On Wed 30 November, representatives from faith communities met with Southampton City Council to sign a new ‘All Parliamentary Group on Faith Society’s (APPG)’ ‘Faith Covenant’, affirming their commitment to working with local authorities constructively and effectively as a key part of civil society.
The covenant was first signed five years ago, on 2 July 2017, but, post-pandemic, faith communities in cities including Birmingham and now Southampton have met to re-sign the covenant, to re-commit their support and have their ongoing contribution to service provision officially recognised. The timing of the re-signing has also been in response to the cost of living crisis, with City Councils increasingly recognising the greater demands on public health, social care, education, employment support and community inclusion, which faith groups are well placed to help address.
In Southampton, faith groups been responsible for spearheading a successful fostering campaign, repurposing several youth centres and community centres, running winter shelter for people sleeping rough, leading food distribution across the city throughout the pandemic (including feeding and housing those who were sleeping rough in B&Bs), as well as running a chaplaincy network across hospitals, football clubs, schools, theatres and to older people.
“The APPG on Faith and Society is convinced that faith groups have a great deal to offer as providers and advocates for the communities in which they serve, and that some of their potential is being unnecessarily overlooked at present. To help tackle the problem, the national group has drafted a Covenant which can be adopted by faith groups and local authorities in cities across the UK. We were delighted to recommit ourselves to the Faith Covenant today,” said Chair of the Southampton Council of Faiths, David Vane.
The Bishop of Southampton, the Rt Revd Debbie Sellin, gave an address linking the evening’s events with the current Christian season of Advent and encouraging fellow faith leaders “to be courageous in reaching into the darkness, so that every time a family is given food, a light shines. Every time a family has shoes to wear, a light shines. Together these collective acts of kindness are creating a sea of lights in the darkness.”
She also praised faith communities, saying “There has been genuine partnership at the heart of the work in Southampton, particularly during the pandemic, when people in Southampton from across different backgrounds have worked incredibly well together to bring hope to others and work for the common good of the city.”
Leader of the Council, Councillor Kaur, commented,
“Since signing the covenant, places of worship, religious organisations and people of faith across the city have provided support to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the city in many ways. This has been achieved in several contexts, often through discreet support, provided by individuals without seeking plaudits or attention for the work undertaken in the community. Other activity has taken place city wide, with places of worship providing systems leadership, pulling together to tackle homelessness, community safety, issues of loneliness and wellbeing, as well as building a local food aid system.”