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.”
“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 ascertain that no-one else is trying to meet th 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 it 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 a much wider range of community activities in addition to the children’s work.
 Unless otherwise referenced, the italicised quotes in this report are taken from the project stories in the appendices.