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Hope into Action: A Church Volunteer’s Perspective

Some Context

In today’s blog, we thought it would be good to give you some insight into how churches view their involvement with Hope into Action. Perhaps you are looking to connect your church with us, or you are wondering why it’s even necessary to partner with another organisation. Or maybe you are just curious about why Hope into Action partners with the local church at all. Below is an honest and heartfelt commentary from some church volunteers in Norwich. We hope this brings you the insight you are looking for.

What do Hope into Action do?

The principles behind Hope into Action are so simple, you wonder why nobody thought of them before: enable the church to be actively involved in housing people who are homeless. This can mean rough sleepers, long-term sofa surfers or ex-offenders who have been inside and now need a safe place to call home. HiA handles all the ‘difficult bits’ in this equation, like helping find and kit out suitable houses, liaising with the local authority on housing benefits, sorting out utilities etc. What makes it such a brilliant project is that HiA also works with tenants on the tricky issues in their lives, challenging them when they step over the line, while leaving the church to do what it does best: forming and building relationships and helping to ‘make a house a home’. We get to journey with the tenants through, and sometimes beyond, this phase of their lives and, of course, behind-the-scenes prayer to cover this work.

It’s not just the Tenants who benefit

Here at St Stephen’s we were quite slow to ‘get’ the huge benefit that HiA would be for us as well as for our tenants. It took a number of visits from Kate, Norfolk HiA co-ordinator, and members of her team as well as from Ed Walker, founder and director of HiA before we took the big step.

If possible, HiA like the houses to be within a mile of the church, and ideally – in the case of Anglican churches – within their parish. This is not always possible and it wasn’t with us, so we ended up buying a house about two miles from St Stephen’s.

 

The Adventure Begins…

Getting the house ready was the fun part. The church was brilliant – they came up with all sorts of gifts of furniture and other goods which we wanted to be of good quality but not necessarily brand spanking new.

HiA ‘short-listed’ potential tenants, and then two of us from St Stephen’s, together with Dani who is our HiA empowerment worker, interviewed them individually. We accepted three as tenants. Shortly after that Dani showed them each the house, and in the week before Easter 2017, they moved in. Before this we did a last clean-up, made up the beds, hung some curtains and did a big shop of essential food and cleaning materials.

Several of us were there to greet them, armed of course with cake, and eventually we left them to settle in and find their feet. These are the kinds of things that are expected of the Church volunteer group. This is what it means to make the house a home.

Building Friendship, Providing Support

We were extremely blessed at having three couples in our church – two young and one not quite so young – to be the links between tenants and church. They undertook to be in touch with their tenant every week, and this has worked well.

“I never like the notion – or the word – ‘befriend’; it has a slightly ‘lady bountiful’ feel to it as if we are the senior partners in an unequal relationship”  says one of our Friendship and Support Group members.  None of our team has felt, or behaved, like this. They have found areas of mutual interest such as music or growing things and have developed those. “Of course our tenants have issues – they wouldn’t be there if they hadn’t – but they are quite definitely not our ‘project’.”

“We have all gained a lot by getting to know them; it’s been fun, interesting, challenging and at times a mirror on our own areas of weakness.” When needed we’ve sought to be good listeners, knowing that we all need people to listen to us, and we’ve had opportunities to introduce them to others who – through their particular areas of expertise – may be able to help them along the way.

It isn’t always easy…

It would be wrong to suggest we haven’t had our problems. Two of our original tenants really didn’t hit it off. HiA were superb throughout this very stressful time and it came good eventually. I think one lesson we learnt was to listen to those initial doubts we had.

 

It’s your turn now…

I would urge churches to seriously consider working with HiA. It is a ministry which reaches people who are down on their luck and gives them a real opportunity to get their lives back on track. Of course it requires cooperation on their part – otherwise we would just be hands-off landlords rather than members of a partnership offering ‘hope and a future’ where it is truly needed.

The HiA team are great to work with – professional, committed, accessible, but they also have the light touch and they know what is serious and what is not.

I sometimes think that they, together with our tenants – baggage and all – are just the sort of people Jesus would enjoy hanging out with

 

If you are interested in getting involved or finding out more click here for more details at our website.