Massive increase in church social action, report shows

Church involvement in helping the deprived and needy is growing around the country, a new report shows.

More than 2000 people a week benefited from projects funded by grants of up to £5,000 awarded by the Church Urban Fund to communities across England in 2015, according to the report.

Churches are running social action projects ranging from cooking course, through cinemas and lunch clubs, to winter night shelters. In the Church of England alone, the number of churches running community projects increased by 40 per cent, from 350 to 500.

A further 330 community projects were helped with grants from the fund under the Near Neighbours scheme which works across all denominations and faiths.

The fund is also now working with the Credit Champions Network, the project set up by the Church of England's task group on responsible credit and savings.

About 10 million people are thought to rely on social action projects run by churches. The CUF, a charitable social action arm of the Church of England, recently transitioned from primarily being a grant maker to development agency.

One example of its work is a project run with Blackburn Diocese and the Methodists in Lancashire, which started with food banks and now consists of more than 70 organisations tackling food poverty with cookery courses, equipment and training.

Canon Ed Saville of Blackburn Diocese said: "This project has grown from helping around 25 food banks to work in closer cooperation to supporting a range of different programmes on tackling food poverty from gifts of low cost slow cookers to work on growing fruit and vegetables and setting up job clubs. This has been about identifying the strengths of local communities and encouraging groups to work together to come up with solutions."

Writing in the report, Paul Hackwood, chair of CUF, says: "As a result of recent economic troubles and spending cuts, many communities are experiencing hardship and an uncertain future. Yet it is also a time of hope. It is a privilege that, as part of my role here at CUF, I get to meet and speak with so many people who are committed to bringing about positive change in their local community. It is always energising and humbling."