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Faith in our Communities - Durham Diocese

Origins of Faith in Our Communities

In 2006, the Annual Report of the Diocese of Durham noted a persistent underspend of Church Urban Fund money within the Diocese despite the extent of deprivation which made it the 5th largest recipient of CUF money. As a result, it was decided to develop a project that would respond to perceived and researched needs and would increase capacity within church congregations by giving them the confidence and skills to plan new projects and employ workers supported by an overall steering group. This project was Faith in Our Communities (FIC).

FIC was founded on the principles of Church Related Community Development focusing on those groups that are marginalised and often adversely affected by others’ decisions in order to develop their skills and confidence to participate and support them in creating their own change rather than doing things for them.

Objectives

FIC set out five objectives:

1. Develop six sustainable community development projects in disadvantaged communities within the Durham Diocese.
2. Appoint six local Christian activists as church-related community development workers.
3. Increase awareness of the link between faith and community development and the involvement of church members in these six communities.
4. Share the experience with parishes from the Durham Diocese and the regional churches.
5. Recruit new parishes/Churches Together groups in the second phase of FIC.

The Diocesan Mission Fund funded a part-time Project Development Officer post to be responsible with the Partnership Steering Group for supporting local management committees to recruit and manage trainee Community Development Workers in the six local projects.

All the FIC projects have a strong ecumenical dimension. All work with other local organisations and take care not to duplicate activities and services that are already available.

The projects

· Shildon Mustard Seed Project focuses on environmental improvement activities, developing projects with schools as well as adults. Activities include bulb and flower planting, a sunflower competition, the development of a community allotment and a tool library.

· St Luke’s Pavilion is housed in St Luke’s Neighbourhood Trust and focuses on health and well-being including fitness and other classes requested by local people. It has also led other organisations bringing some services to St Luke’s, such as Impact Family Services that, as well as becoming more accessible, provide a rental income stream

· Houghton-le-Spring FACE focuses on engaging with families and children and encouraging family development and play. It produced a directory on existing activities in the area and, although it developed slowly and not without difficulties, has built up a team of volunteers and is gradually building up activities.

· Stockton PLANT (Parents Linking at Newtown Together), in a part of Stockton in the 3% most deprived wards in the country, was established to work with families. Initially the idea was to develop parenting skills but by listening and building relationships with local people, it became evident that a wider supportive role was more appropriate.

· Stockton HOPE is based on the large Hardwick estate with problems around exclusion and social isolation particularly affecting older people and single parents. Inter-generational work has created links between older and younger people and between schools and an older people’s home and a local care home. Recruiting volunteers, including church members, has enabled HOPE to widen out to a range of other activities.

· Hetton-le-Hole New Dawn Group focuses on the church building and its use by people in the community and it has especially focused on new activities for the older person.

What FIC has brought

“The FIC has been a learning experience for everyone involved: steering group members, church members, community development workers, management committee members and volunteers. No-one had been involved in a project quite like this before. From the start it was recognised that a range of training and learning was necessary to develop the skills of participants, share good practice and allow a space for structured reflection.”[1]

FIC activities have included:

□ Management Committee events to build the capacity of their members and volunteers. Topics included:

· Developing a Christian ethos;
· Funding applications;
· Monitoring and evaluation;
· Strategic funding;
· Supervision;
· Partnership working.

□ Visits to other projects that were sufficiently structured to encourage reflection on topics such as:

· the roles played by workers at the projects visited;
· community development approaches;
· the involvement of local people in governance.

□ NVQ Community Work Sessions for the trainee Community Development Workers who, though often experienced community activists, had not previously obtained qualifications. These sessions took them through an NVQ Level 3 Community Development Work accreditation process with ETEC training organisation.

□ Monthly Learning/Training Days for the Community Development Workers for them to meet, share and reflect on their experiences. Peer support was seen as important in what could sometimes be isolated roles. They explored individual issues in action learning sets.

□ Open Learning Events brought together over 150 church members, management committee members, Community Development Workers and volunteers for shared reflection and learning. They covered the themes of:

· Partnership working;
· The Faith factor;
· Building hope;
· Weaving communities.

Success factors

FIC has met its five original objectives. It has delivered programmes to enable the projects not only to become established but also to be responsive to community needs and able to adapt to changing circumstances. The six Community Development Workers are still in post and have achieved their qualification.

FIC has a number of distinguishing features that have contributed to its effectiveness:

□ The first is the importance attached to reflective practice in a variety of situations. “Reflective practice is one of the key principles of community development and while many community projects recognise its importance, they often find it difficult to identify mechanisms to ensure it is built into practice . . . . . FIC made sure that structures that prioritised reflection were built into all meetings, whether for workers, management committees or both. This is a striking example of how a faith-based approach can strengthen community development principles.”[2]

□ Another feature of FIC has been the emphasis on a ‘bottom up’ approach and on projects that help to build both ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ social capital: strengthening groups and creating links between groups in different project areas and between projects and other local community and voluntary organisations. Trust is both a pre-requisite and an outcome. Faith groups are widely seen to be significant repositories of social capital and this chimes with current secular concerns to promote greater social cohesion and more participation in social action especially in deprived areas and develop stronger community resilience.

□ Structurally, FIC has benefited from a Partnership Steering Group comprising people with a range of valuable experience and networks and representing organisations including the Diocese, the Churches’ Community Work Alliance and the Community Work Assessment Consortium for the North East. There are strong ecumenical links.

□ There has been strong support from the Diocese. The Archdeacon who chairs the Partnership Steering Group is a link to the clergy and parishes and opens doors when required. The Diocesan Secretary supports the Project Development Officer and advises her and, through her, the six projects, for example, on contracts and the occasional tricky situation. The Diocesan Human Resource Manager advises on employment issues. A Diocesan Finance Officer acts as treasurer and keeps the accounts. One of the diocesan clergy with specialist expertise led a session on supervising staff. The Director of Ministry has collaborated with the FIC learning programme: jointly planning and leading events for parishes.

□ The role of the Project Development Officer has been vital and the way that she has fulfilled the role with great commitment, with an emphasis on nurturing the Community Development Workers and ensuring good communication with everyone involved. Her regular attendance at the six management committee meetings has been important in linking the local groups to both the steering group and the Diocese.

Wider learning

The first few years’ experience of FIC have produced lessons that are potentially transferable. Figure 1[3] below sets out building blocks that can provide a framework for other parish and mission developments.

Figure 1: Building Blocks for Parish Development: Lessons from the FIC Project

 Involvement and engagement of local people

Appropriate perceptions about leadership

Affirmation of local social action initiatives

by groups and individuals

Access to infrastructure support andconsultancy

 

A clear vision informed by transformative narratives


Commitment to experiential learning and critical reflection

 

 Bernadette Askins





[1] Robert Errington, with Bernadette Askins, Paul Southgate and Jim Robertson (July 2010) Stepping Out in Faith: A report on the Faith in Our Communities Initiative in the Durham Diocesan Area, p.17
[2] Ibid p.19
[3] Ibid Appendix 1