Religious groups in Cornwall are providing voluntary services in excess of £20 million according to a new survey.
The Cornwall Study of Faith Groups 2014 was carried out to identify the contribution that faith communities and groups make in supporting communities in Cornwall.
The study, compiled by Transformation Cornwall, looked at the activities of 184 faith groups - 86% Christian, 3% Buddhist, 1% Islamic, 1% Jewish, 1% Baha'i, and 8% other.
The figure of £20 million was estimated by applying the minimum wage (£7.65 per hour) to the amount of hours put in.
The services offered by the faith groups covered a wide spectrum:
Children and young people (aged 0-19) - 44%
Older people (e.g. lunch club/friendship group) - 44%
Homeless people - 17%
People with mental health problems - 14%
Carers (people looking after a friend or relative unpaid) - 14%
Food bank/food parcels for those in need - 48%
Spiritual healing - 28%
Support for parents (e.g. mother and baby groups) - 25%
Bereavement support - 24%
Promotion of local food/fair trade - 22%
Most faith groups have worked with an average of four other organisations over the last 12 months. The most common institutions partnered with were:
1. Primary schools - 77%
2. Secondary schools - 53%
3. Care home/supported housing (adult/children and young people) - 43%
4. Police - 35%
5. Hospitals/medical centres - 33%
Bishop of St Germans, Bishop Chris Goldsmith said: "It is great to see how much faith groups are doing for the good of the community."
The average volunteer was aged between 50 and 69-years-old and gave approximately two hours per week, and 82% belonged to a faith group.
Faith groups were also found to be very outward looking, with 51% being described as "interested in ... the traditions and practices of groups outside their own faith".
An average of nine people per group also volunteered for other non-faith groups.
Nearly three quarters (72%) of groups surveyed offered their building for use by other groups, and 61% did not charge for this service. This led to an average weekly use of some of these community facilities by 116 people who did not belong to the faith group.
Over half (57%) of groups surveyed had taken part in co-ordinated activities with other faith groups from within their own religious tradition.
Despite the scale of the work, only 46% of the groups surveyed received external funding. Between July 2012 and June 2013, the average government grant given was £15,472.
Even if that number were multiplied to all 184 groups surveyed, it would still only amount to £2.85 million, meaning that Cornwall's faith groups are saving the Government an estimated £17.15 million every year.
Cornwall Council Assistant Chief Executive Paul Masters said: "The council recognises the incredibly important role that the faith sector, alongside other volunteering organisations, carries out to help the community.
"The contribution that the faith groups make is invaluable when you look at the number of volunteers that come from that sector. In addition the way that they offer their buildings and meeting rooms for community based activities is fantastic. I welcome this report and look forward to finding out more."
Reverend Steve Wild, Chair of the Cornwall Methodist District said: "It is good to know that the people of faith in Cornwall create so much energy for good. I suppose I had always thought that they did but here is hard evidence that will be of benefit to everyone."
Lois Wild, Faiths in Cornwall Survey Project Manager says: "The work of faith groups in their communities is often largely unrecognised as they don't shout about it, they just get on with it.
"This is a great opportunity to highlight the fantastic work being carried out by faith groups in Cornwall to fill the gaps being left by the withdrawal of funding and resources as a consequence of austerity measures over the past few years."
The study will be used to create a database of all faith groups in Cornwall and the activities they offer in order to improve co-ordination and more effectively meet needs.