Issue date: 10 November 2004

A recently completed research project from the University of the West of England has shown that many South West ‘faith communities’ are deeply involved in social and welfare projects that make a significant contribution to the regeneration of their local communities, despite the fact that few of them receive official recognition and funding for this important work.

The projects are often small scale and include work with the elderly, with disaffected young people, and with those whom other agencies fail to reach. They see themselves as the agency of last resort after statutory and voluntary agencies have failed. Faith groups have a long-standing presence within their communities and bring valuable resources to regeneration initiatives, especially buildings, volunteers and enthusiasm. Faith groups also perceive the issues faced by deprived communities in uniquely different ways to officials working in local governance structures.

The research found that relatively few faith communities have been included in officially funded regeneration projects. There was a widespread lack of information about such opportunities amongst both faith groups and some funding agencies. The majority of faith groups feel they lack the capacity to take on such projects: they are often small and already facing many demands on their resources. The perceived bureaucracy of grant applications also deters many, while some feel that they may face a conflict with their values if they get involved.

For the research ‘faith communities’ were defined as a worshipping group with a regular meeting place or venue located in a designated area of neighbourhood renewal. The researchers also provide eight case study examples of good practice where faith groups have received some regeneration funding including a Sikh Resource Centre, and a Community Church Trust led partnership to develop a community facility for young people and healthy living centre for their local community.

Marion Jackson, a Visiting Fellow at UWE, and one of the authors of the report, says, “What we discovered through this research is that local churches and other faith communities can play a key role in neighbourhood renewal – they provide services and offer resources such as buildings – which address important social issues. Yet they don’t get the government funding and help that is specifically aimed at these problems.

“In order to maximise the potential that faith groups offer to their local communities, our research suggests that funding agencies should improve communications with faith groups, offer clear guidelines about their eligibility for funding, and help with training, mentoring and grant applications. In turn faith groups should have the courage to seek involvement with regeneration initiatives and demonstrate a willingness to work in partnership with each other, and with secular agencies, to fulfil their wider social and welfare goals. ”

The research was conducted by Marion Jackson (Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science) and Richard Kimberlee (Centre for Local Democracy) at the University of the West of England, Bristol.

The research was funded by The Government Office for the South West and was carried out in partnership with the South West Council of Faiths and the SW Churches’ Regional Forum. The final report is accompanied by eight detailed case studies, which illustrate good practice in a broad range of activities supported by a variety of funding agencies across the region.


Editor’s notes

Examples from the report include:

In Bristol the Anglican and Methodist communities in Withywood have made long term efforts to build up a partnership with others in the locality, and in potential funding bodies this has resulted in the South Bristol Community Church Trust’s success in funding a planned new community building which will provide many services to local residents. On a smaller scale the Sikh Resource Centre in Bristol is a community centre for people of all faiths, although it largely provides services to the Sikh community.

In Plymouth, the Action Group for Halcyon in a deprived area of the city, is a partnership of local residents and the church with a building that is the base for a number of community activities such as a youth club, a homework club, and an over 50s group. Initiated by the Methodist church and with sustained support from the Neighbourhood Renewal Team at the city council and the efforts of many volunteers it provides a real focus for the local community.

The two reports were published in September 2004 and are available from either of the authors as printed or electronic versions. They are:
‘Daily Service: How faith communities contribute to neighbourhood renewal and regeneration in the South West of England’, Final Report to Government Office for the South West and The South West Council of Faiths

‘Daily Service: How faith communities contribute to neighbourhood renewal and regeneration in the South West of England’, Case Studies prepared for Government Office for the South West and The South West Council of Faiths.

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