‘Christians are highly motivated to make a difference in their communities, stepping forward in response to need and to fulfil the divine injunction to love our neighbours as ourself.’
So writes Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield, Bishop of Swindon, in his introduction to a report prepared by the Churches’ Council for Industry and Responsibility on behalf of Swindon Churches Together, and formally launched on 16 January 2012.
Entitled Swindon Churches Audit, 2011: A Survey of the Churches’ Contribution to Community Life in Swindon, this 39-page document is available on request as a PDF file by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The data mainly derive from a questionnaire completed by 49 (or 57%) of the 83 churches and four church organizations in Swindon, from which statistics were extrapolated to borough level. Some interviews were also conducted.
Average weekly attendance at all services was estimated as 8,300 or 4.2% of the population. 37% of these congregants were over 65. However, including worship, approximately 16,000 individuals attended 670 church-run activities each week.
Swindon churches supported 325 and ran 280 community projects or community-focused activities. On average, each church supported or ran six such activities. 360 community groups also used Christian places of worship for their work or programmes on a regular basis.
4,780 people were believed to be involved in church-based volunteering (930 in a management capacity and 3,850 in other roles), while 3,000 church members and attenders routinely participated in voluntary work outside the church. The total volunteer hours which they offered each year was calculated as 610,000, representing a value of £6 million to the local economy were this effort to be costed realistically.
The Swindon findings are broadly consistent with other local audits of religion as social capital, for example the more multifaith surveys carried out by universities in Oxfordshire and Plymouth in 2010 and already featured by BRIN at:
These and similar studies play into the Government agenda for social action, which positions faith at the heart of community engagement. This policy has recently manifested itself in the announcement by Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary, on 13 January that throughout 2012 faith bodies will lead a series of volunteering days, encouraging communities to come together to help improve their local neighbourhoods.