“The driver for me was that I thought churches could improve in the ways they reached out, says Terry.
“We’re really good when someone comes to our door; we give them a lovely welcome and we’re brilliant at making a fuss of them. But we sometimes struggle with engaging with people outside of church. That’s why I felt this project was the way forward.”
Terry Peate is the driving force behind the Churches Together in Cockermouth Linking Lives project. He discovered our charity, Linking Lives UK, which is undergirded by a Christian ethos, back in 2019. Linking Lives is based on a model originally set up by a Baptist Church in 1998 in Berkshire. We now have over 70 befriending projects across the UK.
Terry contacted us and went on to draw together 18 local churches to help run the scheme. Cockermouth Linking Lives was launched in October 2019. Terry says: “Through Linking Lives, all the necessary protocols and procedures were already in place around such things as safer recruitment and safeguarding; they’d done all the hard work. As a result, there’s a fantastic resource which harnesses the largest group of potential volunteers in the country: the church. “It’s also been relatively straightforward to raise funds for the project because loneliness has been identified as being such a huge problem.”
The Cockermouth scheme now has 60 – mostly Christian – volunteers who each draw alongside a person referred to the scheme. Each week, the befrienders spend an hour with their scheme member, offering chances to forge new friendships. The scheme’s youngest recruit – an 18-year-old – has a weekly link with a 94-year-old. While befrienders are not there to proselytise, there’s an understanding that some people may find extra solace in prayer.
“People understand many of the volunteers are Christians and so, if they ask about faith or to pray, then we’re more than happy to draw alongside them in that way too,” says Terry.
“When Covid arrived, the number of vulnerable people with whom we had contact leapt from about 12 to between 45. We now have more than 63 befriending relationships.”
Terry now has a regional role with the charity and has helped create befriending services – now mostly known as ‘Two’s Company Befriending’ – in other communities across Cumbria.
He concludes: “I see God in all that is being done through this project. The only way that church can grow is to be relevant in the community.”
The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, is patron of Linking Lives. He said: “What Linking Lives achieved in Cockermouth and the wider county is tremendous.
“I give huge thanks for the work of all the befrienders and the wonderful ministry to which they are so committed. My prayers are also with those people they draw alongside each week, who must contend with feelings of isolation and remoteness which are so prevalent in today’s society.”
Linking Lives is a Body in Association with Churches Together in England.