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Barriers

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

Funding

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 incomeare affected. Competition for contracts has also increased over recent months with larger organisations having an advantage over smaller ones.

Restricted funding has knock-on effects. It can curtail activities – directly 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.

Please refer to Funding: sources and developing a bid for more information.

Managing projects

Some barriers that were cited in the study were to do with different aspects of running projects and 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.

Please refer to Management and Leadership for more information

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 very often that people have a poor self image and low aspirations, which make 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.

Attitudes

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”.