The Diocese of Durham has joined together with Church Urban Fund, the Church of England’s response to poverty to bring churches and communities together to tackle poverty more effectively and sustainably through the launch of ‘Communities Together Durham’.
The launch on 2nd December at Woodhouse close Church of England & Methodist Church, Bishop Auckland was particularly poignant as the church was founded as an ecumenical project to help the community grow in what is the most deprived ward in the whole of County Durham and the 132nd in the country. Members of the church community outreach project talked about their work in the last 30 years since the publishing of the Church of England’s “Faith in the City Report” back in 1985. They set the scene for the launch of the Communities Together Durham initiative.
The Ven. Stuart Bain, Chair of the joint venture commented: “Jesus said ‘I come so you may have life and a full life’ – and it seems to me that poverty is something that prevents that fullness of life bring realised. We want to see full human flourishing and Communities Together Durham is being launched today to join the ‘Together’ network across the country in helping us realise that vision.”
About 13 million people, including 3.5 million children, are estimated to be living in poverty in the UK and Communities Together Durham believe the local church is uniquely placed to respond to local issues.
Paul Hackwood, the Chief Executive of Church Urban Fund, said that 16 Communities Together projects had already been set up with plans to take the number to 20 by the end of the year, moving up to 35 in years to come. The challenge was to renew life and develop a new kind of society where everyone was included, and churches had to be part of that process.
He said: “We are trying to get people to recognise just how important community life is. There is a movement for change.
“This is about social action, building relationships with communities, creating a society where people are included. This is about how we reconstruct the society so that people are included and valued and cared for.“
Val Barron, development worker for Communities Together Durham, makes the point that Durham Diocese has some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country and church based community projects have a real part to play.
She said: “Our aim is to help churches and communities work more closely together around issues such as poverty and isolation, something that the churches have always done but is more needed as poverty in our region rises and more cuts are made to support services.”
“In some of our parishes almost half the children are growing up in poverty and this has a huge impact on their education and wellbeing. Last September headteachers reported that children were coming back after the summer holidays looking visibly thinner. We have to ask if we as churches and communities can work together to do something about this and other issues for disadvantaged children.”
Bishop Paul who has made child welfare a central part of his ministry said: “This is the second ‘Together’ project I have been involved in – the first in Mansfield in my last Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham and I was amazed then how quickly if made a difference and I can see stuff happening here already.
“Regarding child poverty, we need to let children and young people speak with their own voice and not ours – we need to tackle poverty at grassroots – community level, speaking and acting together, not waiting for government and others do it for us. I am very excited for this project and all the possibilities it brings.”
Communities Together Durham is part of a growing ‘Together’ network around the country which aims to multiply and enhance the work of local churches and others in order to transform more lives. Since starting, Church Urban Fund has already invested over £2.5m in local projects and this new initiative aims to build on local work and draw more people in.