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‘It’s OK to ask for help’: priest helps set up community support in Cumbria

04 April 2020

DES COLHOUN/GEOGRAPH/COMMONS

St Patrick’s, Patterdale, in 2017

St Patrick’s, Patterdale, in 2017

A VILLAGE church and parish council in Cumbria is proving just how much can be done to help a rural community survive the privations and loss of employment consequent on the coronavirus lockdown.

St Patrick’s, Patterdale, in Carlisle diocese, is the parish church for the four communities of Hartsop, Deepdale, Patterdale, and Glenridding — familiar names to lovers of the Lakes in general and walkers on Wainwright’s coast-to-coast path in particular. This is a place heavily reliant on leisure and tourism. With no summer jobs and trade in prospect, hard times are expected for local workers, most of whose jobs are habitually low-paid.

Many have more than one job to make ends meet — something that is well understood by the Priest-in-Charge of St Patrick’s, the Ven. Morris Rodham, a former Archdeacon of Warwick. In the ten months since he took the post as an unpaid house-for-duty priest here, he has offered bed and breakfast at his home, qualified as a mountain leader — the village lies below Helvellyn — and has trained as a portable-appliance tester to receive business with the hotel trade. It was no bad thing, he reflected last week, that the priest was in the same position as his flock.

When the outbreak began, and in advance of any government provision, it was clear that a means of help needed to be set up that was both immediate and long-term. In partnership with the chairman of the parish council, Rob Shephard, Mr Rodham first set up foodbanks in two locations that could be reached without the use of a car. There was also provision for financial donations to be made to the village shop, which would make up a bag of goods to the donation amount.

The Patterdale Community Fund was then established, designed to operate as a Restricted Fund within St Patrick’s Church. It was established with £5000, half donated from the church and half from the parish council, and applications for matched funding were made to other grant-making bodies. It is chaired by Mr Rodham and administered by a sub-committee of six well-trusted people, including Mr Shephard, who have created a list of those resident in the parish who have found themselves in a financially difficult position and will struggle to find the outgoings of the next two months.

In a letter to the community, Mr Rodham wrote: “We understand that asking for or accepting help from anybody is very difficult, but would please ask that we lay this aside at this unique time. It is not anybody’s fault that a pandemic has hit our community at this time, and so please see this as a community response to something that was not your fault. It’s okay to ask for or receive help.”

There are more than 50 people on the list. Each of them has been personally contacted to see what help they need and will be checked on again after that period to see whether further support is needed. “We’re considering a wider appeal to this fund, as we’re aware of a few who will fall though the net of government support — not least those who have left paid jobs to set a business up in the last year and will receive virtually no support,” Mr Rodham said.

He is also concerned for those who have been trying to build a business over the past three years but who have made little profit in that time. “Most businesses take several years to build up. Support may be needed for the long haul,” he said. He paid tribute to a retired accountant living in the parish who had applied herself to understanding the detail of the grant schemes on offer by national and local government: working with Mr Shephard, the pair were “effectively acting as a locally based advice bureau”, he said.

Together with the parish council, the church has ensured that every possible vulnerable person has support during the pandemic. Each member of the standing committee has been allocated ten people to phone regularly, and each church member has at least two standing-committee members allocated to him or her — “to ensure consistency in support for the long haul”, Mr Rodham said. “We have worked with the parish council, too, to ensure we take our fair share in supporting those who are not regular church members too, as we are a whole community and we love them all.”

Parish-council as well as church newsletters are printed off at the vicarage. The church has been holding services by Zoom, with midweek “chat and banter” sessions. “The banter is important,” he said. “It’s amazing how much better people feel after they’ve had a bit of a laugh.”

He has told the community: “This really has been a wonderful community to come into, and the levels of mutual support for one another are humbling. . . It will be a marathon, not a sprint, and along a route none of us have been before. But of one thing I can be sure: if I was to have to spend time in isolation in any context and community, it would be this one.”

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14 September 2020
Festival of Pilgrimage
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29 September 2020
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