No one will forget the isolation experienced during the Pandemic especially for those who lived alone without access to the outside world through digital means.Currently, 9 million people in the UK cannot access the internet or use devices by themselves and 77% of over seventies have little online engagement while the rest of us enjoy Zoom meetings with friends and family, and can order our weekly shopping at the touch of a button.  How can the Church combat isolation in the community?

Debbie Read is one of those impressive parishioners who just gets things done!  When they see a need they rise up to the challenge to resolve it, and this is exactly what Debbie does in Mullion on the Lizard Peninsula.

Debbie explains the problem:  “Digital Inclusion is extremely difficult for us here. We have long suffered from being in a ‘not spot’ regarding the use of a mobile phone. Many residents do not even own one.  Our church, St Mellanus, is very community based and we have never charged any one for the use of our facilities.  Two years ago the CRCC (Cornwall Rural Community Charity) held training courses for the Carer’s Group and the Veterans. It was limited in number due to the lack of suitable premises and poor signal, and neither of the two community buildings in the village has WiFi. The pandemic has highlighted how poorly served we are and how much we need a proper facility with equipment.  As Zoom seemed to be something that impressed residents, especially when they saw the Queen using it, they thought ‘Why not us? How does it work’?   We have a beautiful building and this is our opportunity to provide all that is required to offer that valuable training.”

So Debbie spent time applying for funds to pay for installation and activation of a phone line with broadband and to purchase the equipment required to provide the training and was delighted to be awarded grants from All Churches Trust, Cornwall Community Foundation (Goonhilly Windfarm) and National Lottery Community Fund along with her local councillor’s Community Chest and individual donations.

The wifi is now up and running at St Mellanus and the courses have started.

Elizabeth Scott, age 92 is one of their first students: “I’ve got an ipad and I haven’t a clue how to use it really – I do the Sainsbury’s shop and I want to learn how to do other shopping on it. I wondered whether a church was the right place for it but it’s good.”

Jeremy Foster, another participant added: “Doing courses like this makes use of the church and gets people into the building – there’s this strange thing about being scared of going into a church as if they’re not part of it and not sure whether they can go in so this helps to break that down I think.  We’re lucky to have it so let’s use it.”

Revd Canon Shane Griffiths agreed: “I have asked many people within Mullion what they think church is for. Many have answered by saying Sunday services, quiet prayer space, Christmas, Easter, Weddings etc. This may seem very predictable and that is all well and good but this latest ‘service’ that St Mellanus church is providing is something very different whilst being no less important. It is another way of enabling people within our community to stay connected with each other and their parish church.”

Debbie also wants St Mellanus to be welcome to all and is open every day.  “The WiFi can be accessed by anyone especially residents who cannot afford broadband at home, so they can just pop into church to use it anytime and we also aim to use the facility for communicating with our congregation when they are unable to attend church.”

All grant making organisations ask ‘how does your project (whether fixing your roof or installing wifi) benefit your community? St Mellanus are a shining example of faith in action, addressing exclusion and isolation and bringing welcome and ‘the world-wide web’ to their parishioners.

You can hear more about community engagement for fundraising at Meet the Funders workshops in 2022.