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North East churches & community gather to tackle poverty together

Church leaders from 6 denominations and people with experience of poverty in North East England met, to work together to tackle poverty in the region.

Church Action on Poverty North East, Thrive Teesside and the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, co-hosted a roundtable event for 35 people at All Saints Church, Newton Hall, Durham, on October 11th.

A large group of people seated around a table in a church hall

Led by voices of experience

The agenda had been led by people with experience of poverty, and speakers included people with six particular perspectives of poverty.

6 perspectives of poverty in North East England

  • Davey, from Gateshead, had prepared an account about sanctions, which was read on his behalf. It told how an unnecessary sanction had led to him losing his housing benefit, and therefore being evicted while still grieving for a family tragedy.
  • Sue from Gateshead told of the particular challenges facing carers, and the huge backlog of people waiting to be assessed for support. She also talked of sanctioning, saying: “People get sanctioned for any reason, sometimes if people could not get online to see a message from the DWP.”
  • Lesley from Jarrow relayed stories from a debt support programme, which is helping local people address more than £360,000 of debt collectively.
  • Richard from Upper Teesdale talked about the invisible poverty in rural areas, exacerbated by people being pushed to use online services, when rural internet is often inadequate.
  • Graham and Sharon from Easington Colliery told of the challenges in ex-mining areas, and the lack of support services. Graham said: “A lot of people feel abandoned.”
  • Julie from Thriving Women in Stockton on Tees read from a collaborative poem, which asked: “Whose narrative is being heard?”

Church leaders to work together

Others talked about the loss of face-to-face support, and of the remaining support being stretched to its limit, and David Burns from the Salvation Army talked about the need to uphold people’s dignity, and to accompany them rather than giving hand-outs.

Attendees were encouraged to support community events during the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and a follow-up meeting has been arranged, to begin agreeing practical next steps.

Tracey Herrington, Kim Plumpton and Claire Lowery at the event

Church can hold politicians to account

The meeting was chaired by Bishop Paul, and church attendees included representatives from the Catholic Church, Church of England, Methodist Church, Salvation Army, the Society of Friends, and the United Reformed Church.

Bishop Paul said he would relay the discussions to northern church leaders at a meeting next month, and also to people involved in the national Poverty Strategy Commission.

He said North East Churches Acting Together would also continue to invest in finding collective solutions. He said he and the Bishop of Jarrow would put a church representative forward for Hartlepool Poverty Truth Commission.

He said local and national government, and businesses, must work together to improve conditions for the lowest 15-20 per cent economically, and echoed the Let’s End Poverty campaign in saying all parties must be pushed to say what they will do to tackle poverty.

Picture gallery

Comments from attendees

The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler

Bishop Paul said afterwards: “As always it was very good to hear the reality of poverty from those living with it.

“To be able to have a significant number of church leaders listening in to the stories, and hearing from others working alongside those facing the challenges of the social security system, the inadequacies of provision for those with significant mental health issues, and the lack of support for carers, raises many questions that we need to face as a society. 

“The journey to seek to really end endemic poverty is not a simple or easy one but it is one to which all of us gathered together are committed.”

The Rt Revd Stephen Wright, Bishop for the Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, said: “I’m very grateful for the invitation for the meeting of Challenging Poverty Together in the North East. Our Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle is committed to working alongside our Christian sisters and brothers, people of all faiths and none in accompanying those who face needs and struggle in life.

“Our Lord always invites us to see our society and our political decisions through the eyes of the poor. As Christians, we are called to be advocates for their needs and to support them as best we can. I was very inspired to hear of all the ministry taking place across the North East and I am so grateful for all the volunteers who work across the region to support our brothers and sisters.”

Rev Richard Andrew

The Revd Richard Andrew, Chair of the Darlington Methodist District said: “It was a powerful and challenging experience to share with others as we listened to those living in poverty. I was particularly moved by these words, ‘The world does not see my face.’

“If we really believe that we see the face of Jesus in the face of the poor then as North East churches we need to stand up and be counted in solidarity with them.”

Bernadette Askins

Bernadette Askins, from Church Action on Poverty North East, said: Listening to the voices of people from our North East communities who live daily with poverty was a very powerful experience. I feel very hopeful that by working together we can make a real difference.”

Coy Eastwood at the event

Corrina Eastwood, Community Organiser for Thrive Teesside, said: “The commitment and the desire to tackle poverty and inequality was evident from all who attended. By uniting and sharing our insight and knowledge we will continue to work together to create change. The collective poem from thriving women was a powerful expression of voices unbroken, along with others who shared their lived realities – it gave a face and feelings behind the statistics.”

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