The Methodist Church in Cornwall’s fight against poverty

17 October 2023

As part of Challenge Poverty Week 2023, we are highlighting initiatives undertaken by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Methodist District to support their community, where Methodist churches and their partners are working tirelessly to aid those most in need during these times of financial uncertainty.

Cornwall is often known for its stunning coastline, warm summers and is considered to be a popular destination for holidays and second homes. However, it is important to note that there are many  areas of overlooked poverty in the county. In addition to the high cost of renting and buying property, the cost-of-living crisis has had a devastating impact on the local population, increasing the disparity between those who have and those who have not.

Aware of the problem, the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Methodist District has been investing in people and initiatives, starting with the appointment of Helen Pearce as Social Justice Officer in January 2023. Her role is to support churches and promote their work around social justice, “Whether giving them ideas of how to make their work more missional, helping them to support people, widening and broadening their response to what is really happening, and providing expertise, support and help for the people who are running initiatives.”

One initiative led by Helen is the Social Justice Ambassadors programme that started in October. The ambassadors provide information about food and fuel poverty and support good mental health in local communities. A great example is the Launceston Hub, headed by Val and Michael Carpenter, in the Methodist Central Church there. They assist the Love Your Neighbour (LYN) network in ensuring the needs of the most vulnerable are met through local neighbourly activity, connections and support, and prevent food from being wasted with their community larder.

Truro Methodist Church, in the centre of the city, has a gospel table. “We took the story of the banquet where Jesus says there's always room for more. We have this vision that God gave us a gospel table where we were always trying to welcome people,” explains Revd Mark Dunn-Wilson, minister of the Truro Circuit. For them, it meant literally building a giant picnic table in the car park on which every Sunday morning food that would be thrown away by supermarkets is laid down for people to take home.

Truro Methodist Church has a community café in the entrance hall that is open every morning. People can enjoy a hot beverage and a piece of cake and pay what they can afford or, alternatively, use a voucher provided by the church. Due to its location, the café has to shut down whenever the sanctuary is in use. To overcome this, the church is planning to construct an extension, part of a Community Hub, that would allow them to have a community café without any restrictions. This project is much needed, but unfortunately, it is on hold until enough funding is secured to start the building work. With costs skyrocketing, the church is struggling to collect the necessary funds.

As superintendent of the Lizard and Mount’s Bay Circuit for the past 14 years, Revd Danny Reed championed outreach for the churches in his circuit, focusing particularly on mental health and helping those who had fallen onto hard times. “There is a shortage of housing in Cornwall, and we're really struggling to find homes for homeless people. Because of the financial crisis, the number of people who are experiencing eviction or poverty is a huge issue for us. Our churches are taking that seriously,” explains Danny.

Twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, Central Methodist Church in Helston hosts meals for those in need, the number of which has soared over the past couple of years. Remembering a family who lived for about five weeks in their car, Danny says, “We do our utmost to help people with their electric bills or when they do not have enough food. There's always emergency food here, a washing machine, a tumble dryer and a shower. The vestry on the lower floor is going to be transformed into a clothes bank. People from the area, or those travelling, can come here and use our facilities.”

The Lizard and Mount’s Bay Circuit’s dedication did not go unnoticed by the locals and 97 new people have joined the church over the past few years. Danny adds, “Not every church has a washing machine or spare food available, but it’s something we want to encourage. In line with the Walking With Micah project, I would like to see every one of our churches having a fridge and meals or food available midweek, a coffee morning and advertising that there's food available for people in need.” To that end, Central Methodist Church in Helston has put in a bid to have Citizens Advice attend once a week. The room and storage are ready in the hope of a positive outcome.

Many young people in Cornwall are leaving in search of better opportunities elsewhere in the UK due to high housing prices, unemployment and poverty. Those who remain, require assistance and care. To address this, the Lizard and Mount's Bay Circuit has been investing in youth programs such as toddler groups and various activities for children and young adults.

The Lizard and Mount's Bay Circuit consists of 13 churches, mostly in rural areas. Though they may be small, each one is eager to contribute in any way they can. For instance, even the smallest chapel in the circuit has started serving breakfast for children. While the first breakfast had only a couple of people attend, the chapel's latest breakfast hosted 14 children. Every community has its own needs, and many local churches are equipped to provide for them.

The small Bugle Methodist Chapel in St Austell Methodist Circuit has been hosting a youth club for years in their nearby hall – currently being refurbished. More than thirty children, from toddlers to teenagers, enjoy the club and the guidance of the youth workers. “We live minutes away from wonderful scenery and yet we live in one of the most deprived parts of Cornwall.  It’s not something to be proud of, but something we are aware of. The team’s work in engaging with those young people and setting them out in life on a path of aspiration and achievement, is deeply inspiring,” says Revd Iris Bray from Bugle Methodist Chapel.