What's the range of initiatives that you could consider? This list is certainly not comprehensive, but it covers some of the most effective areas of community action being undertaken by Christians around the country. These are the key initiatives which we provide specific guidance for on the site:
Making premises available for other organisations and community activities.
Several churches have made their premises more accessible and suitable for community use through greater flexibility (such as moveable seating) and introducing new facilities (such as kitchen areas, toilets and audio-visual equipment), all without damaging or restricting the space for worship.
“In these initial visits, [the Co-ordinator] carries out a risk assessment prior to involving the volunteer befriender and she may make several visits to gain sufficient understanding to be able to introduce the most suitable befriender.”
“In part, this is a matter of getting the ‘chemistry’ right, but it is also important to use volunteers who live in the same locality and know about the local community. If they come from more geographically and socially distant areas, the ‘reality’ gap can be too great.”
Roles in two criminal justice projects can also come under the heading of befriending. One works with offenders and their families; the other supports people in police custody who have no other responsible adult to accompany them. In yet another project, Mothers’ Union members have befriended and provide practical support for the women users of a church community centre, many of whom are refugees. A health project provides practical and emotional support for 6-8 weeks to people newly discharged from hospital and support for carers. This can range from welfare rights guidance to a sitting service to being taken to social venues.
The youth work projects included in the study stress the need to go beyond providing leisure and other activities for young people. More significant is the development of long-lasting supportive relationships with them and their families and try to journey with them from the ages of 8 or 10 years until they reach their twenties.
“There is a lot of one-to-one work and they operate on an extended family model . . . Activities are then built onto relationships as appropriate.”
Relatively few projects are in a position – or would necessarily want – to give out money to clients. However, one or two are able to give small occasional grants. A project supporting asylum seekers gives small cash grants to a very limited number of people (depending on the state of its own funds) and funding for emergency accommodation to a few more as well as meals and food parcels. A deposit guarantee scheme is a different sort of financial help for people not able to raise a deposit for accommodation. Users of the scheme set up a savings plan with the project until their savings reach the level of the deposit.
Much has been written and said about how churches can help provide access to Credit Unions as an alternative to payday lenders following Archbishops Justin's forthright comments on the subject. Visit www.churchofengland.org/creditunions for more information, and here's a link to contact details for the Association of British Credit Unions, who can help you find a Credit Union in your own local area.