The original idea for the multi-faith, environmental pilot project, Operation EDEN, came from the Bishop of Liverpool. Developed in partnership with senior members of different denominations and world faiths, the underlying assumptions were that:
· World religions share common ground in their values and commitments to caring for the earth and communities.
· Faith communities are often historically rooted in local neighbourhoods and have considerable resources of land, buildings, people (volunteers and paid staff), expertise and relationships.
· Most faith communities use their resources to provide services to all members of the community.
· Most people care about their community, irrespective of whether or not they have a religious faith.
· Organisations/agencies from all sectors would support partnership action that enabled residents to transform their communities.
· By facilitating action led by faith community partners, activity undertaken could be sustained.
The idea was to have paid workers who could facilitate positive environmental change supported by local people and faith communities working together. Operation EDEN provided free support, advice and training and access to a Development Fund to seed small scale projects with grants of up to £4,000. Projects in the 10% most deprived areas had to secure at least one sixth match funding and in other areas, one third. Projects workers supported them to do this. Between 2004 and 2007, 57 projects were funded and over faith group received support. Funding was secured from the Northwest Development Agency (NWDA), the Environment Agency and Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority, totalling of over £500,000 over three years. There were output targets attached to the funding (such as hectares of land remediated or brought back into community use and number of adults trained). The range and reach of the projects far exceeded expectations.
The Eden Project only covered Merseyside, the geographical area of the
Diocese of Liverpool. However, the intention was always to test the success of
a multi-faith project on Merseyside and, if it worked, roll it out regionally.
In 2007, with the support of NWDA, it was retitled Faiths4Change and extended
to working with faith communities from across the North West, still focusing on
the interlinked areas of climate change, social justice and health and
wellbeing. New bases were established in
Burnley, Manchester and Preston, all within faith community-owned buildings. Faiths4Change
expanded and flourished until Spring 2011 when the abolition of Regional
Development Agencies cut off its main source of funding. Between 2008 and 2010,
it supported 74 projects which together had over 900 volunteers who put in
about 12,000 volunteer hours. F4C
invested around £88,000 in projects which attracted a further £124,000 cash
match and over £200,000 in kind. In recent times, as a registered charity and
social enterprise, F4C has had contracts from bodies such as United Utilities,
Merseyside Waste Disposal Agency and the Environment Agency, primarily to work
with faith communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas in the North
West. F4C also receives a donation for
each individual or faith community that signs up to Ecotricity and uses the
income to purchase sustainability kits for parent and toddler groups.
Examples of current projects are:
· Food4Thought is a joint project with Asylum Link Merseyside that enables asylum seekers, refugees and local people to socialise, using food as a means to learn about each other, increase health and wellbeing and to enjoy sharing.
· The Simply Living project engages parents/guardians on low incomes with babies and pre-school children to promote awareness and behavioural change in relation to energy and water efficiency, food growing and waste disposal habits.
· Sowing Seeds for Transformation – a Schools Food Growing Programme was developed in partnership with the Liverpool Diocese Education Team and their Advisory Head Teacher. It is a chargeable service that supports Every Child Matters, Sustainable Schools, Eco Schools and Healthy Schools. Exciting and rewarding for children and staff, it builds confidence for children, supports their learning and promotes exercise and increased nutrition and it involves parents and community members. Services are tailored to meet the needs of each school community. First Steps enables staff to plan and develop a sustainable food growing partnership project with considerable support from Faiths4Change Projects Officer. One-day workshops for the whole school community include ‘Sowing and Planting’, ‘African Bag Gardens’ and ‘Food from Around the World’.
· Sustainability audits for churches (see box below).
· Faiths4Change is currently developing new work with United Utilities in Burnley, an area experiencing water resource issues, to engage with Muslim households and Mosque groups to create a water saving programme.
· Environment Agency funding is directed towards work around flood risk, for example in Rochdale and Bolton.
Having begun as a Diocese of Liverpool initiative, F4C became an independent charity in 2010. It has had to go through a period of retrenchment because of the loss of significant pots of funding, though some of the staff who were made redundant are continuing on a self-employed basis because demand remains.