A More Modern Approach

Hello everyone – first and foremost – many thanks to all of you who got in touch with me regarding my son’s illness.  It was lovely to hear from so many of you and to get your well-wishes – and to pass them on to him.  I am pleased to say that he is making good progress and although he has to attend hospital overnight – he is out and about during the day.  We are very grateful to the fantastic support provided by the wonderful staff at the Cumberland Infirmary Carlisle.

So: what does this month bring?  Well – I for one am grateful for the growing daylight hours! It feels more normal to leave home and return in the daylight (sometimes!).  I am also seeing the snowdrops and daffodils making an appearance which gives me a sense of warmth and renewal.  On the subject of seeing the light….(sorry!)….

This month I just wanted to reflect on a single meeting I had in Keswick.  I am fortunate to know Bishop James Newcombe from other roles I have had in London: James is (amongst many other things) the Church’s lead on Health in the House of Lords – and had previously supported the All-Party Parliamentary Group on “Health in All Policies” which my charity had established.

It also happens that he is a lovely man: warm, welcoming, appreciative, humble and confident to share what and who he knows.  Our meeting probably lasted a couple of hours – but we covered a lot of ground.  James knows I am an atheist but recognises that the values that drive us both (and I suspect, many others in the voluntary sector) are similar and attuned.  On the health and wellbeing side, he described some of the initiatives currently pursued by the Church of England, a couple of which I wanted to share:

·         “Green Health”: using the Church’s land resources to develop gardening/agricultural opportunities for disadvantaged and vulnerable people.  There resources are considerable: in Cumbria alone, there are over 600 Churches (with Churchyards) dotted across towns, villages and remote rural locations.  At a national level – approaching 16,000 churches.  This facility links with NACRO (care and rehabilitation of offenders) helps support good mental health – and encourages both sustainable living and independence through growing and cooking the produce!

·         In a similar vein, the “Coalition of Christians against Loneliness” run a number of programmes identified as targeting the lonely: several groups established in Cumbria; many different “chaplains”: “Anna” Chaplains providing support to the elderly; “GP Chaplains” and “parish nurses” – doing home-visits to listen, comfort and provide non-medical support; voluntary “Deacons” supporting the interface between Church and Community – and (most surprisingly to me – “Rural Chaplains” based at Auction Marts. After becoming a permanent fixture at the regular animal markets – members of the farming community will approach them for advice and support – helping support a profession with one of the highest suicide rates.

Overall, the Church is moving to a more modern approach.  Plans to adapt half of all Church buildings to enable the community to use throughout the week: clearing the pews and providing a safe space; improving toilet and kitchen facilities; increasing accessibility for pushchairs and those with mobility challenges.

Why focus on this?  Well – for me personally – after 30 years to the day this week of working in the voluntary sector – this was a revelation.  My own (non)-religious position has clearly made me pretty ignorant of both the scale and capability of the various religious communities, organisations and volunteers to help tackle exactly the same issues as those we in the “non-religious” voluntary sector tackle on a regular basis.  Effectively, it feels like a parallel universe – but one which we need to know about and engage with if we are to truly capitalise on the co-ordinated efforts of society.

David Allen
Chief Executive Officer
Cumbria CVS