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Neighbourly help in wide demand, survey finds

11 July 2014

"Where life and goodness flow": a mosaic, created by members of community groups at Holy Trinity, North Ormesby, based on Ezekiel 47, a passage chosen by the Vicar, the Revd Dominic Black

"Where life and goodness flow": a mosaic, created by members of community groups at Holy Trinity, North Ormesby, based on Ezekiel 47, a passage chos...

TEN million people in England have been helped by a church in their area during the past year, new research for the Church Urban Fund (CUF) and Theos suggests.

A survey commissioned for the report Good Neighbours: How churches help communities flourish, by the CUF, and Theos, a public-theology think tank, found that 51 per cent of the respondents who had used services such as foodbanks, relationship support, financial advice, computer access, or youth work, had done so through a church.

This figure, from a survey of 2024, if applied nationally, would amount to approximately ten million adults in England who had either been served by a church in the past year, or knew someone who had. The figures excluded traditional interaction through regular services such as baptisms and weddings, or Christmas and Easter celebrations.

In the foreword to the report, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote: "It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that the Church is part of the solution for building community blessing at a local level. The common good of the community, and justice, are absolutely central to what it means to be a Christian."

Research for the Good Neighbours report suggested that people aged between 19 and 44 were more likely to use community services offered by churches than older people. Besides actively serving deprived parts of England, the report says, churches can also act as a "social glue", countering isolation and promoting "neighbourliness".

The author of the report, Paul Bickley, from Theos, said: "Most people know that churches and other faith-based organisations do a huge amount in areas of high deprivation, but the nature of churches' engagement isn't well understood. They do offer material and practical support, but they also offer relationships and social con-nection - in a word, neighbourliness."

Good Neighbours also examines 12 case studies of churches' work in particularly poor areas. One study is of Holy Trinity, North Ormesby, in Middlesbrough, which hosts a foodbank, offers financial education, and runs a community café and after-school club in one of the most deprived parishes in England.

The Vicar, the Revd Dominic Black, said that his church wanted to be "a place where life and goodness flows out of all parts of North Ormesby, creating a community where everyone is able to flourish and grow".

The executive chairman of the CUF, Canon Paul Hackwood, said: "Many people wrestle with the problem of poverty in this country, and I am delighted that this report shows that churches are providing such a huge and significant part of the answer."

The report concludes that church decline has been exaggerated, and that churches actively engaged in their communities are growing. "To follow the lead of our case-study churches, other congregations must reflect on the finding that one of the most valuable things they can do is promote neighbourliness," it states.

Good Neighbours recommends that government agencies should have greater confidence in churches as partners in the provision of local services; but it also warns that the Church cannot simply replace parts of the welfare state that have been lost to austerity.

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