Skip to content

Faithfully Meeting Local Need – Anthea Rose

February 6, 2016

FMLNI have long been sceptical of religious groups trying to make up for the shrinking of the welfare state. I wish they wouldn’t but I suppose it’s only a return to the old days before it. It was not until the 16th Century, and specifically the introduction of the Poor Law in 1601, that the role of ‘The Church’ began to decline in the area of social provision.

The responsibility for social welfare was finally and fully handed over to the State after the Second World War with the birth of the Welfare State. It began with the 1944 Education Act which was swiftly followed by a raft of social legislation over a five year period covering housing, health and the setting up of a universal benefits system. Furthermore, at this time ‘The Church’ found itself less well-resourced than it had been in the past with reduced membership, personnel and finances. Following the rise of the Welfare State the significance of ‘The church’ in social welfare delivery gradually became subsumed or ‘lumped’ into the wider voluntary sector where it became almost invisible; however, their work continued. Subsequently some of the most prominent British political leaders and welfare reformers in modern times from across political parties have drawn on their faith for inspiration, motivation and direction. Another important development has been the shift in recent times, notably in the 1990s (Tadros, 2010), away from using the term ‘The Church’ as a provider of social welfare to ‘faith-based organisations’ (FBOs) or ‘faith-based groups’.

When the Coalition government came to power in May 2010, David Cameron, brought with him the latest policy position on the role of FBOs in helping to deliver welfare provision; the Big Society. According to Demos (Britain’s cross-party think-tank), who recently carried out an Inquiry into the contemporary role of faith in UK society and politics, ‘the idea of engaging faith groups in the delivery of public services has played a prominent role in the rhetoric of the Conservatives in coalition as a part of the broader goals of the government’s Big Society

Funded by Faith to Engage, the research is based on evidence gathered from five faith-based organisations delivering services in their local community. The report highlights the importance of partnership working, the need to appropriately deploy and support volunteers and the role faith plays in motivating and sustaining delivery.

The case studies are:

Plymouth Centre for Faiths and Cultural Diversity – its main objective is to promote education of world religions and cultural diversity based upon the common values of respect and tolerance. It aims to achieve this by creating opportunities for interfaith and multicultural awareness, dialogue, understanding and celebration through a range of services and activities. All of the major faiths present in the City are represented namely: Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs as well as Pagans.

Hull Churches Home from Hospital (HCHfH) is a befriending service that is neither medical nor religious in nature but it is fundamentally a Christian organisation.  Established in 1994, it is the longest-running of the five projects that participated in this study. The project aims to help vulnerable people whilst they are convalescing to remain confidently in their own homes.

The Boaz Trust was established in 2004 in response to the growing problem of destitution amongst refused asylum seekers. It provides accommodation for those asylum seekers who are homeless.

Urban Devotion Birmingham does street level work with young people and families which are comprised of a range of clubs and activities for different age groups. They also offer schools a suite of activities including small group and one-to-one mentoring sessions with pupils and many craft and drama based activities. They work in schools and frequently lead assemblies.

Enfield Island Youth and Community Trust (EIYCT) and Oasis Children and Family Project aim to work with all young people, especially those who might be deemed to be on the edge of society.

In all instances, one individual was instrumental in driving forward the idea and developing it into a workable project to meet the identified need; it was their vision. Others, who worked both for and with these individuals, acknowledged that they were the driving force behind the vision and the reason for the project’s continued growth and success. Through their leadership they had taken people with them; inspiring them to meet the same need that they were passionate about meeting and to buy into its ideals.

The church, as an institutional body, is not always supportive of FBOs wishing to deliver services to the community. It is more likely that support will come from individual church members, rather than the institutions as a whole. The study also found projects received very little engagement or support from other faiths. This is potentially an area for further investigation

Many interviewees across projects felt that it was their faith that motivated them to become involved, ‘it’s absolutely vital, we are all doing this work because of our faith. That’s what motivates us, inspires us more than anything else’

Whilst projects were founded on faith, it was not obligatory for either staff or volunteers to be ‘a person of faith’. All of the projects worked within the law applying the Equalities Act (2010) to their recruitment processes which would make stipulating such conditions of employment illegal.

People to their faith were primarily concerned with meeting need in a professional manner. They were open to everyone, staff, volunteers, partners and clients, regardless of age, gender, race or faith. They all believed that their faith was exhibited through their actions.

All of the founders were extremely successful with funding applications, especially during the early stages; despite, in several cases, not having had a great deal of previous experience of applying for funding.

Projects were staffed with a mix of paid staff and unpaid volunteers. The workforce generally reflected the type of service they provided and the client group they served, for example, youth and community based projects tended to have a younger workforce. In many cases an individual undertook multiple roles within the organisation, for example, they may be both a client and a volunteer at the same time.

Volunteers were seen as vital to the delivery of services. Without them none of the case study projects, perhaps with the exception of CS1 whose delivery model actively relied more heavily on sessional workers paid hourly, would be able to deliver their services as fully or effectively as they did. However, the number of volunteers was not important; what mattered was getting the right balance of people within the team.

Recruitment and training procedures varied across the projects

This study found that none of the projects viewed influencing, or engaging with, policy as a major focus of their work. Neither did they see themselves as having directly influenced policy, either locally or nationally. A Trustee of CS5 was clear that they were not linked to any kind of political bias. Their aim being primarily to try and stay ‘neutral and push the agenda of [local] people and community’

One director of believed they needed to be ‘non-political’ at all times.

Therein lies my problem. The issues they are dealing with are the results of government policy. These projects are putting sticking plaster on wounds instead of seeking to stop the wounding in the first place.

The most obvious challenge facing all of the projects was their need to secure future funding. Another common challenge, and one that is linked to that of finances, is how to expand responsibly in terms of maintaining their vision, integrity, ethos and high service quality, whilst simultaneously meeting increasing staffing obligations, particularly wages and legislative compliance.

The report recommends investment in the following four areas:

faith entrepreneurs, to facilitate and support visionary leaders in their development of innovative community delivery.

the building of active partnership between faith and none faith-based organisations to enhance the service delivered to clients and maximise scarce resources.

through promoting the added value faith-based organisations offer, statutory organisations should be encouraged to commission their services.

policy makers should be proactively encouraged to engage with, and listen to, local community organisations (faith-based or otherwise) to establish how they can best support them to meet locally identified need.

The report is online here

Return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: