Conference on the Cost of Living Equips Parishes and Schools to Support People in Difficulty


On Saturday 12th November, 56 people from 38 parishes and schools across London and Hertfordshire came together to learn more about how they can support their communities in the current Cost of Living Crisis.

The conference was organised by Caritas Westminster alongside Advice for Renters as part of our response to the financial difficulties that are hitting many people in the Diocese at this time.

Sr Silvana Dallanegra, Financial Resilience Lead for Caritas Westminster, was one of the main organisers, with Pat Fernandes from Advice 4 Renters Money. She says:

“Our aim wasn’t to tell people how grim things are – they know that already. Our aim was to equip and strengthen them with knowledge and resources around the solutions that are out there, and the organisations that can help. We also wanted to give them more confidence around how to have conversations with people who might be struggling, and how to support them in accessing the help and advice they need. And we also hoped everyone would get the chance to network, and begin learning from each other – which, judging by the buzz during group discussions and breaks, certainly happened!”

Attendees were able to attend a variety of workshops to learn more about debt, loan sharks, credit unions, saving energy and other solutions, in order to better support people in their communities. They were also told about Firm Foundations, a bespoke training programme for Money Champions, which Caritas Westminster are planning to run again in 2023. Many of those who came are already helping people as members of the SVP, and through provision of food, distribution of supermarket vouchers or other social outreach projects. Everyone said how informative, useful and eye-opening all the sessions had been. 

Nicholas O’Donnell from Knebworth SVP said:

This was my first time at this type of event, and I loved the whole day. I have made some useful contacts and learned so many things which will help me in my work. I also benefitted from having Bishop Paul share some of his experience.

Anne Lamont, from West Green parish told us that the day contained:

An excellent range of information, plus the opportunity to network and share ideas – I only wish we could have had longer! I felt we were given practical ideas for action, and for living out Catholic Social Teaching. I’m taking all these ideas back to my parish’s Live Simply group, so that we can consider what practical support and advice we can offer to parishioners in need.

Meanwhile, Gabriel Essien-Oku from Archway parish said that the conference had helped him

To understand how best to approach situations where people might be in debt. Most importantly, I learned that I should be a form of support and guidance rather than an advice-giver, which could potentially worsen their situation. i now hope I can apply what I have learned and use it effectively.

Workshops were delivered by experts from Advice for Renters Money, Green Doctors, Illegal Money Lending Team, Community Money Advice, London Capital Credit Union and Acts 435, and attendees also had a chance to meet each other and share ideas. Caritas Westminster would also like to thank Andrew O’Neill and his staff at the conference venue: All Saints Catholic College in Ladbroke Grove. 

Bishop Paul McAleenan, Chair of Caritas Westminster, was present throughout the day. Summing up at the end he commented on how he had been struck that the emphasis throughout – in the presentations and the discussions – was less on the issue or problem, and much more on the person at the heart of the matter. This, he felt, was a clear emphasis on each one’s God-given dignity and worth.

The conference took place on the eve of the World Day of the Poor – a day for to renewing commitment to solidarity with those in our community who are struggling or marginalised. This can be hard when we are all beginning to feel the pinch, but the Pope, in his message for World Day of the Poor 2022 says “This is the moment for us not to lose heart but to renew our initial motivation. The work we have begun needs to be brought to completion with the same sense of responsibility.”

The conference on Saturday aimed to enable volunteers in social outreach projects to go beyond providing emergency support, to walking alongside people as they find ways to solve problems and reach their potential.

As the Pope also said in his message: “Where the poor are concerned, it is not talk that matters; what matters is rolling up our sleeves and putting our faith into practice through a direct involvement, one that cannot be delegated.”

  • Sr Silvana Dallanegra and Pat Fernandes, organisers of the conference.
  • Sr Silvana Dallanegra and Pat Fernandes, organisers of the conference.
  • Pat Fernandes (Advice for Renters) with Elroy and Laura from White City Parish, where a Community Hub has already been set up to promote social and economic inclusion
  • Pat Fernandes (Advice for Renters) with Elroy and Laura from White City Parish, where a Community Hub has already been set up to promote social and economic inclusion

Download the booklet that was given out at the conference – and contains information about all the organisations which attended.



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