This study arose from a motion in General Synod in November 2010 following a debate on the Big Society. Its main purpose was to act as a catalyst in bringing together current best practice in Christian care in local communities with the resources and knowledge base needed to multiply those good works across the country. The aim was to include a wide spectrum of examples covering different policy areas, location and types of activity. Although many of the projects included are in deprived areas, Christian community action is called for in any context to demonstrate care for neighbours and new ways of being and to work for personal, social and structural transformation.
§ The main driver for Christian community action projects is the desire to serve the local community either in response to some immediately perceived problem or following investigation of local needs.
§ Local projects encompass an enormously wide variety of activities, express a range of theological themes, including hospitality, presence, liberation, inclusion and justice and represent an immense contribution to the wellbeing of local communities.
§ Many projects rely heavily on volunteers whose contribution of time and skills can be equivalent to many thousands of pounds per year even to individual projects.
§ Projects increasingly have to be accountable to funders and supporters which makes it important for them to be able to quantify their achievements as well as articulate their qualitative impact.
§ Strengths specific to effective faith-based projects include faith as their underpinning and motive force, their integration with the church for different sorts of support and encouragement, their local roots and longstanding presence and their stress on the whole person and his or her needs.
§ One of the key barriers at present is lack of funding. Uncertainty about future funding and making repeated funding bids can be a massive drain on energy.
§ Service changes and the current austerity measures are both a challenge and an opportunity. On the one hand, there are fewer resources to meet a rising tide of need. On the other, there are some openings for new collaborative ways of working.
§ Provision for social responsibility is shrinking in some dioceses as a result of financial pressures and yet is a vital source of support essential to unlocking local energies and capacity.
Context of the study
‘Big Society’ is a concept that emerged after the 2010 General Election. The aim is to move power away from central government and give it to local communities and individuals and achieve a more participative society. In principle, the main strands of the idea should encourage people not only in churches, but in the voluntary and community sector as a whole:
· fostering a culture of voluntarism and philanthropy and promoting social action;
· community empowerment by giving people a greater say in decisions affecting their area and the services;
· developing new forms of public service delivery including the use of charities and social enterprises.
Recognising that the government has expressed interest in partnering voluntary organisations in building local communities, the main purpose of this study was to act as a catalyst in bringing together current best practice in Christian care in local communities with the resources and knowledge base needed to multiply those good works across the country. It is not a comprehensive database. Nor was the purpose to endorse or kite mark specific projects. Rather the objective was to provide an illustrative resource as a celebration of the Church’s role in ‘building better neighbourhoods’, as an encouragement to others to consider this form of ministry and as a practical tool for any thinking of embarking on such a venture. A key underlying question was whether, in the face of public spending cuts, ‘Big Society’ is facilitating or obstructing what they are trying to do.
Why Christian community action?
“Honour one another and seek the common good” is a recurrent phrase in Anglican liturgy that underlines the inseparability of the personal and the social or political. The common good draws its significance directly from the second great commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves. In answer to the question “who is my neighbour?”, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10: 29-37) The point is further developed in the story of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 31-45) which identifies service to God as inextricable from service to others: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me . . . . as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” The pursuit of the common good through Christian community action, therefore, is a direct response to both the two commandments at the heart of the Christian faith.
Three of the Five Marks of Mission make clear that the Church’s mission includes pastoral care, social action and engagement with the social, economic and political structures that affect people’s lives.
· To respond to human need by loving service;
· To seek to transform unjust structures of society;
· To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
The aim in selecting the projects was to include a wide spectrum of examples covering:
· policy areas ranging from homelessness to foodbanks; employment and training to debt counselling; youth projects to care for the elderly; health to rural isolation;
· rural, urban and suburban locations;
· the use of church buildings for community use;
· different origins;
· different scales of project;
· ones wholly based on volunteering as well as those with paid workers;
· local projects linked with national organisations;
· congregationally-based as well as ‘free-standing’;
· Church of England, other denominations, ecumenical and interfaith.
The projects are based in many very different locations and deliver a wide range of activities (see below). As well as capturing this variety, the project stories cover: their origins; aspects of their management and leadership; resources; the place of volunteers; how they measure their achievements; the barriers they are encountering, their success factors; and their challenges and opportunities. This summary can only focus on a few of these topics.
Management and leadership
The projects covered in the study are managed in a variety of ways and have different degrees of independence from the church. Some use the church’s charitable status for fund raising. Others are registered charities, charitable companies limited by guarantee or registered community interest companies. Leadership is vital. Many charismatic people are to be found in these projects, whether as initiators or workers, and some organisations owe their existence and continued existence to the determination and personality of particular individuals. But, as in other contexts, leadership is shown in a variety of guises: originating the project, winning support, managing it, sustaining it and, if appropriate, terminating it. Different forms of leadership require different aptitudes. Very often, projects originate with someone or a small group having an idea and they will become the initial driving force, but will then usually need to win other support.
The project stories indicate wide variation in the need for funds, in the sources of funding and in the combinations of types of funding that different organisations have been able to secure. In addition to grants from charitable trusts, other sources of funding include contracts, income from activities (such as sales of food or rental income) and fund raising activities by supporters. A key advantage of the Church Urban Fund has been its role as first funder as other grant giving trusts are usually less willing to take this sort of risk. A CUF grant, therefore, has often served as an invaluable lever for attracting other funds. In-kind assistance, such as premises or donations of equipment or furniture can also be important. There is a distinction between start-up and running costs and inevitably the growth of the organisation (such as employing staff) and/or expansion of activities bring new resource challenges.
Projects often rely on volunteers for a wide range of tasks: for example, from mentors and befrienders to shop work; administration and reception duties to preparing and distributing food. Trustees and management committee members also need to be counted as volunteers. Calculated on the basis of the minimum wage hourly rate, in one church community centre, the contribution of approximately 50 volunteers amounted to over £300,000 per year. For smaller projects, of course, the amounts were also much smaller though their contribution to the maintenance and effectiveness of the work was just as significant. Managing volunteers is a major responsibility. There has to be awareness of what can and cannot be done by volunteers, the checks and forms of induction and training required and arrangements need to be in place for insurance and for expenses where appropriate.
Although projects have to be accountable, sometimes in terms of quantifiable measures, they are also likely to have success criteria that go beyond targets and outputs. Very often their concern is with the quality of relationships or the less tangible elements of health and well-being. Voluntary organisations, including faith groups, are increasingly being asked to evidence their impact. There are ways of doing this that go further than ‘counting outputs’ and capture the wider benefits, such as Social Return on Investment (SROI) and Social Auditing. Such approaches can also pick up on the indirect effects of community action, such as a strengthened local church or greater trust across denominations.
There is a difference between the way that results and impact are measured and the factors that contribute to effectiveness. The study tried to determine what characterises these projects at their best and, in particular, whether there are features that distinguish them from other third sector projects. There was evidence that faith not only inspires the vision amongst project initiators but is also a motivating and sustaining force for participants. Links into the wider church are important for practical support and for continuity and the local trust that it can generate. Another key distinguishing feature of church care projects is that their starting point is the individual in front of them whereas a statutory agency is limited by its specific remit.
A key message emerging from the study was the significance of infrastructure support to projects and therefore several different types of infrastructure organisations were included in the study. It also discusses CUF’s support role through workshops, newsletters, case studies, templates and toolkits. In addition, support comes in various forms from diocesan officers: asking appropriate questions when parishes are considering embarking on a project; supplying neighbourhood data or information about potential sources of funding; help with funding applications. However, resources for social responsibility (under whatever name it appears) and related activities are shrinking in some dioceses.
Conclusions and messages
□ In some ways, the jury is still out on the Big Society. There seems to be an open invitation to take on a greater community role, but rhetoric is not necessarily matched by reality. This is a time of flux in the lives of many of the communities and projects represented here. The combined effects of the economic downturn and the government’s austerity measures mean both increased need particularly among already vulnerable people in already deprived neighbourhoods and tighter purse strings amongst potential funders of voluntary organisations, including church groups. The opportunities may be there to become more involved in service delivery but mainly without the resources to enable this to happen.
□ The projects described in this study put neighbourliness into practice, but they need support in this from the wider church in terms of prayer, understanding, information, practical assistance and, sometimes, strategic direction. Some projects had encountered negative attitudes inside the church as well as external barriers. That the Christian mission in the world “is not just to enable the church to flourish but to promote the flourishing of all people” remains a message that needs to be driven home.
□ There is another role for the wider church and its leaders. At project level, there can be tensions between the pastoral and prophetic roles; between meeting needs and speaking out about the impact of the economy and public policies on vulnerable people and communities. Yet the strong social bonds that these projects are trying to generate have to be embodied in economic and social policies and institutions as well as expressed in inter-personal relationships. The existence of this Christian community action, its presence and sustained service in all parts of society gives the church the experience and authority to be able to speak with integrity in the public arena with and for those who would not otherwise have a voice.
About the study
The study was conducted during the first nine months of 2011 by Professor Hilary Russell, European Institute for Urban Affairs, Liverpool John Moores University. The study combined desk research, a questionnaire and fieldwork.
The full study report includes the following appendices:
· Stories of 34 local projects;
· Descriptions of 9 infrastructure organisations;
· Descriptions of strategic approaches to 3 policy areas;
· Resource materials;
· National organisations;
· Funding sources;
All the material is available on-line at the following website address: www.how2help.net
In addition there is a power point presentation (with speakers’ notes) intended for use in meetings such as diocesan or deanery synods to combine feedback on the study with an opportunity to showcase local projects.