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Examples of Local/Regional Infrastructure Organisations

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 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 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 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.