Community Transformation

Monday 11 July

Matt Bird from the Cinnamon Network led a seminar on “Community Transformation” at the New Wine Ireland summer conference #Sligo16.  Here VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings a summary of what he had to say.

A few years ago, we were looking at how we resource (finance) church-based community development projects.  We asked, “What if we ran a ‘dragon’s den’ for church-based projects and allow them to pitch their ideas to donors?  We worked our way through over 100 applications and picked five of the best projects.  It was an amazing evening and at the end of the evening our donors were invited to give to one or more of the projects.  In that one evening , we raised £70,000! 

We continued to run these type of events and over the years, we have raised more than £1.5 million!

Through these events, I became aware of the incredible work that churches are doing in their communities. I wanted to take the very best projects that we had found and find ways to replicate them in other places.  It was a way to eliminate “re-inventing the wheel”. 

That is where Cinnamon Network came in (Note: it is named after the curry house in which we met and planned it, not the sweet spice!). We have developed a menu of 30 brilliant projects addressing social need - things such as anti-social behaviour, families in crisis, rehabilitating ex-offenders, dealing with debt, mental health, etc.  Churches can take these projects and use them in their local context.

Churches often say they want to do something in their community but we don’t know where to start.  Cinnamon Network advisors can help and support in identifying needs and projects, along with providing micro grants to help kick start an appropriate project.

Recently, we looked at the issue of Mental Health and we chose two excellent projects.  One was “Care Home Friends” which trains people to go into care homes to provide support and friendship.  The other is “Renew” run by a baptist church in Leicestershire, which creates a safe place for people who are wrestling with their mental health to meet with mental health professionals.

“Make Lunch” helps churches to feed children during the school holidays who might otherwise go hungry.  Over 1.3 million children receive free school meals but in the holidays they do not have access to the same support.    Last year, 56 churches ran “Make Lunch” programmes in the UK and fed 11,500 children.

Another project is called “Welcome Boxes”.  When the refugee crisis began to hit the headlines, a local church in Derby worked closely with the council so that whenever an individual was settled in the area, two trained volunteers would visit to welcome them and give them a small box of gifts.  This has only been running since September but it is now happening in 32 towns and cities around the UK.

There is an incredible opportunity for us as a church to share ideas and possibilities.  

Question:  How are the projects sustainable? 

Most of the projects have an extremely high level of sustainability.  Cinnamon Network only provides start up funds.  97% of churches that are funded to start a project will continue into year two and 92% continue into year three.  We are able to show great social outcomes and sustainability, which is extremely attractive to donors!

Two years ago, we started a project with the police force.  80% of 999 calls are nothing to do with crime; they are welfare calls.  One Chief Constable said to me, there are 49 people who each telephone us nine times a day but not about crime.  These are not nuisance calls because they are people in desperate social need and they don’t know where else to turn. 

We work with police forces to help reduce the welfare demand on their projects. We help churches to start best-practice projects to respond to these needs and as a result police forces are helping to fund Cinnamon Network! 

We did something called the Cinnamon Faith Action Audit working with 87 towns and cities to calculate the number of hours given by the church to their local community and the value of this contribution

In response to the findings of this survey, The Times newspaper ran an article with the headline   “Loving thy neighbour is priceless but it is worth at least £3 billion a year.”  When we learn to speak in numbers, we get more traction and the local authorities and statutory bodies want to talk to us. The creativity and innovation that is happening in and through our churches is brilliant. 

We need sticking plasters but we also need to go upstream to address the root causes of social need in our community.

Rural settings have unique social issues (e.g. loneliness and isolation).  Often in rural areas churches are smaller.  The size of projects needs to be appropriate for those contexts.  We must have models to empower and help rural churches to address social needs in the rural context.

Question: How many people are working with Cinnamon Network?

There are 45 people working with Cinnamon Network in a paid capacity but all of them work part time.  We are a network rather than an organisation.  This brings a richness to what we do because each of us brings our own experience to the task.  We don’t have a head office.  I don’t want to spend money on buildings, I want to spend money on projects.   We work remotely but we emphasise relationships and we meet once a month as a leadership team for a full day. Our fundraising cost is 7% as opposed to the industry standard of 20%.

We should be sharing the very best of what we have learnt. We also need good governance to protect our projects and churches from corruption and mismanagement.  This is a wider societal issue.  Most institutions have had incidents, which cause us to lose our trust and confidence in them.  Every time there is a church scandal there is an erosion of trust.  We can be left with a trust-less society.  It is easier to destroy trust than it is to re-build trust.

A society devoid of trust is no longer a society.  Governance must be strong.  There should be nobody in any organisation or church that cannot be questioned.  There should be complete transparency and we need to ensure that people will ask the tough questions.

Tommy Stewart is the representative for the Cinnamon Network in Ireland and Northern Ireland.  He shared:

My role in Ireland is to empower the church to be what the church should be. I want to see the church once again becoming the centre of the community in Ireland. 

At the very base level, people in churches are asking, “How do we get people to get involved in a community project?” We are planning to work alongside New Wine Ireland to offer volunteer training for people who want to run community projects. Watch out for news of this in the autumn.

Yesterday I heard someone say, “We cannot have faith to change the nations if we have fear of our neighbour.”  We can talk about community transformation but what are we doing personally?

  • Do you know the names of your eight closest neighbours?
  • Do you know something personal about each of them?
  • Do you know their hopes and dreams?

As much as we want our churches to do it, it is also about us!!

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