North East churches and communities gather to tackle poverty together

Regional church leaders hear first hand accounts of those experiencing poverty and pledge to be advocates for their needs.

Church leaders from six denominations and people with experience of poverty in North East England met, to work together to tackle poverty in the region. Church Action on Poverty North East, Thrive Teesside and the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, co-hosted the roundtable event at All Saints Church, Newton Hall, Durham, on 11 October.

Local speakers offered their own perspectives on poverty.

Sue from Gateshead told of the particular challenges facing carers, and the huge backlog of people waiting to be assessed for support.

Richard from Upper Teesdale talked about the invisible poverty in rural areas, exacerbated by people being pushed to use online services, when rural internet is often inadequate.

Graham and Sharon from Easington Colliery told of the challenges in ex-mining areas, and the lack of support services. Graham said: “A lot of people feel abandoned.”

The meeting was chaired by Bishop Paul, and church attendees included representatives from the Catholic Church, Church of England, Methodist Church, Salvation Army, the Society of Friends, and the United Reformed Church.

Bishop Paul listens to a speaker at the roundtable event, alongside Rev Lesley Jones from Jarrow and Simonside, and Gavin Aitchison from Church Action on Poverty
Bishop Paul listens to a speaker at the roundtable event, alongside Rev Lesley Jones from Jarrow and Simonside, and Gavin Aitchison from Church Action on Poverty © Diocese of Durham

Bishop Paul said he would relay the discussions to northern church leaders at a meeting next month, and also to people involved in the national Poverty Strategy Commission. He said North East Churches Acting Together would also continue to invest in finding collective solutions.

“To be able to have a significant number of church leaders listening in to the stories, and hearing from others working alongside those facing the challenges of the social security system, the inadequacies of provision for those with significant mental health issues, and the lack of support for carers, raises many questions that we need to face as a society,” he said.

He said local and national government, and businesses, must work together to improve conditions for the lowest 15-20 per cent economically, and echoed the Let’s End Poverty campaign in saying all parties must be pushed to say what they will do to tackle poverty.

The Rt Rev Stephen Wright, Bishop for the Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, said: “Our Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle is committed to working alongside our Christian sisters and brothers, people of all faiths and none in accompanying those who face needs and struggle in life.

“Our Lord always invites us to see our society and our political decisions through the eyes of the poor. As Christians, we are called to be advocates for their needs and to support them as best we can.”

Rev Richard Andrew, Chair of the Darlington Methodist District said: “It was a powerful and challenging experience to share with others as we listened to those living in poverty. I was particularly moved by these words, ‘The world does not see my face.’

“If we really believe that we see the face of Jesus in the face of the poor then as North East churches we need to stand up and be counted in solidarity with them.”

This piece first appeared in a longer form on the Churches Action on Poverty blog.

Church Action on Poverty is a Charity and Network in Association with CTE.