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Barnabas Community Projects

We wanted to start a series of articles which focussed in on some social action projects which are going on in our nation. Many of these will have been launched by from churches who are part of ChristCentral, others will be of interest because of the sort of work they are doing or the sort of business they are modelling. You can find more articles in this series here. If you would like to see your project featured click here to find out more

In our second article we're looking at the work of Barnabas Community Projects which is a charity started by Barnabas Community Church. We caught up with Karen who is the project leader for their foodbank and is a director of Barnabas Community Projects.

BCC = Barnabas Community Church
BCP = Barnabas Community Projects


We started off with a simple question - what has been the most influential book you've read (outside of the Bible)?

When the game is over it all goes back in the box by John Ortberg

What is your vision?
To see transformation in our community

Why do you feel this is something which Christians / the church should be involved with? 
Yes; obviously Christians should be involved with community transformation. That’s a no brainer!

Was there a moment you knew that you should set up this project, if so when?  
Yes; In summer 2008 I was at Oasis Academy Bristol (now Oasis Academy John Williams) with my late husband thanking probationers for painting the school building. On the way home our kids asked why they couldn’t look at us and kept looking down. We explained it was because they felt shame, lack of worth etc so in a light bulb moment I realised this is what I could be involved with and started thoughts of developing a programme of this nature. I didn’t think I’d be doing that in Shrewsbury to be honest, but life brought us back to Shropshire after the death of John, my husband, and this is where 360 began to enhance the work of Shrewsbury Foodbank and thus the development of foodbank PLUS, part of BCP.

How many people are volunteers / employees? 
2 part time paid employees, (one 30 hours, one 4 hours) currently 75 volunteers within foodbank PLUS. In excess of 100 within BCP. From a variety of backgrounds, of faith, other faiths and none within foodbank PLUS.

How vital are volunteers to what you do? 
We couldn’t do our work without our volunteers. Using volunteers from a range of backgrounds also means those from outside the church can see ‘church in action.’

Do you plan to employ people in the future? 
No plans to employ further in the short term, but volunteering opportunities arise as projects develop.

Do people you’ve helped work or volunteer with you? 
We offer bespoke pathways for client volunteers plus people who return as volunteers who were previously helped.

Do you have a big team behind the scenes? How many? 
There’s no ‘behind the scenes’ for us. We’re all part of one team.

How do you raise money or support the vision you have? 
The ambition is to be purely funded by our community through standing orders. This then means we really do become a community organisation, of, for, with and part of the community. We are careful which grants we take as some mean you become outcome driven rather than person driven. We also have fundraising events such as a significant Christmas Fair at a local private school, a team run for us in the local half marathon (again a real community event with people participating from the community for and on behalf of
us) and this year a concert. We also have an open door policy for all donors to drop in and see how their donation is being used. This is advantageous because we can be truly transparent, build good local connections and live out the message of honesty in our giving and spending. This in turn means people are more likely to continue supporting us as they feel part of what we’re doing and thus part of their community. We also strategically use social media to tell the story. This is hugely advantageous for our food donations for Shrewsbury Foodbank. Also good for marketing. Also has the added benefit of involving local community in what we do.

Local Church

How are you supported by your local church? Is it direct or indirect?

Despite being a separate charity from Barnabas Community Church (BCC), all the directors of BCP are members of the church and we are strongly linked relationally. We use their buildings on site and we have these rent free and at no cost for utilities. This relationship is much stronger than just financial. BCP is embedded into BCC and so it should be. We work with other local churches for food donations and volunteers. I will often speak at local churches too, building good relationships with other local churches. BCP is the social action of BCC. The two are totally intertwined. 

Do you have your own facilities, or do you share them with another charity or church community? 
We share our facilities with BCC and we have an outlet for Shrewsbury Foodbank @ Hope Church, a church plant in the north of Shrewsbury, with whom we closely relate for other projects too like Family Focus.

How does what you do, fulfill your vision / support those you want to / seek justice?
We have become much more influential in local government and one of our aims is to speak on behalf of our clients, who often have no voice. This might be as individual cases but often in local government departments too on behalf of a cohort of clients. Also, by fostering excellent relationships with bodies such as DWP we can work in partnership rather then opposition and this is a win-win for clients, DWP and us for example. The emphasis here though is building relationships with people so there is trust and mutual respect and so this in turn leads to open dialogue when advocating for clients. The work is increasingly becoming focussed on advocacy and this is more successful with good open relationships. We are regarded now as part of the statutory service offered locally with our voice (and therefore our clients’) part of the local script, but no funding from statutory services gives us a real independence. We work with local media such as newspapers and BBC radio etc to tell the story on behalf of our clients because part of my brief is to tell the truth of what people face and the real stories that are often missed. I also do this through talking to groups of faith, none and other.

We offer a full range of services that meet the needs of our clients within foodbank PLUS in addition to the other projects we currently run within BCP:

Foodbank PLUS
Shrewsbury Foodbank Food and household parcels for those in crisis
Barnabas Money Advice Unconditional debt and money advice
360 Platform for Life All courses offer one to one mentoring, building relationships and confidence and worth
360 Journey to Work 10 week course to help people towards work one to one
360 Cookery 6 week cooking course building confidence one to one
360 Back Garden Basic gardening and woodwork building confidence one to one
360 Walk Gentle walking group building confidence one to one
360 Drop In Breakfast group dealing with practical side of gaining employment, teaching digital skills, advocacy, form filling, budgeting etc

Other BCP projects
Barneytots Large toddler group
Café + Social group for over 60s
Eclipse Child bereavement support through schools and GPs
Shropshire Family Focus Year long mentoring support for families in their home

How can people get involved and help support you? 
If people want to get involved they can give me a call!

No such thing! Just challenges…..

What have been your unexpected hurdles and how did you overcome them? 
I think how we deal with challenge depends on our own story and character. We should always keep perspective. Perspective that life is much deeper and bigger than today and I am just a tiny piece in that. Our lives and the part we play are significant but at the same
time are just a pinprick of eternity. 

The biggest challenge is when as a team you might have supported someone and then a decision is made that is really unhelpful in their life, whether that’s their own decision or another’s. I have to remember that we don’t know the whole story, why that decision was made or the crisis that is unknown that led to that choice. I have been shown unconditional love and so I need to show that too. It’s like when we look at the back of a rug. All the stitching might look complicated and a bit messy but when we turn it around it’s stunning. Let’s look at the front of someone, not just the mess at the back!

How do you keep going during those times of struggle?
In reality…..no joke…..I look at my own headstone and this really does give perspective that life is much bigger than today! There’s a space on John’s (my husband) headstone ready for me! (I am really not joking here). 

Is there a story which kept you going?
There are too many stories to tell! One though is of a young man called Steve who when he started with us was a recovering heroin addict. Through his own grit and good relationships with us and others we have seen him go from that dismal place to getting married, settling down, joining a church, becoming totally clean, start his own business and is also now a team leader for me. Now that’s a privilege that we were able to play a part in his story.

Are you able to share your faith when you share about everything that you are involved in?
I would hope that those of us who have a faith live that out in our everyday. By the way we are it should be clear. We will talk to people about our faith if they ask. We can then have that conversation. We also have to recognise that people have to come to us to receive a service. Through trust and good relationships you can develop natural ways to talk about your own story.

Looking back at where you started this journey, where did you think you’d end up? Is it the same as where you are? If not how are things different?  
I didn’t know where I’d end up with this. I don’t find it helpful having a fixed plan. It’s good to consider and plan rather than just have a fixed view of what something should look like. 

What’s your vision for the future, how do you want grow?  
I want to work more strategically with the Leaving Care team. Our next 360 Cookery course will be with a group of young people from this group. I am hoping it will lead to something much more strategic. That’s in the shorter term and in the longer looking at even more work within our community and beyond as and when appropriate. Being a significant voice to represent our client base.

What advice would you give to inspire others setting up a social enterprise? 
Check out what else is going on. Why repeat something if it’s already happening? What can you do to enhance your community?
Be proactive not reactive. 
Build good relationships!
Run with an idea don’t walk; be excited about it.

How do you relax on your days off?
I love doing things with my three young adult children Noah, Hope and Gabriel, whether that’s sitting in cafes, visiting castles or going on holiday in the mountains. I love reading. I live in a remote place in the hills with no neighbours. I’ve got dogs, sheep, guinea pigs, ducks and chickens that I look after. I am hoping to get a donkey this year and possible an alpaca!