Stephen Greenhalgh: The pandemic has shown faith groups helped those in need. We aim to foster that spirit.

14 Sep

Lord Greenhalgh is the Minister of State for Building Safety, Fire and Communities.

Over the past year and a half, the response of faith communities to the pandemic has been remarkable and I have been extremely proud of being the Faith Minister during this time.

Up and down the country, faith communities have risen to the challenges created by the pandemic, offering solace to so many people, not only for their spiritual wellbeing, but also by providing a multitude of support services.

Faith groups have been a lynchpin for many, providing pastoral care, support networks for older or vulnerable people, and continuing informal education and enriching cultural activities online.

Faith groups have also been at the forefront of the vaccine roll out, promoting and supporting people to take up the vaccine as well as countering the spread of misinformation – with many vaccines being given in places of worship up and down the country.

I am therefore delighted to share the steps I have taken to ensure we can build on the work witnessed over the past 18 months and strengthen the nature of engagement between national government, local government, and faith groups.

The Faith New Deal Pilot Fund has two elements:

  • £1,000,000 (including £25,000 to aid capacity building in the faith community sector) available through a competitive Grant Fund to support Faith groups to deliver innovative partnership projects
  • Development of a Faith Compact which will set out key principles to aid engagement between faith groups, national government, and local government.

Each element aims to bring in the underutilised capacity of the faith sector to work alongside local public services. I am also seeking to reduce the number of initiatives taking place in silo, and make best use of national, local and philanthropic funding.

It is important to acknowledge two reports from parliamentarians / parliamentary groups that have helped to shape this new policy. Danny Kruger’s report for government, ‘Levelling up our communities: proposals for a new social covenant‘  and the APPG on Faith and Society’s report, ‘Keeping the Faith – Partnerships between faith groups and local authorities during and beyond the pandemic’.

Both reports set out the ability of faith groups to provide innovative solutions to complex problems to make valuable contributions to all parts of society.  I also expect the independent advisor Colin Bloom’s report on the Government’s engagement with faith communities to help me further form this policy – specifically the Faith Compact.

The £1m Faith New Deal Pilot Fund

The pilot fund is a new, competitive grant programme to test and strengthen relationships between public bodies and Faith groups. My intention is for this fund to explore how we build on the way faith groups have partnered with national and local government throughout the pandemic to see how we can forge a ‘new deal’ between government and faith communities to galvanise our energy in the national COVID-19 recovery effort.

The Fund has been designed to provide proof of concept that faith groups can play a significant and effective role in supporting wider communities to solve local problems, levering in additional philanthropic resources and providing match funding from their own resources. The intention for the funded projects is that they support capacity building efforts to develop learning and good practice, documenting the impact of their programmes and their unique role and contribution to civil society.

Faith Compact

The Faith New Deal Pilot Fund will also inform the development of a Faith Compact, a set of partnership principles, to strengthen existing collaboration and inform future relationships. The Compact will seek to promote open working at all levels to give faith groups the opportunity to continue to work constructively and effectively as part of civil society. We will work closely with the APPG on Faith and Society, Danny Kruger MP, and Colin Bloom to determine the most effective way to inform this work.

The time is right to announce this new policy in response to recommendations made from our colleagues in parliament and the exceptional work we have witnessed over the last 18 months. The Faith New Deal will continue to build on the tenets of common understanding and collaboration and the fundamental proposition that by working together, we will achieve more through our common endeavours.

Judy Terry: Defeating the scourge of litter is just one example of the power of volunteering

6 May

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

The last year of unparalleled economic and emotional uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of community, and the way people have come together to support and look after each other.

For example, 750,000 people volunteered to help the NHS ‘test and trace’ when the call went out during the first lockdown. But volunteering is nothing new; it is embedded in the British DNA, with individuals and groups spending their free time doing a range of unpaid work, quietly and modestly, contributing to society, saving the State and local authorities billions of pounds annually.

So why did the Census not have any questions about volunteering, when the data is supposed to inform and prioritise future policy and investment for the next ten years?

Charities couldn’t survive without their volunteers, manning shops (when open) and foodbanks, as well as telephone helplines, including Childline and the Samaritans; volunteers are crucial to organising fundraising events, engaging with the disabled and lonely, masterminding amateur theatre performances, and managing local clubs which are key to the safety and security – as well as bringing fun – to their communities.

‘Saving Lives at Sea’ is a series of real-life incidents filmed by highly trained RNLI volunteers, illustrating their bravery and generosity of spirit in some of the most frightening circumstances. But they are not the only volunteers putting their own lives at risk to save others: in some locations, fire services rely on their volunteers for rapid response. We must also be grateful to the Mountain Rescue Service for going out in all weathers to help those at risk, as well as volunteer ambulance drivers and those who assist the Police and homeless.

Volunteer coastguards are also essential to the safety of experienced and amateur sailors as well as protecting beaches and swimmers, and supporting the Immigration Service, saving illegal immigrants from drowning when their boats are overwhelmed.

At times of crisis, including floods or wildfires destroying communities and countryside, volunteers immediately arrive with tractors and other equipment, food and hot drinks, they help with searches to find and transport the most vulnerable at particular risk, opening their homes and public buildings to offer comfort to victims. They also put their own lives at risk to save livestock, wildlife, and domestic pets.

With the environment threatened by waste, groups of litterpickers regularly spend hours collecting the rubbish thrown out of cars, left on beaches, and dropped in the countryside, endangering wildlife as well as potentially causing damaging fires. Volunteers help with mental health and wellbeing on allotments, welcoming the lonely and forgotten to tea and coffee with cake in ‘man sheds’, creating a friendly atmosphere for sharing concerns and expertise.

Retired Ministers routinely volunteer to conduct services in their local places of worship, across all religions, providing leadership and comfort in the good, as well as bad, times.

National Trust and Museums rely on volunteer guides, who also man public libraries, or put themselves forward to become parish councillors and school governors. Volunteer sports coaches are key to mentoring and developing young people’s fitness, keeping them out of trouble by giving them the confidence to recognise and develop their own abilities, learning to socialise, and giving them hope and ambition as they plan their futures.

Whilst it was always common practice for neighbours to babysit for each other, and look after pets when their owners are away, during the last difficult year, many thousands more people have relied on the kindness of neighbours, doing their shopping, taking their dogs for walks, helping with some garden maintenance or painting fences. People of all ages, from all walks of life, have responded to these challenges, bringing empathy, and humour, where appropriate, during doorstep conversations.

Once the vaccine rollout began, volunteers were on hand to help manage sites, and drive the elderly and vulnerable to get their jabs, celebrating the likelihood of long-awaited freedom to see friends and family again with them.

Volunteers have a remarkable humility; they are driven by a strong sense of duty and a willingness to share whatever knowledge and skills they have, expecting nothing in return.

Consequently, the Census was a wasted opportunity, when this commitment to others is evidently so undervalued that it won’t be recorded, leaving a massive gap in the ‘data’ analysis. How will this be reflected in expenditure – and where it is directed – over the coming decade?

It is a significant failure because cash-strapped Government and local councils appear dismissive of their (hidden) reliance on volunteers who save taxpayers billions of pounds. Something to be celebrated rather than ignored; perhaps volunteers should adopt the massive egos of some politicians to be appreciated.