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Small church agencies respond to rising demand

11 January 2013

DESPITE a grim economic backdrop, small faith-based organisations working in deprived communities are rising to the challenge of meeting a growing demand for their services, new research suggests.

The results of the 2012 National Church Social Action Survey, Church and Community Involvement, which surveyed 1139 organisations that have received a Church Urban Fund grant since 2008, found that 71 per cent of the 250 respondents had been able to make an increase, to some extent, in their service provision over the past 12 months.

A total of 78 per cent had experienced a rise in demand for their services during this time - a large increase in 36 per cent of cases. Nearly all of the organisations are based in the most deprived areas of England, and have an annual turnover of less than £150,000 a year. Of the 43 dioceses in England, 39 are represented in the survey.

The most common strategy to meet rising demand was to put more time and resources into fund-raising, followed by developing collaboration with other organisations, and relying more heavily on volunteers to deliver services. The most common social problems cited by respondents included high levels of unemployment, especially among young people; reductions in benefits, coupled with rising rent, food costs, and bills; increasing levels of homelessness; and rising levels of debt. One food bank reported that it had gone from feeding between one and 15 families a week to more than 70.

The survey points to a growing optimism in the charity sector. Almost four out of ten respondents believed that their situation would improve in the next 12 months, twice the proportion in a 2011 survey.

A respondent from Hope Alive, a project in Warrington, said. "We are determined to do what we can. . . We are working harder and looking for more innovative ways to grow and expand the work we do."

The results of the survey also indicate a growth in activity. Data from the 359 churches, across denominations, who responded, suggests that the number of hours spent by volunteers on "local social- action initiatives" has increased by 36 per cent since 2010, to 98 hours a year. The amount of money given by churchgoers, and spent on such initiatives, has risen by 19 per cent to £342 million.

Each church was involved in an average of eight initiatives, and the author of the report identified "a rapid diversification" in activity. The most popular initiatives included mothers-and-toddlers groups, school assemblies, food distribution, and caring for the elderly.

Town Sketch. A microcosm of a "world under pressure" can be found in Ludlow, Churches Together in the Shropshire market town have concluded. Published in November, the group's report on "urgent social needs", Ludlow under Pressure, is based on conversations with people in the area, and talks of "the deep anxieties and unacceptable suffering of older people at risk, the desperate needs of people in the 16-24 age group, the real impact limited community transport has for those seeking work and health care, and the serious shortage of social and affordable housing".

The authors say: "We should not accept as inevitable the levels of anxiety and deprivation which are briefly sketched here. Even in a time of financial constraints [we] should not tolerate them. It is simply not true to say there is no alternative."

 

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