A COMPETITION, run by Ecclesiastical Insurance, to find a church community scheme worthy of a prize of £10,000 has revealed a large number of initiatives, all of which seek to improve life for the disadvantaged.
They range from lunch clubs for the elderly, a co-operative providing affordable fruit and vegetables, and dementia-support groups, to post offices, cafés, or soft-play centres hosted by churches.
They are all eligible for the £10,000 for their work, and five runners-up awards of £2000, to be made in November by Ecclesiastical Insurance’s challenge “Reaching out, inviting in — churches helping communities”.
The Church Operations Director at Ecclesiastical, Michael Angell, said: “We have already received a number of entries with details of some amazing activities carried out by our churches. All demonstrate the value they add to our communities every day. I am confident that the entries we’ve received so far are only a tip of the iceberg, and there are still many inspiring activities and initiatives we haven’t heard of yet.”
The competition covers any activity organised in the past year which is managed by PCCs or church councils.
One of the schemes is a volunteer-led English-literacy project at Doncaster Minster. It helps refugees and asylum-seekers to improve their language skills, and so feel part of the community. About 50 adults from countries including Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, and Sudan have enrolled. They range from those with no formal education to people who can read and write in several languages, and others who have studied to a degree level in their own language.
Louise O’Brien, who started the project, said: “What we have here is a strong will to be part of one of the most pressing needs of our times: that of assisting people seeking sanctuary in the UK. Civic churches as places of continuity are important places of sanctuary and connection with a place.”
In Caerphilly, in south Wales, the church hall at St Catherine’s became a co-operative, distributing affordable, fresh fruit and vegetables every Wednesday. The offer of refreshments and a free light lunch has encouraged people to stay. Donations for refreshments sponsor two children in Ghana and Cambodia on schemes with World Vision and the Compassion Project.
The Revd Gareth Coombes, who helped to set up the co-op, said: “Our congregation wanted to find an opportunity to reach out into the local community. We felt using the hall in a new and different way would open up new opportunities that could bring people together in one place. We have been surprised by the sense of community that has developed week by week.”
In Co. Durham, the former railway town of Shildon is one of the most deprived communities in England; it has high rates of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, long-term unemployment, family breakdown, and teen pregnancy. In 2015, the parish church of St John’s launched a series of programmes to restore community pride. They included shaming three known loan sharks with a publicity campaign, and opening a credit union which now has more than 80 members.
More than 800 schoolchildren joined guerrilla gardening raids, planting flowers, herbs, and small shrubs in more than 70 locations. The organisers felt duly rewarded when only three were vandalised. Also, more than 1500 people are working in two community gardens, donating its produce to a foodbank.
Several interest groups were started, ranging from meditation and cake craft to a film club and craft sessions; and, last summer, more than 1000 people attended a series of fun days in a park in Shildon. At Christmas, 40 children wore Santa costumes to visit 130 isolated elderly people.
For more information on the competition, which closes on 31 August, visit www.ecclesiastical.com/churchcomp.