two years. Today, there are 75 pantries nationwide, supporting more than 60,000 people to build community and save on their essential outgoings. 

Pantries soften the blow of high living costs, and create the conditions for communities to grow and thrive, by bringing people together around food. Members pay a small amount each week, and choose groceries worth many times more.

Each of those 75 Pantries is a partnership. Church Action on Poverty provides logistical support and national oversight and coordination, but it is the local partnership that makes each Pantry thrive.  Pantries are all about dignity, choice and hope. Each one operates as a member-led neighbourhood hub and a springboard to other community initiatives, opportunities and ideas. As we all continue to press for lasting change, pantries are an immediate positive step.

4: Self-Reliant Groups

Self Reliant Group

Self-Reliant Groups are small groups of people who meet save together, and use their savings together in a joint venture. Many involve craft-making, or cookery, and they bring dignity and power back to people who have often been sidelined by the mainstream economy. Around 80% of the members are women.

Church Action on Poverty works in partnership with organisations in Scotland, Wales and North West England to help the network of SRGs to grow, and we are also now partnering with an organisation in Leeds, to spread the movement there as well.

5: Challenge Poverty Week

Attendees at the Greater Manchester Big Poverty Conversation

Challenge Poverty Week is a moment when all the myriad groups and partnerships in the movement to end UK poverty can come together. 

The week in October is a time for us to hear loudly and clearly the voices that are too often ignored. It’s a chance to show that it is possible to build a better, more compassionate society in which everyone can live life to the full. And it’s a chance to widen our perspective, and see the vast amount of inspiring hope-filled work that is going on across the movement.

Church Action on Poverty coordinates the week in England and Wales, working closely with local authorities, community groups, charities, and the Poverty Alliance in Scotland, where the idea had first begun,

The role of churches - locally and nationally

A silhouette shot of a church, with the setting sun visible through its steeple

Alongside all of these partnerships, Church Action on Poverty will continue to work with the churches, at local and national level. 

Churches are ideally placed to play a key role in improving UK society, but that requires selflessness and an institutional, theological and cultural shift away from models of rescue and ‘service provision’. Churches must avoid any temptation to do things for people in poverty, and instead do things with people in poverty. 

Churches nationally will also need to invest in models of mission, leadership and discipleship which affirm the importance of social engagement and transformation (the missionary goal of transforming the unjust structures of society). Through our existing church partnerships and Church on the Margins programme, Church Action on Poverty can play a modest role in advocating for these new ways of working, and in challenging the institutional churches to invest accordingly.

Widening our lens, and self-reflection

Churches will also need to recognise the links between poverty and other social justice issues, including institutionalised prejudice on the basis of race, gender, disability and class. The churches and the anti-poverty sector (within which we include Church Action on Poverty) need to recognise and actively re-dress our own biases, and take seriously the challenge of intersectionality if we wish to be seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem in future.

Time for churches to take this opportunity

The past few years have been tumultuous for all of us, and in response many radical voices are calling for a new social revolution, rekindling democracy or a shift towards a wellbeing economy,  or circular economy. All of these ideas, in their different ways, rightly seek to place local people and communities at the centre of society.  

As we have also found, particularly since the start of the pandemic, local communities are huge reservoirs of ingenuity, mutual support and goodwill. Churches can be a central part of this, drawing on the radical visions and ideas across scripture and the anti-poverty movement to help improve their whole community. Those who take the leap will be amazed at what they can achieve in partnership.

Be part of a movement that’s reclaiming dignity, agency and power

We & 55 others say: bridge the gap

What I found when I visited one of Birmingham’s Local Pantries

Stop press! A big step towards better media reporting of poverty

Stef: What dignity, agency & power mean to me

A call to UK churches: forge new partnerships and make change happen

Baking, walking, listening, giving – how you’re all marking our 40th

A radical idea that mobilised the UK’s churches

‘To restore one’s soul’

When people-power won the day against loan sharks

Dignity, Agency, Power – new anthology launched today

How music is once more bringing people together in Sheffield

Church at the Edge: Young, woke and Christian

Vacancy: Events and Digital Communications Facilitator

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

Invisible Divides

The compassion in these neighbourhood pantries is fantastic!

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SPARK newsletter summer 2022

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What is the Right To Food?

Church Action on Poverty supporters and staff at Newquay Community Orchard

Hundreds of people have been getting involved to mark Church Action on Poverty’s 40th anniversary this year.

Many of you have donated to our appeal to support our community partners, have taken part in online events such as our quiz night earlier in the year, or have ordered copies of the new Dignity, Agency, Power anthology. Many of you have responded to our anniversary fundraising appeal. And on Wednesday, supporters in Birmingham baked this spectacular birthday cake, using ingredients available from a Your Local Pantry.

To everyone who has got involved: thank you!

A large rectangular cake, with "40 years of Church Action on Poverty" on the top.
“There are big powers, big ideas and big things to resist, but the ways to act on hope are local.”
Revd Kate Gray
Wythenshawe

Listening, reflecting and sharing

At the same time, many people have been taking part in events in local communities around the country, as part of our Pilgrimage On The Margins.

We all benefit when we take the time to slow down and truly listen to one another. Hearing fresh perspectives, particularly from people who have often been ignored, is vital.

That’s why this year, in ten places around the UK, people are journeying with marginalised people and communities, listening, reflecting and sharing dreams of change and transformation.

We are now nearing the half-way point. We have been to:

  • The Dandelion Community in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester
  • Peckham Pantry and the Pecan charity in London
  • Lewes in East Sussex
  • Newquay Community Orchard in Cornwall

What can we do together to build a better future?

Along the way, we have had some wonderful moments and conversations, as people have listened to and amplified the truths revealed by people and communities on the margins of British society.

People have been sharing their visions of the kind of future they want for themselves and their neighbourhoods, and describing the changes needed to help bring this about. Together, we have been exploring the question: “What can we do together to help bring these dreams into reality?”

Keeping hope local

At all the locations, people have written their hopes on paper leaves and hung them on trees, and laid down stones representing burdens. 

Below is  a short flavour of how it went at Wythenshawe. There, Revd Kate Gray, from the Dandelion Community, said: “There are big powers, big ideas and big things to resist, but the ways to act on hope are local.”

Bringing hope back into the food system

In Peckham and in Lewes, we went on Pilgrimage walks, exploring the local area and talking on the way. In Peckham, we visited three different churches in the community, meeting different people and reflecting on the stations of the cross, and also visited the Pantry, to learn how its members are strengthening community and bringing dignity and hope back into the food system.

In Lewes, we joined a meeting of the Emergency Food Network discussing many of the challenges food banks are facing, but also the enthusiasm the local community has to get involved. Here’s a quick video summary:

And in Cornwall, featured in this video below, people visited Newquay Community Orchard, which brings people together and is a hub for community, friendship, opportunities and access to good food.

The pilgrimage has rekindled memories of one of Church Action on Poverty’s biggest events, the 1999 Pilgrimage Against Poverty, which began on Iona. Over nine weeks, a group of six hardy Pilgrims walked 670 miles all the way to Westminster, sleeping on church hall floors and in people’s homes.  They were joined along the way by literally thousands of other pilgrims, walking anything from a mile to a week. This week, as you read this, we are back on Iona for the fifth leg of our 2022 Pilgrimage on the Margins events.

In the new Dignity, Agency, Power anthology, Val Simcock and Pat Devlin share their memories of the 1999 event. Val says: “I had no experience of anything like that before, and it was a magical time. We became a close-knit group, and I recall we always seemed to be walking in sunshine. It was a time of prayer and penance as well as pilgrimage. We started every day with prayer and ended every day with a time of reflection.”

A group of walkers depart from Iona Abbey on the 1999 Pilgrimage Against Poverty.
The beginning of the Pilgrimage Against Poverty in 1999. Pilgrims leave Iona Abbey, heading to Westminster. Photo by Brian Fair.

Pat also travelled several sections of the route, and at the end was part of the delegation that met with the then Chancellor the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, alongside people with personal experience of poverty.

She recalls: “It was the strongest experience of church I have ever had and I do not think I was alone in that. There was a real strong solidarity and camaraderie. It made me realise what it is to be part of the body of Christ – if one suffers, we all suffer.”

You can find out more about the Pilgrimage On The Margins series here.

Be part of a movement that’s reclaiming dignity, agency and power

We & 55 others say: bridge the gap

What I found when I visited one of Birmingham’s Local Pantries

Stop press! A big step towards better media reporting of poverty

Stef: What dignity, agency & power mean to me

A call to UK churches: forge new partnerships and make change happen

Baking, walking, listening, giving – how you’re all marking our 40th

A radical idea that mobilised the UK’s churches

‘To restore one’s soul’

When people-power won the day against loan sharks

Dignity, Agency, Power – new anthology launched today

How music is once more bringing people together in Sheffield

Church at the Edge: Young, woke and Christian

Vacancy: Events and Digital Communications Facilitator

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

A collage showing Church Action on Poverty's logo, a press cutting headed "Church clout, people power" and pilgrims leaving Iona Abbey in 1999

Challenging times call for radical action. So it is today, and so it was in the summer of 1982, when Church Action on Poverty was launched.

“Many people simply do not believe that poverty exists in this country,” Sister Mary McAleese from Liverpool announced at the inaugural public event.

“We are out to make them aware, and at the same time actually do something about the problem. It must concern everyone, regardless of politics.”

This drive to open people’s eyes and to bring about change remains central today to so much work in the anti-poverty movement.

A group of walkers depart from Iona Abbey on the 1999 Pilgrimage Against Poverty.
Pilgrims leave Iona Abbey in 1999, on the Pilgrimage Against Poverty. Hundreds of people joined the walk from Iona to Downing Street. Photo by Brian Fair for The Guardian, reproduced with permission.

A new approach: tackling the root causes, with people who know the issues first-hand

From the start, Church Action on Poverty’s approach was radical and bold. It was not enough to help people who had fallen into poverty, nor to just hope or pray for change.

We knew that as a society we should address poverty at its root, and we should do it in partnership with people who have direct experience of poverty, who can bring unmatched insight and wisdom.

"The church is sometimes present more as Church Action on Poverty than in other things. It’s a form of witness. I think the key transformation that Church Action on Poverty will help bring about is an understanding that change comes from people at community level."
John Battle
First convenor of Church Action on Poverty

A time to act, and a time to mobilise

What was going on in the UK in 1982? ET was the top-grossing film, and Eye of The Tiger, Come On Eileen and Happy Talk were among the Number 1 singles. Aston Villa were crowned European champions; the 20p coin entered circulation; the war in the Falklands dominated headlines; and a future king, Prince William, was born.

But around the UK it was a time of economic turbulence and political concern. The early 1980s had brought soaring living costs, economic strife, and an often-polarised politics. 

There was a growing feeling that the churches, and churchgoers, should be more active against poverty. Church Action on Poverty was born out of those conversations. It was launched on July 5th, 1982, and quickly embarked on a relentless drive to inspire and engage congregations all over the UK.

An article from the Liverpool Echo in 1982, reporting on the launch of Church Action on Poverty

Planting bulbs that would keep on growing

Much of the early work was driven by three Johns: Revd Canon John Atherton, whose theology underpinned much of the work; Revd John Austin, the first chair of trustees, and finally John Battle, who became Church Action on Poverty’s first convenor.

John Battle recalls….

“At first, people thought we were a service provider. We would sometimes get offers of blankets and things, and we had to explain that we were focused on the causes of poverty. That took some doing, shifting the focus from personal help to structural changes. In the church and wider society, that was quite a difficult job.

“Parish groups were key across the church, and much of my time was spent on buses and trains. We had a good reception and some lively meetings. I look back on it as a time of tremendous people of goodwill gathering together. It helped us build up a real base of evidence that became a testimony and approach: letting the poor speak for themselves.

“We were sowing handfuls of seeds the length and breadth of Britain and it developed into groups of people who were really committed and who would stay with the cause for a long time. It was like we had planted bulbs that would come into flower again and again year after year after year, rather than us having to keep replanting.

“Today it has made its mark and established a church presence. The church is sometimes present more as Church Action on Poverty than in other things. It’s a form of witness. I think the key transformation that Church Action on Poverty will help bring about is an understanding that change comes from people at community level.”

Committed and lasting relationships

Merseyside was an early focus for much of the work, and is again abuzz with inspiring activity today, home to a dozen Your Local Pantries, a new Speaking Truth To Power cohort, and the setting for the wonderful Made In Liverpool film below, which we helped to support.

Other early work was rooted in Greater Manchester, where we are still based, in Yorkshire, in Glasgow and in the North East, including at the Meadowell estate in North Shields, where we have retained close links ever since.

One of our earliest reports was Low Pay Is The Cause of Poverty, in 1984. This challenged the false notion that just having a job – any job – was enough of a route out of poverty, and became a helpful step towards the creation of a minimum wage in 1998.

It also cemented our approach of ensuring that people with experience of the issues should always have the space to speak for themselves, and to shape the solutions. In the 1980s, this was utterly radical, and it is heartening that it has today become much more widespread.

Landmark moments in the 1980s included the poverty declaration, Hearing The Cry of The Poor, and the myriad responses to the Faith In The City report by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas.

An invitation to the Hearing The Cry Of The Poor declaration in 1989
An invitation to the Hearing The Cry Of The Poor declaration in 1989
Church Action on Poverty was playing a growing role in these conversations. In the run-up to the 1992 General Election, we asked people from many backgrounds, organisations and churches to write letters, and produced a special Dear Prime Minister edition of the Poverty Network newsletter. We then helped organise the National Poverty Hearings, which challenged much orthodox thinking about social justice and poverty, and introduced many people to a simple but radical concept: that people in poverty should lead the discussions about ending poverty. Wayne Green, one of the speakers at the national hearing, said at the event:
“What is poverty? Poverty is a battle of invisibility, a lack of resources, exclusion, powerlessness… being blamed for society’s problems”
Wayne Green
National Poverty Hearings

Like others, Wayne remains a committed campaigner. He continues to speak out in his own community in southern England, and has this year joined Church Action on Poverty’s new Speaking Truth To Power programme, aiming to further amplify the voices of people on low incomes.

Hilary Russell, who joined the council of management in 1984, and also remains an active supporter today, recalls:

“We were making a lot of calls, and had to remember that we were being political but not party political. It was difficult at times to say anything as a Christian about political issues, because you would be accused of interfering in spheres that were not ours. I remember a Sunday Times headline that said: “Church should stick to saving our souls”.

Assorted press cuttings about Church Action on Poverty's work

“Trying to think theologically about social action, or taking action based on theology, was seen as something that individuals might have been doing, but not organisations. That was something new and significant.

“I remember leading up to the National Poverty Hearings, we were having lots of hearings in different places. Nowadays, we are used to hearing about ‘experts by experience’, but that was an unusual idea at the time.

“When we had the very big hearing at Church House, we had MPs, local authority people and heads of charities very clearly being the audience, and the people on the platform were speaking from direct experience of poverty – the real experts. That method was almost more significant at times than the message, in terms of influencing people. It was very significant and has continued as a theme of Church Action on Poverty’s work ever since.”

As the turn of the millennium approached, hundreds of people joined in Church Action on Poverty’s biggest single event: the Pilgrimage Against Poverty from the Scottish island of Iona to 10 Downing Street. In the new century, there were big campaigns around debt and loan sharks, led by tenacious activists in North Shields; around tax justice; a pioneering push for participatory budgeting; and early research into The Right To Food, which contributed to the continuing campaign today.

Photos from 4 past campaigns: the tax justice bus, an End Hunger UK event in Sheffield, a crowd supporting participatory budgeting, and campaigners with inflatable sharks calling for action on loan sharks
Four past campaigns. Clockwise from top-left: the tax justice bus, an End Hunger UK event in Sheffield, a crowd supporting participatory budgeting, and campaigners with inflatable sharks calling for action on loan sharks

The digital revolution and new technologies have changed the way supporters and activists can engage with one another, and helped to bring new issues into the spotlight. 

But our core principles remain steadfast: working together with people in poverty to build a better future, driven by people’s experiences and insights. That’s how we will build a society in which everyone can live a full life, free from poverty.

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