Responding to Needs in the Community

Home grown projects that are transforming lives in Ireland and Northern Ireland

(From the January - March 2018 issue of VOX)

Across Ireland and Northern Ireland, churches are finding creative and innovative ways to engage with their local communities and to see lives transformed. In 2017, the Cinnamon Network identified five of these projects that have the potential to be replicated in other churches. Over the next 18 months, Cinnamon advisors will work alongside these projects to provide mentoring and support through the “Incubator” programme. So here’s a taste of these five projects.

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RELEASE: Supporting former prisoners as they transition back into the community

Release is a charity that grew out of a ministry in St. Catherine’s church in Dublin. The Irish prison services states that the largest factor in offending (and re-offending) behaviour is the loss or lack of relationship, employment or accommodation (IPS Annual Report and Recidivism Study 2014).

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Prison ministry volunteers from St. Catherine’s encountered this for themselves as they began leading Sunday morning worship in prison 20 years ago, forming what eventually became know as the organisation Release. They saw many men who had no friends or family and thus no sense of belonging, identity and worth. Building relationships and providing on-going support has transformed the lives of many former prisoners and significantly cut rates of re-offending.

Ex-offenders are matched with trained mentors. These relationships begin in prison and then continue into the local community, where there is support and help through the re-entry process. Group work through the Alpha Course, the Recovery course and other programmes helps to facilitate safe spaces for people to share honestly about their struggles and to gain tools for change. Release also provides advocacy with potential employers and landlords.

“I was looking to change my life. I was fed up with going in and out of prison. I went along to the Alpha Course. I heard about Jesus and who He is... it was completely different to what I thought. That gave me hope. I love being a Christian. I wouldn’t go back now. Life is a battle at times but I’m going in one direction.”

“I grew up in a rough area and I developed a bad heroin addiction. You name it, I had done it. I would have done anything to get drugs. I was continuously in and out of prison... Now all the money in the world could not buy what I have because Jesus paid it all. He who the Son sets free is free indeed!”

 

RISE: Providing mentoring and leadership training to encourage young people to become active in their local community

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Innovista Ireland carried out the first pilot of RISE five years ago. During conversations with young people from challenging backgrounds at youth groups in St Catherine’s and at Abbey Presbyterian, they noticed a recurring comment when it came to thinking about change in the local community - “What’s the point? Nothing’s ever going to change.”

Determined to try to break that cycle of hopelessness, Innovista Ireland developed RISE as an opportunity for teens to experience making a change locally, learning leadership skills and connecting with positive role models from local churches.

As many churches struggle to engage local young people, particularly in areas of deprivation, the RISE programme provides a framework for youth leaders and volunteers to connect with teenagers in schools and youth groups.

“Our young people found RISE Leadership Programme to be inspiring, challenging and engaging. It equipped them to identify and tangibly meet some of the needs in our community.” - Norman Thompson, Youth worker.

 

MOVING FORWARD: Helping 16-25-year-olds to re-engage with employment and education and take care of their physical and spiritual wellbeing

Developed out of Willowfield Church in East Belfast, Moving Forward was a response to the large numbers of young people who were entering adulthood having left school with few or no qualifications. This relational approach aimed to be a catalyst for change in the lives of young people in the areas of education, employment, physical fitness and faith.

The programme involves one-to-one sessions, sport, employment support, volunteer work and a range of other opportunities. Positive relationships with volunteers from the church have enabled the young people to break bad habits and overcome barriers to building a better future.

 

Active Listening: Providing a listening and signposting service for vulnerable people

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Working in partnership with the PSNI, Active Listening was founded in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone by a Christian police officer who formed a team of volunteers through the local church network. First launched in 2007, it became a registered charity in 2014.

Community Police Officer, Mike Elwood, became frustrated that he did not have enough time in his policing role to spend time with people and really listen to them. At times, vulnerable people were calling the police service with genuine needs but more pressing emergency calls had to take priority.

Active Listening was set up to support the police service by providing a listening and signposting service for this type of caller. The volunteers receive referrals directly from officers on the ground and also from the 999 / 101 contact management system. Trained volunteers then go out, in pairs, to meet the vulnerable person, to listen to their story and to build a connection with them.

Where appropriate the listeners will refer the person to expert local services specific to their needs. By connecting with people who are socially isolated and providing practical support and help, Active Listening seeks to see lives transformed.

 

LOVE WORKS CO-OP: Helping churches establish cooperative societies that share the profits with the community

Love Works Co-op grew out of a vision to transform the local community through equipping and empowering local young men. Founded by Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church in North Belfast, the project was developed in response to high levels of unemployment, criminal activity, drug and alcohol abuse and sectarianism in this inner city area.

There was need for young men to have opportunities within their community where they could feel valued and accepted, taking ownership and responsibility for themselves, their colleagues and their community.

The three core strands of Love Works are gardening, bread-making and bike repairs. Participants build new friendships, gain new skills and grow in confidence through their achievements and experiences.

Working out of a church hall, this worker-owned cooperative puts emphasis on relationship and environmentally sustainable practices. “We’re called Love Works because of the belief that love is an essential ingredient,” explained one of the founders.