Bishop Christine highlights Benwell in Lords debate


The Bishop of Newcastle, the Right Reverend Christine Hardman, has highlighted the plight of one of the most deprived areas in the North East during a House of Lords debate.

Speaking this afternoon, the Bishop – who has sat in the House of Lords since 2015 – raised the issues of deprivation and child poverty in Benwell in the city’s west end, in reference to a debate about promoting volunteering.

Focusing on the positive community work that goes on in places like Benwell, the Bishop celebrated the volunteers who give up their time to make a difference to their local area.

She said: “Let me tell you about Benwell which lies to the west of Newcastle city centre. It’s one of the most deprived areas in the country with 37 per cent of children living in poverty.

“It is home to one of the largest foodbanks in the UK, which featured in the Ken Loach film, ‘I Daniel Blake’ in 2016.  In his film, Loach deliberately used the real life food bank volunteers as extras and Kathy, committed volunteer and a Reader in her church, featured in the film.

“Kathy volunteers at the food bank because she knows what it is to be hungry. She volunteers at the Citizens Advice Bureau because she knows how complicated the benefit system is. She volunteers as a helper in the local school because school was one of the few sources of hope in her own difficult childhood.

“And Kathy is not a one-off. Just down the road from the foodbank, at St James’ Church, Pat, Anne, and Elsie, have all been awarded MBEs for volunteering in their local community. And Benwell is not a one off.”

The Bishop drew attention to a Church Urban Fund report which reveals that churches in the most deprived areas of the country are the most active in their communities, organising activities such as night shelters, debt advice and lunch clubs.

She added: “Kathy, Pat, Anne and Elsie and many, many others like them make the most extraordinary impact in the communities they serve. But something else beyond that happens too. Volunteers themselves have their lives transformed, growing in confidence and a sense of self-worth. The asylum seekers who volunteer in the food bank are not allowed to work for money but can know the dignity of making a difference in the community.”  

She also told the Lords of the ‘My Angel of the North’ campaign recently launched by Newcastle Diocese which recognises the unsung heroes in the communities within the diocese and honours the work they do.

The Bishop asked the Government to explain what it is going to do to honour and resource volunteers, particularly in the most deprived areas of the country.

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