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Rise of ‘Christian social franchises’ reported

01 March 2024


Image from the report cover

Image from the report cover

CHALLENGES of growth and sustainability lie ahead for Christian organisations that are helping to alleviate poverty in the UK, a study on the rise of social franchising says.

The voluntary sector is becoming increasingly important in the nation’s response to poverty, as the welfare state is no longer sufficient to keep people out of it, and so levels are rising, suggests the author of the report, Dr Stephanie Denning, assistant professor at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relation (Comment, 9 February).

The report, The Rise of Christian Social Franchises: A report for voluntary sector leaders, draws on research carried out with five Christian organisations that have been responding to poverty in the UK since 2000: Christians Against Poverty (CAP), Transforming Lives for Good (TLG), the Trussell Trust, MakeLunch, and Kids Matter.

All five organisations use tried and tested models that can be replicated by churches, the report says. They take a commercial-franchising approach, but are not-for-profit. They provide, the report says, “a means of quality assurance for replication, so that there can be a tailored local response to be replicated nationally”. Their ability to gather local data on the causes and effects of poverty has enabled them to influence national UK Government policy-making.

CAP, which was founded in 1996, focuses on debt, providing debt centres, money, and life-skills courses; TLG (founded in 1998) helps with early-intervention mentoring in schools, and is a partner of MakeLunch (2010), which runs holiday clubs for food and play. The Trussell Trust (founded in 2000) focuses on food poverty, and Kids Matter (2017) looks at parenting skills.

The pandemic presented both challenges and opportunities for the five organisations, depending on how they were able to adapt to restrictions, the report says. Volunteer numbers have fallen nationally, it says, and there is concern over volunteer burnout caused by continually responding to crises.

Lack of funding for medium-sized charities compared with start-ups and larger charities makes funding a challenge for all the organisations, the report suggests. Declining church attendance has meant that churches’ income has fallen; charitable donations are falling generally, and budgets are increasingly stretched.

The challenge that CAP, as one example, was increasingly facing was that, if people’s incomes within their budgets were too low, they could not be supported out of debt, it said. Someone interviewed for the Trussell Trust reflected that some foodbanks were now needing to buy supplies.

Another challenge identified in the study is that many Christian social franchises are operating almost to capacity. A Kids Matter respondent is quoted as saying: “There’s only so much the Church can do.”

In interviews with the five organisations, the importance of being local to make successful relationships was emphasised. Both the interviews and the organisations’ websites had shown how franchising joined up local places to gather data and stories for national campaigning.

The Trussell Trust, for example, successfully campaigned with others to reduce the six-week wait for the first Universal Credit payment. MakeLunch was involved in Lord Field of Birkenhead’s School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill, informally called the “holiday hunger” Bill. CAP successfully campaigned on prepayment-meter charges.

The report describes how Christian faith has shaped all the organisations. All of them, it concludes, emphasise the importance of a strong staff team and the value of church networks and word of mouth for franchise growth.

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