“We heard anger at the burdens falling on those least able to help themselves” says Together Canterbury officer on ‘Poverty Pilgrimage’ around East Kent

Days ahead of Church Urban Fund’s annual awareness and fundraising event, Poverty Sunday (21st June), a local officer in the Diocese of Canterbury has spoken of the anger he heard from people around the diocese about the impact of austerity on the least able to support themselves.

The reflections come after Keith Berry, Together Canterbury Development Officer (CUF’s joint venture with the Diocese of Canterbury) completed a four day Poverty Pilgrimage on bike around the diocese.

Travelling with no money, and reliant on handouts and goodwill for food and shelter, he was joined on the venture by former Canterbury Diocesan Secretary David Kemp, visiting various projects and communities along the way. Keith Berry explained more about the purpose of the cycle ride:

“Visiting eleven community projects in four days left us with a clear idea of the wide ranging and complex nature of poverty. The projects covered work with young people with poor job prospects, homeless people, older people with dementia, food banks, debt centres, and community hubs and drop in centres.

“The commitment and compassion of the volunteers was staggering. The striking thing was that these were communities helping themselves not national projects ‘doing things’ to a community.

 

“We hope that by publicising these projects we have highlighted the nature of poverty in Kent and offered support and encouragement to the volunteers who weekly support those in need within their community.”

 

Experiences include the enthusiastic send-off the pair received from volunteers and school children at Murston Community Bank and Hub in Sittingbourne. In Dover, a local primary school collected two car-boot loads of food items in two days for the food bank; families whose children attending the school would be among the recipients.

 

At Newington in Ramsgate, the recently opened credit union branch held in a recycled cargo container in the grounds of St Christopher’s Church, staffed completely by local people who knew the challenges they and their neighbours faced on a daily basis.

 

In all the projects visited, Keith said that the support of churches was vital in providing premises, resources and volunteers to create sustainable community responses.

 

What was also evident on their ‘pilgrimage’ was the level of anger at the impact of sanctions and austerity:

 

“As we face more years of austerity and reducing government support, we heard anger at the burdens falling on those least able to help themselves – the young, the mentally or physically ill, the jobless or those working on the minimum wage.

 

“There were continuing stories of sanctions being imposed without compassion and for minor infringements, stories of those who had fallen into debt due to illness or redundancy. There was concern too at the introduction of Universal Credit and the effect of paying housing benefit direct to tenants. Some communities have already seen landlords looking to evict tenants who are viewed as a bad risk.”

 

Keith and David’s journey began at Murston Community Bank and Hub in All Saint’s Church, Murston in Sittingbourne, which on its opening 18 months ago, was Kent’s first community bank to be held in a church. It finished at the launch of the new Tenterden Savers Community Hub at St. Mildred’s Church in Tenterden; the third such initiative in the diocese which combines a credit union and other community services in a single church location.

 

Some of the other projects they visited included;

  • The recently opened Whitstable Debt Centre which provides debt relief advice and is a partnership between Christians Against Poverty and Churches Together in Whitstable.
  • Holy Trinity Church in Margate, a busy community focused church, where the COGS Dementia group meets on a weekly basis offering a time of activity, stimulation, music and fun for people with mild dementia.
  • The Aspire team at Global Generation Church in Margate, whose course engages with young people who are struggling to find access to further education, training and employment opportunities and enables them to get involved with their community and raise their own aspirations at the same time.
  • The Rainbow Centre in Folkestone, a multi-denominational project which provides a Crisis Drop-in service supporting homeless people and those facing eviction, and is celebrating 30 years of church collaboration this year.
  • Deal Area Foodbank, a foodbank working hard in the background to try and address further their client’s underlying issues, and doing so by working closely with partners to have more ‘joined-up’ thinking across the services.
  • Nicholas Church in New Romney which runs initiatives to support those facing difficulty in a rural environment; and
  • The Cliftonville Community Centre which offers holistic welfare support for all who require it, including budgeting and debt advice, assistance with filling in forms and benefit claims, to providing shower and washing facilities

 

A JustGiving page is available offering more information about the pilgrimage and to accept donations: https://www.justgiving.com/povertypilgrimage. Together Canterbury can also be followed on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/togethercanterbury

 

ENDS

For more information interviews please contact Jennifer Ross on 01227 459 401 / 07765 112 177 / jross@diocant.org

 

Notes to Editors

 

Picture shows:

  • David and Keith get ready to leave Murston amid cheers and pom pom waving from volunteers and children from Murston Junior School (centre left to right – David Kemp, Keith Berry, Rev Lesley Jones – Assistant Curate at All Saints Church, Murston and Project Manager of Murston Community Bank and Hub)
  • Children from White Cliffs Primary College of Arts deliver food to Dover Foodbank (Left to right: David Kemp, Lisa – Dover Foodbank volunteer, Keith Berry, Ruby Overal (10), Keira Daniels (10), Josh Price (10), Mrs Helen Prettyjohn – Yr 5 class teacher at White Cliffs Primary College for Arts, Lynn Harris – Warehouse Coordinator for Dover Foodbank.
  • Poverty Pilgrims meet the Aspire Youth Pastors in the bike workshop (left to right James Issott – Youth Pastor, David Kemp, Alan Wilson – Manager of Free Wheelers, Keith Berry, Jo Issott – Youth Pastor)
  • Together Canterbury was launched in March 2014 as part of a growing network of joint ventures between the Church Urban Fund and Anglican dioceses across the country. With its two Development Officers, the aim of the partnership is to provide long-term sustainable support to Christians working to tackle poverty in some of the most deprived areas of east Kent by identify areas of need, working on a one-to-one basis with church and community groups around the diocese to help initiate projects, and support existing ones tackling poverty and disadvantage.
  • The Church Urban Fund is the Church of England’s response to poverty in the UK, working in partnership with Christians who feel called to put their faith into action. They bring the Church together to support Christians called to work with the poorest and most marginalised in England, transforming lives. Each year the Church Urban Fund supports over 300 church and Christian projects tackling poverty. For more information visit: http://www.cuf.org.uk/
  • The sponsored cycle has been completed a week before the Church Urban Fund’s annual awareness and fundraising event, Poverty Sunday which takes place on Sunday 21st The initiative provides people with the opportunity to reflect, pray and act on the reality and personal consequences of poverty: https://www.cuf.org.uk/Appeal/poverty-sunday
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