Thursday, 15 July 2010

Building Better Neighbourhoods
The Contribution of Faith Communities to Oxfordshire Life

The Oxfordshire Stronger Communities Alliance working with the Diocese of Oxford have published a report detailing the way faith communities provide hours of dedicated community ministry in the villages and towns across Oxfordshire. The report complements similar research across the UK;  the unique selling point of this report  lies in the alliance and funding team behind the project making this a valuable and powerful voice.   In his forward to the report the Bishop of Dorchester, who also chairs OSCA, writes, "The resulting picture to emerge is a rich diversity focusing on children and young people and on some of the most disadvantaged and " hardest to reach" groups  in Oxfordshire".

192 of the 450 identified worshipping communities in the county responded to a detailed survey. They represented communities of Buddhists, Christian, Hindu, Jewish Muslim, Sikh and other traditions.  The survey revealed that many of the faiths are not just working in partnership with their local community but also with each other to deliver services and respond more informally to identified need.

Some of the headlines include:

  • Faith communities invest over £8.5 million pounds a year in paying staff

  • worshipping communities give 150,000 volunteering hours each year

  • 220 rooms and halls are made available for us by the wider community with 80,000 of faith owned property being used by other organisations

  • worshiping communities contribute around £1.7 million pounds to the tourist economy of the county.
The summary and implications section is an important one to read fully.

It is clear that faith communities make a significant contribution to building community capacity and responding to need both in urban and rural areas; they also contribute to public policy development and implementation. Some barriers still exist between faith communities and public bodies including with other voluntary and community sector organisations; the partnership group behind the report will have modelled potential future developments  and  to affirming the place of faith communities in organisational structures and policy implementation in the county.

There was limited involvement of specialist faith community ministry such as chaplains, and the involvement of faith based voluntary organisations was  also limited. This could be redressed perhaps in further work.  Another significant gap is the failure to have a dedicated action plan  and strategic process to take the issues and recommendations forward. It will be important for OSCA to work with faith communities to develop such an action plan both at the local and county level.

Those of us who have been working to develop partnerships and to raise the profile of the value of the work of faith communities for some time in the county will welcome this contribution to the debate.   This report will provide an essential element in the thinking of local faith communities as they reflect on their community ministry, and will prompt other organisations to build partnerships with faith communities more seriously in the future.  The report deserves to be widely read and to be implemented strategically.

Glyn Evans
Diocesan Rural Officer July 2010

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