South Yorkshire’s economy was very depressed in the 1990s with the demise of the steel and mining industries and the impact of this on local communities. The consequences were particularly severe in some areas and experienced distinctively in each community according to its situation. This ranged from the very deprived inner estates in Sheffield to bereft mining villages where the main employer had disappeared. On a spiritual level it could also be said that the area was grieving for what it had lost and, although the government at the time was concerned to bring about economic regeneration, the churches and the voluntary sector as a whole were increasingly aware that the social and community side of regeneration was essential to any successful programme. Churches everywhere were struggling to know how to respond.
Together for Regeneration (TfR) began in 1999. It came about as a result of the initiative of the churches including the Diocese of Sheffield and Industrial Mission South Yorkshire to create a project to help churches to be involved in the regeneration of the communities of South Yorkshire.
TfR is based in Sheffield Diocesan Church House and its office space and financial services are subsidised. The Methodist District has also put in some funding each year.
Recently, the question of whether TfR should be an independent organisation was considered but initially rejected. Whilst it is felt that there is a value in being embedded in the structures of the Diocese, external funding is increasingly difficult to secure and the partners are again considering the viability of setting TfR up as an independent entity.
· To build the confidence, knowledge and skills of local people to enable them to take effective action;
· To support actions that address the needs of those suffering greatest disadvantage;
· To encourage partnership working that delivers effective community regeneration;
· To enable sustainable approaches to community regeneration;
· To develop appropriate structures, governance and resources to enable the delivery of the above aims through continuous improvement.
· Valuing people
· Supporting those in greatest need
· Valuing partnership
· Working with integrity
· Valuing diversity
· Promoting justice
· Adopting a professional approach
· Applying creativity and innovation
· Engaging in effective, efficient and robust delivery.
At this stage, there was an evaluation of the work, which endorsed the approach and found that it was valued by churches and their partners. At the same time, TfR ran up against the difficulty of working solely with local churches. Other groups under the umbrella of churches were also approaching them and it became increasingly obvious that restricting the support to churches was too limiting. The emerging vision for the work put the emphasis on communities:
"To improve the quality of life in communities by enabling local people to take effective action together for regeneration.”
This was a phase in which TfR established a strong reputation with local authorities and others in the voluntary sector. They found a way of maintaining the trust of communities and agencies and learnt a lot about conflict resolution and mediation; about getting people to a point where they could work together and manage highly complex programmes, find match funding and deliver effective local projects.
Through TfR, Sheffield Diocese secured funds from the Government’s Capacity Builders’ Fund to run an ‘Improving Reach’ programme. The Government was concerned to involve groups that it saw as hard to reach. This was a 2½ year project for TfR in which it was able to extend the offer of its existing services to other faith groups. TfR worked with a range of other faiths and a number of interfaith groups, providing organisational and project development advice, building bridges between faith based groups and other organisations and contributing to community cohesion. Although 2½ years was not really long enough, it was a period in which much was learnt about taking account of very different needs and adapting working practices to very different cultures. An example of this strand is support for Muslim women from a range of social, ethnic and cultural backgrounds in Sheffield, who were looking to develop a single inclusive voice. TfR helped in developing a constitution and other organisational matters. It was a time, too, when many barriers were overcome and new contacts were made: with Black-led churches, with churches linked with refugee communities and with the Muslim community. It was felt that what TfR could distinctively bring was recognition of the importance of very careful listening in order to understand the needs of these communities, their situations, the barriers they faced and their cultures.
Bidding for other funding continues. For example, TfR is part of a consortium of infrastructure organisations in Rotherham that is bidding to the local authority and PCT which, if successful, would fund a half post in TfR. Other members of the consortium include South Yorkshire Funding Advice, Rural Action Yorkshire, the South Yorkshire Community Foundation and the Rotherham Ethnic Minorities Alliance. The process of building the consortium has been challenging and members will still need to build on their hard earned trust. The amount of money that TfR will get in the first instance was not necessarily worth the time and effort spent. However, it was important to have this sort of strategic approach in relation to funders and suppliers.
TfR has proved a very adaptable and responsive organisation, able to meet changing needs and take advantage of changing funding opportunities. Most of TfR’s expenditure goes on salaries and associated staff expenses. At present, there are a lot of one-off meetings with groups often leading to longer term support to a proportion of them. Now, in an attempt to save both time and travel costs, TfR is looking to develop new models for remote support (eg by telephone or internet) even though it is acknowledged that this might undermine one of its key strengths, which is the relationships that can be formed by being alongside people. So far, most services have been free. Other potential future developments, which could cross-subsidise the core mission, might be securing contracts with other local authorities, consultancy and/or selling support to other dioceses.
· Faith was the initiating energy and remains at the heart of TfR’s mission: it is the driving force and the basis of the project’s values. TfR supports local churches and works with people with a wide range of theological standpoints. In addition to interpersonal skills, staff have had to learn a lot about business development. But, irrespective of whether it is actually working with churches, TfR sees itself as being church in the community.
· Being part of the Diocese has given credibility with some other stakeholders as well as stability, but being on the edge has also meant it has kept an outward facing identity.
In the approach to the work:
· The emphasis on relationships has been critical and, in part, this means listening well.
· Planning carefully and working in partnership are important features. Sometimes this entails taking a risk about going into partnership and certainly exploring the whole spectrum from informal to formal collaboration.
· Learning from experience, for example, about mediation in order to help others resolve conflicts either within their organisations or between them and others. This role has been possible because TfR occupies ‘liminal’ or threshold space.
· It has been important to be very focused. There are lots of possible distractions but throughout the process of adapting and sometimes re-creating themselves, they have had to stay centred. This tension between being responsive to changing circumstances and retaining organisational integrity is also something faced by the groups supported by TfR and, therefore, TfR could help them with this as well.
Factors in relation to running the organisation:
· TfR has had the ability to generate funding.
· TfR has had good recruitment processes and, although inevitably there has been significant staff turnover since it started in 1999, this has been achieved largely without disruption. The diversity of the team has been a strength and the focus on spotting potential and setting out to enable the staff to develop.
· An associated barrier is about where ownership lies for this type of work within the Diocese and within other churches – where it sits organisationally. Within the Diocese, TfR has been thought of as part of the Board for Faith and Justice, but it does not work in the way people expect Faith and Justice to work. There has been some creative tension around this and it has not been too much of an issue while they could get outside funding, but it could be in future.
· If its work is not understood or seen as relevant to their needs, then churches will not use TfR as well as they could.
· Short term funding is always a barrier and creates other pressures as well as the need to bid for funding repeatedly. It is also necessary to maintain awareness of potential funding opportunities and understand changing funding programmes, which requires skill in matching what TfR can offer to the objectives of funders.
· There are currently opportunities for collaboration. Partnership is key for the future. The only alternative to being part of consortia would be to survive on church money, but this is unlikely to be forthcoming at present.
· There could also now be opportunities to engage across diocesan boundaries because everyone is struggling with the same issues.