Fighting poverty in Liskeard – and beyond
A social action initiative is set to ramp up its efforts and extend its operations over its region of southeast Cornwall.
St Martin’s Church in Liskeard lists its priorities as growing its mission and ministry, and supporting young people, families, its local community and that community’s needs.
One of its key activities has been to work in partnership with Christians Against Poverty (also known as CAP), a national organisation founded in Yorkshire in 1996, which offers free advice on money management, benefits and debt.
The work of the church should be relevant and vital to local people, according to Mike Sturgess, who serves as treasurer at St Martin’s and also chairs the Diocese of Truro’s Board of Finance.
“We’re doers,” he says. “There’s loads of stuff going on at St Martin’s: the CAP debt centre, crisis funding for those in need, parenting courses, one-to-one mentoring for kids who are struggling, bereavement counselling, and teams visiting schools each week.”
In addition, he notes, the church runs a very successful babies and toddlers group, youth activities and a warm space popular with elderly people.
Serving the community
Mike emphasizes that the approach at St Martin’s is intergenerational, proactive and progressive.
“We don’t have the attitude that it’s all just about traditional Sunday worship,” he says. “We’ve got kids who run around the church, and no one bats an eyelid.”
He adds that one of his favourite blessings at the close of a church service on a Sunday reminds the congregation that their faith calls for a broader kind of service out in the real world: “Our service has ended – now let our service begin.”
St Martin’s is now in the process of implementing an ambitious plan to offer itself as a resourcing hub for churches across southeast Cornwall. Its first step has been to develop an organisational structure, in collaboration with the neighbouring Anglican deanery of East Wivelshire, which will allow it to deploy a number of new debt advisor roles to support parishes as far afield as Torpoint, St Cleer, Callington and Calstock.
Staff appointed to these paid positions will receive training from Christians Against Poverty and will also be assisted by a team of volunteers.
Their work will be coordinated by Liskeard’s CAP manager, Hannah Dunne.
“This work means a lot to me,” Hannah says. “It’s hard to put into words. I love that this is a really practical expression of my faith.
“I feel really privileged to be let into people’s lives and to have the opportunity to bring them a bit of hope.”
She has been managing the project for a year, and has worked with about 20 clients in that time.
“Debt is often a symptom of lots of other things going on in people’s lives,” she says. “We try to provide a holistic approach to helping them in whatever way we can.”
Hannah already supports clients from Fowey, Polperro, Looe, Pensilva, St Ive and of course Liskeard.
“A lot of people are very struck by the fact that we care,” she adds. “We care about their needs, their situations. It really means a lot to people that someone makes the effort to help them.”
She explains that they offer a variety of routes to help people get out of debt. CAP can even negotiate with creditors on their clients’ behalf.
“That can take a lot of the stress off,” she says. “Sometimes people can’t even face the paperwork.”
Their clients range in age from their early twenties through to their sixties.
One client joined the scheme last September. Not long into the new year he had become debt-free.
“It’s really quite amazing,” Hannah says. “He’s also completed a CAP money course to get his head round running a household budget.”
His name is Liam. Last July, his partner suddenly died. He now takes care of their five young children.
By the end of the summer, he was struggling with the family finances and the bailiffs were quite literally knocking at his door.
“CAP took a weight off my shoulders,” he says. “It was one thing less to worry about. All I had to do was to make them a cup of tea. They did the hard work.
“They came back a few times, went through my ingoings, outgoings and debts, and gave me advice on the best route to go.
“I know it’s my own fault but sometimes other things take over and life just spirals out of your control. All I can say is that anyone who is struggling with debt should reach out to CAP. And anyone feeling lost or hurt and who doesn’t know where to turn should trust God, because he cares.
“God has carried me. And the church has helped me a lot. The church has been great.”