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03 March 2014

Hull: Out of the shadows

Hull: Out of the shadows

Once named one of the worst places to live in the UK, Hull is on the up. The Church in Hull is making an impact in communities and local leaders believe that the City of Culture 2017 award is just the beginning. Is Hull truly emerging from the shadows? 

Lucy Cooper talks to some of the leaders in the city…

A hard reputation has been hard to find for the city of Hull. Dubbed by former residents of the city as a "a sad story of unemployment,teenage pregnancy, and rampant self neglect",you might think it an unlikely candidate to win the UK City of Culture.

"But that is what it has done, seeing off competition from Dundee, Leicester and Swansea Bay to win the UK City of Culture 2017."

The city is the 10th most deprived of the 326 local authority areas in England, according to the government study Indices of Multiple Deprivation 2010. 

The Economist argued that, due to deprivation, trying to revive places like Hull, Middlesbrough and Wolverhampton with public money was foolish, instead suggesting inhabitants find jobs and houses in more successful cities. 

The Church sees a very different, hopeful, picture and the City of Culture judges clearly agree. The panel concluded that Hull had put forward the most compelling case of a city "coming out of the shadows".  Widespread and creative engagement with the community is reminding locals of Hull's cultural past and future potential.

Rob Pritchard, who runs Longhill Link-UpTrust which works to improve people's lives in the community, said: "People say Hull is rubbish. This is nearly always from those who have never been to this beautiful city of mine.

"It is a hidden gem. Yes, we have our problems but we have a vibrant community sector with volunteers and organisations making a difference."

A 2013 survey revealed that Christians in Hull are making a major impact. Social and Economic Action Resource of Churches (SEARCH) published encouraging statistics to coincide with a city-wide initiative called 'Believe in Hull'.

It found 68 churches and Christian organisations running 286 practical projects, using around 1,800 volunteers and supporting approximately 10,000 people each week.

In October 2013, 'Believe in Hull' saw churches from across the city, and from all denominations, come together to demonstrate and share God's love.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu said: "Hull is a wonderful city, full of energy and life. God believes in Hull, and the people of God 'Believe in Hull' – do you?"

The Bishop of Hull Rev Richard Frith added: "We are called by God to love our neighbours as ourselves, and the survey shows how that is being worked out in practice."

'Believe in Hull' sparked a fresh wave of unity among churches, and leaders now meet to pray each week.

Hull Churches Home from Hospital (HCHFH) supports older people in their homes as they leave hospital. Mervyn Cross, the mission apprentice at HCHFH, said: "We assist people, through convalescence, to continue to live confidently and independently. Trained volunteers give personal support and we link people into local connections, activities and lunch clubs."

Longhill Link-Up Trust, set up by St Michael All Angels Church, is a bustling community centre running numerous practical projects. Now it provides expelled children and potential NEETs (not in education, employment or training) with support, after school clubs and mentoring.  The centre is also home to a job club, adult education classes, debt advice, a community café, a lunch club for pensioners, cooking on a budget classes and a youth project.

"To avoid a dependency culture that a foodbank might create, we encourage people to grow food and bulk-buy in a group. We give people advice and help with job interviews," added Rob.

A new mission apprentice two-year scheme began in spring of 2013 funded by Church of England Commissioners. Andy Dorton, social responsibility officer for the Church of England, explains the model: "We have taken five local converts as mission apprentices. They work with the church connected organisations through which they came to faith. They meet and learn together, share their faith in their contexts and encourage others in practical mission and discipleship."

The five represented organisations are Hull Churches Home from Hospital service, St Michael's Orchard Park Youth Project, The Ark, Longhill Link-Up Trust and Hull Youth for Christ.

"Those who have come to faith through these various expressions of the body of Christ are the best people to carry the good news to those people who come from the same circumstances that they do."

"In this financially poor place, mission can be difficult but this long-term action across the city – the practical outworking of the gospel – is really effective," said Andy.

Hull Street Angels Trinity has charitable status and focuses on welcoming people to Hull and making it a safer and more enjoyable place to be. Working in partnership with the council, police, the NHS, and nightlife businesses, volunteers from all backgrounds patrol the Trinity quarter in high-visibility jackets, offering practical help and assistance.

Karen Thompson, co-ordinator of Hull Street Angels Trinity, said: "We have a calming presence, helping people find their way home as they leave bars and clubs intoxicated. We are trained in first aid, assess them and want to stop too many heading to A&E if they don't need to.

"Hull has changed dramatically from a few years ago. The atmosphere is changing, becoming more family friendly. There is now greater awareness, and there has been a reduction in crime and anti-social behaviour. We were awarded a purple flag for being an enjoyable place to visit. People wouldn't come to Hull before. Now they do."

Neal Barnes, vicar of Holy Trinity church, said: "After repeated knock-backs over the years, the City of Culture announcement heralded a red-letter day for our city. There is a huge amount of grass-roots cultural activity going on and we are already starting to see Hull's potential being realised. We don't have to wait until 2017 to see fruit.

"The concept of 'coming out of the shadows' feels relevant and in line with our mission to the city – emerging from the shadow of poor perception.

"Cultural activities spring from God's creativity and the fact that we are, by nature, creative and made in the image of God. The Church can bring spiritual meaning to cultural activities. I pray that Hull will come out of the shadows in a spiritual sense too.

"Into the city of culture, we want to bring Jesus, who gives meaning to all life and brings hope and healing."

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