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.

Support/Befriending

A number of projects involve befriending. These in turn require varying degrees of skill and expertise. One revolves around supporting vulnerable or isolated families with children who are referred to them by other agencies. They may have any of a range of problems such as debt, domestic abuse or parenting difficulties. The role may be simply to spend time chatting with them or it may go beyond this to putting them in touch with other sorts of assistance or helping them access local facilities. Another project, commissioned by the local authority, focuses on visiting frail elderly people in their home. In both instances, a vital prerequisite is matching the befriender and project user, which is done by the paid worker.

“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.”

Women and children’s work

Many projects include work with children and might provide Parents and toddlers groups, out-of-school clubs and holiday schemes. Some partner a Sure Start or Children’s Centre and also have nurseries. These activities can be linked with other supportive interventions such as work with parents and carers on how to play with children or work with women experiencing domestic violence. One church making its premises available to local groups is given over twice a month to a Child Contact Centre, a place where the children of separated families can enjoy contact with one or both parents in a safe and relaxed environment. One of the youth work projects included has recently given increasing attention to work with young women and with teenage parents.

Drop-ins

Some church community centres have drop-in sessions intended for people who may need some support but do not want or need a formal service. Drop-ins give them the chance to get together for mutual support, perhaps through craft or sporting activities or just getting together for a chat or a meal. The sessions may prove to be stepping stones for individuals to try other activities and give the opportunity for the centre staff to find out more about services that are required.

Counselling and information/advice

A number of projects supply information and advice of different sorts or host advice sessions provided, say, by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Accommodation, benefit or debt issues are high on the agenda. Some projects specialise in specific issues like housing or debt. Others focus on particular user groups such as asylum seekers or ex-offenders. Many others will serve as information hubs, signposting local services or other sources of help. A mental health project offers more specialist counselling.

Financial and in-kind assistance

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.
 

Credit Unions

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.
 

Emergency accommodation

Both housing and asylum seeker organisations sometimes manage properties that can be used by their clients. One housing project provides supported accommodation for vulnerable young people (16/17 year olds) in five 3-bedroomed houses. Other projects provide housing for (often refused) asylum seekers. In one case, two houses are provided rent free by the diocese. One of the church community centres included in the study has good working links with the local authority and housing support groups and can use these links to get accommodation for homeless people.

Food aid

A notable development at present is the huge increase in the number of foodbanks being set up in response to evidence of need. One project included in the study began early in 2011 and now provides parcels from five distribution points to 150+ people per week who have been issued with food vouchers by a variety of agencies in the city. Another project, which also utilises good quality surplus food from the food industry, distributes it to charitable support groups for low income, homeless and other vulnerable people. In a year, they gave out the equivalent of 235,000 meals. Other projects include food parcels, community larders or soup runs amongst their other activities, again driven by the number of people encountered who are suffering extreme hardship.

Lunch clubs and cafés

The purpose of serving food in church centres is often primarily a social one: to bring in elderly people, for example, to mix with others. For this reason, there are often associated activities from quizzes to tea dances. In other cases, going to the café may be a less intimidating way for someone to enter a centre for the first time to get a feel for it before going on to access other services. In one centre, the café is a way for volunteers from different cultural backgrounds to mix and provide a variety of meals. In a rural area, the development of a coffee shop, as well as being a valuable village amenity, has become the opportunity to support fair trade and ethical suppliers.

Education and training

A number of projects include education and training opportunities amongst their activities. In youth work organisations, this might be a matter of starting before the school leaving age and mentoring those at risk of dropping out of education. Organisations focusing on asylum seekers generally make ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) classes available, either supplying them themselves or hosting other organisations. In community centres, there are frequently courses which are usually demand-led, focusing on subjects people say they want or need, such as such as first aid, food hygiene, cooking, gardening, IT, dressmaking, art, parenting skills and introduction to citizenship. These and other courses are very often delivered in partnership with a local Further Education college.

Employability

Sometimes the specific purpose of training opportunities is to help people become more employable by imparting new proficiencies and giving them greater self confidence. Courses will then be associated with careers advice and guidance, help with writing curriculum vitae and interview training.

Opportunities for personal development

In addition to training courses, a wide range of activities give opportunities for personal development. For young people, there are sports and leisure activities, residentials, opportunities for community work and young leaders’ programmes. One community centre has health-related activities such as exercise, yoga and healthy eating workshops as well as a longstanding arts project. “There have been one day festivals like the ‘Recovery Festival’ which looked at ways people can take control of their lives and celebrating their gifts and achievements.” Scope for volunteering – sometimes within the organisation or a trading arm – is another way of giving valuable experience.

Outreach and preventative work

Many organisations seek to help minimise the risk of problems recurring, for example, homelessness, misuse of drugs or alcohol or offending. This frequently entails active outreach work, personal support and assisting clients to overcome the barriers they encounter, whether these are physical, emotional or financial. A key factor in all these relationships is that the process is voluntary. One example of preventative work in relation to youth homelessness, which frequently occurs because of family problems, is mediation to enable all parties to deal with disputes. In other areas of youth work, detached work is a necessary first step towards contact with the young people being targeted. In any case, the youth workers take careful note of whether they are failing to reach particular groups. One, for instance, has recently turned more to working with ethnic minority young people.

Street pastors

A number of organisations supply volunteers for ecumenical Street Pastor schemes, which operate collaboratively with the police and other statutory agencies to work with people, especially young people, hanging out on the streets or pubs or clubs at night. “The role is not about preaching heaven and hell, but one of listening, caring and helping - working in an unconditional way.”

Community links

At least two organisations have undertaken intergenerational work; in one this was around sharing a meal; in another, it was through a reminiscence project. In other projects that come under the heading of ‘community cohesion’, the focus is on bringing together people of different faiths and cultures for dialogue and joint action.

Networks and forums

Forums are means of both providing support to specific groups and enabling them to have a voice. For example, members of a Refugee Forum say “It will give us power to make our voices heard and to understand our rights and enable us to deal with those in authority. It will help us to take an active part in the local community, to make new friends and link with other refugee groups.” In another context, a small group of women ex-offenders have been helped to set up a support network for women in similar situations. The youth forum in one of the youth work projects enables users to have a say in the running of the organisation. In yet another, the focus is on bringing people together to pray for the town and develop closer links across a range of local projects.

Recycling and environmental concerns

Increasing environmental and climate change concerns are leading to more recycling and environmental projects. There is a growing number of eco-congregations as exemplified in the Shrinking the Footprint paper in Appendix III. Recycling furniture can provide practical help to people in need, such as single mothers coming out of refuges or other low income individuals or families, and reduce the amount of material going to landfill. Reduction of waste is also one dimension of food distribution projects. Gardening and food growing projects can be a vehicle for community building and skills development as well as having environmental and health benefits.

Social enterprise

As financial sustainability is a key challenge, a number of organisations are now setting up social enterprises of different sorts for all or some of their activities. In one rural parish, the Post Office now run by the church is already a community interest company (CIC) and the café has also recently been incorporated as a CIC with the potential to earn a surplus that can be returned to the church to support local and international mission charities. Other projects are developing trading arms both to market goods and to undertake work.

Advocacy and campaigning

Working on the front line to address individual and community issues gives considerable insight into the causes of problems and the impact of public policy. Very often, as a result, organisations are keen to speak out on behalf of their clients. Sometimes this will be as intermediaries with public sector agencies; sometimes to raise awareness to prompt churches to respond; sometimes it will be in wider campaigning. One example included in this study is of a campaign addressing financial exclusion generally and specifically trying to change the practices of doorstep lending agencies.