Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Blears - supporting Faith Communities

Blears - supporting Faith Communities

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT News Release (187) issued by The Government News Network on 21 July 2008

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears today set out how Government envisages working in future alongside the many faith based organisations already making a real difference to their communities.

The Framework for Partnership published today outlines new support and £7.5m worth of investment to encourage and enable greater local activity bringing people from different religions and beliefs together. It also reaffirms government support for the valuable work faith groups contribute to delivering services, responding to some of the toughest challenges that society faces.

Speaking alongside Dr Harriet Crabtree and Rev Nims Obunge at the Launch of the Framework at The Methodist Central Hall, London, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said:

"We have long recognised the great contribution committed individuals and organisations from our different faith communities make, sharing their time, energy and skills to improve the lives of others and their communities.

"As a nation we are cohesive, with the overwhelming majority of people believing that people from different backgrounds get on well in their local area. But as our communities become increasingly interdependent we need to continue to build strong and positive relationships between people from different backgrounds.

"We want to create more opportunities for people to get involved and together help solve everyday challenges such as homelessness, drug use, environmental pollution and the promotion of healthy living.

"Our recent empowerment White Paper recognised the role that religion and belief can play in motivating and providing the opportunities for individuals to be active and empowered citizens.

"There is a role for government, but what works best is when we work together with those committed individuals and organisations sharing our ambitions, energy, expertise and resources to achieve real and positive change within communities."

There are over 23,000 religious charities in the UK and many more faith-based organisations, involving tens of thousands of people motivated by their faith, working at a local and national level to provide support and services to communities.

The Department will invest over £7.5 million over three years to support communities directly. This will ensure that:

* there is an independent Regional Faith Forum in every English region. There are currently nine forums providing a 'meeting place' for a diverse range of local faith groups where they can share ideas and find ways of coming together. The Regional Faith Forums will work with regional decision making bodies, including the Regional Development Agencies and Government Offices to ensure that faith groups have a presence and effective say at the local and regional level

* community groups have access to funding under the Faiths in Action Fund. This aims to support local activities and will be open to all types of organisations at national, regional or local level in England to apply

In addition we will:

* produce a guidance leaflet for local communities which shows ways in which individuals and groups can work together with those with different faiths and beliefs and those with none.

* provide supportive guidance to local authorities on the practical steps they can take such as supporting shared community spaces

* work in partnership with the Inter Faith Network for the UK to organise an Inter faith Week - encouraging faith communities across the country at all levels to raise awareness and celebrate inter faith work.

The framework is not a fixed structure of what Government expects to see happening, rather it is based on consultation responses and best practise examples from a wide range of grass-roots projects in communities across the country. It provides access to useful resources and support to help maintain faith communities' engagement with one another so that different groups can opt for what works for them.

Among the practical suggestions communities could adopt are:

* the holding of open days at places of worship or community buildings

* working with local authorities to identify faith buildings with 'neutral' spaces which can be hired for meetings or events

* getting involved in providing and commissioning services

There can however sometimes be reluctance on the part of some local authorities to commission services from faith based groups and there are also concerns amongst some groups and organisations including faith groups that they are disadvantaged when trying to access funding.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:

"People from all faiths across the country are coming together, promoting tolerance and understanding and making clear the values that we all share. The Government is fully committed to supporting this important work.

"The new £7.5 million programme of investment for community groups and Regional Faith Forums will give existing interfaith bodies the support they need and deserve, as well as getting new forums off the ground.

"Through dialogue and discussion, these Forums will bring people from a variety of backgrounds together in a united purpose and an understanding that the values we share are greater than our differences."

Hazel Blears said:

"There are countless examples of faith organisations working alongside local authorities to meet the needs of the community. However some people remain nervous about commissioning services from faith based groups and want to be confident that public money is not used to only help those that sign up to a certain set of beliefs at the expense of others. "We are working with faith groups and funding bodies to ensure that everybody is absolutely clear about what is and is not appropriate, that those faith groups providing services do so in a non-discriminatory way to the whole community. But unless we make the most of the enthusiasm and expertise of the faith sector, we are missing a major opportunity and we need to ensure their valuable role is not overlooked."

The consultation responses showed the wide range of physical spaces that faith communities are using. These include faith buildings, schools, private houses, cafes, green spaces, community centres, local authority premises and even supermarkets.

The framework also illustrates how faith communities could make use of more secular spaces for the wider community to interact and pursue shared activities.

Also as part of our wider work to 'empower' individuals to influence decision making and shape public services the framework shows how councils can transfer public assets such as community centres to communities themselves giving them greater independence and the more responsive to local needs.

Positive examples of work taking place across the country include:

Waltham Forest Faith Communities Forum's "Health Preachers" scheme which works with the local Primary Care Trust (PCT) to convey key health messages to people within Waltham Forest's religious congregations.

Faiths4Change in the North West, using the environment as common ground, the project helps local people from different backgrounds work together helping to tackle unemployment, poor skills, low income, poor housing, and crime.

Feltham Community Chaplaincy Trust (FCCT), is a registered charity, operating a multi-faith project out of Feltham YOI, which recruits and trains volunteers from diverse faith communities across London, enabling them to be-friend and support young men, of the same faith, who are returning to their local areas.

St. Philip's, Anglican Church, Leicester - one of three national centres for education and training for church leaders - has become a vibrant community centre providing facilities for local groups and different communities fostering good inter faith relations particularly with the local mosque.

'Meet Your Neighbours' a project in Blackburn with Darwen which brings together young boys from a Jewish faith school, a Muslim faith school, a Catholic school and a non-faith school for a weekend in the Lake District. The project aims to get young people who have not had the opportunity to meet people of other faiths to get together and discuss what they have in common.

The Government is committed to building cohesive communities and has always been clear that local responses are key to promoting opportunities for people from different backgrounds to interact. An interfaith strategy was one of the recommendations made to Government by the independent Commission on Integration and Cohesion in their report Our Shared Future but cohesion is about all parts of the community, not just race and faith issues.

The Commission made clear that there is no one size fits all approach to cohesion. Local authorities need to develop responses based on their own particular populations and circumstances.To support this the Government is today publishing a Cohesion Delivery Framework overview, a guidance document which is designed to help local cohesion practitioners, particularly those who may have the task of improving cohesion as part of a new local area agreement. It encourages local authorities to map their communities, identify challenges and opportunities and develop targeted actions in response. The guidance document can be found at http://www.communities.gov.uk/communities/racecohesionfaith/communitycohesion/cohesionpublications/.

Notes for Editors

1. The consultation - "Face-to-Face and Side-by-Side" - was part of the Government's response to the independent Commission on Integration and Cohesion's report Our Shared Future which set out a number of practical recommendations on how to build cohesion and a shared sense of belonging including confirming the important role that inter faith activity has to play in building integration and cohesion, as well as the need for more constructive conversations between those of faith and those of none. In response Hazel Blears set out a ten point action plan to promote cohesion and tackle community tensions including a commitment to develop a new inter faith strategy. It was published on 17 December 2007 and lasted for twelve weeks until 7th March 2008. 186 responses were received. A summary of responses is available at http://www.communities.gov.uk/communities/racecohesionfaith/faith

2. Faiths in Action, a £4m grants programme will be open to faith, inter faith, voluntary and community organisations and groups in England from 1 August 2008. Grants will be distributed in two rounds. Round one will issue grants of up to £12,000 to be spent over two years. It is hoped the grants will support a wide variety of local activities in a range of community settings. Administered by the Community Development Foundation (CDF) on behalf of Communities and Local Government, Faiths in Action aims to bring communities together, promoting positive relationships between people of different religions and beliefs.

3. The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks distinguished between "Face-to-Face and Side-by-Side" relationships. "Face-to-Face" dialogue leads to people developing a better understanding of one another, including celebrating the values held in common as well as acknowledging distinctiveness. "Side-by-Side" collaborative social action involves people working together to achieve real and positive change within their local community.

4. There is a long and positive history in this country of people coming together to talk about and explore their own and each others religions and beliefs in order to build understanding and respect. This dialogue has increased in recent years with 183 new inter faith groups having been established since 2000.

5. As a nation we are cohesive with 81% of people believing that people from different backgrounds get on well in their area, and 77% believing they belong strongly to their neighbourhood. However the citizenship survey also found that the majority of people questioned in our latest citizenship survey felt there was a need for people from different religious and ethnic groups to mix more.

6. Dr Harriet Crabtree is the Director of the Inter Faith Network for the UK. The Inter Faith Network links faith community representative bodies and inter faith bodies in the UK and works with them to promote good inter faith relations. Rev. Nims Obunge is Chief Executive of the Peace Alliance. The Peace Alliance is a national crime reduction charity working on a local and national basis in partnership with faith, community & statutory organisations, the police, and councils. Rev Nims Obunge is also a member of the Black Christian Leaders Forum.

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