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Cash prizes for churches reviving community spirit

11 November 2016


Digging in: above: primary schoolchildren work in a community garden, a programme run by the Shildon Alive project.

Digging in: above: primary schoolchildren work in a community garden, a programme run by the Shildon Alive project.

A CHURCH project to boost community involvement in one of the most deprived towns in England has won a £10,000 prize to continue its work.

St John’s is in the heart of the former railway town of Shildon, Co. Durham, which experiences high rates of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, long-term unemployment, family breakdown, and teenage pregnancy. To combat that, the church launched the project Shildon Alive, a series of programmes to restore community pride. On Wednesday, Shildon Alive was recognised as the best church-led scheme out of more than 360 entries in a contest organised by Ecclesiastical Insurance.

Shildon’s programmes included shaming three known loan-sharks with a publicity campaign; opening a credit union which now has more than 80 members; and guerrilla gardening-raids by 800 schoolchildren, who planted flowers, herbs, and small shrubs in 70 locations. More than 1500 people now work in two community gardens, donating the produce to a foodbank.

The church also formed several interest groups, from meditation and cake-craft to a film club and craft sessions. During the summer of last year, more than 1000 people attended a series of fun days in a park in Shildon, and, at Christmas, 40 children dressed as Father Christmas to visit 130 isolated elderly people.

One of the judges, Michael Angell, the church-operations director at Ecclesiastical, said: “Shildon Alive particularly demonstrates the impact [that] churches are having on their communities. We were impressed with the reach of the project, which brought people from all walks of life together.

“St John’s is working in a deprived community, bringing a sense of hope and togetherness that simply wouldn’t exist without them. We felt the project perfectly demonstrated the community spirit at the heart of Britain’s churches.”

Five other projects received runners-up awards of £2000. They are:

Bar Hill Church, Ely, in Cambridgeshire, for Holidays at Home, which provides entertainment and activities for 80 elderly people.

St Stephen’s, Dulwich, in south-east London, for the Out and About Club, which takes elderly people to events, including the circus and Christmas shopping.

St John the Evangelist, Angell Town, in south London, for Baby Talk, a support group for young families.

All Saints’, Kilnwick, in east Yorkshire, for a community outreach project that reversed a declining congregation with a series of events.

A parish in the diocese of Guildford, which was declining under a lengthy interregnum and revived its sense of community by refurbishing homes and providing support for two Syrian refugee families.

Mr Angell said: “We have been incredibly impressed with the quality of the entries we have had for this year’s competition, which demonstrates the vital role churches are playing in supporting their communities. Much of this work is being undertaken with little public recognition.

“The competition will also enable us to share these ideas with other churches, to inspire them to do more in their own communities.”

See a film of the project here

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