Joe Forde, vice chair of Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield, shares his thoughts after attending the national Church Action on Poverty conference in Manchester on 17 November 2018.
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Seeing things in a different light’, and I came away feeling I had done that, in several key respects. For example, I was encouraged to hear about the numerous ways that Church Action on Poverty works together with people to help transform their lives. Several projects reported on their work with those in poverty.
One was called ‘Food Power’ and provided impressive evidence of how they help build capacity and facilitate sharing of experiences between communities, with local empowerment at the core of their work. They stressed the advantages that can be gained from linking the various poverty support agencies together in coordinated efforts, building a network of local peer mentors to help other areas establish food poverty alliances.
We also heard about ‘Local Pantries’ – community supermarkets that allow people to access good food for a small weekly membership fee, helping them avoid falling into crisis and food poverty, and building community. Church Action on Poverty is helping communities to set up Pantries across the UK.
A third project was the ‘Self-Reliant Groups’ being supported by Church Action on Poverty in Manchester. A Self-Reliant Group is a network of friends, often experiencing poverty, who provide support to each other and meet regularly. They are independent of funders and make their own decisions. They save money together (small manageable amounts like £1 per week per group member) to build up a fund that can be called on by members in an emergency, and set up their own small businesses.
Examples such as these show how Church Action on Poverty makes a difference to people’s lives.
Attending the annual conference also provides an enjoyable opportunity to meet with other members of Church Action on Poverty, and discuss aspects of the poverty alleviation work they are involved in, or to chat with them about other topics of common interest. For example, I had a very rewarding conversation over lunch with a retired Methodist minister on the challenge of stemming the haemorrhaging of affiliated members in his church. It’s not an easy task, especially regarding the need to attract young people to attend church services. But he was able to recount several examples of how this was being successfully handled, often by offering new methods of worship involving contemporary music and dance, fused with a biblical theme.
I came away from the conference with much to reflect on, feeling encouraged by what I had learned during the day, and motivated to continue with our efforts in the Sheffield branch of Church Action on Poverty, to help make a difference to the lives of those experiencing poverty in Sheffield and beyond.