Posted on August 25th, 2016 at 8:11AM
In the last two months I have enjoyed visits to two University cities - Durham and then Oxford. Two cities that felt quite similar in some ways, but find themselves in very different parts of the country, with very distinct issues for those in poverty.
In Durham, I reflected on a multitude of contrasts. It started with the fact that as I ran out the door in York I grabbed both sunglasses and a showerproof coat - at one point in Durham I was using both! In these University towns there is a strong contrast between the residents and the students, something I experienced as both a student and then a resident in Cambridge. Two different worlds collide.
My trip to Durham began with a meeting with the student charity Just Love, a great organisation that seeks to help Christian students engage in social action. That includes the local community which is a great way to bridge the student/residents gap. We hope to help facilitate that.
In Durham there is an even sharper contrast - that between the beautiful city itself that attracts tourists and boasts both castle and cathedral, and much of the surrounding regions in the North-East. Having previously visited Newton Aycliffe in County Durham, I know of the problems with unemployment and general deprivation.
The Anglican Durham Diocese is conscious of this and had teamed up with Together Durham (joint venture with Church Urban Fund) to make poverty the focus of their annual clergy conference. Up in the University itself, members of the clergy were grappling with the issues. Meeting with some of them, I was keen to introduce Acts 435 as a good starting point.
When you look at the big issues, particularly in the North-East of England with very high unemployment where generations of one family have never worked, it can be overwhelming and you wonder how your small act will make any difference. Yet surely it is better to start small and do something, rather than nothing.
This was St. Peter's Church in Barnsley's experience. They knew there was poverty in their community but they did not know the individuals who were struggling. It is difficult to see how to start making those connections as let's face it, our personal finances are not something we readily speak about. The church ran a toddler group and so it made that small start - selected a member of their congregation to be the advocate, signed up to Acts 435 and put up an Acts 435 poster in their church hall.
A Children's Centre worker came to the toddler group and saw the poster. She enquired whether it was possible to get support for some of the vulnerable families she was working with. The connection was made, and from something very small, St. Peter's has now used Acts 435 to help over 200 vulnerable families in Barnsley. Making a difference in their lives.
When I went to Oxford Diocese - an area covering much of the Thames Valley but where we have no Anglican churches and only one other church (in Reading) - Alison, the social responsibility officer, was pleasantly surprised to hear how simple Acts 435 is, and how easily it would fit both for churches and charities that are already reaching out to the poor, but also for those who want to, but are not sure how to start!
At the Oxford Town Hall I picked up a leaflet about Oxford's Local Plan for 20 years time. I learned that Oxford is the least affordable city in the UK with average house prices 16.2 times average earnings. Alison had told me earlier that housing and homelessness are the biggest issues facing people in the Diocese. There is also a lot of rural poverty - I explained how Acts 435 has helped people on low-income in rural areas with things like unexpected car repairs and car tax to ensure they can keep their car on the road, and therefore keep their job.
Myriad issues of poverty. Acts 435 can help in all these situations - we can't solve the big problems of poverty, but that doesn't mean we should do nothing. Better to start small and see how things develop than do nothing.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink ..." Matthew 25:35