By Sister Gillian Price FC
Tackling the roots of inequality in the UK was the inspiration behind a gathering in London of 30 religious, associates and friends from the JPIC Links Network for their annual, ‘Linking Day’. With the title, ‘Re-imagining Britain – Freedom and equality as the way to social justice’, the day was facilitated by Canon Paul Hackwood, executive director of the Church Urban Fund. https://www.cuf.org.uk/
The Church Urban Fund (CUF) was established by the Church of England as a practical response to unmet need and has been active in local communities for over 30 years. Grounded in the lives of ordinary people CUF works to bring people of different communities together to make a difference. Its vision is to see people and communities all over England flourish and enjoy life in all its fullness. CUF works to bring about positive change in neighbourhoods. Committed to working through relationship partnerships, CUF works by building trust, empowering local people to have a go at addressing the areas of greatest need in their communities, and speaking out against injustice.
Using his extensive practical experience of approaching social justice issues from a faith perspective and his work to bring people of different faiths together, in the morning Paul Hackwood explored ‘Freedom, equality and Justice – our Christian heritage’ while in the afternoon we looked at some practical responses.
Living in a time when the Roman power had monetised the economy and encouraged a breakdown of community and family life, Jesus preached a different way of being human with a different kingdom at its centre. In the Kingdom of God everyone has importance and each person is included. Relationships are key to the Kingdom, each one working with others to create a better world.
Paul suggested that we too are in a period of re-construction in the UK. People are not valued because of their intrinsic value, but for what they contribute to the economy. Just as in Jesus’ time a wasteland is created where relationships are extra. “Our brains” he said, “are created for relationship for we are made by the ways others speak to us, imagine us, nurture us or fail us”. He suggested that we have allowed capital to make the rules and he asked the question, “When everything is focussed on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) what does this say about us as human beings?” Our institutions have become slaves to this economic model so that our universities are seen as training places for economic outcomes, rather than places of learning and Trade Unions are seen as places of agitation rather than a means of social good. The prophetic edge of the Church is also undermined when people perceive the church as a place for personal morality and a source of volunteers that can be ‘mined’ for delivering services. When 70% of workers in the UK have seen wages stagnate or drop in the last 10 years there is a massive reservoir of unhappiness and resentment in the UK at the moment. It’s an uneven playing field and people want to get out of the game.
Building on the fact that the Christian faith gives us an alternative, the Church Urban Fund is about connecting people in a way that breaks up the monetary model of value. “We don’t do numbers”, said Paul, “we do relationships”. CUF works with others by building trust and respect. It believes that meaningful relationships are the basis of real and sustainable change and this is central to everything they do. There is a focus on relational equality, building up community associations and strengthening local institutions working to inspire, inform and support others and do this through the quality of the connections they build.
The Church Urban Fund has three ‘strands’ to its work, Near Neighbours – (social cohesion), Together network – (the poverty arm) and Just finance – (the financial arm).
1. Near Neighbours
Kim Gregg, Near Neighbours co-ordinator for East Midlands, told us about her work, including:
Small grants programme - For community groups that want to create a project, to bring at least two faiths together in social action and social interaction. An example of this was the multi faith community archery project in Luton.
Catalyst - A leadership course for young people aged 16 – 25
Real people/honest talk - where people meet together for three conversation evenings. This gives voice and space to talk about what is concerning people.
Places of welcome- Support is given to create a place for people to visit at the same time every week for coffee/tea and a biscuit/cake. Kim spoke about the 5 P’s of places of welcome - Place, Presence, People, Participation, Provision.
2. Together network
This aims to build relationships and encourages people to have a go themselves. It informs, inspires and supports local Churches to tackle poverty and build community. Aiming to build individual resilience, Together network gives people an opportunity to shape the world around them and so contribute to the common good. People belonging to the network go on a relational journey where the person is at the centre.
2. Just finance
There are 3 strands to this
a. Getting people to take responsibility for lending and saving
This helps children to manage money wisely. CUF is already involved with 300 primary schools and £50,000 has already been saved by children in savings clubs, thus establishing good habits of saving at an early age.
b. Enhancing the social finance sectors
Cash mark, credit savvy
This is a course which deals with understanding managing money.
Universal credit savvy
This is a course which deals with understanding how the Universal Credit system works. The Department of work and pensions are thinking of using it.
3. Work in local communities
Since the only way to change things is by doing it through real people, the more you can broker conversations between groups, the more you can do, CUF starts with people in communities and works through a ‘relational’ way of working.
In the questions Paul was asked about the banking crisis. He replied that ‘bashing bankers’ is a way of avoiding the issue. Banks recognise that there is a problem and want to work with CUF. Paul said that the banking crisis had undermined the public trust in the banking system so CUF say to bankers, “If you do something to put money in and working together then it will put you on the road to trustworthiness again.” He added: “If I can get bankers to talk about poverty, then that’s success.”
Global Goal 17, the need for ‘Partnership for the goals’ kept coming to mind throughout the day. As always the day was as much about networking with and celebrating each other as the actual input. Several participants are exploring ways of linking with CUF to support multi faith and ecumenical projects they are involved with. We were reaffirmed in our own belief that rather than ‘charity’ it is vital that we give those with whom we work an opportunity to shape the world around them and take control of their own destiny.
Finally Paul quoted Archbishop Tutu as once saying that if you keep finding bodies you need to go up river to see who is causing the people to fall in. We were reaffirmed in our belief that as Christians we are called to be ‘political’ beings and to use our voices to call people to account. We in JPIC Links are looking forward to working with CUF on an exciting project they are planning - of further ‘speaking truth to power.’