Bishop Geoff Represents the Diocese at Faith Action Event at the Houses of Parliament

Bishop Geoff Represents the Diocese at Faith Action Event at the Houses of Parliament

Bishop Geoff Annas, Acting Bishop of Southampton, was recently delighted to represent Winchester Diocese at an All Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society held an event celebrating the Faith New Deal Pilot Fund, spotlighting the work of Love Southampton, particularly its work in food distribution during the cost of living crisis.

Many of our churches in the Southampton area are involved in the ecumenical Christian group, Love Southampton, which aims to effect social change in the city through schemes such as food banks, beds for the homeless, debt relief services, and work with refugees.

Using a grant from the Faith New Deal Pilot Fund, Love Southampton has been able to support local food aid and redistribution efforts, as well as conduct a large-scale evaluation of its impact. The results of this analysis were that 1.4 million meals were distributed within the Southampton area in a year. This is equivalent to around £5.8 million of food!

Food poverty has been of increasing concern in recent months, with local food banks making constant appeals for more dry and canned goods. In fact, of the fifteen projects in the Faith New Deal, seven of them focused on food distribution.

Local Government Working with Faith Groups to Make Positive Change

The event hosted by the Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, and one of the speakers at the event was Baroness Scott of Bybrook, Minister of Faith in Parliament. She spoke about how faith groups can solve local issues by working with other organisations, and how working in cooperation can widen the overall impact of a project. Also discussed was the fact that the government hopes to continue forging new relationships with faith-based organisations, something The Faith New Deal pilot programme has already helped to achieve.

Faith groups, working in partnership can play a significant and effective role in supporting community cohesion by solving local problems.

Baroness Scott, Minister for Faith

Bishop Geoff made the following reflection on the event, urging us all to play our part in the political process…

“Some years ago I attended a conference where MPs agreed that the voluntary work provided by Faith Groups to their local Community was a form of ‘social capital’ and enhanced provision from Central Government and Local Authorities. This event showed again just how essential this ‘social capital’ provided by the Faith Community has become after years of austerity. The focus was on work done by Love Southampton and funded by the Faith New Deal Pilot Fund and Southampton was well-represented with others who had also been supported by the fund.  The message was clear.

“With an estimated 1.54 million meals given out across Southampton in the year 2021/22 (a number that is thought to have increased in years since), the importance of collaboration between Faith Groups, Organisations and the Local Authority cannot be denied.  ‘Collaboration’ is the key word and brings together an ‘army of volunteers’ who are committed and passionate to see positive social change in their community.

“What became clear to me listening to the discussion is that the weakest link in all that is happening is Central Government which has effectively depleted so much of the money available to local authorities. There was a plea that whichever Government is in power after the Election, future social policy should take notice of the valuable experience of groups like Love Southampton who really know what it is like for families to be facing food poverty as well as the other major challenge of  homelessness.

“I would suggest that as Christians we will not only have a duty to vote in the Election but also to give a voice to the voiceless by asking prospective Candidates how they would work to tackle these major issues.  Hearing how Faith Groups are providing food for the table certainly has given me food for thought!”

Bishop Geoff