Has there been a faith response to COVID-19? Find out what's been happening around the North East.
Join our local group in the North East on Zoom for their 2020 Annual General Meeting.
Friday 25 September
Reflect on where we are now in the North East with
Revd Deirdre Brower Latz
Principal of Nazarene College Manchester
Facilitator for Church Action on Poverty’s ‘Church on the Margins’ programme in Manchester
Click below to send us an email and book your place; we will send you the Zoom link.
Physical distancing presents problems for food banks, says Charlotte Killeya (a trustee at Parson Cross Initiative and Emergency Food Co-ordination Officer at Voluntary Action Sheffield).
f you walked into the church on a Friday before the Covid-19 crisis, it was always busy.
Volunteers at Parson Cross Initiative would start early: setting up the social café, organising the food stall deliveries from Fareshare and a local greengrocer, sorting food ready to make up emergency food parcels before an afternoon of welcoming people and offering them support.
During the afternoon there was always plenty of food to eat and people would sit together and talk. It was rarely quiet. The volunteers I work alongside were amongst it all and they were there to listen. The conversations they and I had may have begun with why people needed support for that particular week, but would often go onto talking about things that had happened weeks and months before which had led people to visiting us.
As Covid-19 hit, many food banks like our own have simply not been able to operate as before. Distressingly, just as record numbers of adults and children are turning to the charity sector to help provide them with food, the social, face-to-face aspect of our work has had to cease or dramatically reduce.
Recently, a national coalition of anti-poverty charities including the Trussell Trust and the Independent Food Bank Network have reported record increases in the number of people needing support.
The Trussell Trust saw an 89% increase in the need for emergency food parcels during April 2020 compared with the same period last year; the Independent Food Aid Network saw a 175% increase for the same period.
There is a deep concern that due to the lack of the social aspects of what charities and food banks provide, people are increasingly isolated. During the crisis, the safest option has been to deliver food parcels to people’s doorsteps or give them out at the doors of buildings, ensuring people physically distance themselves from one another. But handing a food parcel to someone will only help so far – and food banks are acutely aware of this.
As Jackie Butcher, co-ordinator of Grace Food Bank and co-chair of the Sheffield Food Bank Network, says, providing a food parcel is only part of the story.
“We don’t just hand out food parcels – we build relationships”.
For Jackie, the need for a food parcel is “the presenting issue”. A critical role of food banks is to support and signpost people to other agencies and organisations who can help, such as Citizens Advice or Shelter.
Nicola White and Susan Vinall of Fir Vale Food Bank tell a similar story. For them,
“food is a way of bringing people together.”
Before Covid-19, their community meals sat alongside the food bank and were an important part of building relationships.
“Often people don’t open up straight away. It takes time to work through what might be happening and what support they need”
This social aspect of what the team at Fir Vale do helps people to get to know one another and feel less isolated. It’s never been about “just about receiving a food parcel.”
When Vin was first referred to a food bank last year he explained that alongside the parcel he received, he got so much more support. A Citizens Advice adviser helped him with his benefits and budgeting, and volunteers spent time getting to know him and making him
“feel part of things I’ve got to know so many local people. I want to help people in my community because I know what it’s like to go to a food bank.”
Terry, who helps at a Sheffield food bank, has at times needed food support himself. He believes that the social side of what the food bank offered is just as important as the food.
“It gave me the time and the chance to talk to people. That’s important, especially if you are on your own. Sometimes you look fine on the outside, but you aren’t on the inside, and you need someone to talk it through with.”
Terry explains that out of those conversations, you find out about the skills and talents that people have.
“We have all sorts of different groups like gardening, art and music. We find out what people are interested in and encourage them to join or help them find a group nearby. At the end of the day, it’s about valuing people and building friendships.”
For Susan and Nicola at Fir Vale Food Bank, the devastating impact of Covid-19 has been that
“the social aspect of our work was the first thing to go and will likely be the last thing we can put in place.”
Like many charities, the team have worked hard in trying to maintain contact with people they support through phone calls and emails.
Across the city we have seen things like online coffee mornings, quizzes and befriending helplines, and arts and crafts materials being delivered to people as ways of staying connected to people. But Susan and Nicola are concerned for people who are falling through the cracks.
“many of the individuals I work alongside have become more socially isolated during Covid-19, whether that’s because a local group has had to close or they’re digitally excluded so they can’t participate in online activity… [The] vital connections that have been lost have had a significant impact [on their] mental health and wellbeing.”
The impact of Covid-19 and personal experiences springing from it will take a long time to work through. Food banks, charities and community groups will continue to find ways of connecting with people and supporting them. We will continue to campaign on the reasons why people need their support in the first place, what policymakers should be doing to address poverty, and endeavour to share peoples’ experiences in an empowering, honest and non-judgemental way.
In all of this, we must never lose sight of the fact that food insecurity and social isolation often go hand in hand – and that the emergency food parcel is only ever part of the story.
This article first appeared in ‘Poverty Update’, the newsletter of our local group in Sheffield.
Poverty Update is the regular newsletter of the local Church Action on Poverty group in Sheffield.
The August 2020 issue includes details of plans for a virtual Pilgrimage, and an in-depth article about food insecurity and social isolation.
Do you share our vision of a UK in which everyone can live a full life, free from poverty? Do you want to work as part of a team bringing about meaningful change?
This role offers the opportunity to use your knowledge and skills in building relationships, project management, delivering training and creating networks as part of a small dynamic team.
You will work alongside other Church Action on Poverty staff and partners, within the Your Local Pantry programme to support Pantry development and expansion across Scotland.
You will provide local partners with training, advice and support to set up operationally successful pantries within the ‘Your Local Pantry’ network; support funding applications for Pantry start-ups; and proactively seek out potential new Pantry partners across the country.
This is a 14-hours-a-week role for an initial 12 months, working from home initially but eventually from Faith in Community Scotland offices in Glasgow with travel across Scotland. The salary equates to £27,455 pa pro rata over 12 months, plus a 10% employer’s pension contribution and generous holiday entitlements.
Closing date for applications:
10am, Thursday 20 August 2020.
Interviews will be via video-link on Wednesday 26 or Thursday 27 August 2020.
For further details and an application form, download the job pack below.
Do you share our vision of a UK in which everyone can live a full life, free from poverty? Do you want to work as part of a team bringing about meaningful change?
This internship offers opportunities to develop skills in event coordination, partner engagement and social media and communications as part of a small dynamic team.
You will work alongside other Church Action on Poverty staff and partners, to help coordinate the first Challenge Poverty Week in England and Wales, including promoting the week, supporting partners to plan (virtual) events and activities, coordinating online training, copywriting materials and communications (website and social media) for the Week.
As part of this work, you will have the opportunity to develop skills and experience needed for future employment in this field.
This is a 35-hours-a-week paid internship for an initial 4 months starting as soon as possible, and working from home. The salary equates to £18,200 pro rata over 12 months, plus a 10% employers pension contribution and generous holiday entitlements.
Closing date for applications:
10am, Thursday 6 August 2020.
Interviews will be held online on Thursday 13 or Friday 14 August 2020.
For further details and application form, download the job pack below.
‘A Fair and Just Future for Cornwall’ serves as a guiding theme for 21 articles by key stakeholders from across business, faith and the voluntary sector, all of whom articulate their own particular vision of a better future for Cornwall as we emerge from lockdown. There is no attempt to find a common agenda and each author is speaking from their own perspective.
Click on the image to download the report.
In this guest blog, Gavin Barker of Cornwall Independent Poverty Forum shares what they hope the report will achieve. Church Action n Poverty’s partners at End Hunger Cornwall have played an active role in producing this report.
The pandemic is a turning point. The decisions we take now will frame the direction we go in and it is vital that Cornwall has a say over its own future. Too often, the most important decisions about our future are tied to a Westminster agenda that pays little attention to a local context. We want our MPs and council leaders to listen carefully to as wide a range of local voices as possible before taking important decisions. Each of the contributors has decades of experience and expertise in their respective roles. They have a deep understanding of the communities in which they live and serve and they deserve to be listened to.
We want our MPs and council leaders to listen carefully to as wide a range of local voices as possible before taking important decisions.
The lead organisation is Cornwall Independent Poverty Forum which has its base in Truro Diocese and the Revd Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro has contributed an article. While our normal focus is poverty issues we felt it was vital to step outside our role and reach out to as many groups and organisations as possible, including the business community.
There is a second purpose to this report and that is to trigger a wider public conversation. We will be sharing this on social media and we will also be writing to different community groups as well as 20 town and parish councils and inviting them to read the report and share their own vision – what they want for their town and community as well as for Cornwall. Everyone should have a voice.
Everyone should have a voice.
It’s very easy for reports such as these to be ‘parked’. They make a brief media splash, our leaders and elected representatives nod their heads, make positive noises, a letter is sent to the local press and everyone moves on.
We do not want this to happen. We are asking for a considered response from our MPs as well as council leaders and in three months’ time we will convene a meeting of all contributors to the report in order to share notes, any responses from MPs as well as discuss next steps.
Finally, in a year’s time we will gather together again and ask the question ‘What has changed?’ and we will use this report as a baseline by which to measure progress. The outcome of that process is likely to be a second report in answer to that question. The report will therefore be part of a rolling campaign as we all work to bring about a fairer, more inclusive and sustainable future for Cornwall.
In this guest blog, ACE - our partners running the first Your Local Pantry in Wales - reflect on how the pandemic and lockdown require us to do things differently.
‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’
We have been exiled from our beloved Dusty Forge and find ourselves in a new and strange ‘land’! The roar of laughter from the weekly Retreat group is absent, the punchline undelivered. The Dusty garden is ripe with veg but the harvest is indefinitely delayed, a feast unshared. The Repair Café has ceased, everyday items lying unfixed and unusable. The artists’ paintings sit unfinished, visions cut short before their potential is fulfilled. Birthdays have passed with no cakes and no candles burning for another year lived, and no singing.
We were singing a song of sorts. A polyphony of diverse voices, sometimes a little out of tune, but with a unique beauty all of its own. We were finding ways of including new people in this quirky choir, many of whom had never been told they can sing and assumed they had no voice. There were busy days in the Dusty Forge when the cacophony was glorious and it felt like we’d welcomed a little bit of heaven on earth. We hadn’t finished our ‘song’, and I still find myself humming the chorus in the quiet of my own home… It’s not the same. It’s too quiet now, and these kind of songs are meant to be sung together.
Meanwhile our community faces a whole new set of challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic which are nevertheless familiar because they feed parasitically on inequalities and injustices which we already know. Incomes are dropping. Work is even more insecure and pay is too low. Folk can’t afford food. Isolated people are struggling to meet their own basic needs. Individuals’ already fragile mental health is crumbling further. Families already struggling with multiple pressures now find themselves together 24/7 without the support of extended family and friends, juggling work and home-schooling.
The ACE ‘family’ has responded quickly. We have repurposed our ‘Your Local Pantry’ project, allowing us to deliver food to those who need it whilst keeping local ownership through membership alive. Our debt and benefit advice and support is offered via a phone service, and is being well used. We continue to offer 1-2-1 mental health support. We have moved quickly to prepare safe procedures that can support volunteering and have tapped into renewed enthusiasm for mutual aid by recruiting new volunteers. They are now busy with staff picking up and delivering prescriptions, preparing wellbeing packs for local carers, and offering ‘phone a friend’ services. Creative resources are being provided for home use with bored children. We’re even planning a community-wide back garden archaeology dig through our brilliant CAER Heritage Project. And like lots of other folk, we have stuck a rocket under our social media use!
If you spend a lot of time singing with others then you can learn to improvise together. Our improvisational skills have enabled flexibility in responding to the crisis in multiple ways. ACE is committed to a set of values and ways of working that provide a context for creativity. We believe everyone has something to contribute and that everyone’s contribution should be valued equally. We see and talk about our community not as a problem that needs solving by others, but as a network of people, places, buildings, knowledge, skills and creativity that too often go unnoticed, unacknowledged and untapped. We seek to identify and to nurture these ‘assets’ through communal relationships, by listening to each other and those around us in our community, and by seeking collective ownership of, and responsibility for, the spaces and resources around us. All this is energised by a large dose of experimentation. We have hoped to create a culture that grows these skills and attitudes in us all so that when change happens, or crisis emerges, we are fit to the task of responding creatively, flexibly and with hope. If the notion of ‘community resilience’ means anything to us then it looks something like this. The coming months are as good a time as any to find out whether we have begun to be successful in achieving it.
Back when I studied Youth and Community Work we had a course tutor who, whenever we were struggling to make sense of an aspect of our practice, would tell us that we had to learn to ‘sit in the shit’. It was very annoying at the time but the phrase has come back to me so many times since, and it seems particularly relevant now. Its wisdom is in challenging us to fight the urge to leave the shit and walk away as quickly as possible. The danger is to rush to old solutions in the context of new problems. When all has changed, and the odour of a new strange world is overwhelming, there is necessary work in sitting in it long enough to understand it. To get a feel for it. To engage it with all our senses so we can start to improvise a way through.
‘French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil wrote about the claim of what is on our attention. She writes, we do not have to love what happens to us, but we ought to pay attention to it, to come to know it and grasp what might be done for the good in response. And we cannot really know what to do for the good if we do not grant events and people our deepest attention. There is love to be had in creative human wrestling with what is, in that response, if not in the events themselves.’ – Anna Rowlands.
So some of our immediate tasks might be to wait, to listen, to watch and to reflect. To remind ourselves that much of the value of community development is in the process itself, not in reaching some predetermined destination. Our commitment to Asset Based Community Development, Coproduction and Community Organising, the interplay between the three, and the set of skills and techniques they provide, offer a useful toolbox for this work. This can all go on alongside the absolutely vital work of meeting immediate need in our community. But as we sit in this unique and very unpleasant Covid-19 shit, we may slowly start to spot new and different opportunities for song.
We will notice melodies being hummed by people who until now were strangers. We will take up their tunes and bring them into harmony with some of our older ones (memory, and all that we’ve learned so far, will be important), we will discover new time signatures (maybe they’ll be slower and more reflective) and new key signatures (maybe they’ll be in a minor key for a good while yet, but that’s OK, a more celebratory day will come). We may even find new and safe ways of combining our voices together in each other’s presence (without using Zoom!). Eventually we will find ourselves singing a different but equally beautiful song in the new and strange land that we are entering. The land will form the song, if we take notice of it well enough. But the song will also help us make sense of, and live in, the new land. Our vision, as ever, is not to be passive but to act together, and in acting together to find shared meaning, life and joy.
This blog first appeared on the website of Action in Caerau and Ely.
Church Action on Poverty supporter Liz Delafield shares how Dialstone Lane Methodist Church in Stockport used our 'Good Society' resources to spark conversations and action for change.
On Saturday we had a meeting with two local MPs, using the computer app, Zoom. It was called ‘A Good Society? Within and After the Covid Crisis’. A collection of people, mainly from our local area, joined us in a question/answer dialogue. It was the latest in a series of events that had been taking place at Dialstone Lane Methodist Church, and our first virtual meet-up. These meetings explore what it means to be a good society. They have included hustings events for local and general elections, an event prior to the referendum and several roundtable discussions.
I would encourage other churches and faith groups to hold a gathering like this. It is a great way to contribute to building and engaging with the community. I do not hold up the way we did things as a model you need to follow. There will be many other equally valid, or better, ways of holding good society gatherings. We made plenty of mistakes along the way. Here are a few ideas that may be of some use:
The journey began in the run-up to the 2015 General Election. We met around tables with a good supply of cake and coffee. We used the questions and ideas in the Good Society toolkit. This is still available although it might be time for an update! This led onto our second event, a more formal hustings.
We use traditional ways, such as church notices, newsletters and posters, and invited groups that may be interested (church/faith groups, community groups, sixth form colleges). We also made an event on Facebook via our church page, and shared this on local community groups.
Many churches held similar Good Society gatherings but few have kept it going, so why did that happen? Several people who had been to the first two meetings had got a taste for it and were asking, “When’s the next one?” Things just developed from there. We had ups and downs along the way. But building a good society, or what Christians call the Kingdom of God, was never going to be achieved in one election.
Share a vision and keep hold of your ideals
At the majority of our gatherings, we have looked back at the 2020 vision of a good society produced after the initial good society conversations. We also decided that we wanted to add “A flourishing NHS that meets peoples’ needs.” We ask our contributors to express their ideas about a good society. This gives us a focus.
Keeping control whilst allowing expression
Whenever people with different opinions get together, things can get a bit fraught. We decided early on to establish ground rules. A well planned and chaired meeting helps to set things on the right foot. By and large the political candidates and other invited guests have been well behaved. People often come with lots to say. We try to find ways people can contribute, even if they don’t get to say it in the meeting. Our larger events have a ‘marketplace’ to give out leaflets and hold informal conversations. Sometimes people are invited to share ideas in other ways such as a ‘have your say’ board.
An event like this takes a lot of planning. I have relied a lot on a friend in my church who is an excellent organiser. We are also very lucky to have some members who bake delicious cakes.
Owing to the restrictions on meeting during the Covid 19 epidemic, our latest meeting was on Zoom. We decided to keep it to one hour, as zooming for longer than this can be difficult. We put people on ‘mute’ on arrival to keep it from being chaotic, and lined up the questions beforehand. It was less fluid than our real-life meetings, but a useful alternative under the circumstances. One advantage is that we don’t have to clear up afterwards!
We are planning another Zoom meeting, this time with local councillors. Perhaps, as we emerge from this pandemic, this would be a perfect time for all of us to reflect and renew our vision. It’s time to build back better. What is our vision for a good society in 2025?