It was seeing the devastating impact of debt and poverty on people that led to the Eden Debt Centre being set up in partnership with CAP. As Centre Manager, I lead a team in Penrith & Eden, Cumbria. It’s a testament to rural churches working together in partnership – and debt help is increasingly needed in a community where rural poverty and social isolation are key problems.
In early summer last year, we were hearing of people struggling to manage their budgets as energy and food bills really started to increase. Parents were clearly concerned about feeding their kids, and former clients were getting back in touch asking if we could support them again as they were getting behind on their utility or Council Tax bills.
By early autumn, we were frequently finding it impossible to draw up sustainable budgets for our Debt Centre clients because the cost of living had risen so much higher than their incomes. We had begun to see a dramatic increase in requests for emergency support, particularly for fuel vouchers and food shops.
New problems, new solutions
Each Christmas, we’ve traditionally given hampers to our debt clients, but this year we wanted to do something different. Using more than £2,000 in donations from our incredibly generous wider church community, we supplied ‘bags of hope’ to our clients. The idea was to make sure each household had the essentials to help them have a hope-filled Christmas. Each bag provided some festive treats alongside vouchers for food shopping, fuel and gifts for any children. We also included our church’s Hope magazine which is full of great encouragements and invitations to our carol services and Christmas events. Our volunteer CAP Befrienders were also given a small grant so they could treat their clients to a coffee or lunch out.
Our heart is to enable people to access what is most useful to them, and to affirm the dignity of each client. One mum said how overwhelmed she was to be able to take her kids to Argos to choose a gift they wanted for Christmas. Another said how wonderful it was to have a warm house and a kitchen full of food on Christmas Day.
Working together for whole-life change
Often, the first action with a struggling household or individual is to provide them with practical support and, as a church, we believe Jesus wants to see whole-life restoration. We are seeking to build ongoing relationships and deepen trust so people can access other resources and support including addiction recovery, referrals from healthcare services, and inclusive community.
Our local council has awarded us a couple of grants from the Government’s Cost of Living Fund and the Hardship Fund, which has allowed us to provide supermarket vouchers to households in our community who are struggling to make ends meet. We also partner with the charity Acts 435 and have our own church’s ‘blessings fund’ to help support people who can’t afford basic essentials. Alongside this, we’ve run money coaching and a CAP Job Club. And thanks to CAP’s Mustard Seed Mission Fund, we’ve been able to run a toddler group, which connected with 82 households last year.
There’s great strength in our partnership of churches across Penrith, as smaller churches are able to contribute vital resources and expertise to initiatives they couldn’t run by themselves. Plus it means that the local community sees the Church working collaboratively, which is immensely valuable. Individual team members thrive on the shared knowledge and resources that occur when different church communities come together.
Jesus said, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another’ (John 13:34–35). Across Eden we want to build strong, loving communities, through which we can serve the community around us and display Christ’s love to the world.