Faiths 4 Change
Operation EDEN / Faiths4Change
Faiths4Change (F4C) is a multi-faith, environmental charity working across the North West of England; mainly on Merseyside and in Greater Manchester and East Lancashire. The roots of Faiths4Change stretch back to the millennium and the pilot project Operation EDEN (Evangelising the Diocesan Environmental Network).
From experience and study to a pilot project
The idea for and development of Operation EDEN originated with the Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool around 2000 as a result of a combination of factors and experiences. The Bishop was studying world religions and their teachings on caring for creation. He was also deeply engaged in key roles within the inner city of Liverpool. One of his roles was as Chair of Kensington New Deal for Communities. He realised then that residents cared deeply for their neighbourhood and they expressed this in organic language rather than the more mechanical language used by regeneration organisations. The Bishop recognised the need for partnership working using language that empowered local people to utilise their knowledge and relationships to transform their neighbourhood environments and the local economy and develop skills. In addition, he understood that regeneration and community action needed the support and resources of trusted local organisations - faith communities.
Why faith communities?
Strong in values and rich in resources – people, buildings and often grounds – faith communities are an integral part of the fabric of local neighbourhoods. All world faith communities share common ground in caring for creation and serving local people. The faiths have the capacity to act as a bridge to enable residents and organisations to work together to transform local environments, regenerating neighbourhoods spiritually, economically and socially. Essentially faith communities’ commitment to social justice means they have experience and expertise in reaching into communities to serve the most vulnerable.
Building on evidence to create consensus and support
The Bishop spoke with leaders of other Christian denominations and faiths on Merseyside to determine support for a pilot project. The intention was to enable people of faith and goodwill to work in partnership, learn skills, develop relationships and deliver small scale projects with seed funding with faith communities as lead and sustaining partners.
In the early 2000s, the Churches’ Officer for the North West, Monsignor John Devine conducted research into the contribution made by faith communities to civic society in the North West. The study findings showed that faith groups could provide a means of reaching and working with people experiencing multiple disadvantage often termed ‘hard to reach’ in a way that large scale regeneration projects often found hard to do.
2004 Operation EDEN is launched
These findings therefore supported the case for the North West Development Agency, the Environment Agency and Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority to invest in Operation EDEN, a multi faith, environmental pilot for Merseyside (covering the geographical area of the Diocese of Liverpool) between 2004 – 2007. The Diocese of Liverpool gave considerable in-kind support including the provision of office space and a multi-agency steering group provided line management.
The very first project supported by Operation EDEN with a grant of £4000 was Norris Green Fingers, a food growing and community engagement project with St Christopher’s Church. This is still going strong today and enables children from local schools to experience hands-on food growing activities from sowing to harvesting.
Operation EDEN was successful in so far as it reached out to and engaged people of most world faiths on Merseyside: Christians (Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, and United Reformed Church), Unitarians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews in total over 100 different faith communities. There was a strong feeling that if a project that engaged people of different denominations and world faiths was successful on Merseyside than it was potentially replicable in other parts of the region where the population was more diverse and greater numbers of believers of different faiths lived.
There was and remains an understanding that many neighbourhoods face in common challenges: community cohesion, health inequalities climate change and a low skills base. However, the same communities potentially have solutions in common: opportunities to utilise local resources, support and enable relationship building, skills and voluntary work experience and local partnership social action. Operation EDEN and, in time, Faiths4Change intended to enable faith communities and local residents to unlock solutions to take action to address their challenges.
Operation EDEN was successful in enabling strong faith-partnered, volunteer-led local environmental transformation projects. We won the Culture North West Star Turn in 2007 in recognition of this and six of our supported projects won lead categories in the Merseyside 21 Awards in 2006. Fifty seven faith-partnered projects received small scale grants totalling approximately £120,000 and invested an additional match of £230,000, much of it from the local communities that were creating and delivering the projects.
In addition projects attracted
- Over 150 voluntary, statutory & private sector partners;
- Organisations engaged included those that work with ‘hard-to-reach’ groups including Asylum Link Merseyside, The Big Issue, Youth Offending Team, Positive Futures et al;
- 1,500 volunteers.
The OE Team and partners provided 1,153 hours of free, quality training on topics such as Project Planning, Environmental Auditing, Composting and Practical Planting.
Operation EDEN gave a firm foundation and strong relationships on which to build Faiths4Change.
The programme was re-named Faiths4Change when the NWDA and partners gave further funding for 2007–10 to roll it out across the region. The Diocese of Manchester, the Archdiocese in Preston and Clegg Street Mosque/Building Bridges in Burnley all provided office space alongside the continuing support from the Diocese of Liverpool. A further three Project Officers were recruited bringing the staff team to six full time employees.
During the 2007 – 10 period;
- 74 projects were supported with a total of £88,300 in small grants;
- Projects attracted £124,100 cash match and a further £67,800 volunteer time match;
- Almost 1,000 volunteers gave a total of 11,697 hours of their time.
Faiths4Change was truly multi-faith in practice supporting activities and projects with different Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim communities across the North West.
Between the years 2004 – 2010 the outputs were considerable:
- 131 volunteer led faith community partnered projects were supported with outreach officer time and grant funding;
- Projects all had sustainable outputs and ranged from food growing to holy scriptures recycling and beyond;
- 8,397 hours of training on practical sustainable activity from project planning training to creating bee-friendly habitats;
- 25 sustainability audits of faith community buildings from the Quaker Meeting House in Cockermouth, Cumbria to St Luke’s Church, Crosby, Merseyside.
Sustaining organisational finance is not an uncommon challenge. Over time and changing circumstances, Faiths4Change has had to adapt to finding different sources of funding. We were particularly affected by the demise of the North West Development Agency. So, having started by being well funded by this one organisation and with substantial in-kind support from others, we have had to get used to pricing and charging for all services and projects. This required training, support, monitoring and evaluation to get this right as well as help from an active and suitably qualified trustee board. In April 2011 facing a very different funding landscape Faiths4Change Trustees took some difficult decisions – the Manchester and Preston offices were closed, the Liverpool and Burnley ones retained and Faiths4Change became a company limited by guarantee and a charity.
Faiths4Change – the charity
The charity is now financed by a combination of earned income streams and successful grant applications. We have a core Team of six; three of whom have been with the organisation since its inception in Liverpool (2004) and Burnley (2007) respectively.
Projects and programmes undertaken are a combination of facilitation, skill sharing, community relationship building and delivery. The underpinning aim of activity is to enable it to continue where appropriate beyond the charity’s direct involvement with the support of the faith community, residents and other partners. A recent Liverpool based project ‘Roots, Fruits & Leaves’ provides a good example of the values, principles and aims of F4C’s work. F4C began by engaging a core group of representatives from 3 local partner organisations - Asylum Link Merseyside based at St Anne’s RC Church, Christian Fellowship School and St Anne’s RC Primary School - and local residents. Supported by an F4C Associate Manager, the core group planned the green infrastructure linked health and wellbeing project which focused on enabling local residents to engage in planting fruit trees and bushes, vegetables and herbs. Planning, hands on activity, social interaction opportunities, skills share and after care were built in to the project enabling those taking part to continue beyond the period of direct engagement.
As well as delivering a range of partnership projects, Faiths4Change offers a faith schools service ‘Sowing the Seeds for Environmental Change’; a not for profit chargeable service that has worked with over 60 faith schools and more than 1,000 pupils.
Reflections on Learning
There is always so much to learn, it’s essential to be quiet and still to hear it – something that doesn’t happen often enough in a busy organisation. However, we have learned from challenges we have encountered. For example, it was often surprisingly difficult to encourage faith communities to take up the small scale grant funding available from 2004-2010, perhaps because they had become so used to relying on their own worship communities’ skills and willingness to volunteer. It was important for us to be transparent about where the funds came from and what were the associated requirements and responsibilities.
A few other points for learning or reflection include the following;
- A valuable lesson from the very beginning of Bishop James’ consideration of our pilot project right up to today is learning to understand languages and stories – from the very local to different national ones, but faith stories too.
- An interdisciplinary perspective offers a useful approach as it has the potential to unlock some of the richness in a community and enables relationships to begin.
- It is useful to know about a community’s history or different perspectives on history and also how the present and future are perceived
- Go out and talk to people and listen to them. Walk around and get a feel for a place. Be prepared to ask questions and listen to the responses.
- Identify who is already working in a neighbourhood with the faith community and any other organisations.
What difference has faith made?
Leadership! Bishop James and senior members of faith communities including our current patrons Naomi Kingston and Abdul Hamid Qureshi and previous Vice Chair Monsignor John Devine OBE have provided strong leadership and guidance to the whole organisation. This in turn has encouraged and nourished a very committed team of people, several of whom have remained with Faiths4Change over many years. Bishop James’ book Jesus and the Earth, which contains his studies of the bible and teachings relating to the earthing of heaven, has been very influential in bringing faith and environment together within this charity. Also, the support of faith leaders and their networks has provided us with opportunities to engage in areas where we might otherwise have taken many years to build trusted relationships.
Many within Faiths4Change would consider that belief and prayer have sustained Faiths4Change through challenging times, providing guidance, love and support. People of faith within the team have certainly brought a deep commitment to their role and the organisation that goes beyond a 9 – 5 job and derives from the intimate connection their beliefs and values and what they do to earn a living. It means they can be whole people all day and every day. In addition, the tremendous work of volunteers, many of whom have a religious faith, has contributed to the many Faiths4Change projects. Working with faith communities, we have had opportunities to enhance land in some very densely populated communities where green space and biodiversity is minimal.
The Faiths4Change Patrons, Trustees and Team encompass people of different world faiths and beliefs - Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Zen Buddhism – and others who share a passion for developing truly sustainable communities. Caring for creation is a tenet of all world faiths’ teachings. It is this that is the motivating and active core value of Faiths4Change, combined with a belief in working alongside local people and in partnership with them.