A Hard-working Town Blighted by Poverty
Middlesbrough was built on the iron, steel and heavy manufacturing industries and was one of the most rapidly growing towns in the UK in the first half of the 20th Century. In the 1960s there was full employment and a strong work ethic. However, the decline of the manufacturing industries and the pressure of this increased population in the 1970’s resulted in unemployment, a knock-on effect on the economy and increasing levels of deprivation. Middlesbrough has always been a hard-working town, but now poverty is a fact of life for many people. The scale and spread of deprivation in Middlesbrough is amongst the worst in the country,
- Over half the town (58%) is in the top 10% most deprived for health and disability.
- 47% of the town is ranked in the bottom 10% poorest places to live
- 61% of the children are living in poverty in some communities, making Middlesbrough the third worst local authority in England for child poverty
- Nearly 40% of the town is in the top 10% most deprived for education, skills and training.
In these communities local people are living in significant and sustained poverty, blighted by the interrelated problems of income poverty, poor health, low skills and family breakdown.
Tackling Poverty Together
In 2011 the Middlesbrough Deanery of Anglican churches prayerfully considered what the priorities of the churches should be in terms of mission, and three were identified:
- Tackling poverty
- Work with children and young people
- Empowering lay people in ministry and outreach
In October 2011 a deanery service was held to focus on poverty, it coincided with the first round of huge budget cuts in the local authority. The town was in a state of shock, lamenting the proposed closures of libraries, community centres and cut-backs in so many local services. The service reflected this lament and was deeply moving.
St James tells us that “faith without works is dead”, so how was this prayer going to manifest itself in action? A working group was formed, with activists from churches of all denominations working together, and a conference entitled “Bridging the Gap” was held in February 2012. Over 100 people from local churches and Christian organisations came together to share their concern about poverty in Middlesbrough. The day was both inspiring and challenging, and there was a clear desire for something to grow that would support churches and projects concerned about poverty, to work together across the town.
A Joint Venture
The keynote speaker at Bridging the Gap was Canon Paul Hackwood of the Church Urban Fund, and so conversations quickly began which lead to the formation of Together Middlesbrough, a Joint Venture between Church Urban Fund and the Diocese of York. A steering group including representatives from Church Urban Fund, the Diocese and activists from other church traditions came together and a Development Officer was appointed. The project was launched in December 2012 by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu who said:
“Together Middlesbrough is a great example of changes happening at grass roots level. We have a very unequal society. Overall income inequality is higher than at any time in the last 30 years - and whilst the poorest see their incomes slashed, incomes at the top have been rising rapidly. But everyone deserves a decent quality of life and if we show real determination, and a courage for justice, I believe that we can make that dream a reality. Together we can see God’s Kingdom of love and justice coming across Middlesbrough.”
Together Middlesbrough began to work towards three key aims, to:
- Enable local churches, Christian organisations and community projects to tackle poverty more effectively by working more closely with each other
- Make the response of churches of all traditions within the Middlesbrough area sustainable by being better resourced and supported
- Build a network of churches and Christian projects, and give a voice on the local and national stage to their work and concerns about poverty
Making Progress – Transforming Local Communities
Three of the many initiatives supported by Together Middlesborough
1. Middlesbrough Food bank was the first major new initiative that Together Middlesbrough supported. Originally the vision of one church, there are now over one hundred churches and organisations that offer regular support with volunteers and food collections. Together Middlesbrough has connected churches from the more affluent areas of North Yorkshire, some of which have co-ordinated whole communities to collect food for their ‘neighbours in Middlesbrough.’ A food bank volunteer said:
“I have never seen the churches in Middlesbrough working so well together.”
Eight Distribution Centres have been established using church buildings situated in the most deprived communities in Middlesbrough. A team of over 35 volunteers has been trained to offer hospitality, support and signposting to other agencies and community groups. Since September 2012 over 5,000 people have received support from Middlesbrough Food bank.
One mum was referred to the Food bank and received on-going support from a church volunteer to find work:
“I was in tears every day, the kids would say Mum you never have enough food for us to eat. Now I’ve got a job, we have what we need, I’m showing my kids that it is good to go out to work, I feel complete.”
2. The John Paul Centre (JPC) is a large Roman Catholic Building in the town centre, resident priests hold a daily mass, and run with a team of volunteers a café, shop and the Upper Room project feeding 40-50 homeless people each Saturday. The priests were concerned that a large part of the building was standing empty and established a working group to see it better used to tackle poverty in the town. Together Middlesbrough offered development support to this group, and provided essential links to other organisations and agencies.
JPC has undergone major refurbishment, much of the work undertaken by men from Kirlevington Prison as part of their rehabilitation programme. The building is now fully occupied by a range of organisations offering support to homeless people -DePaul UK, Nightstop Teesside and Changing Lives; Asylum Seekers and Refugees through work with North of England Refugee Service (NERS), Mary Thompson Fund and Investors in People and Culture. Each week over 350 of the most vulnerable people in Middlesbrough receive support at the John Paul Centre.
3. Hope 4 Summer For many families the summer holidays are a struggle with the children at home 24/7 and no free school meals. The weekly budget has to stretch further for food and there is little left for activities and treats. During Summer 2013 Middlesbrough Food bank saw a 40% increase in demand for support for families, and Safe Families For Children (a local charity offering support to vulnerable families) also had a big rise in referrals as vulnerable families struggled to cope.
Hope 4 Summer is a project developed by Together Middlesbrough in partnership with local churches, working together across the town to offer holiday clubs in 7 of the most deprived wards. Each church offers a range of activities with arts & crafts, games, sports, music etc. and provides healthy snacks and packed lunches. Activities are taking place somewhere in Middlesbrough each week of the school holidays. Funding was secured from the Church Urban Fund and the local authority sponsored food items via Middlesbrough Food bank. A church leader said:
"Hope 4 Summer is a simple, grass roots solution of local people working in their communities to respond to local need, supporting hundreds of local children and families to have a fun- filled, safe and healthy summer.”
Many projects, significant impact
In addition to these specific projects Together Middlesbrough has during its first eighteen months of operation achieved considerable progress:
- 38 projects working to tackle poverty in the region have received one to one bespoke support from Together Middlesbrough – for example the Middlesbrough Food bank (supporting over 5,000 people to date), Methodist Asylum Project (supporting over 170 Asylum seekers each week)
- 133 individuals have attended training sessions or workshops, e.g. training in fundraising skills, working well with volunteers
- 626 individuals have attended events organised by Together Middlesbrough, helping to build a strong network of local collaboration
- £126,780 has been brought into 12 different small projects to help them continue their work
The Faith in Action report
During 2013 a survey was undertaken by Together Middlesbrough to quantify the scale and range of social action undertaken by churches and Christian projects across Middlesbrough. The aim was to address a gap in knowledge of how churches are working in local communities and supporting people in need. The research showed that:
- 98% of responding churches and Christian projects are engaged in at least one activity to address a social need.
- Together, these churches and projects are running a total of 276 activities amounting to approximately 800 hours of social action each week.
- An army of over 1,000 volunteers is involved in organised Christian social action, benefitting over 5,000 people in local communities every week.
The Faith in Action report helped churches to better understand the range and scale of church social action and created a renewed confidence for churches and projects to work together and further develop their work. More importantly it has communicated clearly to the local authority and other agencies the significance of church social action and has lead to greater partnership working between Together Middlesbrough, churches, the local authority and other agencies.
Being Good Neighbours
The work that Together Middlesbrough is involved in with churches and Christian projects is rooted in local communities. Church buildings across the town are used for a wide variety of activities but always there is a strong sense of hospitality and welcome, whatever the activity that is taking place. Projects are mainly run by local volunteers, some of whom are church members, others are from the wider community, people who can see the difference churches are making and want to be involved. Simply put, we are seeking to nurture “Good Neighbours”, people who are willing to “love their neighbour as themselves”, whoever that person may be.
It is not so much what churches are doing, but the way that they are doing it that is so important. People who benefit from these church-based projects reflect that they operate differently from other providers. Their experience is of a much more personal approach that has developed around the needs and context of the community, with no boxes to be ticked! It is the simple acts of human kindness, the way that people come alongside others, value them, listen to them and are willing to build relationships with them that is truly transformative.
A National Network
Together Middlesbrough is part of a national network of Joint Ventures developed by Church Urban Fund to help create sustainable and more effective solutions to tackling poverty in England.
You can find out more from www.cuf.org.uk/together-middlesbrough