On the 21st February 2018 Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top led a short debate on the questionto ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to promote the importance of volunteering”. The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, spoke in the debate.
The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, let me tell your Lordships about Benwell in the west end of Newcastle. It is one of the most deprived areas in the country, with 37% of children living in poverty. It is home to one of the largest food banks in the UK, which featured in the Ken Loach film, “I, Daniel Blake”.
In his film, Loach deliberately used the real-life food bank volunteers as extras. Kathy, committed volunteer and a reader in her church, featured in the film. Kathy volunteers at the food bank because she knows what it is like to be hungry. She volunteers at the citizens advice bureau because she knows how complicated the benefits system is. She volunteers in the local school because school was one of the few sources of hope in her own difficult childhood.
Kathy is not a one-off. Just down the road from the food bank, at St James Church, Pat, Anne and Elsie have all been awarded MBEs for volunteering in their local community. Benwell is not a one-off. The Church Urban Fund Church in Action survey shows that it is churches in the most deprived areas of our country that are the most active in contributing to social action in the community. Kathy, Pat, Anne and Elsie and many, many others like them make the most extraordinary impact in the communities they serve. But something else beyond that happens, too: volunteers themselves have their lives transformed, growing in confidence and a sense of self-worth. The asylum seekers who volunteer at the food bank are not allowed to work for money but they do know the dignity of making a difference in the community.
This month, the north-east is celebrating the 20th birthday of the “Angel of the North”. To mark this, Newcastle diocese has launched a My Angel of the North campaign, asking for nominations to recognise and honour the unsung heroes in our communities. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us that the Government will do all they can to honour and resource our volunteers, especially those in our most deprived communities.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Ashton of Hyde) (Con) [extract]: …The right reverend Prelate talked about supporting disadvantaged communities, and I can reassure her that we think that is important. For example, the community organisers programme is kick-starting a grass-roots movement for change in England’s most deprived neighbourhoods. In this Parliament, Her Majesty’s Government have invested £4.2 million in expanding the number of organisers to 10,000. …