This year, we introduced the Catalyst Social Action Fund, a new initiative seeking to help churches begin and expand projects serving disadvantaged people within their communities. Churches and projects could apply for grants up to £2500 to help fund social action programs, and we received a huge number of applications from a diverse range of projects across the country. We’ll be sharing stories from these projects over the next few months – starting off with Hope Church Bedlington and their project, the Community Help Hub.
It was back in 2010 that Hope Church Bedlington decided we needed to have some kind of presence in our High Street. Our Church, just 50 or so people, doesn’t have its own building, and with our Sunday venue having changed a few times, we realised people just simply didn’t know we are here.
God never gave us an exact blueprint of what we should do. We considered different ideas but decided to do something that helped unemployed people and those claiming benefits, particularly those that can’t afford home internet access, or don’t have a fixed phone, as it was very expensive to call benefit claim lines from mobiles.
And so, the Community Help Hub was born, offering free computer use, internet access and phone use, with Church volunteers providing assistance with cvs, job applications and benefit claims. We don’t promote our faith but ensure our service is accessible to those who would feel uncomfortable in an overtly Christian setting, though people become much warmer towards us as they start using our service regularly.
Just prior to taking the keys of the shop a Church member spoke about our Church being the Bride of Christ on the High Street. So it was a great encouragement when we first showed Church members the new property: the sign above the door read “JC’s Bridal Boutique”. It had previously been a wedding dress shop and our landlord’s initials are “JC”!
7 years later, we have had over 20,000 drop-in visits. This includes around 50 regular Hub Users coming every day who we know by name, and they know us. Some have come to Church outreach events and meetings and two have become Christians and joined the Church.
More recently we have added a Debt Help Centre with Christians Against Poverty. This followed a “What Hurts Most?” survey we ran in which living with debt and financial worries was listed as one of the top issues causing pain and anxiety. Several clients from the Debt Help service have come to Church outreach events or Sunday meetings with one being clearly added to the Church. Finally! In the last year we opened a youth club on a difficult estate at the other end of town.
These projects are defining us as a Church. We are understanding our calling is to the needy and the marginalized. We believe we are punching above our weight. It is rare now for me to be able to walk up the street without meeting someone I know from the Help Hub. Our comments book is awash with really positive statements about the work we do and the Church members who serve as volunteers. We are connecting with our community.
Written by Dennis Fancett, Hope Church Bedlington