View from the house: Faith groups can give vital support

MP Stephen Timms says the support from groups during the pandemic has been crucial.

MP Stephen Timms says the support from groups during the pandemic has been crucial. - Credit: Archant

I recently visited charity Fareshare in Deptford. They obtain surplus food – eg unwanted supermarket stock – and supply it to foodbanks and community groups.

Before the pandemic, they were sending one ton of food per week to Newham. Now they send 20 tons.

Meeting the need for food in the pandemic has required a huge mobilisation in our community.

Council officers realised early on that faith groups could play a major part in helping needy families.

Bonny Downs Baptist Church, Highway Vineyard Church, Ibrahim Mosque, Manor Park Christian Fellowship and City Chapel have all done a great job in my constituency this year.

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Anecdotal evidence emerged from around the country that local authorities were working with churches and faith groups in new ways during the coronavirus pandemic. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on Faith and Society. We wanted to take a closer look at what was happening. So, over the summer, I worked with researchers at the Faiths & Civil Society Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London.

We sent a survey to all 408 UK local authorities. We also conducted 55 in-depth interviews with local authority leaders and co-ordinators of faith-based projects.

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Over two-thirds of local authorities surveyed reported an increase in partnership working with faith groups in the pandemic. 91 per cent of councils described their experience of partnership with faith groups as ‘very positive’ or ‘positive’. And 76pc expect the new partnerships with faith groups to continue after the pandemic.

People sometimes think that religious faith is on the way out. It is often seen as irrelevant, or possibly harmful, to community wellbeing.

Our report, “Keeping the Faith”, shows that faith groups, like those in Newham – far from being on the way out – have vital resources which are crucial for community wellbeing, and which cannot be found anywhere else.

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