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31 January 2012

Cameron honours Church Army Evangelist’s contribution to 'Big Society'

Cameron honours Church Army Evangelist’s contribution to 'Big Society'

by Asha Kurien

Prime Minister David Cameron praised the social impact that Church Army evangelist Jeff Hill has had on the Oxfordshire community through the numerous projects he has established in the area.

Jeff, who has been a key figure in the launch of the Street Pastors initiative, has also set up numerous other outreach programmes since he moved to Witney in 2009. Among these are a junior church at St Mary's Church which ministers to more than 60 children a week, a late night café that caters to 150 young people, a joint holiday club with St Mary's Cogges - which is being further developed into a wider ecumenical holiday club for summer 2012 - and a regular men's curry night. He has also launched Messy Churches at St Mary's Witney and Deer Park School, established a regular pattern of assemblies in the 11 local primary schools and started Xcite, Scripture Union's project for eight to 11-year-olds on a Saturday evening.

The staff at the late night café that runs on Saturday nights from 11pm-4am do not merely serve food and hot drinks but also provide a listening ear to the people, give out flip flops and make sure people get home safely. Upon learning about this initiative, Mr Cameron said: "It's great, because you've found a model that works which is meeting a need. The state is not always very good at the personal, the emotional, the niche, and this is where I think the Big Society absolutely comes in, because you've got the creativity in people coming up with ideas like this."

During his visit to the Witney constituency on Friday, 20 January, Mr Cameron met Jeff, the rector of Witney, Toby Wright, Church Army's director of mission support, Neil Biles and volunteers Guy Plowman and Dominic Baker at St Mary's Church. Besides talking about the Church Army's work in Witney, the group also conversed about how they could work in partnership with churches to empower the Big Society, which is well known as the prime minister's "great passion". Mr Cameron said the government is seeking to encourage community organisers in building projects that are self- sustaining, enabling them to move on to set up new projects.

Reflecting on the contribution that Christians can make towards the Big Society, Jeff says: "As Christians we have an important role to play in building up communities and meeting people's needs. From my own experience I have found that a lot of Christians want to reach out beyond the church but need mechanisms to enable them to do so. I hope that the Church can increasingly act as a resource in building the Big Society and restoring broken lives."