Congratulations on the work being done in Gateshead to meet the needs of the community. The expansion shows the resilience of the frontline team and the commitment of supporters. Tell us about the early days of CAP in Gateshead.
Helen: Gateshead has a real sense of community. Sadly, some of the residents are among the most deprived in England. At Bill Quay Community Church, we’d prayed for a Debt Centre for years. In 2020, we finally launched the first CAP service in Gateshead. The congregation were really supportive – we’ve got six Befrienders now! They’re our volunteers who provide crucial ongoing support and friendship to our clients, checking in with a call or grabbing a coffee. Some of our clients have become part of our church family, too.
After the first Debt Centre launched, did you sense a need for CAP services beyond here?
Helen: I realised how varied clients’ needs were. One client couldn’t give me a list for an emergency shop because she hadn’t shopped for so long. I felt really sad that what most people would consider an essential wasn’t part of her reality. I knew that the CAP Life Skills course would have the budgeting and cooking skills she needed. Being able to offer her a place on the course gave her great hope.
Mark: At Alive Church, we’d also prayed for a Debt Centre in Gateshead. When I heard Bill Quay Church was launching a Debt Centre, that was the prayer answered! I’d been running the CAP Kids Money Course in local schools, but the feedback suggested even more was needed.
What does Gateshead look like with expanded CAP services?
Mark: I was retiring from being a vicar when Alive Church began broadening its social outreach. It reminded me that we still had some way to go to meet the needs of the community in Gateshead, so I got involved with CAP Debt Help and became a Debt Centre Manager. It’s been astonishing. Two years on, we’ve got two Debt Centres, a CAP Money Course, two Life Skills groups and a Job Club. Gateshead Council and the local Citizens Advice are pleased with the desperately needed expansion.
Did you imagine CAP services would grow as such an integral part of the community?
Mark: In the beginning, it seemed we might never get going. I thought I’d retire, never seeing what could be. Now, we’re all praising God! I’m still shocked at how he’s spoken to hearts across Gateshead. We had a hilarious contest figuring out who’d prayed the longest! But we all know, it’s God’s glory.
What are your biggest challenges?
Helen: There’s a huge demand for debt advice. With energy price increases, we expect that need to grow. It’ll directly impact our clients’ ability to buy essentials. CAP is becoming a familiar name in Gateshead as more people seek help, but maintaining relationships with referral agencies is challenging. A lot of referral agencies we could potentially work with send their clients to debt advice agencies that they’ve had long-standing relationships with. I’d love to see local churches working together on this, using their positions in local community settings to help familiarise people with CAP services. And we’re always looking for volunteers – they’re vital to our services.
How have the lives of Gateshead’s residents been transformed? Any standout moments?
Mark: I remember my first client. I played her a video with CAP Founder John Kirkby’s words: ‘Working towards the day when we can say “you are debt free”’. Tears filled her eyes. The spark of hope appeared, knowing she could be debt free – and we’d stay with her all the way. Special moments.
What does the future look like for CAP in Gateshead?
Mark: We praise God for what we have. We want to connect clients to local churches, but need more Befrienders to make that happen. Although the future might be uncertain, we’ll still offer the hope of becoming debt free, getting a job, learning life skills and budgeting. Most of all, we hold out the hope of people finding a relationship with Christ – the richest gift to receive.
How important have supporters been to the services expanding?
Helen: I want to thank all supporters of our frontline work. It’s overwhelming to see clients’ joy when we’re able to provide an emergency food shop, help with energy bills and phone top-ups to stay connected to services. If people are in a position to volunteer, the need for CAP services is growing. Although the days are getting darker, the light, love and hope of Christ is shining brighter.