This study arose from a motion in General Synod in November 2010 following a debate on the Big Society.
The background to the proposal was recognition that the coalition government was interested in partnering voluntary organisations in building local communities. Knowing that the Church was already deeply involved in community action, it was timely to demonstrate the many different expressions of local concern and the various ways in which the church partners other organisations.
The main purpose of the study was to act as a catalyst in bringing together current best practice in Christian care in local communities with the resources and knowledge base needed to multiply those good works across the country. Unsurprisingly, many of the projects included are located in deprived areas and/or target problems that are in one way or another associated with material poverty. However, building the kingdom is not confined to certain groups or areas. Christian community action is called for in any context to demonstrate care for neighbours and new ways of being and work for personal, social and structural transformation.
The aim was to include a wide spectrum of examples covering:
· policy areas ranging from homelessness to foodbanks; employment and training to debt counselling; youth projects to care for the elderly; health to rural isolation;
· rural, urban and suburban locations;
· the use of church buildings for community use;
· different origins;
· different scales of project;
· ones wholly based on volunteering as well as those with paid workers;
· local projects linked with national organisations, such as the Mothers’ Union or The Children’s Society;
· congregationally-based as well as ‘free-standing’;
· Church of England, other denominations, ecumenical and interfaith.
It was not the intention of this study to put together a comprehensive database. It is inevitably a very incomplete snapshot. Some of the projects included are unusual, but others are examples of ones that happen in lots of places. Nor was the purpose to endorse or kite mark specific projects. Rather the objective was to provide an illustrative resource as a celebration of the Church’s role in ‘building better neighbourhoods’, as an encouragement to others to consider this form of ministry and as a practical tool for any thinking of embarking on such a venture. Participants have tried to make the descriptions honest and realistic, indicating:
· that some of the more ambitious initiatives grew from small beginnings and were a long time in germinating;
· that there can be lows as well as highs;
· that outside circumstances, such as the funding climate, can be more or less favourable;
· that things can run their course for a variety of reasons and close without blame being attributable anywhere.