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South Tyneside churches launch community-support drop-ins

28 January 2022


From left: the Deputy Mayoress of South Tyneside Council, Lynn Blair; the Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Revd Sarah Clark; the debt-centre manager, Nikita Carson; the Rector of Jarrow and Simonside, the Revd Lesley Jones; and the director of Communities Together Durham, Canon Sheila Bamber

From left: the Deputy Mayoress of South Tyneside Council, Lynn Blair; the Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Revd Sarah Clark; the debt-centre manager, Nikita C...

CHURCHES in south Tyneside have opened a service that seeks to combat loneliness, household debt, and mental-health problems.

The scheme was launched on 17 January, the day dubbed “Blue Monday”, as the point in the year when, Christmas over and the worst of winter still to come, public morale is said to be at its lowest. Last year, the mental-health charity Mind reported that one in seven people in the area suffered from depression — well above the national average.

Four free drop-ins will offer a place of warmth where people can have a cup of tea and a snack, and discuss their problems with someone who will listen.

The project is led by the Revd Lesley Jones, who became Rector of Jarrow and Simonside in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. “There was such pastoral need, and that produced what we have opened now,” she said.

The drop-ins — at St Peter’s, Jarrow; St Simon’s, South Shields; St John the Baptist, Jarrow; and a former council library in South Shields — run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. over four days each week.

Working with the local authority in Durham diocese, Communities Together Durham, and Churches Together South Tyneside, the scheme is based on the Places of Welcome network, launched in the Midlands in 2012 to counter social exclusion.

“We are calling it Places of Welcome Plus,” Mrs Jones said. “The ‘plus’ bit is that it is more than a cup of tea or pastoral care. We are training volunteers as mental-health first-aiders, and opening up a Community Money Advice Connect debt centre. It is more about structured support as well as fellowship and friendship.”

Grants from the local Lord Crewe’s Charity will pay for a debt-centre manager to co-ordinate the volunteers for the next two years.

“Nine million people were estimated to be lonely and isolated even before the pandemic,” Mrs Jones said, “and it’s not just older people: it can happen at any time in our lives — new parents, recently unemployed, carers, people who have left home — it’s across the population. And we have made a start.”

The scheme was opened by the Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Revd Sarah Clark, who said: “We all know that when life is hard, and life is hard at the moment: one struggle leads to another, and anyone can easily feel alone, stuck, not knowing where to turn. Places of Welcome are safe places to turn to, with people who will welcome everyone who drops in and those who want to be part of the answer.”

Last year, the charity StepChange said that, as a result of Covid-19, 2.5 million people were facing a financial crisis, with about £10 billion of accumulated debt and arrears. Government statistics for January 2021 showed that the number of people on Universal Credit had nearly doubled to six million since the start of the pandemic.

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