Research | C-of-E churches responses to need

I’m studying Church of England (C-of-E) churches responses to need. The C-of-E is unusual, on the one-hand present across England in ‘every community’, active in neighbourhoods, managing volunteers, delivering projects and services. Its stated mission even includes to transform unjust structures of society. On the other-hand, it has a unique place at the heart of UK legislature, its bishops in the House of Lords. The C-of-E is distinctive!

After years of working with churches in disadvantaged communities (ongoing community work on housing estates, or with Church Urban Fund and more recently with Church Action on Poverty and St Martin in the Fields), I want to learn more about the response of C-of-E churches to need. I’m looking at a context of social change – we could talk about ‘deficit reduction‘ or more broadly, austerity – cuts to public services and increased need. What are C-of-E churches doing and how do they do it?

To help understand the responses of C-of-E churches to need, I’m using a theoretical framework developed by sociologist David Howe*. Howe building on original work by Burrell and Morgan (1979) wrote about four ‘types’ of intervention or responses to need used by social workers. I found his model a useful reference point. Here are Howe’s four types:

  • Fixers help individuals in need adapt to a changing context and envionment. Fixers use their experience and knowledge to help a person get back on track, dealing with complex issues. Examples include: Food bank, winter night shelter and money advice services.
  • Seekers after Meaning focus on understanding the perspective and experience of the person in need. This about using individual client centred approaches. Examples include: Counselling support, debt counselling and listening projects.
  • Raisers of Consciousness tackle wider inequality in society. Here individuals confront their own complex issues gaining control of their life. This approach recognises society must change. Examples include Asset Based Community Development, Community Organising and Poverty & Truth commissions.
  • Revolutionaries work to shift society, via a radical and political critique. Here, collective anger might lead to collegiate responses, campaigning and political engagement. Examples include direct action, protest, campaigns and lobbying.

Howe had his critics, however, I think his model is useful in framing responses to need.

Which ‘type’ best fits your churches response to need? More than one type maybe? Which is the dominant type? Where do you place your church activity on the doodle below? (Click on the doodle for a bigger view.)

Where would you place your churches general response to need?

My research is developing case studies focusing on four C-of-E churches, one for each of those four types. So, each church responds to need differently, and in varied contexts. It’s not a comparative study or looking to evaluate activity – I want to understand how churches do what they do. I will spend between 5 to 10 weeks with each, helping out with activity as a participant and interviewing some of those involved. Can you help?

If you are interested and want to learn more about this study and how to participate in the research, please be in touch (contact details on the illustration above). We can then go from there.

My study is independent, not commissioned by any organisation and has ethical approval by Goldsmiths University of London. All information provided by participants is confidential.

I’ll use this space to post updates and insights about the research.

Howe, D. (2008) “An Introduction to Social Work Theory”, Oxford: Routledge

Burrell, G; Morgan, G. (1979). “Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis: Elements of the Sociology of Corporate Life”. London: Heinemann

 

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Staying Power

Sorry to read the Community Development Foundation (CDF) will close later in 2016. The news snuck out mid-December lost amidst a flurry of tinsel. It’s demise is a blow for the community sector.

The CDF has its roots in Harold Wilson’s  Community Development Projects (CDP) of the 60’s and 70’s. IMG_0134A government funded community programme, the CDP’s galvanised neighbourhoods, while it’s community workers went native, radically critiquing the state for allowing the collapse of industry and manufacturing. Something along the lines of “If people have their jobs taken, community work is no substitute for employment and justice!”

CDP’s became the ‘Community Projects Foundation’ and eventually the CDF – a public body, publicly funded.

The irony of a state funded organisation working to support independent grassroots community work was not lost on everyone. CDF had its critics, concerned ‘community development’ with all its potential for empowering radical grassroots change, was being commandeered and diluted by government. By the 90’s CDF operated alongside a bunch of alternative independent agencies, each active in supporting different aspects of community development and its paid and unpaid workers.

CDF’s closure follows Urban Forum and Community Development Exchange (CDX) – both supporting distinctive aspects of independent, grassroots community work. Each noted withdrawal of government funding as a factor in their demise.

Maybe in a world of community organising, social enterprise, competitive tendering and commissioning, CDF struggled to find its place. Yet CDF’s closure is a loss to the community sector.

Badly eroded from 2010, CDF had a unique connection to government and once, a seat at the table. This at least provided government with a formal mechanism to engage with and fund community development work. With its closure any trace of this is now lost with little opportunity for remaining national community organisations to fill the gap.

The context for national organisations (Locality, Community Matters etc) to nurture collaboration, assert the importance  of independent grassroots community work and lobby for funding is vanishing. The work is a huge challenge for a sector under siege, already diminished by an exit of government funding, independence eroded by the impact of new funding regimes and increased competition. And any place around the government table has gone.

Community organisation locally and nationally are overstretched and under resourced. The temptation to secure funding at any price is overwhelming – even if it means staying silent when the community you work in is being decimated by cuts, closures, welfare reform and low pay. ‘Take the money and deliver a service!’ Yet a few of these organisations buck the trend, continuing to secure funding, find new ways to operate effectively while amplifying the voices of those most marginalised.

The closure of CDF throws down the gauntlet to Locality, Community Matters and others to promote effective community development, working for social justice on the margins, and to work harder with policy makers and the state – not letting government off the hook!

Minotaurs, Rope and Resistance

Last night to the final National Coalition on Independent Action gathering and some sobering insight into the current state of the voluntary sector.

In case you didn’t know it, your favourite charities are mainly in trouble – particularly your small, local, on the doorstep variety.

According to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations around half of all voluntary organisations have an income of less than £10k. A further third flourish on less than £100k annually. While these small, nimble little charities make up most of the ‘voluntary sector’ they only total 5% of its income.

Between 2010 and 2013, these organisations lost nearly 25 per cent and 20 per cent of their statutory income respectively. Whether small or large, most voluntary organisations will depend on local authority funding – cut by 37% – with more cuts to come.

“The idea of doing another 50 page tender just does me in…”

Lots of stories last night on the forensic attack being made to the voluntary sector.

From the temptations of impossible funding arrangements charities must navigate, the contracts and the compromises along the way – the rational that has to be carefully explained. To the impact of signing the contract – creaming off ‘core costs’, leaving little to actually ‘deliver’ the service.

Or the erosion of independence, the loss of empathy with disadvantaged voices.

Or the self-editing and silencing of ‘truth spoken to power’.

Or the loss of advocacy and defending people’s rights.

Lots of stories.

“What do we want charities to do? Are they established to salve our consciousness – or to solve problems?”

These are challenging times for community groups. Many signing contracts, reducing them to ‘service organisations’ delivering services. Despite this their work may go way beyond service delivery. These are organisations that deliver social capital, build resilience in broken neighbourhoods, speak out about those most disadvantaged, nurture participation amongst those written off, provide forum for dissenting voices, facilitating development and all kinds of unfashionable things.

We now clearly need an alternative delivery system, a way to fund this essential work that nurtures a distinctive, independent voluntary sector.

“We’ve a horrible five years coming for the voluntary sector. It’s crucial we set aside differences – we need to work together…”

If the voluntary sector has been squeezed into an impossible corner – accept funding conditions or shut – then the silence from organisations established to support them has been deafening. Only now are NCVO, ACEVO, NAVCA and others beginning to put their head above the parapet, and speak up about change – even as government prepares to cuts there funding. Maybe it’s too late.

As the voluntary sector has been under attack NCIA has been a foghorn blaring away since 2008, a candid call for an independent voluntary sector.

The call now is to get stuck in.

Just like Jason and the Minatour – we need to delve into this maze and confront the monster. To go in and challenge the beast – whilst like Jason, remaining attached to the rope. The rope anchors us to our values, connects us to our mission, to what we’re for, what we’re set up to do; to what matters, and what will lead us home.

Completing a report for a grassroots charity the other month (represented at the event last night) I was asked in the final edit meeting to remove any reference to ‘advocacy’. “It’s too political. It will upset funders.” I wasn’t surprised.

The truth is – this is all very difficult. The people I know involved in this work – from national charities, regional organisations, to small local groups – are confronting these situations daily and having to make all kinds of impossible choices. Some of them conflicting with core principles and what matters. And so the distinctiveness of our sector is diluted.

We can talk tough. What ever we might say, we’re all scared.

We all self-edit. We all want to protect our agenda. In doing so we risk cutting the rope and losing touch with what matters.

One alternative is finding others – finding solidarity. Resisting the changes with others, because we’re reminded our work, our cause is too important. NCIA or any of it’s associates is a good place to start.

Running Away With It

London Marathon today on the day the Sunday Times published its annual ‘Rich List’.

Crowds of runners pelted past Canada Water (renamed for the day following a sponsorship deal with a bottled water company)  as we learn the collective wealth of Britain’s richest 1,000 people now stands at a staggering £547.126 billion. Astonishingly, despite the world economy suffering a decade-long recession this figure has more than doubled since a total of just under £250bn was recorded in 2005.

Alongside this we’ve had a decade that has seen food banks become an essential component in a new, skinnier, meaner welfare state, a hike in fees for further education and an explosion in house prices and rent costs. Zero hour contracts proliferate; we’ve seen a mushrooming of part time jobs and a spike in the numbers of people calling themselves ‘self-employed’ – earning on average around £10k annually.

It’s 2015. By any standards we are becoming a more unequal society. It beggars belief.

Watching the pack of runners go past, the cheering crowds are awash with banners (‘Keep Going Jayne!’), inflatable sticks, oversized spongy hands and and all manner of things to wave. It’s a fantastic atmosphere. People are shouting out all manner of encouragement. Then Simon – in our gang – bellows out through his loud haler “Don’t forget – it’s not a race, it’s a marathon!”

I like that advice. ‘Marathon’ seems to be more about bettering yourself, beating your own time, self-improvement and somehow completing in one piece. Rather than simply competing and racing against others.

A good society sees life is more ‘marathon’ than ‘race’ – about improving myself and finding solidarity and camaraderie with other runners and the crowd. It’s less about a race that involves stepping over others.

More inequality means the richest disappearing off into the distant, racing off and loosing touch with those they started out with – not good for the rest of us. They forget about those left behind.

Libraries of research tell us inequality is bad – an unequal society breeds division, extremist reactions, higher crime and poor health – not good for civilisation. So, if we need better, sharper regulation to ensure more equality, it’s disappointing with an election around the corner, all political parties avoid this stuff.

In the race for No 10, we need to be speaking up, using a loud haler and calling for small incremental changes that create more economic and financial equality. That’s the prize! After all – life is not a race, it’s longer and tougher, like a marathon!

People Power

In 2012 patients and former patients set up the People’s Network, a group working to give voice to issues related to mental health services in Hackney. Recently I’ve been working with the group as they review the last few years, clocking all they’ve achieved. There is ambition for the next five years, work that ‘needs to be done’, which will need funding. It’s an impressive venture not least because users of mental health services in Hackney lead it. They know the reality.

“We’ve lost services. Things have gone. There wasn’t much there in the first place, that’s the truth. Now there’s not much left.”

I arrive at the group’s weekly drop in, as another member navigates the intercom and carefully ascends the stairs. We find the space and the bulky frame in front reaches his destination, collapsing into a sofa. The group assembles, distracted, chatty. I’m plied with tea and digestives as the conversation starts. I listen, typing notes as we go. The sofa stirs, its occupier now asleep. I’m buoyed by the welcome and friendliness.

“You can wake up and be confronted with an issue and that can make you feel suicidal. It’s help with money, budget with everyday life. I want help with education, and training and employment. Just advice about how to get on.”

It’s a lively unpredictable group defined and led by users of mental health services, all with experience of mental health ‘issues’. The ‘issues’ word is banded about a bit here, clumsy but necessary, papering over long stories, complex trauma and huge challenge. Despite contrasting appearances everyone in the group has or continues to face mental health issues. Amongst the banter and debate there are knowing looks. I’m hit by the profound solidarity.

“Changes have made me very anxious. No key worker anymore. I’m anxious. That’s not good anymore. I don’t have a mobile phone, so I show up here at the People’s Network. My GP is not there for me, that’s what they say. It’s help with the every day.”

Mental health need is high in Hackney compared with the rest of England. Income deprivation is high and linked to higher than average levels of mental health problems in the population. Locally there are significantly higher proportions of Black people with Serious Mental Illness, compared to White, Asian or other ethnic groups. Deprivation has a huge impact with research showing higher than average numbers of people claiming the old incapacity benefit for mental illness in Hackney. With huge need is the perfect storm of cuts to services alongside the impact of welfare reform and changes to housing benefit. In Hackney there is the rising cost of housing.

“We want to go to speak to someone who can help us and have someone to listen. That feels good. Even if you let it all pile up within you, all the anxiety and stuff, you explode. You end up stressed and you talk gibberish. You end up getting sectioned. Talking with someone one to one, and it just brings release. You’re available – we can talk. I want some time with you. We want empathy and friendship. It just helps.”

I listen to people talk freely about complex mental health need. Shortly, a well documented tension between clinical, medical responses and softer talk therapies surfaces. An uneasy balance is struck. A recognition that medication is necessary alongside ambition to break free, to find space for talking and recovery fuelled by the patient, seemingly frustrated by the professional. Nods of support and murmuring of encouragement.

“Professionals are not covering the final outcome, which is recovery – they are covering their tracks. It’s about on-going medication not recovery. They are not looking at the system. The stuff that gets us here – all we have to face and work through.”

One of the members has made everyone lunch and we finish up talking over food. Surprise at what’s been said and encouragement follow, alongside deeper reflection on the insights shared. Then we leave. Things to do back in the realities we’ve left behind. I listen. Some of the obstacles confronting group members feel impossible, instantly generating work for the People’s Network – which they aren’t funded to do. I leave inspired by the solidarity and a sense that the group is making all the difference.

“I get made homeless in April. My landlord wants me out… I got a possession order asking me to be out in March. I said, “You can’t do that!” I spoke to the landlord and he said he’d put it back till April, but that I’d have to be out because he’s selling the place. I have to be at Hackney Council. The landlord will send the bailiff round. I rang Family Mosaic they said there will have to have a referral from your psychiatrist. So I’ve got to arrange an appointment. I’m anxious, but I’m OK”.

People’s Network is supported by Social Action for Health

Seized by the Star

Nipped along to the launch of Leila Sansour’s ‘Open Bethlehem’, funded in part by Greenbelt.

Filmed over 5 years it’s a brave, powerful and deeply moving documentary. Sansour explores the story of Palestine through the microcosm of a family in exile and a daughter returning to her beloved Little Town.

A romantic Leila is attracted back home by childhood memories and Christmas card images of Bethlehem returning, just as plans for the apartheid wall become a reality.

The 8 metre high wall is brutal – trampling through neighbourhoods, carving up communities, blocking out light.

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87% of Bethlehem’s land is taken by Israeli occupation enforced restrictions. 25% of Bethlehem’s agricultural land is now only accessible via a permit, which Palestinian farmers must have, to get to through the military checkpoints.

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The wall isolates Palestinians from shops, parks and land. One in five people in Bethlehem are now unemployed in what was once a flourishing tourist destination. 62% of Bethlehem’s population are dependent on tourism. Realising the appalling impact on people and business, Sansour starts a campaign to Open Bethlehem. The film follows Leila as she builds a global coalition of agencies, NGO’s, and people; an ever present camera capturing meetings, conversation, rhetoric, promises and finally the heartbreak of a wall that for now isn’t moving.

‘Open Bethlehem’ captures the violent unrelenting machinery of occupation. Around Bethlehem there are 19 illegal Israeli settlements taking Palestinian land from local families and choking Palestinian neighbourhoods. “This is no place dreamers…”

This is an important film for anyone concerned with the Palestine, Israel, and the Middle east. If you’re interested in social movements the film is a compelling case study, summarising the impossible story of Israeli occupation, and a campaign for freedom of occupation, liberation from enclosure, and justice for both Israeli and Palestinian.

Finally the camera captures the hard work, commitment and fragility of a campaign, which even to Leila’s own family from outside Palestine, seems doomed to fail, blocked by the wall and occupation.

Sansour acknowledges there is very little hope for the future unless the wall comes down. However, the campaign continues, passports are printed and Bethlehem remains open. The film ends defiantly, with hope. “There’s no turning back when your heart is seized by the star of Bethlehem.”

Book the film at your local Ritzy for Christmas – take a gang along and then plan a long pub after for deep conversation. There are insights here for UK NGO’s charities, churches, activists, organisers and people of faith – a Palestinian theology of foolishness and faith, and a compelling commitment to change the world.

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Celebrating Social Justice!

Owen Jones popped into Greenbelt this year, did a talk, appeared on GTV and clearly took a bit of time out to soak up the vibe. He said this about the festival:

Greenbelt is an inspiring and fascinating celebration of social justice, breaking down barriers between those of faith and no faith. It’s not only good fun – it lifts the hearts of all of us who believe in a better world.”

Greenbelt as a space that brings diverse people together – faith and no faith – to inspire, challenge, provoke. In a context of diversity, it’s great to meet people who live and breathe and work for a better world.

Festival – as a source of solidarity! That makes for a great festival.

 

 

Greenbelt 2014 – It Had it All!

Here’s a brief reflection as chair of Greenbelt, following a fabulous festival at Boughton House in Northamptonshire:

Greenbelt Festival is a late summer, long weekend of art, music, performance, food, drink and ideas, provoking, affirming, challenging and inspiring. And it’s about now, after the festival, over the next few weeks that stories pop up – of someone enrolling on an art course, another joining a creative writing class, or going along to a book club. You get the picture. Another may click on that campaign petition, sign up to a cause, volunteer at the night shelter, set up a project, or remarkably – find their vocation. I know a bloke who moved into a housing estate in Weston Super Mare to live and work, after being inspired at a session on “Living in a Crap Town”*. Another year someone went home and set up a project in their city to assist refugees. There are lots of stories like this, from a festival that’s more than a festival, seeding ideas that just might change your life.

Greenbelt is a festival hand-made by hundreds of volunteers, led by a small clutch of staff. So, this August’s festival was the outcome of gazillions of emails, phone calls, car and train journeys and meetings – lots of meetings! Oh, the time that goes into choosing venues, timetabling artists, planning for stewards, positioning a Glade Stage or a Big Top.

The other weekend staff and volunteers pulled off a spectacular festival, in a gorgeous new site. Did I mention the new site? Part ‘Secret Garden’ part ‘Enchanted Forest’, with trees magically up rooting and mooching about after midnight (no, they don’t uproot and mooch about after midnight… but this would be great for one year). The move was a bold and necessary decision led by Creative Director Paul Northup, CEO Beccie D’Cunha and Operations chief Derek Hill, and backed by the board, staff and volunteers. Of course, the words ‘new’ and ‘site’ are an exciting distraction from the tough realities and challenge of rethinking and reimagining a 41-year-old festival in a new and very different location. They hide the hard work, the planning and preparation to get it all just right. It’s a huge credit to staff, contractors, volunteers and everyone involved, that their plans pulled together so well, and so much of the festival (so much!) was pitch perfect. Alongside this, we didn’t get everything right. As chair of trustees and on behalf of the board I’m very sorry about this. I’m only thankful that as issues emerged, staff and volunteers responded rapidly, where possible addressing the immediate concerns over the weekend.

Moving house, moving site – any move – can be tricky. You make plans, map out the space and decide where the furniture goes. It’s only when you’ve moved in and you’ve lived with it for a while, do you get an idea of what really works. So, this was the year of the move**. Of stepping off, jumping in, setting things up and trying things out at Boughton.

For the organisers, this year had it all – the challenges of a new site and then, on the Monday, big, fat, blobby, bank holiday rain. For many festivalgoers packing up and returning home it was astonishing to see and hear how site crew and stewards dealt with it all. Our car spent the entire festival in the long stay car park merrily letting off its alarm every two minutes. By Monday night, it was all honked out. Within a few minutes of reporting the problem to stewards, the unlikely double-act of Monty and Minion, part of the fire crew, volunteering across the weekend, emerged across a soggy field in pouring rain – all beard and jumpers. In a moment they had the motor sparking into life and the engine ticking over. It was their breathtaking warmth, kindness and generosity that stay with me. Their passionate commitment and solidarity with festivalgoers, as the rain fell and the temperature dropped was repeated across the site with stewards, fire crew and others. These are Greenbelt moments, even as you head off, leaving the site.

We could talk about the programme – the art, music, performance, food, drink and ideas and all this provokes, affirms, challenges and inspires. I’m grateful to all those who made it possible – who make Greenbelt ‘festival’, who got it to Boughton, and in less than 365 days reimagined a spectacular new festival – art, faith and justice that germinates into all sorts. Not bad. Zero to spectacular, in under a year! Here’s to the next.

*Weston Super Mare is not a crap town.
**Greenbelt is fuelled by Angels, who enable us to contemplate things like a site move. Find out more about Greenbelt Angels here.

Shut up or move in?

Back in 2009 I wrote a piece about Owen who ran a community project focused on litter picking, clearing flats, refurbishing homes and recycling furniture.

The project was held together by recovering addicts, who volunteered at the project. While it felt chaotic the outcomes were impressive – huge areas of land blighted by rubbish cleared up, by an organisation committed to involving those most excluded from society. It was brave, bold and ambitious, and preposterous!

Spend any time with Owen and the stories soon start to fly. Dog eared photo albums are dug out featuring filthy infested flats inhabited by haunted figures, each subsequently transformed in part by contact with an astonishing collective of kind, generous volunteers. On the estates workers in fluroscent jackets became common place, while the well-healed, well-to-do queue up for Saturday morning photo-calls; you can understand people wanting a slice of the action, and a guaranteed picture in the paper.

Owen and the project went on to be nominated for various gongs with visits to Highgrove and the Palace. Yet despite the interest, accolades and appearances, the modest funding to keep everything afloat was non-existent. Local supporters were bankrolling the project from private loans, while unemployed volunteers didn’t claim their benefits as they were volunteering with the project and no longer seeking a job. People found their vocation. It was with Owen.

Despite delivering outstanding work, the organisation lurched from one funding crisis to the next. It wasn’t sustainable. The project closed back in 2011 leaving Owen to go on and set up new initiatives.

Despite warm words about the significance of local projects to bring change,  despite the billions spent on research that affirms their critical role in building ‘resilient neighbourhoods’, despite the hours of training and ‘capacity building’ poured into the sector by local ‘council for voluntary service’ and similar organisations, these neighbourhood projects are now threatened by closure. Despite gushing rhetoric from successive governments, each have preceded over an erosion of their status with local authorities, opportunity for funding sliced and cuts to their own budgets. The impact is felt most on small projects and their capacity to work with those most excluded. Since 2011 many have followed Owen and shut down.

Nip back and revisit Owens project and you’ll probably be overwhelmed by the value placed on people written off, both in the brilliant service provided, and the way the team operate. You’d be shocked at the willingness of staff to empathise with the heart break many volunteers experienced, and their flexibility to react to extremes – accommodating difficult behaviour, affirming vulnerable humans. At times we’d be exhausted by the chaos pervading the organisation, frequently reacting to messy situations and circumstances. Getting work done – but at what cost to volunteers and staff?

Yet the problem for Owen isn’t the violent behaviour of a volunteer or destructive person using the service. Its the distance between their activity and the budget holder, the commissioner or policy maker.

Tucked away in a fourth floor office they are busy juggling agendas, making decisions about where dwindling resources maybe allocated, based on the quality of written information provided and targets met. The noisy, chaotic organisation that cannot fill in a form correctly or use the right spelling just fuels a perception of risk. ‘Risk is not good.’ The smaller, chaotic community group that delivers results brilliantly, but struggles to communicate, market, brand and present itself or explain its work, feels doomed. Never mind these organisations are loved locally, work with people and transform lives by the shed load.

Correct the geography – locate decision makers in offices adjacent to our Owen. Prioritise time to sniff out the work – the vulnerability of the volunteers and those calling in, needing help, see the anarchy, feel the chaos. And watch alchemists like Owen and his team doing their work with the most marginalised. Maybe then by being in the neighbourhood, and with a little imagination, projects like Owen’s will remain open, there work understood and supported. Maybe.

Finding home

Each Monday we host people in our neighbourhood, cooking food and eating together. For some, it’s a bit weird being in another home, others roll with it, bringing or preparing food. Numbers vary from half a dozen to 25 or more. People muck in and somehow we all eat together.

A recent Monday meal and I’m looking round the room. Times are tough and everyone is looking weighed down. I ask Marcia a regular question I’ve been asking her every week for the last few months. It’s about the flat she’s been renting (for 18 years) and the imminent eviction. “Oh, its been sold” she responds deadpan, “not that it means anything…”. The new owner is likely to let them stay she thinks, though they haven’t said that. What they will do if they’re evicted? Don’t know she says. Find another place, “though there’s nothing round here, it’s all too pricey.”

Hackney is becoming expensive, and rented accommodation scarce. Another conversation – this time Trevor. “I can count rented properties available in this area on one hand. Rent has gone up. People will pay. We’re priced out. Landlords are selling up cashing in on the Olympics.” Janice and her young kids are in tonight. Last seen months ago facing eviction and nowhere to go, she and her two disappeared overnight. This isn’t uncommon. A crisis or catastrophe and people vanish, somehow showing up weeks or months later. Janice is back. She’s found a place round. “We’re OK now. We haven’t unpacked. We never unpack. We may have to move out – it’s not worth it.”

Across London the demographics are changing. This week I’ve had more conversations with people making plans to move out. We read about attempts to move 500 families from their homes in Newham to Stoke on Trent. The cost of a flat to rent, has become too much. Research just published finds 700,000 Londoners needing to do two or more jobs to meet living costs. At least 270,000 sofa-surf, sleeping on a friend’s or family’s sofa and almost 130,000 continue living with an ex-partner for financial reasons.

I listen to Marcia. I can see them turfed out of the flat losing not just the place, but the friendships and supportive networks built up over a lifetime ‘round here’. It’s losing your home, pushed out by owners who are selling up, while landlords prepared to increase rents to eye-watering levels, price out others. I’m anticipating Janice disappearing again. Trevor will move out. What do you do?

Some follow a prophetic tradition like that recorded in the Old Book of Amos, where the author lashes out at landlords raising the rent, making life intolerable for the poor. Others campaign for change. We can all lament at the mess. Maybe we can also be inspired by people and churches, on the ground working for change.

In Hackney, the Round Chapel – a United Reform Church – has worked with individuals and churches to raise money to buy a house. This provides affordable accommodation to local missionaries, community and social workers, people working to support the local area. In a context of impossible house prices, its a small, practical and costly expression of community and hospitality. In Bradford people got together to establish ‘Inn Churches’ – growing a volunteer base of over 350 people who together offer hospitality providing almost 2000 temporary beds for homeless people over the winter. It’s a very practical offering of hope.

I’m still feeling hopeless about Marcia, long-term unemployed, beset with health problems, a friend over the years. I imagine it could be OK, maybe even the making of her. But I don’t believe it. It feels this is the last thing she needs right now. As I write she’s facing up to moving out. Out of the blue I get a text from Trevor. He’s been offered a flat with affordable rent just round the corner. It feels like a reprieve, a shock of hope in the gloom. “It’s going to be home, just for now.”