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Resourcing Christian Community Action:

Parishes and Partnerships












October 2011










The context, origins, purpose and scope of the study.



The research methodology



The range of projects examined



Infrastructure organisations



Wider strategies




Why Christian community action?



Theological rationale



Where does it fit with mission and ministry?



Where does it fit with the idea of the Big Society?



An invitation from secular partners?




Findings from the research I: About the projects






Range of activities



Management and leadership









Measuring success



Success factors






Challenges and opportunities




Findings from the research II: About supporting projects



The importance of higher level support



The role of CUF



Other national bodies



Examples of infrastructure organisations



Wider strategic context




Conclusions and policy messages



Bringing the threads together



Theological themes



Returning to the idea of the Big Society



Stronger bonds






Project stories



Infrastructure examples







·                     Questions to ask before embarking on a project

·                     Developing a funding bid

·                     Involving volunteers

·                     Policy specific project areas: Asylum Seeker

·                     Social Return on Investment

·                     Steps towards a Community Land Trust






Resource materials



National organisations


Funding sources












1.      Background


1.1       The context, origins, purpose and scope of the study

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 to 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.   



1.2       The research methodology

The study combined desk research, a questionnaire and fieldwork.  Desk research using documentary and internet sources continued throughout the study. 

The first stage was a letter to Diocesan Social Responsibility Officers and Rural Officers asking for their help in suggesting:

·         projects that might be considered for inclusion.

·         examples of diocesan or other organisations that foster and/or support churches/ groups/individuals involved in Christian social action.


During this preparatory stage, there was consultation with others such as the National Rural Officer, the Chief Executive of the Church Urban Fund, the Project Officer of Faith in Affordable Housing, and an official from English Heritage, who was formerly Policy Officer in the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division.


The second stage entailed following up a sample of local projects.  Selecting the sample was done in conjunction with the study Steering Group.   A questionnaire set the framework for gathering the project information. This was sent to the project contacts and after that there were different ways of proceeding, with the aim of minimising the burden on respondents:

·         a project visit and face-to-face interview; or

·         a telephone interview; or

·         the respondent completing the questionnaire, sometimes with a follow-up telephone conversation to gather more detail or get further clarification.


Responses were then changed from the questionnaire format and sent to respondents for checking.


Information on infrastructure projects and organisations was also collected, written up and checked with contacts during the second stage.



1.3       The range of local projects examined

Table 1.1 shows the projects included in the study which represent a sample covering a wide range of policy areas, beneficiary, types of project and locality.  The table shows them listed under specific headings to indicate the range.  However, it is clear that they could be arranged in different ways and some could just as easily feature under different headings.  For example, St Francis Church, the base of the Heartsease Project, could have featured as a church that has been remodelled to increase its community use.   Herefordshire CHAT, classed in relation to migrant workers, could have been counted as a homelessness project.


Table 1.1: Projects




Use of Church Buildings

St Mary’s Slough  (Oxford)

An urban church that adapted its church buildings for greater community use.

Different beneficiaries



Families and children

Families Matter (Guildford)

Trained volunteers befriending vulnerable families. 

Young people

YPAC (Manchester) 

Various youth projects in a neighbourhood in top 1% most deprived.


Urban Hope (London) 

Youth work in Islington starting with 8 year olds and developing long term relationships.

Older people

Happy at Home,  South Tyneside


Offering a befriending service to isolated people in their own homes.


Heartsease Community Project (Norwich) 

Ecumenical project providing services for older people. 

Asylum seekers

Nottingham Arimathea Trust (Nottingham)

Temporary housing for refused, destitute asylum seekers.


SAS (Liverpool)

Weekly grants for asylum seekers and funding for emergency accommodation.

Migrant workers

Churches Together in Herefordshire Action Team (CHAT) (Hereford)

Hot meals for migrant workers and rough sleepers.

Different locations



City/town wide

Reading Christian Network  (Oxford)

An ecumenical group that meets weekly to pray for Reading and network across a range of projects including Street Pastors.


Derby Cathedral  (Derby)

Wide engagement with, and support for, activities such as Street Pastors, homelessness work and debt counselling.


St Leonard’s, Bootle  (Liverpool)

Community activities in a very deprived part of Merseyside including increased use of the church building.


St Martin’s Centre, Byker  (Newcastle)

Partnership with a Sure Start Centre enabled the church to be rebuilt as a combined church, children’s centre and community space.


St Augustine’s Family Centre, Halifax  (Wakefield)

Community centre in an ethnically diverse area providing adult education, an advice service and support for refugees and asylum seekers.


Ascend, South Oxhey, Watford

(St Albans)

Education and training services on a deprived housing estate surrounded by much more affluent areas.


Christ Church, Bridlington (York)

A range of training, family and homeless services in a deprived coastal town.


St James’ Church, Hemingford Grey  (Ely)

Post Office in parish centre and mobile PO services to other villages and a Coffee Shop run as separate Community Interest Companies.

Policy themes



Health & mental health

Hull Churches Home from Hospital  (York)

Support and practical help to adults after discharge from hospital, helping to reduce re-admission rates.      


Life Expectancy, Wirral  (Chester)

Twinning churches in the most and least deprived areas of Wirral to raise awareness of the 11.6 year difference in life expectancy.


St Luke’s the Physician Church and Neighbourhood Centre, Longsight (Manchester) 

Informal day care including arts activities for people suffering stress and living with long term mental health needs.


Thrive, Stockton-on-Tees  (Durham)

Church Action on Poverty project initially dealing with people suffering stress because of debt which led to campaigning about doorstep lending practices.


Jubilee Money Advice Service, Oswestry (Lichfield)

A recently started debt advice service linked with Churches Together in Oswestry and District.


MUMAS (Gloucester)

A Mothers’ Union project giving money advice to people in debt who have been referred by other agencies or have self-referred.


Coventry Foodbank (Coventry)

Foodbank with several distribution points at churches giving out food parcels to clients referred by agencies issuing food vouchers.


FareShare (Leicester)


Uses surplus food from the food industry to feed about 2,000 disadvantaged people via charitable support groups.

Criminal Justice

Cumbria Reducing Offending Partnership Trust (CROPT)  (Carlisle)

Umbrella body for many activities supporting prisoners and ex-offenders linked with Cumbria Probation Trust, Haverigg Prison and National Offenders Management Service.


Support and Advice for Families of Offenders and Ex-Offenders (SAFE), (Blackburn) 

Working with offenders and ex-offenders primarily on health and wellbeing, funded by East Lancashire PCT.


Surrey Appropriate Adult Service (SAAVS) (Guildford) 

Support for young people and vulnerable adults during detention in police custody when there is no other responsible adult available.


Routes to Roots  (Salisbury)

Services to homeless people and those at risk of homelessness by Christians of all



Exeter Churches Housing Action Team (CHAT) (Exeter)

Providing housing advice and tenancy support plus accommodation and mediation for homeless young people in mid-Devon.


Horsham Matters (Chichester)

A furniture recycling scheme supplying anything needed for setting up home, also now developing services for young people.


Harvest (Exeter)

A city-wide project under the umbrella of Exeter Community Initiatives that encourages people to grow food in their local communities.

Community cohesion

St Paul’s, Manningham (Bradford) 

Taking account of the religious diversity in the area, St Paul’s has joined with other local churches and a Muslim charity in ‘Sharakat’ (Communion) to share their faith and common issues. Other activities have evolved from this.


The Feast (Birmingham)

A project aiming to help Christian and Muslim young people overcome barriers of fear and prejudice and become peacemakers in their community.


Appendix I presents the stories of each of these projects.



1.4       Infrastructure organisations

The study also looked at, and describes in Appendix II, a number of bodies that provide support to local projects.  


Table 1.2: Infrastructure organisations



Churches’ Trust for Cumbria  (Carlisle)

CTfC helps faith communities develop a vision linked to wider community plans; helping churches make greater use of their buildings to put them at the hub of the community.

Council for Social Responsibility (Portsmouth)

Various programmes designed to help projects think strategically about the future and move away from dependency on grant funding.

East Northants Faith Group


A network representing all Christian-based groups to support and promote social action and community development initiatives.

Faith in Our Communities (Durham)

Developed six community development projects in deprived areas and provides capacity building for development workers and management committees.

 Good Neighbours Support Service, (Winchester, Guildford & Portsmouth)
 Sponsored by three dioceses, it provides information, guidance and support to Good Neighbours Groups in Hampshire.

Kairos Partnership (Hereford)

Works with local faith groups to start and develop projects to help their communities.

Leeds Christian Community Trust (Ripon and Leeds)

A ‘generic’ trust set up to enable projects share resources, it gives grants for projects that fit its criteria and takes on new projects of its own, providing seed funding and support. 

Together for Regeneration (Sheffield)

Based in Sheffield Diocesan offices, TfR provides infrastructure support to build the capacity of voluntary, community and faith sectors.

Transformation Cornwall (Truro)

Set up by the Diocese, CUF and the Methodist Church to give infrastructure and capacity building support to church, faith and non-faith groups to respond to poverty in Cornwall



1.5       Wider strategies

Finally, the study covers three instances of wider strategic approaches Appendix III): 

·         First, the partnership the Diocese of London formed with The Children’s Society about five years ago which led to a Youth Strategy for the Diocese. 

·         Second, the way in which churches can contribute to the development of affordable housing by developing underused or redundant assets.  The report points to Faith in Affordable Housing, a project and web-based guide managed by Housing Justice.  It indicates a couple of diocesan strategies relating to church buildings and land and gives an example of a local scheme using a Community Land Trust. 

·         Third, the report refers to the Shrinking the Footprint climate change campaign and again gives examples of responses at different spatial levels.


1.6       Other appendices

In addition to these descriptions of activity at local and diocesan levels, appended to the report are examples of templates, references to reports, resource materials, national organisations and funding sources and a glossary.  


2.      Why Christian community action?


2.1       Theological rationale

The pursuit of the common good is an aspect of personal discipleship but also part of God’s calling to the social and political structures.”[1]


“Honour one another and seek the common good” is a recurrent phrase in Anglican liturgy that underlines the inseparability of the personal and the social or political.   It has had a particular resonance for some time as we have seen, on the one hand, the growth of individualism and consumerism and, on the other, an increase in polarisation and social fragmentation.   The concept of the common good is rooted in an anthropology that not only stresses the unique value of each and every individual human being but also recognises that people are social beings and flourish best in social relationships extending out from the family to community, nation and globally.  It is because these relationships are perceived to be fragile and undervalued that an emphasis on the common good becomes part of the church’s ‘offer’ to the times in which we live: part of the vision of living well. It is also a reminder to Christians that their mission in the world is not just to enable the church to flourish but to promote the flourishing of all people.”[2]  


The pursuit of the common good, however, should not be detached from the worshipping and missionary life of the church “since the good cannot be fully realised apart from Christ, and Christ cannot be fully known outside the community of the faithful”.[3]  It can be the case that churches instead become pre-occupied with ‘domestic’ church concerns locally and nationally to the exclusion of this pursuit.  Yet the distinctiveness of the Christian faith is in the idea of ‘incarnation’, the complete identification of God through Christ with humanity.  Following Christ, therefore, also means living out this truth in relation to the people and communities around us.


The common good draws its significance directly from the second great commandment.  Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, you shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22: 36-40)  When this is followed up with the question “who is my neighbour?”, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10: 29-37)  The point is further developed in the story of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 31-45) which identifies service to God as inextricable from service to others:  whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me  . . . .  as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.”  The pursuit of the common good through Christian community action, therefore, is a direct response to both the two commandments at the heart of the Christian faith.



2.2       Where does Christian community action fit with mission and ministry?

Jesus ministered to all aspects of people’s lives.  “It’s not the church of God that has a mission, but the God of mission who has a church.   Christians are called to do the same.  It is a work of transformation: of individuals, of communities and of wider society. Effective mission requires:

·         recognising that faith is active, not passive and is public not private and needs to be lived out in the public sphere

·         analysis – examining need and reading the signs of the times.

·         recognising social action as a good in itself not [just] as a means to the end of ‘winning souls’.

·         partnership – ecumenical, other faiths and none where there is a common concern.


In the 1980s, the Anglican Consultative Council developed the Five Marks of Mission:

·          To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom;

·          To teach, baptise and nurture new believers;

·          To respond to human need by loving service;

·          To seek to transform unjust structures of society;

·          To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.


From these, it is clear that the Church’s mission includes pastoral care, social action and engagement with the social, economic and political structures that affect people’s lives.   William Temple said that “nine tenths of the work of the Church in the world is done by Christian people fulfilling responsibilities and performing tasks which in themselves are not part of the official system of the Church at all”.[4]   It is estimated that a quarter of regular churchgoers are involved in voluntary community service outside the church. Churchgoers overall contribute 23.2 million hours voluntary service each month in their local communities outside the church[5]. 


Mission is also contextual, shaped by the diversity of times, cultures and places in which it is taking place.  In the projects described in this study, it is clear that many have originated as a result of identifying a specific local issue arising from local demographic, social, economic or environmental conditions.  This may concern groups that are neglected or excluded (by the church as well as by others), such as asylum seekers or homeless people.  Or it may be a matter of recognising gaps in existing provision, for example, for ex-offenders and their families or for people with mental health needs. 



2.3       Where does it fit with the idea of the Big Society?

The themes of this study resonate strongly with various debates both inside and outside the church at present.  A concept that has emerged since the 2010 General Election is that of ‘The Big Society’.  At heart, it is nothing new, though the jargon is constantly evolving. There has been a greater emphasis on social responsibility and civil society for the past two decades.  The aim is to move power away from central government and give it to local communities and individuals and to achieve a more participative society. In principle, the main strands of the idea should encourage people not only in churches, but in the voluntary and community sector as a whole:

·         fostering a culture of voluntarism and philanthropy and promoting social action;

·         community empowerment by giving people a greater say in decisions affecting their area and the services;

·         developing new forms of public service delivery including the use of charities and social enterprises.


A paper given to the Church of England General Synod suggested that “The strength of the Big Society idea for the church lies in the extent to which it reflects a Christian understanding of being human.  A Christian anthropology locates each person within a rich network of relationships and recognises the perpetual tension between our dependency of others and our autonomy.  This reflects the nature of God’s relationship with human beings who remain dependent on His grace for all good things whilst retaining the freedom to reject His love.  As in so many of Jesus’ parables, God makes Himself known to us in the person of the other – and it is when we ourselves recognise our dependence on others that we understand a little of God’s love for us.” [6]


To date, although some associated measures have been introduced (the Localism Bill, the Big Society Bank, plans for community organisers throughout the UK), there remains considerable fuzziness about the Big Society and questions about how far it has been wholeheartedly embraced across government.  Some commentators fear the Big Society is a smokescreen to hide public spending cuts.  Whether or not they are being overly sceptical, it is certainly the case that the implementation or expression of Big Society is bound to be affected by the wider social and economic context.


One instant reaction within churches and the voluntary and community sector as a whole has been to say "we’ve been doing this for years".  A major test for them is whether the Big Society facilitates or obstructs what they are trying to do. The report will look later at what the findings of the research indicate about how the concept is working out in practice.



2.4       An invitation from secular partners?

Communities Minister Andrew Stunell has endorsed the contribution of faith groups to the nation's life, and said they are integral to creating the Big Society[7]. "Faith communities make a vital contribution to national life, guiding the moral outlook of many, inspiring great numbers of people to public service, providing succour to those in need. They are helping to bind together local communities and improve relations at a time when the siren call of extremism has never been louder.” 


This acknowledgement continues a trend through the 2000s, witnessed by various academic and policy publications[8], when there was an increasing focus on role of faith organisations, for example, as partners in regeneration in programmes such as New Deal for Communities and as members of Local Strategic Partnerships. 


In March 2010, towards the end of the last term of the Labour Government, the Department for Communities and Local Government produced a short document, Ensuring a level playing field: funding faith-based organisations to provide publicly funded services.  It recognised that certain myths sometimes obstruct faith groups in securing fair access to public funding and tendering opportunities as part of the third sector.  For example:

 "We're not allowed to give public money to religious organisations."

"Faith-based bodies don't have the necessary expertise or ‘clout’ to deliver services."

"They will use public money for proselytising or worship.”

"They wouldn't want to help people they don't approve of.”

"Single group funding has negative implications for community cohesion."

"Faith based groups only work with their own communities."


The paper’s purpose was to explode these myths. In each case, the real position is outlined to counter the myth with the aim of showing the eligibility of faith groups, like any other suitably qualified bodies, to be awarded a tender to deliver publicly funded services, or to be given a grant to carry out a project of benefit to the wider community or to their own members or constituency of supporters.


A recent demonstration of governmental willingness to engage with the churches is the Near Neighbours scheme in which the Church Urban Fund has received government funding for work in multi-faith communities (see section 4.2).

3.      Findings from the research I: About the projects


3.1       Origins

There were three main drivers for the initiation of projects:

·          starting from some perceived problem or need;

·          starting from a wish to have more community outreach and to ‘do something’ without having  identified what this might be;

·          opportunities arising from funds becoming available, invitations by an outside organisation to meet some need or the chance to participate in a regeneration programme.


The first of these was most common, though the issues varied, for example: increased numbers of homeless people on the street; troubled people with mental health issues knocking on the vicarage door after the shift towards ‘care in the community’; the advent of asylum seekers or migrant workers; increased levels of local violence as symptoms of  marginalised young people; the closure of the village post office; realising the absence of ways for different faith projects to speak to each other.   Once concern was raised, there was usually a period of investigation to ascertain whether there was other evidence to substantiate the perception of need.  This could be done through community surveys or consultation with local residents and community groups, consulting with professional bodies working in the particular policy area, and/or referring to statistical data, such as the Census or the Index of Multiple Deprivation.  

“The research was conducted through consultation with community members, agencies, young people, schools and using statistics of deprivation from wards and the diocese. The statistical material included Census data provided through the Diocese, local statistics from the City Council using the Index of Multiple Deprivation data on issues affecting young people.”[9]

“Much of the evidence we used about the problem was anecdotal, but it was based on the experience of those working in city centre parishes and other refugee and asylum seeker support organisations . . . There was and still is no quantitative local data.”


Another element of local exploration is to check that no-one else is trying to meet the same need in the same way, in which case it may be better to support that group than set up a competing operation.


In some instances, the current project has evolved from previous work.   A community cohesion project amongst young people was developed after ten years of work in schools by the Scripture Union in an area of great cultural and religious diversity.  This gradually led to a focus on Christian/Muslim relations and gave the scope for research and trialling different means of encounter before the present project emerged. 


In other cases, existing work was either replaced or added to because of new circumstances, such as recognition of the need for a foodbank arising out of debt counselling work.

“The community project began over 30 years ago when local clergy got together to see what they could do for the community . . .  In recent years we realised that there were many vulnerable older people who were not being helped by the project.  A community questionnaire helped to confirm this as did statistics of the estate’s demography. As the estate was built in 1956, there are many older people  . . .”


“The need for this work was first realised by observation and talking to people we met.  This was then supplemented using Census and deprivation statistics.  Each of our projects has developed as a logical progression from the previous one.”


Where parishes were seeking to serve their community but had not decided how, they also very often went through a community consultation process and needs analysis.  As well as pinpointing a necessary activity, this sort of approach can help to gauge the church’s capacity for addressing need.

“This evidenced a high level of distress and difficulty for people being discharged from hospital who did not meet the recently reduced criteria of statutory support across all ages. As well as uncovering unmet needs, steps were taken to determine the church’s ability to meet these needs.  The conclusion was that there was enormous capacity in terms of offering time for training and voluntary involvement . . .”   


A number of projects began because an unexpected opportunity presented itself.  In one case the closure of a charity meant that funds became available.  In others, the church was approached by an outside agency: a local authority chief executive looking for better support for vulnerable people in their homes; the Probation Service seeking a wider range of provision for offenders and ex-offenders’; a police force wanting a solution to concerns about managing juvenile criminality in the absence of a concerned parent.   These are examples of approaches that led to constructive partnership working, with the important proviso that it was always important to clarify expectations on both sides and spell out the ‘terms of engagement’.


Regeneration programmes, too, have provided an opportunity for community action.

“During the period of the Single Regeneration Budget Programme . .local people began to realise that they needed to do something to help [the estate] become more stable in terms of employment and housing and to give a greater feeling of belonging.”


An opportunity came for another church when approached by the local Sure Start about the possibility of developing a family centre with capital funding from Sure Start.  The rebuilt church and centre has enabled many more community activities in addition to the children’s work.



3.2       Range of activities

This section of the report indicates the wide range of activities encompassed by the project included in the study.  It does so not by examining them project by project but by identifying the many strands that they variously include or combine.


        Making premises available for other organisations and community activities.

Several churches have made their premises more accessible and suitable for community use through creating greater flexibility (such as moveable seating) and introducing new facilities (such as kitchen areas, toilets and audio-visual equipment), all without damaging or restricting the space for worship.



A number of projects involve befriending. These in turn require varying degrees of skill and expertise.  One revolves around supporting vulnerable or isolated families with children who are referred by other agencies.  They may have any of a range of problems such as debt, domestic abuse or parenting difficulties.  The role may be simply to spend time chatting  with them or it may go beyond this to putting them in touch with other sorts of assistance or helping them access local facilities.  Another project, commissioned by the local authority, focuses on visiting frail elderly people in their home.  In both instances, a vital prerequisite is matching the befriender and project user, which is done by the paid worker.

“In these initial visits, [the Co-ordinator] carries out a risk assessment prior to involving the volunteer befriender and she may make several visits to gain sufficient understanding to be able to introduce the most suitable befriender.”   


“In part, this is a matter of getting the ‘chemistry’ right, but it is also important to use volunteers who live in the same locality and know about the local community.  If they come from more geographically and socially distant areas, the ‘reality’ gap can be too great.”  


Roles in two criminal justice projects can also come under the heading of befriending. One works with offenders and their families; the other supports people in police custody who have no other responsible adult to accompany them.  In yet another project, Mothers’ Union members have befriended and provide practical support for the women users of a church community centre, many of whom are refugees.  A health project provides practical and emotional support for 6-8 weeks to people newly discharged from hospital and support for carers.  This can range from welfare rights guidance to a sitting service to being taken to social venues.


The youth work projects included in the study stress the need to go beyond providing leisure and other activities for young people. More significant is the development of long-lasting supportive relationships with them and their families and try to journey with them from the ages of 8 or 10 years until they reach their twenties.  

There is a lot of one-to-one work and they operate on an extended family model  . . .  Activities are then built onto relationships as appropriate.”


        Women and children’s work

Many projects include work with children and might provide parents' and toddlers' groups, out-of-school clubs and holiday schemes.  Some partner a Sure Start or Children’s Centre and also have nurseries.  These activities can be linked with other supportive interventions such as work with parents and carers on how to play with children or with women experiencing domestic violence.  One church making its premises available to local groups is given over twice a month to a Child Contact Centre, a place where the children of separated families can enjoy contact with one or both parents in a safe and relaxed environment.   One of the youth work projects included has recently given increasing attention to work with young women and with teenage parents.



Some church community centres have drop-in sessions intended for people who may need some support but do not want or need a formal service.  Drop-ins give them the chance to get together for mutual support, perhaps through craft or sporting activities or just for a chat or a meal.  The sessions may prove to be stepping stones for individuals to try other activities and give the opportunity for the centre staff to find out more about services that are required.




        Counselling and information/advice

A number of projects supply information and advice of different sorts or host advice sessions provided, say, by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.  Accommodation, benefit or debt issues are high on the agenda.   Some projects specialise in specific issues like housing or debt.  Others focus on particular user groups such as asylum seekers or ex-offenders.  Many others will serve as information hubs, signposting local services or other sources of help.  A mental health project offers more specialist counselling. 


        Financial and in-kind assistance

Relatively few projects are in a position – or would necessarily want – to give out money to clients.  However, one or two are able to give small occasional grants.  A project supporting asylum seekers gives small cash grants to a very limited number of people (depending on the state of its own funds) and funding for emergency accommodation to a few more as well as meals and food parcels.  A deposit guarantee scheme is a different sort of financial help for people not able to raise a deposit for accommodation.  Users of the scheme set up a savings plan with the project until their savings reach the level of the deposit.


        Emergency accommodation

Both housing and asylum seeker organisations sometimes manage properties that can be used by their clients.  One housing project provides supported accommodation for vulnerable young people (16/17 year olds) in five 3-bedroomed houses. Other projects provide housing for (often refused) asylum seekers.  In one case, two houses are provided rent free by the diocese.  One of the church community centres included in the study has good working links with the local authority and housing support groups and can use these links to get accommodation for homeless people.  

        Food aid

A notable development at present is the huge increase in the number of foodbanks being set up in response to evidence of need. One project included in the study began early in 2011 and now provides parcels from five distribution points to 150+ people per week who have been issued with food vouchers by a variety of agencies in the city.  Another project, which also utilises good quality surplus food from the food industry, distributes it to charitable support groups for low income, homeless and other vulnerable people. In a year, they gave out the equivalent of 235,000 meals.  Other projects include food parcels, community larders or soup runs amongst their other activities, again driven by the number of people encountered who are suffering extreme hardship.  

        Lunch clubs and cafés

The purpose of serving food in church centres is often primarily a social one: to bring in elderly people, for example, to mix with others.  For this reason, there are often associated activities from quizzes to tea dances.  In other cases, going to the café may be a less intimidating way for someone to enter a centre for the first time to get a feel for it before going on to access other services.  In one centre, the café is a way for volunteers from different cultural backgrounds to mix and provide a variety of meals.  In a rural area, the development of a coffee shop, as well as being a valuable village amenity, has become the opportunity to support fair trade and ethical suppliers.


        Education and training

A number of projects include education and training opportunities amongst their activities.  In youth work organisations, this might be a matter of starting before the school leaving age and mentoring those at risk of dropping out of education.  Organisations focusing on asylum seekers generally make ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) classes available, either supplying them themselves or hosting other organisations.  In community centres, there are frequently courses which are usually demand-led, focusing on subjects people say they want or need, such as such as first aid, food hygiene, cooking, gardening, IT, dressmaking, art, parenting skills and introduction to citizenship. These and other courses are very often delivered in partnership with a local Further Education college.  



Sometimes the specific purpose of training opportunities is to help people become more employable by imparting new proficiencies and giving them greater self confidence.  Courses will then be associated with careers advice and guidance, help with writing a curriculum vitae and interview training. 


        Opportunities for personal development

In addition to training courses, a wide range of activities give opportunities for personal development.  For young people, there are sports and leisure activities, residentials, opportunities for community work and young leaders’ programmes.  One community centre has health-related activities such as exercise, yoga and healthy eating workshops as well as a longstanding arts project. “There have been one day festivals like the ‘Recovery Festival’ which looked at ways people can take control of their lives and celebrating their gifts and achievements.” Scope for volunteering – sometimes within the organisation or a trading arm – is another way of giving valuable experience. 


        Outreach and preventative work

Many organisations seek to help minimise the risk of problems recurring, for example, homelessness, misuse of drugs or alcohol or offending.  This frequently entails active outreach work, personal support and assisting clients to overcome the barriers they encounter, whether these are physical, emotional or financial. A key factor in all these relationships is that the process is voluntary. One example of preventative work in relation to youth homelessness, which frequently occurs because of family problems, is mediation to enable all parties to deal with disputes.   In other areas of youth work, detached work is a necessary first step towards contact with the young people being targeted. In any case, the youth workers take careful note of whether they are failing to reach particular groups.  One, for instance, has recently turned more to working with ethnic minority young people.


        Street pastors

A number of organisations supply volunteers for ecumenical Street Pastor schemes, which operate collaboratively with the police and other statutory agencies to work with people, especially young people, hanging out on the streets or pubs or clubs at night.  The role is not about preaching heaven and hell, but one of listening, caring and helping - working in an unconditional way.”


        Community links

At least two organisations have undertaken intergenerational work; in one this was around sharing a meal; in another, it was through a reminiscence project.  In other projects that come under the heading of ‘community cohesion’, the focus is on bringing together people of different faiths and cultures for dialogue and joint action. 


        Networks and forums

Forums are means of both providing support to specific groups and enabling them to have a voice.  For example, members of a Refugee Forum  say “It will give us power to make our voices heard and to understand our rights and enable us to deal with those in authority. It will help us to take an active part in the local community, to make new friends and link with other refugee groups.” In another context, a small group of women ex-offenders have been helped to set up a support network for women in similar situations.  The youth forum in one of the youth work projects enables users to have a say in the running of the organisation.  In yet another, the focus is on bringing people together to pray for the town and develop closer links across a range of local projects.  


        Recycling and environmental concerns

Increasing environmental and climate change concerns are leading to more recycling and environmental projects. There is a growing number of eco-congregations as exemplified in the Shrinking the Footprint paper in Appendix III.  Recycling furniture can provide practical help to people in need, such as single mothers coming out of refuges or other low income individuals or families, and reduce the amount of material going to landfill.   Reduction of waste is also one dimension of food distribution projects. Gardening and food growing projects can be a vehicle for community building and skills development as well as having environmental and health benefits.   


        Social enterprise

As financial sustainability is a key challenge, a number of organisations are now setting up social enterprises of different sorts for all or some of their activities.  In one rural parish, the Post Office now run by the church is already a community interest company (CIC) and the  café has also recently been incorporated as a CIC with the potential to earn a surplus that can be returned to the church to support local and international mission charities.   Other projects are developing trading arms both to market goods and to undertake work.


        Advocacy and campaigning

Working on the front line to address individual and community issues gives considerable insight into the causes of problems and the impact of public policy. Very often, as a result, organisations are keen to speak out on behalf of their clients.  Sometimes this will be as intermediaries with public sector agencies; sometimes to raise awareness to prompt churches to respond; sometimes it will be in wider campaigning.  One example included in this study is of a campaign addressing financial exclusion generally and specifically trying to change the practices of doorstep lending agencies.



3.3       Management and leadership

The projects covered in the study are managed in a variety of ways and have different degrees of independence from the church.  The range includes projects run by:

·         the Parochial Church Council;

·         a sub-committee of the PCC;

·         the diocese where the staff member is managed by the Diocesan Social Responsibility Officer;

·         a steering group with membership from the Department for Social Responsibility;

·         a steering group of participating Anglican churches;

·         a steering group of representatives of Churches Together;

·         a committee of management linked with the Mothers’ Union.

In these cases, the projects use the church’s charitable status for fund raising.  Other projects are:

·         registered charities;

·         charitable companies limited by guarantee;

·         registered community interest companies.


The boards of trustees/directors of these will usually have some link to or cross membership with the sponsoring church(es) as well as other partner organisations. One project comes under an umbrella charity which, although it had its origins in a development agency set up by local churches, no longer has a formal connection.



3.4       Resources

The project stories indicate the wide variation in the need for funds, in the sources of funding and in the combinations of types of funding that different organisations have been able to secure.  The following indicates the range of sources.



·         CUF Mustard Seed Grants;

·         CUF Near Neighbours;

·         Church  and Community Fund;

·         BBC Children in Need;

·         City Livery Companies;

·         Hadley Trust;

·         Lloyds TSB;

·         Henry Smith Foundation;

·         Joseph Rowntree Trust;

·         WREN;

·         Beatrice Laing Trust;

·         Macmillan Cancer Support;

·         Northern Rock;

·         National Offender Management Service;

·         European Social Fund;

·         Big Lottery Fund.



·         Individual donations;

·         Church funds;

·         Church organisations – e.g. Mothers’ Union

·         Diocesan funds, e.g. Council for Social


·         Donations from other churches;

·         District Faith Forum;

·         Registered Social Landlords;

·         Local charities/grant giving trusts;

·         Public sector grants;

·         Regeneration programmes.


Some projects have used the local Community Foundation to access grants from trusts.


Contracts/service level agreements are another source of revenue from agencies such as local authorities, schools, the youth service or Primary Care Trusts.  Some projects, however, have avoided contract arrangements because they do not want to be limited by the agenda of the commissioning bodies.

“A key feature . . . is that it has steered clear of accepting commissions from the local authority or others.  Although it does a lot of partnership work, it has retained its independence and flexibility.  It is not tied to other people’s targets or output or outcome measures.   It can try new things and, if they fail, move on.” 


A few projects have had private sector help.  For example, an ASDA store made an organisation one of its charities and worked with it on fund raising.


Some projects raise income from activities through the sale of meals or furniture or generate rental income by letting rooms to user groups or organisations that want to use their premises as a local base for activities such as adult education classes.


In some cases, supporters have fund raising activities, such as concerts or cleaning cars or sponsored sleeping out.


Examples of in-kind assistance include:

·         The rent-free use of premises, either to house the project perhaps particularly during its early stages, or as a direct contribution to the work, for example, making available an unused vicarage for homeless accommodation.

·         Donations of equipment or furniture.

·         Donations of food from supermarkets.

·         One project secured help with health and safety arrangements from a local company as part of its corporate responsibility policy;

·         In another, Police provided training, use of offices and hospitality;


There is a distinction between start-up and running costs.  At the start, for instance, the projects may only require a room, a dedicated telephone and expenses for volunteers.  Some begin in temporary premises.  One, for example, worked from a mobile classroom until the new church building was completed.  Another that initially used the church hall now has multiple premises because project expansion also brought the need for larger and better equipped premises.  A significant transition moment in relation to the scale of resources that projects need to attract comes when they want to employ staff. 


Very often, early funding came from CUF.  One of its key advantages for projects over the years has been its role as first funder because other grant giving trusts are frequently unwilling to take this sort of risk.  A CUF grant, therefore, serves as an invaluable lever for attracting other funds. 


Reliance on any sort of external funding brings the risk of late payment.  Even though organisations may on paper have sufficient income to cover their outgoings, they can still be brought down by cash flow problems.  Few projects have more than a few months’ financial security.  It can be difficult to attract repeat grants from trusts especially if, as is often the case, the funders are keener to fund innovation than to sustain existing activity.  Public sector cuts have already bitten for some organisations and the prospect is that there is further pain to come even though for a minority, the cuts may provide them with an opportunity to move into work hitherto undertaken by mainstream agencies. 



3.5       Volunteers

Many projects rely heavily on volunteers. The range of activities includes the following:

·          trustees and management committee members often give a considerable amount of time to projects.

·         professionals offering their skills and expertise on a pro bono basis; e.g. counselling, podiatry, youth leadership, interior design, public relations, web design and  accountancy.

·         in the case of a church that has no paid administrator but is used by multiple organisations, volunteers take bookings and open and close the building.

·         reception duties: ‘meeting and greeting’.

·         clerical and office duties.

·         driving.

·         kitchen and front-of-house staff in lunch clubs and coffee shops.

·         preparing and distributing food at food outlets and on soup runs.

·         gardening.

·         house clearances, furniture delivery, DIY and refurbishment of flats.

·         shop work.

·         IT tutors and IT maintenance.

·         provision of classes and leisure activities.

·         volunteers as mentors and befrienders to a variety of client groups with varying levels of expertise required.

·         acting as ‘Appropriate Adults’ in the criminal justice system.

·         debt counselling.

·         event facilitators and organisers.

·         youth work.

·         street pastors.


Occasionally there are one-off volunteering sessions as in one project: “some staff from Northern Rock came to help dig gardens.  In addition to the practical assistance these outside volunteers gave, this was an opportunity for raising their awareness about conditions in the area”.


In gathering the project stories, there was an attempt to estimate the cash value of the contribution of volunteers.  This was not easy partly because projects do not necessarily compute the amount of time given, even though calculating the worth of volunteer activities, as one project mentioned, can usefully feature in funding bids as evidence of added value to the funder. They also tend not to include trustees in their calculations. Yet in one project, where the trustee time was counted, it amounted to about 2,200 hours over the past year. In some cases, too, the paid staff of a project work additional unpaid hours. Perhaps even more significant was the difficulty of determining the ‘rate for the job’.  The rate used was around the hourly rate for the minimum wage (£6), but it was very evident that this fell far below the going rate that would be required for the same tasks to be performed by paid staff. 


In a furniture recycling project, “There are now about ten volunteers each day:  6 or 7 in the shop who each work 4.5 hours per day and 3-4 in the warehouse who work about 6 hours per day.  Calculated on the basis of £6 per hour, this amounts to voluntary service worth over £200 per day.”


“Say 30 volunteers for 3 hours per week (90 hours), plus my administration team’s time (3 X 16 hours), and including my own (1 X 30 hours).  I would estimate around 200 hours per week, which calculated on the basis of minimum wage rates amounts to £1,200 per week.   However I wouldn’t estimate the admin team’s time at minimum wage.”


At one extreme, even on the basis of the minimum wage rate, a church community centre estimated the financial value of their approximately 50 volunteers to be about £312,000 p.a.  In a village coffee shop, the value was calculated as about £36,000 p.a.  The 80 volunteers in a health project give time to the value of at least £56,000 p.a. In a homelessness project, the value was around £30,000 p.a.  For smaller projects, of course, the amounts were also much smaller though their contribution to the maintenance and effectiveness of the work was just as significant.


Managing volunteers is a responsibility and, despite their immense value, can be an added burden.  It is necessary to accommodate to the time they can give. “Volunteers are fitting in volunteering around other life demands and so are inconsistent.”  There has to be awareness of what can and cannot be done by volunteers.  Different forms of induction and training are required from shadowing experienced people to health and safety training; CRB checks[10] to safeguarding; food and hygiene courses to first aid.  Sometimes training is given in-house, especially where it is closely related to the specialist role of the organisation. Sometimes volunteers are also encouraged to access training offered by other agencies and perhaps to go on to gain accreditation, say, in community volunteering.   Arrangements need to be in place for insurance and for expenses where appropriate.


Volunteering is not a one-way activity.  Volunteers frequently feel they gain as much as they give. 

The work is carried out on a foundation of trusting relationships, built across cultural and economic barriers. Volunteers such as lawyers and graphic designers are enabled to get to know members of their community whom they would not otherwise meet, so that they can inspire and learn from those very different from them.”


“The training provided was first rate – I never knew there were so many administrative as well as cultural barriers put in the way of asylum seekers and refugees.  On the practical side, working with asylum seekers has been extremely rewarding. Tasks range from helping with English language practice, to going for runs, from assisting with documentation and finding a GP to socialising.”



3.6       Measuring success

Projects have to be accountable to funders and supporters and frequently this will have to be in terms of quantifiable measures.  However, within the organisation, they are also likely to have criteria that go beyond targets and outputs.  Very often their concern is with the quality of relationships or the less tangible elements of health and well-being. This is illustrated in a number of ways:

·         They avoid cherry picking clients and spend considerable time with them.  They focus on those with multiple/entrenched needs who may have further to go on a journey towards quantitative outputs.

·         It is not just one-way process: many projects enable or have scope for ‘recipients’ to become givers, so it is also shown in the mutuality of the relationships that develop. 


This is not to say that it is impossible or always wrong for projects to couch their achievements in terms understood by funders.  The survey conducted in the North West[11] which looked at the civic role of faith organisations was useful not only for demonstrating the contribution of faith communities to public sector agencies. It also came as a revelation to faith communities themselves because it put what they were doing in the context of wider social and economic developments. It revealed that though they may think they are just ‘doing what comes naturally’, in fact they are also contributing to regeneration or social inclusion or sustainable development.  As well as giving a new vocabulary for engaging in dialogue with public agencies, the research gave faith groups themselves new confidence to do so because it showed that if you cut through the jargon on both sides, there are shared goals and faith communities are already out there pursuing these goals whether or not they have previously articulated it in quite this way.   


A few examples of the types of outputs and outcomes indicated by projects in this study are:

·         The range of groups using the church building.

·         The church playing a greater role in the community, shown for example by running a flourishing post office.

·         More confident and less isolated clients who have “got their lives back”.

·         Clients going on to support others.

·         The engagement of young people and their achievements: on courses; staying in education, training or employment; going on to higher education.

·         The number of asylum seekers helped out of destitution; some housed; some given leave to remain.

·         The number of homeless off the street and homelessness averted by early intervention.

·         Improved relationships between migrant workers and employers.

·         The number of people trained: clients, staff and volunteers.

·         The number of people going into employment.


A number of projects could cite external recognition of their effectiveness shown in awards or Ofsted inspections.


In addition, there were indications of the community action having indirect benefits:

·         A strengthened local church.

·         Deeper friendships and trust across denominational divides.

·         Greater inter-faith understanding.

·         Strengthened community relations between faith or ethnic groups through working together.

·         Evidence of changed attitudes: raised awareness and sympathetic understanding of the needs of groups such as the homeless, those in poverty and asylum seekers.


Voluntary organisations, including faith groups, are increasingly being asked to evidence their impact. There are ways of doing this that go beyond ‘counting outputs’ and capture the wider benefits:

        Social return on investment (SROI) is a way of measuring and accounting for the value created in projects and services. The methodology is attracting considerable interest from government and from organisations that might fund or commission specific pieces of work. Third sector organisations are starting to adopt it because it can help them give an account of their achievements and attract funding and also because it is a useful tool for understanding how to maximise social impact, improve performance and achieve their goals. In addition to providing data on the numbers of clients and types of interventions, a health project in this study providing aftercare for people on discharge from hospital was able to point to reduced readmission rates. low re-referral rates and cost savings to health partners


        Social auditing is another way of measuring the extent to which an organisation lives up to its shared values and objectives.  Basic initial questions are: What are you meant to be doing? What are you actually doing? What do you think you are doing? What do other people think you are doing?  It is a process of assessing and demonstrating the social, economic and environmental benefits and limitations through systematic and regular monitoring of performance and getting the views of its stakeholders. Stakeholders are those persons or organisations who have an interest in or have invested resources in the organisation and may include employees, clients, volunteers, funders, contractors and local residents.



3.7       Success factors

There is a difference between the way that results and impact are measured and the factors that contribute to effectiveness.  The study tried to determine what characterised these projects and, in particular, whether there were features that distinguished them from other third sector projects.   As can be seen, some of the following success factors are specific to faith-based organisations. More general ones would certainly be evident in other organisations and be seen as important by those involved including, for example, Christians working in secular bodies.



The significance of the underpinning of faith in these projects often remained implicit even though it was apparent as the motivating force for so many of the people involved.  What was also evident but not necessarily articulated was the common acceptance that “Christians are called to see others and especially others in profound need from the perspective of unflinching, unalterable love.”[12]   However, sometimes there was explicit mention of the importance of “the stress on the primacy of prayer, but also the inseparability of prayers and social action”.  There could also be consciousness of reliance upon God’s guiding hand:

“Taking the initial steps of faith – not having the plan worked out as fully as one might expect, but being prepared to take risks for the benefit of the local community whatever the final outcome . . . . It is without question that the provision of personnel, willing and able to work a few hours a week, is God’s perfect provision and timing.


        Integration with the church

Many of the projects look to their local church for different sorts of support and encouragement. This can be for practical reasons:

The integration with the church is also important: a number of members of the PCC are volunteers as well as members of the management committee.” 


Church giving – directly or in kind – can be significant. Where church buildings are being used (or the incumbent’s attention seems to be diverted from the congregation), it requires a spirit of generosity and welcome to overcome qualms such as "Will it represent a takeover? Where will we (the congregation) be in all this?”


The links can also embody and reinforce the ethos of the project:

The strong link between Church and Centre exemplifies the extent to which the focus is on the whole person, physical, social and spiritual needs.”   

“Ten years ago, there was very much a feel of separation between ‘church’ and ‘centre’.  The desire of integration has been a firm and very conscious move led by the clergy . . . this has been realised in the past five years . . .”  

“Raising awareness and getting churches on-side is important not least because churches have a real sense of the importance of family life and a vision of what ‘community’ can mean that is often lacking in wider society.


Also important is the awareness of having prayerful support.  One organisation recognised this as another form of volunteering: “A wider prayer network supports [our] work”.


The study brought out, too, the importance of being part of a diocese and a national organisation.   Research in the North West in 2009 looked at a sample of faith-based organisations and their contribution to social and economic wellbeing.  It found that their ability to respond derived partly from their frequently longstanding presence in the area but also from their capacity to tap into wider networks and resources[13].    This dimension is covered in this report in section 4.



“A professionally run project that is also a work of the heart.”  Perhaps the theme that recurred most was commitment – the dedication of all those involved with projects: trustees, staff and volunteers “going the extra mile to make appropriate provision”.

“Passion, dogged determination and believing in people all characterise the organisation, which is reaching far further than the available staff resources would suggest is possible.    

The main [success factor]  is having the desire and the will to help when there seems to be no hope.  This is expressed in the dedication and hard work of both staff and volunteers, including trustees. 

“The commitment of volunteers and staff is crucial and notably the continuity given by the Centre Manager. Her ‘speciality’ is friendship with everyone and this is fundamental to establishing the ethos of the centre.”

[It] relies entirely on the extraordinary enthusiasm and commitment of our first class volunteers.

As a Chair of Trustees said in an Annual Report: “Over the past year I have seen our staff rejoice in and with young people, as well as weep with and for them. I have seen that . . . . we have staff who are dedicated enough to respond to crucial needs even if, on some occasions, that takes them way beyond the ‘inconvenient’ and into the wee small hours and time off.” 


Such commitment can entail personal sacrifices:

Brilliant staff, especially during the initial stages (but the personal costs for our first worker were not insignificant). 


These can extend to those only indirectly involved:

The volunteers; the Bishop’s patronage; my core team, especially my senior administrator – most of them don’t stop simply because they go home; my wife who has had to undergo a radical lifestyle change to allow me to do this, but remains a constant encourager.”   


It also requires stickability: in one case, “Three years of preparation and setting up the project prior to opening our doors to clients”.




Leadership has clearly been vital to the projects reviewed in this study.  Certainly there are charismatic people to be found in many of the projects, whether as initiators or workers, and some organisations owe their existence and continued existence to the determination and personality of particular individuals.  But, as in other contexts, leadership is shown in a variety of guises: originating the project, winning support, managing it, sustaining it and, if appropriate, terminating it.  Different forms of leadership require different aptitudes.  Very often, projects originate with someone or a small group having an idea and they will become the initial driving force, but will usually need to win other support.   

“When I heard about this inequality expressed in this difference [in life expectancy] I was shocked and convicted.  I went away and thought if the churches . . . can’t do anything about this we should be shot.  I knew about the inequality, but something about this bare fact expressed the wrongness of what I seemed to be taking for granted.”   

“The Self-Supporting Minister was important in driving the vision in the early days of the project and she has provided continuity through changes of incumbent.  Similarly the continuity provided by the Senior Youth Worker has been important.” 


Clergy frequently provide the main leadership though other calls on their time can make this difficult. Also, projects that are too dependent upon one person can suffer if s/he moves on and there is no-one to take over the reins or insufficient will to ensure the work survives.  


Once a management group or trustees are in place, they collectively have a leadership role but when there is also a paid manager, s/he very often takes on much of the day-to-day decision making. Where a group of churches is involved there can be a move towards shared leadership.

Although the leadership came from the Anglican Church at first, subsequently each denomination involved owns its work. As a group, all are equal and support and serve each other.”


        Local roots

As was noted above, other research has found that the ability of faith groups to respond to local need is underpinned by their rootedness in the area and their particular local knowledge.[14] Similar conclusions can be drawn from this study. 

“Longevity – having been there for 16 years.  It took 10 years to be accepted and exert influence.” 


Even where projects themselves are relatively new, they can benefit from the fact that the church is long rooted in the neighbourhood.  It is well known that clergy may be the only professionals actually resident in their parish, which gives them more personal experience of local life.  Similarly, one of the youth workers interviewed in this study referred to the advantage of “Living in the area in a council flat – able to identify with and understand the frustrations of local residents”.  It is an important factor in generating acceptance and trust from local people.


        Stress on the personal

A key feature that distinguishes church (and other voluntary sector) care projects is that their starting point is the individual in front of them. By contrast the interventions of statutory agencies are inevitably compartmentalised and can only focus on certain facets of that person’s life.

 The strapline is ‘Success with compassion.’  Everyone is treated as an individual and given support throughout their contact.  No-one is ever turned away even though there is a great temptation to at times. We adopt a holistic approach to problems recognising that everyone has multiple problems that all need to be taken into account and addressed.

“[We] can cross barriers that other agencies with more limited remits cannot and it can deliver help that is more personal to the specific family.

“There is a lot of emphasis on individual users and their progression, recognising that many people using the Centre have not had many positive choices, so that there is a need to build up their self-esteem and open up new horizons for them.”

“Often when they are referred, it is with the message ‘this is what they need’.  However, [we] start from what the families themselves say: what is their immediate felt need.  Once the relationship is established, a wider range of problems or their underlying causes may emerge.”

“The key factor is probably the caring atmosphere: ‘listening to people’ and being responsive to their needs.”

The project represents ‘the church doing what it is good at’ – slowing down the process to have time to develop relationships.

. . . the key characteristic . . . is that it offers practical and emotional support that is individually tailored to fit the diverse needs of the families concerned.

Recognising each of our clients as a valued individual with his or her particular needs.”


This approach requires continuity and long term links with project users such as the socially isolated, the homeless and those with addictive personalities or problems but it is more likely to be effective.

The more the projects have built up relationships and trust with the client groups, the more we have seen the need to develop services to meet their needs [whereas] often the approach is to deal with the presenting problem and not the cause.”


        Working with allies

A factor that recurred in a number of projects was “building good links with other organisations.”    In some cases, these were with other churches and faith groups.

“It is vital that the approach is ecumenical (and often inter-faith).  It enables far greater impact and makes it easier to work with secular partners.” 


Again in this sort of collaboration, there was an emphasis on “the importance of personal relationships [recognising] the way that new initiatives can grow organically out of them.”

Mixing socially and sharing meals as well as having ‘business’ meetings.


In other instances, the need was underlined for wider partnerships in order to achieve greater effectiveness, recognition and influence.

“Critical to the way of working is the collaborative approach with other organisations including local authorities, voluntary organisations and businesses.  This entails reading the context in which we are working and ensuring we fit into it.  Sometimes working in this way can be seen to slow things down, but it is more effective in the long run.


“The main key to effectiveness . .   the emphasis on relationships. This has enabled it to secure a high level of collaboration – lots of informal interrelationships and exchanges of favours with other groups that share its concerns and the chance of opportunistic developments.”

 “Close engagement and working relationships with statutory agencies.”

Engaging with local councillors and council so that they accept that we can work as a team and that the work we do is of value.”

Working alongside public sector leaders in the town and gaining credibility and therefore influence amongst them. 


One of the unfortunate side effects of public sector cuts apart from the diminution of funding has been that very often previous contacts and partners are no longer on the scene, having taken voluntary severance or been made redundant or moved.  Thus the task of forging constructive working relationships has had to start again.



Many projects stressed the need for standards of professionalism that can enable them to stand comparison with other service providers.  Specific aspects were cited:

Much of the effectiveness of the project depends upon the care and skill required to match befrienders appropriately with families.

Dealing with issues promptly.”  

Attention to detail”  

“The Centre is successful because we adapt to the changing circumstances of the local community and try to provide what is wanted and needed.”

“Having skilled facilitators and good resource materials was . .  critical to success.”


There was variation in the ways and extent to which projects monitored and evaluated their activities but there were indications that this is becoming a more prominent issue.  For some, the driving force is to collect the evidence required by funders, but others see wider value in having the means to assess their effectiveness and steer their future policy and practices.

“Being a small organisation we can be innovative and test new services underpinned by the organisation’s quality and accountability within an evaluative framework.”


Another dimension of the professional approach is in team management.  This might be as a guard against a ‘one man band’.  It might be to foster greater integration between the project and the church: “Encouraging church members and community leaders and members to work together.” 


Many projects indicated their rigour in training and managing volunteers, but they also seek to make the experience worthwhile and enjoyable for volunteers and show that their contribution is valued. 

There is an annual service recognising, valuing and showing appreciation for all that they do.”

“We also take care to demonstrate how much we value the time, energy and commitment given by volunteers through getting them together for various events and we are planning a service in [the] Cathedral, followed by a cream tea and the giving of certificates.”



3.8       Barriers

Another area of exploration in the study was the obstacles that the projects encounter.



The barrier mentioned in relation to almost all the projects covered was funding.  For many, the perpetual uncertainty about future funding and the time and effort required to make funding bids become a constant drain on energy.   Various factors make the funding environment much more competitive.  Potential funders, such as charitable trusts, are receiving more applications at a time when their investment income has gone down.   Some congregations are becoming relatively poorer, which limits their giving.  Groups using church premises are themselves struggling so yields from rental income are affected.  Competition for contracts has  increased over recent months with larger organisations having an advantage over smaller ones.


Restricted funding has knock-on effects.  It can directly curtail activities or indirectly because partner organisations have closed or scaled back their activities in the context of public sector cuts.   It can hamper projects that need premises either for their own activity or for clients such as homeless people. It can make it impossible to employ paid staff, which would enable the greater deployment of volunteers.   


        Managing projects

Some barriers cited in the study were to do with different aspects of running projects.  They related in one way or another to capacity.  When working at such a local level and when the desire is to be rooted in the local community, it can be difficult to recruit committee members/trustees with the appropriate knowledge and skills. Time and availability are also factors when there is considerable reliance on the involvement of parish clergy.  There can also be a shortage of management skills amongst staff.  Where they have come into a project in its infancy to perform a specific role, the growth of the project may put new demands on them which they feel are beyond their competence.  Recruiting good staff can be challenging although currently the position may ease because of the impact of cuts and redundancies elsewhere. 


A major facet of many projects is recruiting and managing volunteers.  As has been indicated, volunteers are one of the strengths of such projects.  However, it is not always easy to attract high quality volunteers especially ones, such as befrienders, “who are willing to devote quite a lot of time to an unknown requirement with regard to when a call will be made”.   Once recruited, it can take skill and sensitivity to manage volunteers and avoid issues such as cliqueyness or resistance to change.


Another danger that was mentioned is that of losing focus or distinctiveness.  Some projects become aware of multiple needs or opportunities and consequently the many different directions they could take. Then the risk is of becoming too diffuse and woolly.  In others, any growth brings with it the challenge of retaining organisational integration. The move from grant aid to contracts can similarly challenge the integrity of the organisation.  The amount of paper work involved may curtail the time spent with clients.  The terms of a contract may be prescriptive in a way that distorts the project’s preferred approach.   


        Context of activity

Many of the projects included in the study are based in tough working environments, in which staff may feel isolated emotionally and intellectually. An associated feature of deprived areas is that people sometimes have a poor self image and low aspirations, which makes it harder to effect change.  There can be resistance to interventions – whether regeneration, social care, youth work or training and employment measures – not necessarily or solely because these activities are being sponsored by the church but because they are seen to represent ‘authority’. 


Geography can be another contextual issue that is challenging in rural areas where access or bringing groups together is more difficult.



Some projects encounter negative attitudes or assumptions that may come from inside or outside the church. In one or two projects, disappointment was expressed that churches were “not living up to the social gospel”. Within some churches, the belief prevails that “Christian mission begins and ends with evangelism”.  A more diluted expression of this was the expectation that the activity being carried out, such as youth work, would result in more young people in the pews.  Getting a wider vision across about the church’s social role is challenging.


Externally, potential partners or funders can still be suspicious of a perceived ‘religious’ agenda.

“Agencies that we work will sometimes assume that as a church-based organisation, we have another agenda, that the only reason for our being here is to get people into church on a Sunday.”     


More generally, it can be difficult to win the confidence and collaboration of professionals on the ground.  In the context of public sector cuts, there can be anxiety about the voluntary sector being brought in to do jobs ‘on the cheap’.


Another obstacle inside and outside churches is people prejudiced against the groups with whom projects are working.  For example, there is “prejudice about refugees and asylum seekers fanned by the tabloid press”.   This can even occur within agencies: “whilst many police are extremely helpful, we have known instances of them being almost brutally unhelpful”.  Similarly, church members can have very judgmental attitudes towards people in poverty, again often because “their only window on the world is through the media” so that there is a need “to change attitudes and overcome inaccurate preconceptions”.  



3.9       Challenges and opportunities

When asked about the future, project respondents identified a mix of challenges associated keeping the work going and maintaining its integrity and horizon scanning for new opportunities.


The prominence of funding as a barrier makes it unsurprising that one of the major challenges that most groups face is sustainability: maintaining their activity and, where relevant, their plant.  Sometimes, it is anticipated that this will mean doing “more with less”.



For some projects, developing partnerships is closely associated with the need for financial security as a route towards being consortium members and winning contracts. For most, it is a key requirement for effective performance as very few will be able to go it entirely alone.  Projects need to establish their credibility in delivering their service and demonstrate that they are reliable partners. 



Capacity was cited as an issue in a number of ways.  It could appear in relation to the need to identify new trustees/directors or recruit staff and/or volunteers with the right aptitude and expertise or ensure continuity through changes in key personnel.  It sometimes related to use of plant.

 Increasing numbers of users put greater demands on the building and use of space. 


However, there are also clearly stages in organisational growth and development that present challenges when more robust management, administrative and marketing systems become necessary.  In other words, there is a need to develop roles and functions to support the key mission and purpose of the project.  Quite often these will require skills that are not needed while the project remains very small and which are not the ones brought by the original founders or early workers.

I am manager, a trustee, the treasurer and also an adviser.  Having so many hats has been necessary up to now, but I am praying that people will come along with different gifts and there will come a day when I can let go of some work and pass it to others.” 

 Effectively we have a small business whose demand has hopelessly outstripped the structures that its original plan dictated would be required.  What happens then is that you get some burn-out and insufficient time to build a new strategy for the larger organisation.” 


Another significant step for some projects is to move from being reliant on grant aid/donations either to taking on contracts or setting up a social enterprise.


        Making greater use of volunteers

At a time when the squeeze on funding is heightening the importance of volunteers, several projects were thinking about how to make greater use of them.   As well as wanting to recruit more volunteers, they were considering how to increase the diversity of their roles (“developing bigger roles for experienced befrienders, for example, as ambassadors, mentors and contributors to the training programme”) and how to make the experience a more rewarding one for volunteers through additional training and accreditation.


        Extending the work

Given increased funding, many projects are able to identify ways in which they could expand their work.  This may be to extend it geographically to cover a wider area or it might be to take on new activities: for example, more outreach and follow up work in a homelessness project.  Other openings are arising because of the paucity of provision in some policy areas. 

There are very few resources locally for people with mental health issues or learning difficulties and so there is an opportunity for us to do more.”


        Policy and service changes

Another drive to extending the work comes from the needs and opportunities that exist because other services are being cut and clients are receiving much less support. More people seek help in a time of financial stringency. Needs may also arise, however, because of demographic or other changes.  At a time when there are proportionately more older people and they are living longer, there is recognition of the need for more provision for older people. 


The effects of austerity measures was a repeated theme. 

“The switch from Incapacity Benefit to Job Seeker’s Allowance means that claimants have less money but are frequently still unemployable.” 


Eligibility criteria are being narrowed and excluding some who would previously have been helped.

Constant changes to the asylum system make it harder and harder for people to pursue claims and significantly increase the length of stay of our residents, reducing the number we can help.”   


A number of projects recognise the challenge of keeping abreast of policy changes and coping with the fall-out where there is a negative impact on project users. Changes in contract arrangements have affected some projects making financial viability more fragile and leading to a much more competitive working environment especially for smaller organisations. 

Although the government’s austerity measures seem to bring opportunities, “people in churches, as in the rest of the voluntary sector, are becoming more wary of, or rather cynical  about, the term ‘Big Society’ because it seems to amount to them being given more and more responsibilities in the face of dwindling resources”.

More positively, the introduction of ‘personalisation[15] is particularly significant for the changes it is bringing to adult social care.  Individuals receive their own budget and can decide how, who with and where they wish to spend that budget in order to meet their needs and achieve their desired outcomes. Rather than a service-led approach in which individuals have to fit into care and support services that already exist which have been designed and commissioned by others on their behalf, it means tailoring support to people’s individual needs and ensuring they can make informed decisions about their care and support.  It requires finding new collaborative ways of working (sometimes known as co-production) that support people to engage actively in the design, delivery and evaluation of services and developing local partnerships to co-produce a range of services to give people choice. The initial focus is on social care and support services, but the intention is to embed the principles of personalisation in other public service areas such as health and education.



        Holding the vision

Struggling with day-to-day survival can make it harder to keep the real purpose of the effort at the forefront of thinking.

“One challenge is to keep the vision in focus so that making money is not the driving force . . . remembering that these are Community Interest Companies here to serve the community and using them as a tangible expression of God’s love for the community through the church.”   

To ensure the values and ethos central to the organisation remain and we are not diverted through chasing funding opportunities which take us into different directions.


In addition to funding, targets set by funders, if they are not exactly a diversion, can at least deflect attention from other less tangible, goals.   There was sometimes consciousness, too, of the need to “make more space for theological reflection”.


        Imparting the vision

On the whole, however, imparting the vision to others is a greater challenge. This might be about the importance of the work: underlining its imperative as well as distinguishing it from more narrowly evangelistic activities.

To some extent there is a tension between the pressures around the Diocesan Growth Strategy (numerical growth on Sunday mornings) and what we feel called to do in our neighbourhood. 


Some projects wanted to gain more active or moral support from local churches for what they were doing.  It could be the case that where there was collaboration, it was restricted to churches that have a similar theological outlook, yet there is scope to be more inclusive because others would share their commitment to this area of mission.  On the other hand, lack of support could spring from disagreement about whether these were appropriate activities or, as indicated above, because of prejudice about the specific user groups, whether asylum seekers, homeless, people in poverty or ex-offenders.  There was recognition, therefore, of the need for awareness-raising alongside the core project activities.   



4.      Findings from the research II: About supporting projects


4.1       The importance of higher level support

A key message emerging from the study concerns the significance of infrastructure support to projects. A few of the project stories include comments on support requirements: 

·         One specifically cites the challenge of “Making the leap to an organisation with an employee and increased funding to manage.  We shall have to consider governance and may have to become a registered charity.  We may require support to make this transition.”   

·         “It would be good if there was some co-ordinated help for PCCs wishing to set up businesses or employ staff to save the angst of reinventing the wheel.”

·         “Having advice available on human resources and payroll support.”

·         “Being put in touch with and sharing experiences with other church groups working in a similar field.”

·         Opportunities to reflect theologically with others and deepen our understanding between faith and our practical work.”


Others also underlined the importance of support. For this reason, several different types of infrastructure organisations have been included in the study (section 4.4).  But support also comes in various forms from diocesan officers.  This can be simply in the form of asking appropriate questions when parishes or other groups are thinking about embarking on a project, for instance, about evidence of need for the activity being considered or about capacity to meet that need  It can be supplying neighbourhood data or information about potential sources of funding.  It can be help with funding applications.  


Once up and running, there is often still an important role. In one example, the leader of a youth work project said:

The Diocesan Youth Officer is a trustee.  The Church and Community Development Officer attends management group meetings and has helped us access funding and sometimes looked over funding applications.  More generally, the Diocese has given invaluable Human Resources support in relation to issues such as Child Protection and CRB checks.”   

Without outside support in ancillary roles such as this, the leader would scarcely have had time to do her ‘proper’ job. 


Organisations also take advantage of strategic support and training from various secular as well as faith-based bodies both locally and nationally.  Sometimes this will be on general topics, such as strategic planning, managing volunteers or marketing, using organisations like Councils of Voluntary Service.  Sometimes it will be specific to the sphere of activity, such as the Trussell Trust in relation to food banks, Refugee Action and NACCOM, the ‘No Accommodation Network providing accommodation for destitute asylum seeker or the Arthur Rank Centre and Plunkett Foundation on rural issues.  For many, too, the Church Urban Fund (CUF) has been a major source of support as well as funding (see 4.2). 


In addition to practical support, having connections with national organisations can not only provide opportunities for exchanging information and sharing experience, it can also be good for morale especially when the work seems very much an uphill struggle. 


Where work is being done for, or in partnership with, agencies such as the local authority or primary care trust, that body will supply administrative help and support with recruitment of volunteers, such as CRB checks.  One concern is that there is less of this sort of help available as a result of the public spending cuts. 


Voluntary sector infrastructure organisations like others in the sector are suffering from the austerity measures, despite their importance in underpinning the ‘Big Society’.  However,  it is also evident from the study that resources for social responsibility (under whatever name it appears) and related activities have already been shrinking in some dioceses.  Although the job title may still exist, it is sometimes only an appendage to a full time incumbency or one role amongst many in an individual’s wide ranging portfolio. 


4.2       The role of CUF

The Church Urban Fund (CUF) was set up in 1987 following a recommendation in Faith in the City. Its role is to support grassroots, faith-based social action in the most deprived neighbourhoods in England. CUF works with local churches to tackle poverty and has awarded over 5,000 grants since its inception totalling £65 million.  There is a Diocesan Link Officer in every diocese, who is the first point of contact for information and support, working with CUF to advise and support the grant-making process.


Currently, the CUF Mustard Seed Grant programme aims ‘to provide grants of up to £5,000 to enable churches and faith-based organisations to engage in social action, by supporting them to initiate or develop community work’.  Projects, which must have charitable purposes, must either be targeting areas within the 10% most deprived in England or an ‘intrinsically disadvantaged’ group, such as the homeless, people with drug and alcohol problems or refugees and asylum seekers.  Although projects do not need to be Anglican ones, there should be a strong link with a faith group. Church involvement can range from ownership to active support, including promotion, fundraising and/or volunteering by the local church community, but it needs to be more than simply being the landlord or having a church member on the management committee. The Grant Criteria and Guidance document states very clearly what the Fund will and will not support. 


CUF also provides resources to support the projects it funds through training, workshops and conferences.  There are monthly newsletters. Xchange supplies information about resources, funding, training and networks to support community and youth workers, project leaders and volunteers. Together gives news and updates about CUF’s work.  The CUF website gives project examples and case studies as well as templates, toolkits, guidance and research reports. An example is the Churches Community Value Toolkit for Church of England Parishes (June 2006) (with versions for Baptist and Methodist churches). Its purpose is to help churches articulate ways in which they contribute to their local community and estimate the financial value of this contribution.  Using the toolkit can:

·         enable churches to set a baseline so that they can measure change over time.

·         provide evidence in support of grant applications.

·         provide information to inform discussions with local statutory and voluntary sector organisations in order to raise the profile of the church, underline its credibility as a partner and increase the likelihood of influencing local policies and practices.


CUF is now working with several dioceses to develop ‘CUF Locals’, that is, joint ventures to support existing networks of activists to work on locally defined priorities. Once these organisations are formed, CUF can supply funds for a community worker to facilitate the work, build collaboration, recruit new activists and get new projects off the ground.  Transformation Cornwall is one example.


Currently a major CUF project is Near Neighbours. Its objectives are to aid social interaction by helping people from different faiths get to know and understand each other better and to support social action by encouraging people of different faiths or no faith to collaborate in initiatives that improve their local neighbourhood. Funded by the government, Near Neighbours is operating in four key diverse and multi-faith areas: the north of England (Bradford, Burnley and Oldham); Leicester; parts of London; and parts of Birmingham.  It is providing four types of support:

·         Helping the four Centres already working in multi-faith areas.

·         Creating a Near Neighbours Fund to help get good local ideas about different groups of people working together off the ground.

·         Assisting other inter-faith organisations to extend their work.

·         Assisting in work at a neighbourhood level.



4.3       Other national bodies

One of the resources on the CUF website is a Directory of Ready-to-Go Church Community Projects, (Church Urban Fund, November 2010).  This gives information about a variety of national organisations that can provide tools, support and advice in relation to a range of activities including debt advice, employment and training, foodbanks, homelessness, health care, street life, pregnancy advice and young people:

·         Christians Against Poverty

·         Housing Justice – Winter Night Shelters

·         Community Money Advice (CMA)

·         Care Confidential

·         SAFE – Choices programme

·         Street Angels

·         Spear

·         Street Pastors

·         The Trussell Trust

·         Streetspace

·         Parish Nursing Ministries UK

·         The Lighthouse Group

·         Depaul Nightstop UK – Emergency Accommodation

·         Worth Unlimited


The Directory indicates the advantages in partnering with a national organisation to set up a community project:

·         Pre-established templates and procedures (including monitoring systems), promotional material and governance structures can reduce the amount of time preparing to get the project off the ground.

·         Being able to access the experience, best practice and learning can lead to greater effectiveness.

·         The networking and events bringing project workers/church leaders together to share learning and common problems can reduce isolation and the chance of burn-out.

·         Management is made easier because project models are established with clear protocols and there is scope for advice and support.


Such a partnership is not the same as becoming a local branch of a national organisation. These projects are owned and run by local churches and so have a high degree of ownership. Consequently they are successful in accessing the enthusiasm, finances, volunteers and prayers of local people.



4.4       Examples of infrastructure organisations

The examples of infrastructure organisations cited in the study arose in different ways and have different functions. 

        Churches Trust for Cumbria originated because, despite the number of historic church buildings in Cumbria, there was no county Historic Churches Trust.  The gap was recognised at a time when it was possible to access funds from the Regional Development Agency and the case for funding could be tied into the role of churches as part of the area’s cultural offer and therefore significant to its tourism economy.    However, the supportive role of the trust extends much further.  It “recognises and values the contribution that church buildings and church communities make to society in Cumbria, beyond their core purpose as places of worship” and, therefore, encourages partnership and engagement with local community groups, businesses and public sector organisations.


        Faith in our Communities came about five years ago because, in spite of the extent of its deprivation, the Diocese of Durham was persistently underspending CUF funding.  The purpose was to increase capacity in congregations by giving them the skills and confidence to plan new projects and employ workers.  It was founded on the principles of Church Related Community Development: in other words, enabling people to create their own change rather than doing it for them.  


        Together for Regeneration began in 1999 as an initiative of the Diocese of Sheffield and Industrial Mission South Yorkshire. The object was to help churches be involved in the regeneration that was happening extensively in South Yorkshire. It now provides infrastructure support for voluntary, community and faith sector organisations.  Although it has proved very adaptable and responsive to changing needs and has been able to take advantage of changing funding opportunities, the current funding climate is more unfavourable than at any time in its history to date.


        East Northants Faith Group (ENFG) is the working name for the body representing all faith-based groups in the East Northants District Council area.  It began five years ago with the purpose of networking, profiling and increasing collaboration across the wide diversity of projects offered by all faith groups.  It grew to incorporate all active churches in the area and identified key projects to facilitate, including street pastors, a night shelter and community café, debt counselling, a joint general counselling service and an autism awareness and support project.  ENFG has produced resources for groups to use such as policies on equal opportunities, risk assessment and safeguarding and the Faithworks six-point plan for community development. 


        Leeds Christian Community Trust (LCCT) started in 2003 as a means of several mission initiatives sharing resources instead of each needing to set up its own structure and administrative systems.  Since 2003, it has supported over 30 projects engaged in a variety of activities, such as: after-school clubs; youth work; creative arts; work with asylum seekers; networking and promoting links across different ethnic groups; friendship and support groups; training; and anti-poverty work. Management of each project is the responsibility of the dreamer/vision carrier with support from their own reference group. Each project is accountable to LCCT trustees through a link trustee and by reporting through the Support Team.  Funded projects are appraised against their agreed development plan.  For auditing purposes, member projects’ accounts make up a sub-section of the accounts of the whole charity, but the finances of any one project are kept separate from others. The aim is for each project to secure external funding support and eventually become a separate legal entity.


        The Kairos Partnership is a charity, supported by the Diocese of Hereford, to work with local faith groups to start and develop projects to help their communities.  Kairos works with any faith-based community group (Christian, Muslim, Jewish or other recognised faith) that needs help to turn an idea into a workable project, or to grow a small project into a bigger one. The company will, if necessary, act as an accountable body for funding, assist in making bids and developing a business plan.


        Transformation Cornwall is an ecumenical charity, set up by the Diocese of Truro, the Church Urban Fund and the Methodist Church in Cornwall, as part of the Church Urban Fund’s Joint Venture programme with Dioceses around the country. Building on previous work, it was established as a vehicle to provide sustained infrastructure support for church related projects with the purpose of engaging every church and enhancing the capacity of their clergy, leaders, projects and people in addressing poverty.   It can work with groups to identify the needs of their community, support them in responding and provide training and capacity building.


        Infrastructure support in the Diocese of Portsmouth revolves around moving away from dependency on grant funding. The Council for Social Responsibility (CSR) sees the challenge as how to make the presence of the Anglican Church in most neighbourhoods “a dynamic and sustainable resource for our mission and be a centre of light, hope and belief for all”.  There are a number of strands.  In 2003, the Diocese launched the Kairos process to help parishes think strategically about the future.  The diocese went through two cycles of the Kairos process.  The first in 2004-05 looked at community engagement and resulted in hundreds of community projects; the second launched in 2008 focused on church buildings and led to many successful building projects that have since been undertaken.  The Rapid Parish Development Programme (RPDP), introduced in 2009, succeeded the Kairos Process.  Although initially the plan was to work with parishes considering new community facilities, it quickly became evident that there was a danger of more churches being burdened with poorly thought through and delivered (re)development projects.  Instead, RPDP starts from first principles with the why, what and how questions for parishes thinking through what they can offer to their local community and more widely. It uses social/business development techniques adapted to help participants think about the potential role of their Church.    Another strand of activity is Kaospilots: a programme of leadership developed with the University of Portsmouth, the Kaospilots School in Denmark and others to assist clergy and lay people develop the creative entrepreneurial skills needed for viable and sustainable projects.  One current possibility is to turn this activity into a social enterprise to run the programmes and roll them out more widely.


        Good Neighbours Support Service has been running since the 1970s.  Sponsored by a consortium of three dioceses, Winchester, Guildford and Portsmouth led by the Diocese of Portsmouth, it provides information, guidance, development and support to about 125 Good Neighbours Groups in Hampshire (sometimes called Neighbourcare Groups or Care Groups). These are independent voluntary groups that offer neighbourly help to people in their local communities.  They are not faith-based, but probably about 80% of the people involved are church members. GNSS offers support from a local Good Neighbours Groups Adviser, information and resources, networking opportunities and regular training days as well as free insurance, CRB checks and resources and grants.  As well as enabling groups to be more effective, GNSS tries to ensure that there are as few barriers to volunteering as possible. 


It can be seen that these examples operate at different spatial levels: local authority or county-wide or throughout a diocese or sub-regionally.  Most are ecumenical or interfaith.  In other words, they recognise that because of the commonalities across faith groups there is greater economy and effectiveness in being inclusive.  As well as the services being relevant to all, they can use the diversity to strengthen the way they function.  Several have arisen not just from identifying need, but also from spotting opportunities or seeing that the time was right whether because of the availability of funding and/or potential partners or because they have looked at trends and understood, for example, the increasing scope for social enterprises.


Various common threads run through what these organisations do.  They are all designed to help local churches and faith groups maximise their potential in responding to community needs. This can be through strengthening the capacity of organisations and/or relieving them of management and administrative burdens so that they are able to focus on their main mission, especially in their initial phase of development.  It can be in increasing their impact by helping towards a more integrated approach to meeting local needs and sharing good practice. As infrastructure bodies, they bring greater awareness of the associated issues when organisations grow and their activities expand, take on paid staff or become incorporated. 


4.5       Wider strategic context

Another way in which parishes can be helped to address particular issues or take actions forward is if there is strategic work at national and/or diocesan level. This study includes three examples.

        The Diocese of London began a partnership with The Children’s Society (TCS) in 2005/6 that eventually led to a three year written Youth Strategy for the Diocese for 2008-2011.  That strategy  is now being updated.  A worker from TCS conducted an extensive consultation and the Diocese could also draw on the findings of the Society’s 2006 Good Childhood Inquiry to inform the strategy.  Since then, training and accreditation have been provided for youth leaders at basic and more advanced levels, support and guidance for them and parishes and other resources have been produced including a self-evaluation tool for churches. Young people have been trained to administer the fund that offers small grants to youth groups and Young Advisers help to train others. The project has also helped CUF to assess youth work funding applications from the Diocese.


        Faith in Affordable Housing is a project managed by Housing Justice that provides a web-based guide to help churches offer their land or property for affordable housing. A Project Co-ordinator can work with churches considering a scheme on a no-fee basis.  The paper on affordable housing in this study also gives examples of diocesan approaches: one focusing on large ‘time-expired’ church buildings and the other on selling or leasing church land.  Having the strategy and/or expertise within the diocese helps to simplify the process for local churches.  In this policy sphere as in others, recent policy changes mean that it is necessary to keep abreast of potential partners and funding sources for such schemes. Some former funding streams have gone. At present, a Community Land Trust is a potential vehicle and the paper gives an example of a local scheme.  In addition, there is a template that looks at steps towards a CLT.


        Shrinking the Footprint, launched in 2006, is the Church’s campaign and programme of action to mitigate climate change.  It invited all parishes to carry out an audit of their energy use to establish a benchmark.  Having assessed the size of the current carbon footprint, the idea was to roll out initiatives to shrink that footprint.  The paper included in this study also refers to ‘Grow Zones’, a national project for those who want to start a community growing project. Two regional responses to environmental issues are an Environment Group set up jointly by six dioceses in South West England and a North West-wide multi-faith environmental project. There are descriptions of a diocesan strategy and a joint Anglican/Roman Catholic response in another diocese and an example of a congregation meeting the criteria of the Eco-Congregation Award.


In all of these, there is a clear connection between thinking from the national to the local, with the information, expertise and benchmarks that can be provided nationally giving encouragement, ideas and a useful framework for local activities.

5.      Conclusions and messages


5.1       Bringing the threads together

This long report has tried to bring together key messages and themes from a study of Christian Community Action.  Although designed to be read alone, it relies upon all the associated material in the appendices and it is in these that the reader can find the first hand experience, illuminating stories and inspiring accounts of dedicated service to the church and to local communities.   


With no claims to be comprehensive, the study nevertheless illustrates the immense range of community projects taking place.  As many respondents testified, here is ‘Big Society’ in action long before the term was coined.  Their stories indicate the barriers they face and their future challenges.  They reflect their strengths: the sensitivity to need and the commitment shown in the determination to respond to it.  They demonstrate the importance of both the underpinning of faith and the role of the institutional church at all levels, local, diocesan and national. 


Lessons emerged about the (potential) strengths of Christian community action projects:

·         First, their stress on personal relations.  They start from the individual and have a holistic approach, unlike a lot of agencies that have to start from their own agenda.

·         Secondly, their staying power.  When they have been around a long time, have stuck it out and really know their local community, they have credibility and they inspire trust.

·         A third strength comes from acting together – churches and often other faith groups joining to meet needs and allying with others who share their vision and values.

·         Lastly, there is the inseparability of prayer and action.  This link is always important to keep rooted in faith, but it is also a reminder of a continuing role for those who cannot or can no longer be so active. 


5.2       Theological themes 

A range of theological themes thread through the sample of projects covered in the study:

·         Caring featured in nearly all because the motivation came from the fact that people cared about others and the value attached to each and every individual was demonstrated through that care.

·         Hospitality was another theme that was often present but perhaps seen most strikingly in relation to asylum seekers and refugees.

·         Presence – being there – was another theological strand. Very often, the church project was the most longstanding one in the community, as others came and went. Years ago, this was expressed by Margaret Simey – a sympathiser but not a church person – based on her experience as a councillor in Liverpool 8.  She talked about the church being “an enduring, faithful presence so that the flux and uncertainty all around could be more bravely confronted[16].

·         Liberation was another theme: people in the projects were often struggling to help those they were working with escape the shackles represented by their different problems, such as poverty, unemployment, homelessness, broken relationships or isolation.

·         Yet another strand was Inclusion: not just that social inclusion was a goal of some projects, but also that they were not making a strict divide between helper and helped.  Clients sometimes went on to be volunteers; but in any case, staff and volunteers recognised the mutuality involved and how they benefited from relationships. The language of Big Society sometimes suggests there is a divide between the doer and the done to whereas, in Rowan Williams’ words, “we have a robust sense of inter-dependence.  A sense that we all, each one of us, we all are who we are because of the neighbour, because of relationship.”[17]

·         Creation was an obvious theme in relation to some of the environmental and climate change projects, which also extended the vision of interdependence globally and to future generations.

·         Finally, Justice was a theme among projects speaking out about injustice and inequality.  There was also awareness that although there are opportunities to deliver caring service by being commissioned to do so by public agencies, it is important not to become so enmeshed in ‘the system’ that you lose the capacity to speak truth to power.


5.3       Returning to the idea of Big Society

The impetus for this study came from a debate in General Synod on the Big Society.  Early in this report, the statement was made “A major test for them [the churches and the voluntary and community sector]  is whether the Big Society facilitates or obstructs what they are trying to do”.  In some ways, the jury is still out.  Insofar as the language of government is friendly towards the role of faith communities, there seems to be an open invitation to take on a greater community role.  However, rhetoric is not necessarily matched by reality. This is a time of flux in the lives of many of the communities and projects represented here. The combined effects of the economic downturn and the government’s austerity measures mean, on the one hand, a rising tide of need particularly among already vulnerable people in already deprived neighbourhoods and, on the other, tighter purse strings amongst potential funders of voluntary organisations, including church groups.  For some, future funding prospects look even more uncertain. The opportunities may be there to become more involved in service delivery but mainly without the resources to enable this to happen.


5.4       Stronger bonds

“Neighbourliness is the first condition for treating others (and being treated ourselves) as ends not means.”[18]

There is no doubt that the projects described in this study represent neighbourliness in action, but one of the key emerging messages is that they need support in this from the wider church in terms of prayer, understanding, information, practical assistance and, sometimes, strategic direction.  Some projects had encountered negative attitudes inside the church as well as external barriers.  To repeat the statement quoted earlier, there is a need for a reminder that the Christian mission in the world “is not just to enable the church to flourish but to promote the flourishing of all people”.[19]


The report has discussed the role of diocesan officers as well as looking at different types of church-related infrastructure organisations. At a time when the operating environment for projects is becoming more difficult, the need for this higher level support seems more pressing, yet it was also evident from the study that in some dioceses resources for social responsibility are shrinking.  Clearly, financial pressures can be pleaded in mitigation for cuts but where those cuts fall also denotes priorities. Very often all the emphasis is put on mission at parish level (“this is where the ‘real’ work of the church takes place”), possibly without appreciating the role of diocesan officers, including sector ministers in facilitating that mission.  


A Christian vision of the good society aims to generate the kind of strong social bonds that also appear among the objectives of the Big Society project.”[20]

There is another role for the wider church and its leaders.  At project level, there can be tensions between the pastoral and prophetic roles; between meeting needs and speaking out about the impact of the economy and public policies on vulnerable people and communities. Yet the strong social bonds that these projects are trying to generate need to be embodied in economic and social policies and institutions as well as expressed in inter-personal relationships. The existence of this Christian community action, its presence and sustained service in all parts of society gives the church the experience and authority to be able to speak with integrity in the public arena with and for those who would not otherwise have a voice.  


[1] Malcolm Brown, “Church of England and the Common Good Today”, p.1.  This section draws considerably on this paper.

[2] Brown p.3

[3] Brown p.3

[4] William Temple, Christianity and the Social Order, Penguin, 1942, p.18

[6] Malcolm Brown, ‘”The Big Society” and the Church of England’, para 48, General Synod 1804

[7] Speaking at the annual meeting of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, 12th July 2010.

[8] For example, Faith and Community, Local Government Association, 2002; Richard Farnell, Robert Furbey, Stephen Shams Al-Haqq Hills, Marie Macey, Greg Smith, Faith in Urban Regeneration – Engaging faith communities in urban regeneration Joseph Rowntree Foundation, April 2003; Working Together: Co-operation between Government and Faith Communities, Home Office Faith Communities Unit, February 2004; Robert Furbey, Adam Dinham, Richard Farnell, Doreen Finneron and Guy Wilkinson with Catherine Howarth, Dilwar Hussain and Sharon Palmer, Faith as Social Capital, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 15 March 2006


[9]  Unless otherwise referenced, the italicised quotes in this report are taken from the project stories in the appendices.

[10] Criminal Records Bureau, http://www.disclosure.gov.uk,

[11] Faith in England’s Northwest: the contribution made by faith communities to civil society in the region, NWDA, 2003 http://www.faithnorthwest.org.uk/assets/_files/documents/dec_07/faith__1196766921_contributiontofaithcommunities.pdf


[12] Rowan Williams, “Christianity: Public Religion and the Common Good”, a lecture given in Singapore, 12th May 2007.

[13] Faith in England’s Northwest: How Faith Communities Contribute to Social and Economic Wellbeing, NWDA, 2009


[14] Faith in England’s Northwest: How Faith Communities Contribute to Social and Economic Wellbeing, NWDA, 2009


[15] Department of Health, (2007) Putting People First: A shared vision and commitment to the transformation of adult social care.

[16] Don May and Margaret Simey, The Servant Church in Granby, Centre for Urban Studies, University of Liverpool, 1989

[17] Rowan Williams, ‘How should churches respond to the Big Society’, July 2010.

[18] Malcolm Brown, ‘”The Big Society” and the Church of England’, para 49, General Synod 1804

[19] Malcolm Brown, “Church of England and the Common Good Today, p.3.

[20] Malcolm Brown, ‘”The Big Society” and the Church of England’, para 51, General Synod 1804