Within weeks of the start of lockdown, the Caritas Westminster team was hearing stories of individuals and families whose financial circumstances had been affected by COVID-19, whether through job loss, furlough, the need to self-isolate, or complex situations made worse by the crisis. Many were struggling to cover their living costs and turned to their parishes and schools for support. Caritas Westminster’s immediate response was the creation of the Caritas Emergency Food Voucher Scheme, which is currently supporting 72 parishes and schools with supermarket vouchers.
Caritas Westminster also identified a need to provide training for parish staff and volunteers who are responding to the complex, and sometimes desperate, financial situations of individuals and families. In addition to meeting peoples’ immediate needs, trained volunteers can also help individuals to avoid economic insecurity in the future.
In order to begin the training straight away, Caritas Westminster built upon its existing partnership with a project led by Pat Fernandes, the Caritas Representative at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Kilburn. In 2015, Pat established a parish credit union with a small team of volunteers, as well as a money management drop-in service to support parishioners and the local community. The project was set up as a collaboration between local groups and in January 2019, it became It’s All About Money, an Advice4Renters project managed by Pat. The project recently received a grant from Caritas Westminster, enabling it to evolve into In The Community 4 The Community, aimed specifically at supporting faith and community groups in a wider area, with a focus on building financial capability and resilience.
Speaking about the mission of In The Community 4 The Community, Pat Fernandes said:
‘The new project was created to help faith communities to deal with the causes of financial difficulty rather than just the consequences, and maximise their resources, capacity and access to build financially resilient communities.’
In The Community 4 The Community has adapted its operations during the COVID-19 pandemic by moving all meetings and training sessions online. Since Easter, Pat has created two COVID-19 training webinars for parish staff and volunteers: ‘Helping those in income shock’ and ‘Helping those in financial crisis’. The webinars have already been delivered to 80 parish staff, volunteers, SVP members and school staff in the Diocese of Westminster. Volunteers at parishes that are receiving Caritas supermarket vouchers have also been encouraged to attend, augmenting the support they can provide to local families who are struggling. The webinars also give representatives from different organisations the opportunity to create supportive networks, in which they can learn from each other and work together for the benefit of the communities they serve.
Brendan Timlin, diocesan SVP President, reiterated this point:
‘I appreciate the efforts Caritas is making to collaborate with other charities, particularly with the SVP, that are providing assistance for those in need in Westminster. The webinars provide very helpful information and useful contacts.’
Reflecting on the partnership between Caritas Westminster and In The Community 4 The Community, Pat Fernandes said:
‘I feel very blessed and privileged that what I do as a volunteer for my church can be replicated across the Diocese of Westminster professionally, thanks to funding from Caritas Westminster.
‘The only certain thing about the “new normal” is that it will be one of economic and financial insecurity. The COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating effect on virtually every corner of the economy. The charity sector is no exception, and this is why I believe faith and community groups and projects need to play a vital role in reaching those most vulnerable in financial crisis, and helping to build resilient families and communities over the next few years. Marginalised communities need to be at the heart of the post-COVID response.’
To find out more about future training webinars from In The Community 4 The Community, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can support the work of Caritas Westminster at bit.ly/caritasdonations.
If your parish or school needs support to help those in your community, please contact email@example.com.