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Rahela Khan and Jayne Gosnall hold a board with "Dignity means...." on it.

100 people from across the UK gathered in Leeds for the 2023 Dignity For All event.

It was a unique new gathering, bringing together a vast range of people, groups and organisations who want to see an end to poverty in the UK, and who want to find ways to rebuild the dignity of people and communities.

Dignity For All: what took place

The event included workshops, presentations, stalls, discussion groups, panels and lots of new introductions and conversations.

It’s impossible to capture everything, but these photos will give you an idea of what happened, and this blog aims also to give you a flavour of what was said – and some ideas for what to do next.

Dignity For All: in pictures

A church building full of people sitting round tables, at the Dignity For All conference in Leeds in June 2023
Rahela Khan and Jayne Gosnall hold a board with "Dignity means...." on it.
Lynn from All The Small Things CIC speaks at the Dignity For All conference in Leeds in June 2023
Rahela Khan (left) and Mary Passeri speak about dignity and food, at the Lynn from All The Small Things CIC speaks at the Dignity For All conference in Leeds in June 2023
Dylan Eastwood and Tracey Herrington on stage at the Dignity For All conference in Leeds in June 2023
Joanne Roy from Heaton Moor United Church, speaking at the Dignity For All conference in Leeds in June 2023

During the day, people were asked to write what dignity means to them. Some answers are shown below:

A collage of pictures of people holding A3 sheets of paper, saying what dignity means to them. Answers include respect, being listened to, having my voice heard and my opinions respected, choice and feeling valued for being yourself

Dignity For All: what people said

“Power isn’t just a noun. It’s something we can generate… and not in ways that are overtly angry, but in ways that seek to build a community, in ways that are less ‘them and us’, and more ‘us collectively’.”
Andrew Grinnell
Poverty Truth Network
“Poverty is not inevitable. It is man-made. We have the will to end it, we have the expertise – it’s a matter of political will.”
Wayne Green
Speaking Truth To Power panel
“We recognise that it’s our own experience and expertise that can influence change. We’ve got self-belief, but we need to ensure that self-belief stays, despite the difficulties we face on a daily basis. We know that things can change. We know that people will stay committed."
Tracey Herrington
Thrive Teesside
“Do not come into communities because you have money to spend and intend to ‘do this’. Instead, come and listen.”
Mary Brennan
Leeds Poverty Truth Commission
"Do not assume, because I am ‘the voice of lived experience’ that I do not also have a whole multitude of experiences.”
Brian Scott
Poverty Truth Scotland
“I think that services and systems need to be informed by lived experience of those of us who are on the receiving end of those, because the people developing them now have no clue – they’ve never had to receive a benefit, never had to use any of the services, and they’ve just shaped them as they think will work, without the thought to those people who are actually going to be using them.”
Tracy Knight
Speaking Truth To Power, and Expert Citizens

Dignity For All: who was there?

The conference was organised jointly by the APLE Collective, Church Action on Poverty, and the Joint Public Issues Team. 

People from a wide range of groups, churches and organisations, including Christians Against Poverty, the Poverty Truth NetworkSelf-Reliant Groups, the Trussell Trust and many more.

Dignity For All: what next?

One of the most pleasing outcomes on the day was the overwhelming consensus that this should not be a one-off event. 

Speaker after speaker spoke of the need to build on this moment, to harness our collective expertise, insight and desire, to press for a faster end to poverty in the UK.

Various ideas are being discussed already, and attention is already turning to Challenge Poverty Week in October, another great chance to raise our voices together.

You can find out more about how to get involved at the links below. 

Vacancy: Let’s End Poverty Facilitator

Parkas, walking boots, and action for change: Sheffield’s urban poverty pilgrimage

Dreamers Who Do: North East event for Church Action on Poverty Sunday 2024

Autumn Statement: Stef & Church Action on Poverty’s response

Act On Poverty – a Lent programme about tackling UK and global poverty

How 11 people spoke truth to power in Sussex

Obituary: Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ

Annual review 2022-23

Ashleigh: “I think we will become known for making a change”

North East churches & community gather to tackle poverty together

There’s huge public desire to end poverty – will politicians now act?

What is Let’s End Poverty – and how can you get involved?

Our partner APLE is looking for new trustees

Nottingham’s first Your Local Pantry opens

SPARK newsletter autumn 2023

Urban Poverty Pilgrimage: Towards a Theological Practice

Vacancy: Chair of Council of Management

MPs praise the Pantry approach – but they must do so much more

“We can make a change. That’s why we’re here.”

How YOUR church can build community & save people £21 a week

Annual review 2021-22

Speaking Truth to Power: A Reflection on the Dignity for All Conference 

Photos & quotes: the energy, hope & resolve of Dignity For All 2023

It’s like they’ve flown: the awesome power of craft & companionship

An Introduction to the Joint Public Issues Team

Addressing poverty with lived experience: the APLE Collective

Parkas, walking boots, and action for change: Sheffield’s urban poverty pilgrimage

Dreamers Who Do: North East event for Church Action on Poverty Sunday 2024

Church Action on Poverty's logo, beside a headshot of Stef Benstead

Autumn Statement: Stef & Church Action on Poverty’s response

Two women stitch a craft creation, one looking at her work, the other towards the camera

We hear of remarkable progress among a small group on Merseyside

We all need a fresh start sometimes. A new idea, or a new opportunity. New friendships perhaps or a new routine. Maybe just fresh impetus and new hope.

A group of women in Bootle, near Liverpool, have been enjoying all of that newness, and more, since becoming involved in the Self Reliant Group movement.

The women became involved only in late 2022, but are already reporting greater positivity, new friendships and new excitement about what lies ahead. 

The pictures in this blog show some of the creative group members at work in Bootle. Members say the Self-Reliant Group has helped them greatly.

How Self-Reliant Groups work

Self-Reliant Groups bring people together. Members support each other and meet regularly, share skills, learn together, and typically save small amounts together each week, to explore new ideas and opportunities. Groups are independent and make their own decisions, so don’t have to tick anyone else’s boxes.

Church Action on Poverty has supported the expansion of groups across North West England, and was introduced to the group in Bootle through local community project, St Leonard’s, which had set up a women’s space in a local shopping area.

Jo Seddon, who runs the group, says: “It feels like they’ve flown. I do think the sessions we had kick-started a different train of thought. There’s a new confidence, a new self-belief. People are saying ‘You know what?… we can do it!’”

Self-Reliant Groups: a journey in Bootle

St Leonard’s had set up a women’s space in a local shopping area, and people were introduced via other local projects or through word of mouth. Bootle is an area with many difficulties: a lack of job opportunities, severe under-investment, challenges around health and education, and significant poverty. But as everywhere, there is community pride, tenacity, and a determination to make things better.

Jo says: “We set up a craft hub and had a sewing tutor, and we ended up having a fabulous group of people who were interested. We were then introduced to Joyce and Felicity from Church Action on Poverty, and it has been amazing.

“It has been a small group (three women and one man) but we have had some really nice sessions, and it has opened up people’s thinking about what they are all capable of. It has shown what talents people have and has helped improve their own sense of value.”

Two of the women had been lacking confidence and struggling with anxiety, and one was also grieving following a family bereavement when the group began.

Self-Reliant Groups: the impact for members

Jo said: “One of the women, Ann, has had some difficult issues but she makes amazing things and has started helping the tutor and she is going from strength to strength and has really benefited from Joyce and Felicity’s sessions.

“Another of the women, Claire, makes wonderful blankets. She has health difficulties and was feeling down, but what has come out of the sessions is belief. People started feeling they could make stuff for our shop at St Leonard’s, but we said to go beyond that – see what they could do independently of us. So now they have hired tables at craft fairs for this autumn and Christmas at an old church in Waterloo near where they live, and they will be selling things they have made.

“People have become friends. There’s another woman, Deirdre, who makes bags, and people are becoming friends and sharing skills. I cannot believe it’s the same people who I knew before. It’s just amazing seeing them looking ahead and planning things and talking about products they are going to make.

 “I’ve seen people walking through our doors anxious and not knowing anybody, and where we are now is lovely to see. Joyce and Felicity were so lovely. I have been working in charity for 40 years, and I know what it means to talk about independence. But these sessions have really brought it home for the people involved.”

Above: one of the group members works on her next item. Below: craft wreaths created by the group members already

What Church Action on Poverty did

Joyce and Felicity had spent several mornings with the group, talking through the possibility that some of them could form a group, who would meet regularly to support each other, learn to share their skills and learn from each other, and who would collect a small amount of money so that eventually they might launch a small enterprise or business.

When they began, the idea such an enterprise would have seemed far-fetched and something of a pipe dream but today, less than six months on, it is already a reality.

The group initially met at Claire’s house because of her health, and as it was hard for her to get out but they soon involved others. Ann had been inspired by and learned quilting from her late mother and was a fantastic quilter. Deirdre made bags, and was a talented sewer. They pooled their talents and shared their knowledge. The answer to the question “What can we do?” was that they could make things. And they did.

The group organised themselves and supported each other. The table rental of around £15 a session came from the funds they had collected, and the new friends are all making things for the fairs. A local woodworker and carpenter, John, who makes things but has had no outlet to sell them, has also joined the group and is joining in the preparations and production.

What the group has accomplished already is a triumph – but what if the fairs go well, that could be the icing on the cake.

  • The people mentioned in this article have made incredible progress, but do not yet want to be named widely. Jo is using her real name, but the other names have been changed.
  • To learn more about Self-Reliant Groups, watch the short video below.

Vacancy: Let’s End Poverty Facilitator

Parkas, walking boots, and action for change: Sheffield’s urban poverty pilgrimage

Dreamers Who Do: North East event for Church Action on Poverty Sunday 2024

Autumn Statement: Stef & Church Action on Poverty’s response

Act On Poverty – a Lent programme about tackling UK and global poverty

How 11 people spoke truth to power in Sussex

Obituary: Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ

Annual review 2022-23

Ashleigh: “I think we will become known for making a change”

North East churches & community gather to tackle poverty together

There’s huge public desire to end poverty – will politicians now act?

What is Let’s End Poverty – and how can you get involved?

Our partner APLE is looking for new trustees

Nottingham’s first Your Local Pantry opens

SPARK newsletter autumn 2023

Urban Poverty Pilgrimage: Towards a Theological Practice

Parkas, walking boots, and action for change: Sheffield’s urban poverty pilgrimage

Dreamers Who Do: North East event for Church Action on Poverty Sunday 2024

Church Action on Poverty's logo, beside a headshot of Stef Benstead

Autumn Statement: Stef & Church Action on Poverty’s response

Dr Joseph Forde reflects on the Dignity for All conferences and what was discussed during the Speaking Truth to Power workshop.

Dignity for All Conference

I attended the ‘Dignity for All’ conference held in Leeds on 10th June 2023, and, in one of the workshops, I was fortunate to participate in a stimulating discussion on the topic: ‘Speaking Truth to Power’. Jesus spoke truth to power, not least when he entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. As followers of Jesus, Christians are called to speak truth to power especially when too many people are struggling to make ends meet across the UK. But what does it mean in practice? A key theme of the discussion was how Church Action on Poverty places an emphasis on supporting more experts by experience (that is, people who understand poverty because they have lived it) to speak truth to power. For example, we got to learn how Church Action on Poverty’s Poverty Media Unit can train experts by experience to speak confidently and powerfully to the media and politicians. They become effective campaigners and spokespeople, and can inspire others to take action. The Poverty Media Unit also produces podcasts which show some inspiring examples of experts by experience speaking truth to power, and these can be downloaded from their website for wider dissemination and use by local branches of Church Action on Poverty, as well as by churches and other charitable organisations that are engaged in training those living at the margins to speak truth to power. 

I shared with the workshop how another innovative way of speaking truth to power has been the emergence of ‘Food Glorious Food’ in Sheffield: the first food bank choir in the UK. It brings together people who have used or volunteered in food banks, building community through music. I recounted how I had been fortunate to attend an inspirational performance by them at Sheffield Cathedral, for the launch of the End Hunger UK campaign in 2019. Choir leader Yo Tozer-Loft had said: ‘People were really motivated by the chance to lobby their MPs about food poverty. Even people who didn’t think they were singers said: “I want to raise my voice somehow”. Of course, we know that music has often been connected with protests by those who have been experiencing social injustices, marginalisation, poverty, exclusion or exploitation, and has been seen to be a great way of speaking truth to power. Think of how blues music emerged in America in the late 19th Century as an authentic form of protest by black cotton workers (and later by others). Think also of how British folk songs have often expressed the struggles by workers for better terms and conditions from their employers, and a more just society in which to bring up their children. Music will always be an effective way of speaking truth to power, and protest songs sung by Christians are one way of doing precisely that not least when out campaigning against social injustices caused by poverty.

 

Food Glorious Food Chior

Empowering those at the margins to speak truth to power confidently and effectively remains a central aim of Church Action on Poverty.  But one can also speak truth to power as an advocate for those experiencing poverty who may not able to do it themselves. Christian writers have a long history of doing this, often with impressive results. Examples are the seminal work published in 1931 by R H Tawney, Equality, in which he argues powerfully for a more egalitarian society to the one in interwar Britain, as a means of reducing poverty and improving the life chances of working-class men and women. Another, is the ground-breaking work of 1942 by Archbishop William Temple, Christianity and Social Order, which was, in part, a critique of interwar poverty and its causes in Britain, and was pivotal in shaping the post-war Welfare State settlement. The autobiography of 1958 by Revd Dr Martin Luther King, Stride Toward Freedom, is a third example, with its memorable account of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956-58, that set the scene for so much that followed in the struggle for equality and opportunity for blacks in America in the late 1950s and 1960s. These three authors shared a view that the radicalism of Jesus’s ministry merits nothing less from us when it comes to striving for social justice.

Scripture, tradition and the human capacity to reason have played a large part in shaping Christianity, and no doubt will continue to in the decades to follow. However, in the last half-century or so there has been a trend within academic Judeo-Christian theology to explore whether experience might also play an important part in the development of theological insight. By listening out for God’s voice in others, it is argued we can learn much about God that the more traditional theological methodologies can’t as easily reveal to us. The technical term for this approach is contextual theology, and a key methodological requirement for conducting research in contextual theology, is the ability to listen attentively. Often, this will entail adopting an approach to pastoral or academic encounter that arises from, and is shaped by, the lived experience of others, especially those living at the margins seeing Christ in their faces, seeing the cross where they stand, and thus letting God speak through them. This approach to doing theology thus lends itself to supporting the goal of enabling people living in poverty to speak truth to power. It respects their insights, their expertise, their wisdom, their overall perspective on things, and puts them at the centre of campaigns for reducing poverty and the social exclusion that goes with it.   

In summary: when it comes to tackling poverty and its causes, then, it is the voices of experts by experience that need to be heard loudest, as they are the most authentic voices in the room, although, of course, they are not the only voices in the room that need to be listened to. Care professionals, volunteers, politicians, economists, academics and the clergy (this is not an all-inclusive list) also have voices that are relevant to finding solutions to poverty and its causes. However, in my view, they should never become disengaged from or disrespectful of those who are experiencing poverty first hand. This is also the view of Church Action on Poverty, and was a key theme at the ‘Dignity for All’ conference. 

Dr Joseph Forde is Chair of Church Action on Poverty, Sheffield. He researches and writes on welfare and Christianity, and is author of Before and Beyond the ‘Big Society’: John Milbank and the Church of England’s Approach to Welfare (James Clarke & Co, 2022).

Vacancy: Let’s End Poverty Facilitator

Parkas, walking boots, and action for change: Sheffield’s urban poverty pilgrimage

Dreamers Who Do: North East event for Church Action on Poverty Sunday 2024

Autumn Statement: Stef & Church Action on Poverty’s response

Act On Poverty – a Lent programme about tackling UK and global poverty

How 11 people spoke truth to power in Sussex

Obituary: Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ

Annual review 2022-23

Ashleigh: “I think we will become known for making a change”

North East churches & community gather to tackle poverty together

There’s huge public desire to end poverty – will politicians now act?

What is Let’s End Poverty – and how can you get involved?

Our partner APLE is looking for new trustees

Nottingham’s first Your Local Pantry opens

SPARK newsletter autumn 2023

Urban Poverty Pilgrimage: Towards a Theological Practice

Vacancy: Chair of Council of Management

MPs praise the Pantry approach – but they must do so much more

“We can make a change. That’s why we’re here.”

How YOUR church can build community & save people £21 a week

Annual review 2021-22

Speaking Truth to Power: A Reflection on the Dignity for All Conference 

Photos & quotes: the energy, hope & resolve of Dignity For All 2023

It’s like they’ve flown: the awesome power of craft & companionship

An Introduction to the Joint Public Issues Team

Addressing poverty with lived experience: the APLE Collective