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Sunday, December 11, 2016
Study finds faith groups play major role in building communities
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¬†Faith groups can make a significant contribution to regeneration programmes, and, their involvement has the potential to bind diverse communities together in deprived neighbourhoods, says a new report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Urban regeneration policy in the UK in the last 15 years has been marked by a growing emphasis on full community involvement and the government has shown a growing interest in including faith communities in official regeneration initiatives. The wisdom is that the community must be engaged or regeneration will not work - money will be spent but nothing will change. The Catholic Church can make a distinct contribution to regeneration work, the report says. It has a long-term presence in communities that gives it a depth of local experience and insight rarely matched by that of regeneration professionals who are often "distanced" from local communities. The church is already hosting thousands of social projects for the benefit of the whole community in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK. One example cited is Fr John Armitage's parish in Canning Town, East London, whch acts a hub for community activity. Local residents, of all faiths and none, meet at the church buildings to worship, attend courses, learn skills, socialise, bank, find advice and support and generally discover more on offer there than at an average local authority community centre. It is precisely the faith of the parish that is the motor for these activities, where belief prompts social engagement rather than detachment and where the spiritual and the social flow naturally into each other. Indeed it is this emphasis on the importance of nurturing human relationships that is often missing from the target and outcome driven culture of official regeneration schemes. But as the Joseph Rowntree Foundations new report - "Faith in Regeneration?" - makes clear there are significant barriers that need to be overcome in the relationship of faith groups to official government renewal programmes if the unprecedented opportunities for faith groups to help deliver transformation in their local communities is to be realised. The study found that between regeneration professionals in statutory agencies and local faith leaders there was a widespread lack of recognition and understanding of government policy in this area. Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus reflecting on their involvement in government inspired regeneration work criticised government programmes for being too bureaucratic and centralised, for discriminating against faith groups in allocation of funding and for their insufficient awareness of the traditions and beliefs of different faith groups. In turn, professionals from government agencies highlighted difficulties they faced when trying to relate secular, social values to a variety of different religious values and some were concerned about the minimal level of public debate on faith community involvement which they felt was controversial and was being driven by faith communities themselves to benefit their own members exclusively. The study challenged another common perception that the involvement of a discrete faith sector in renewal schemes suggests a divide between the experiences of religious people and those of their neighbours. The study highlighted that social problems affect everyone living in a deprived neighbourhood and found that urban regeneration programmes can provide a focus for developing understanding and trust between diverse communities despite tensions created by local, national and international crises in which religion is implicated. One such example of this is in Fr Jim Kennedy's Catholic parish in Kings Cross where an overall strategy group open to all, acts as the advisory group for the parish's community involvement and the Muslim community, not having a local mosque, use the church hall every Friday for prayers. "In supporting neighbourhood renewal, the local church must be open to working in partnership with other faith communities and groups in this way," says Sarah Lindsell, the Director of Caritas Social Action. "The church has a responsibility to live out its social teaching. One of the ways it can do this is through active involvement in community regeneration initiatives. We are called to be at the heart of this effort - being church means being out there, reaching out to all in need. The example of many parishes who have tried is that the parish community itself has been renewed". "Faith in Regeneration? - engaging faith communities in urban regeneration" by Richard Farnell, Robert Furbey, Stephen Shams al Haqq Hills, Marie Macey and Greg Smith. Published by The Policy Press and available from Marston Book Services, PO Box 269, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4YN (01235 465500), price £13.95 plus £2.75 p&p. A summary of findings is available free of charge, from JRF, The Homestead, 40 Water End, York Y030 6WP or http://www.jrf.org.uk.
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