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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I, Daniel Blake –

Little gang of us saw ‘I, Daniel Blake’ tonight. A great film! Brave story telling only enhanced by some understated performances and direction. No surprise the film put Ian Duncan Smith – the architect of five-years welfare reform – on the defensive. Here’s a measured indictment of UK’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits system since the crash, austerity and the political decision to clobber all the ‘skivers’ and ‘shirkers’ with £15 billion cuts to the welfare budget. The film affirms what we all know – the skivers and shirkers are an insignificant number, while most of us want to work, a place to call home and some feeling of self-worth. “When you loose your self-respect, you’re done for”, says Daniel Blake.

Social security can function as a vital safety net supporting people through crisis. The DWP system in the film is appalling for its absence of humanity. On its launch, IDS did a Gove and refuted all the ‘experts’ and army of researchers credited at the end of the film – immediately betraying a profound lack of insight about his own system!

The film is shot through with compassion. The food bank scene is one of many celebrating the generosity, kindness and the tender response of a bunch of people, getting organised to help others. And at the end there’s a quiet plea from Blake for authorities (organisations, charities) and systems to engage fully with, and affirm the reality and complexity of our humanity. “I’m not a ‘client’, I’m not a ‘customer’, I’m not a ‘service user’! I’m a person!”

Lots more to say. But, go see! It’s a BBC Film, so will hopefully soon pop up on iPlayer for months. Essential viewing!

Sport Relief: Luther Special & a Quick Text Won’t Do it!

We’re watching Sport Relief, an unrelenting mash up of fun, sporting heroics, comedy and conviction. The banter, unlikely competitions, silly stunts, heroic feats (Eddie Izzard) and comedy sketches are fun and at times it’s all very inspiring. The short, beautifully crafted films capture eye-watering poverty with grim commentary that pulls no punches. The whole venture feels like a great endeavour.

On the night, if the extreme silliness and comedy jars with the hard-hitting stories, then on the whole Sport Relief seem to pull it off.

For me it’s the big sponsors that are the problem. The absence of any comment on corporate and government policy, affecting the lives of those featured.

Alongside all the hard work, team building and back patting about sponsorship we don’t get to hear corporates siting changes in their investment policies. Or the impact of mainstreaming their Fairtrade range. Or paying workers a living Wage.

So the Premier League raise over a £1 million. When Deloitte reports that in 2013-14 the combined revenues of Premier League clubs soared by 29% to £3.26bn – and pre-tax profits of £187m. A million seems a bit piffling.

I’d like to hear Sport Relief highlight this absurd inequality. I’d love to hear the Premier League report all its clubs are paying a Living Wage.

John Bishop recalls a rubbish dump in Kenya – and returning we cheer Margaret who is away from the tip and going to school. And her Grandma has started a business. We don’t hear that the rubbish dump is still there, and remains a magnet to the poorest and most vulnerable. The system remains.

It’s ironic to hear pronouncements about UK government matching donations to Sport Relief via Gift Aid, when so many of the projects that will benefit are facing crippling cuts or closure because of government policies introduced targeting cuts to small voluntary organisations. Or that users of the services are victims to cuts targeting the most vulnerable. Or victims of welfare reform. We don’t hear about this. It’s a huge absence.

“We need to show you what you, what we, need to change” says Danny Dyer. The problem is no amount of donations will bring the change he’s calling for. We need system change – and that comes through progressive policies, the ballot box and an ethical, regulated market. It won’t happen after a mini-Luther, and a quick text on a Friday night.

I’m up for Sport Relief, Comic Relief. Here’s to more comedy and creativity and acts of individual generosity – and extraordinary projects that inspire!

And alongside this real stories about unregulated markets – about landlords raising rents and making life intolerable for the poorest. Or the impact of a social ‘safety net’ quietly dismantled and a spike in the numbers of homeless. The human cost of closures, cuts, of policies pursuing profits and privatisation.

And alongside stories of individuals who have had their lives transformed, lets include a Danny Boyle style celebration of systems we need – decent public health, public housing and public education – systems that benefit the poorest and most vulnerable, that we need to keep and preserve.

Consultation: Avoid the con’

The last few weeks I found myself on an estate facilitating a community consultation. It raised various challenges. Here are five insights:

1. Find the corporate memory

Here estate residents are frustrated at staff turnover in local authority departments. The churn of staff coming and goings generates an ‘institutional amnesia’ with new staff ‘forgetting’ decisions, key papers, documents, reports and findings from even recent consultations. Findings of previous consultations are ‘forgotten’. They forget they ever conducted consultations!

This is ‘institutional dementia’, where insight is lost, ignored or impossible to retrieve. This erodes confidence in local government and agency.

Dig around and find all the previous research and consultations you can. Bring it all together, on a website or at meetings. Find a way to summarise the research and recover the memory from previous studies.

2. Highlight uncoordinated plans 

Duplication happens all the time.  Councils commission, re-commission, inadvertently duplicating work going on in the office next door or down the corridor.

Competition between council departments hardly helps. This uncoordinated approach generates perceptions the local authority is unaware of work its doing.

Spot and challenge the lack of coordination and duplication. Highlight opportunities to collaborate between department and agency – finding ways to save cash.

3. Be clear it isn’t a stitch up

Residents talked about private contractors running consultations on behalf of the local authority. For residents, the contractors were ‘going through the motions’ – with no intentions of digging deep, finding reality and then producing recommendations informed by the findings. In fact the contractors and local authority had their plans.

The conflict of interest raises questions about the integrity of the consultation and the research findings. What is going on? What is the funders agenda?

Consultation is a great opportunity to promote the people, department and researchers – affirming the process and all those involved and invited to participate. It’s a moment to say options are open and this isn’t a stitch up. If you’re clear with the research funder the consultation isn’t a stitch up.

4. Find the Shops

You’d be surprised how much the ‘market place’, the centre of a community gets missed off conultations. Newsagents, grocers and adjacent bus stops have a big footfall.

I once surveyed an estate, inviting residents to return completed forms to the local supermarket, where the completed form became a £1 off discount coupon! The survey received a 38% return rate.

Your parade of shops is central to the community – get in there and spend time asking questions and listening to people.

5. Work with the funder on what comes next.

It’s important what happens to the findings once a consultation is completed. Consultation creates expectations amongst participants and disappointment and resentment when outcomes don’t turn out as anticipated.

How do you manage expectation?

Any confidence in an excellent consultation process turns to cynicism when the findings are forgotten, or the process is duplicated a week, month or year later. So, what’s the plan? It’s worth talking this through with the council department, agency or funder.

We could talk about using a local café as a base for people to find you. Or the importance of door to door, or consulting people outside of office hours and getting a feel for the estate early or late. More for next time!

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.

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