Faith charities volunteer for the front line

By Tim Maby

Faith-based charities have mobilised and joined forces to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic effect on British society. They are reported to make up a quarter of the charity sector in Britain and an online seminar of the Religion Media Centre was told that the lives of young people are a major concern.

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, has called for an army of volunteers  to help vulnerable children because of this pandemic, pointing out that more than 800,000 experienced domestic abuse during the last year. She spoke of “invisible children”. Now, reports to the police of abuse in the home of all kinds have increased threefold in many areas during the lockdown.

Krish Kandiah, chief executive of the Christian charity Home for Good, which helps children in need of care, was contacted by Bristol city council because of the number of carers — 85 out of 300 — in the city who were considered at risk from Covid-19 for health reasons. Most of the kinship child carers, those of family members, were often grandparents with similar health risks. The charity was able to mobilise an extremely effective Bristol church network which quickly recruited 47 applicants to foster, and the government has speeded the engagement process.

Andrew Smith from the Oldham hub of the charity Oasis, which works to promote neighbourhoods,  says his group has responded to the lockdown’s effect on its community development work by starting virtual youth clubs and virtual mentoring schemes online. They are trying any way they can to stay connected to these young people, because even the online teaching they are receiving provides only little personal contact in this crucial time for social development.

He warns that this problem is not going to stop with the end of the lockdown and that these young people will need support for years afterwards to deal with the trauma and the reality of what they are having to live with. Krish Kandiah expects there to be a surge of children needing fostering after schools reopen.

The pandemic has encouraged faith charities to work across community boundaries. The Muslim month of Ramadan has started, making it difficult for participants to carry out the usual tradition of charitable giving.

Dr Maryyum Mehmood from Birmingham University reported that many mosques, closed as are all places of worship, have been turned into food banks, and their communities, especially in the north of England have started food drives and set up neighbourhood campaigns such as shopping for the elderly. Then they are sharing their evening breaking of the fast meals with members of the wider community.

In Oldham, Oasis is finding it needs to do much work helping families new to Britain, and from many faiths, to understand exactly what is happening with Covid-19 restrictions, translating government literature and helping them to find food, cooked or fresh.

The largest Hindu temple in Britain, in Neasden, west London, is also involved in similar translation work of all public announcements. Its volunteers have phoned more than 6,700 families across Britain to check on their welfare and offered help with shopping and other errands to more than 1,500 elderly people. They have taken packed meals daily to 500-plus vulnerable people in London, as well as food and other support to frontline workers in hospitals, the fire service and other emergency workers.

But faith charities have also found it necessary to educate and advise government and local authority staff. Home for Good has been carrying out this “faith literacy training” with local authorities for some time. Krish Kandiah says even social workers are often suspicious of religious people, which is important when preparing fostering or adoption.

He has been doing online Zoom sessions with senior social workers in the Department for Education, staff at the Treasury and the Cabinet Office and even the lead staff from the main adoption agencies across the UK.