Keeping The Faith – a report on faith-council partnerships during the coronavirus pandemic, commissioned by the All-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Faith and Society, was launched on Thursday, 12 November.

Keeping the Faith seeks to provide comprehensive analysis of how local authorities and faith-based groups and organisations have been working in partnership in the light of the ongoing pandemic.

The Faiths and Civil Society Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London, in partnership with the APPG on Faith and Society, in July and August invited all 408 local authorities to respond to a survey which set out to examine the variety and quantity of collaboration between faith-based organisations and local authorities since the pandemic began. The survey was supported by 55 in-depth interviews with local authority leaders and coordinators of faith-based projects across 10 sample local authorities. Nearly half of all local authorities responded to the survey, creating strong data for the report. 

The Keeping the Faith research aims to understand how many new relationships have been formed, as well as changes to existing relationships between local authorities and faith groups, and how those relationships have worked in practice. The report goes on to review the immediate implications of these relationships, and the impact they may have in a post-pandemic Britain. 

Context

The APPG for Faith and Society was established in 2012 to highlight the contribution faith groups and faith-based organisations make to their communities. In 2014, they published their Faith Covenant – a best practice guide for collaboration between faith groups and local authorities, intended to build trust and enable collaboration. Danny Kruger MP recently recommended the Prime Minister use the Faith Covenant as the basis for a new deal between the Government and faith groups to tackle social issues in his report, Levelling Up Our Communities.

In June 2013, the Evangelical Alliance helped Christians in Parliament produce a report Faith in the Community, where we sought to understand how local authorities and faith groups were working together, what they were doing, and what barriers and benefits existed. The aim of this report was to promote closer and more fruitful relationships in the future. 

Over a third (155) of local authorities responded to this survey, and the majority of results were positive, with councils praising the ability of churches and faith groups to reach the most deprived communities, mobilise volunteers and offer their buildings for wider community use. 

The largest barrier to councils considering partnering with faith groups were concerns that they would want to provide services exclusively to people from within the faith group, have conflicting views on equality, or would only be interested in activities that included explicit evangelism. Generally, these concerns were unfounded, and greater communication was recommended as the way to move forward. 

It would seem that the Keeping the Faith report evidences progress in this area since the Evangelical Alliance’s work with Christians in Parliament in 2013.

Results of Keeping the Faith

The pandemic has been a springboard for a rise in relationships between local authorities and faith communities, and for existing relationships to be deepened. The report found that local authorities considered faith groups and faith-based organisations as essential in their civil society response to the pandemic. This was seen in their provision of foodbanks, buildings, information, befriending, cooking and delivering meals, and volunteers for local authority programmes. Once again, local authorities reported their experience of working in partnership with faith groups as overwhelmingly positive”. One council leader said: My personal admiration for faith groups has gone through the roof, just in terms of their commitment.”

Three-quarters of local authorities said they expect their new partnerships with faith groups to continue after the pandemic, although 47 per cent said they would want a changed partnership, with future priorities focused on deeper co-production of goods and services, rooted in named shared values and a shift from authority’ to enabler’.

Key findings:

  • The research has characterised the shifts in partnership between local authorities and faith groups by deepening relationships and a willingness to share resources.
  • These partnerships have been centred on directly meeting emergency need in the areas of food poverty, shielding and self-isolation, and mental health and wellbeing.
  • The ability of faith groups to partner with others is often based on them having existing relationships and networks within communities.
  • APPG Faith and Society expects this type of work to continue but also anticipates increases in other areas of partnership between local authorities in such areas as homelessness, debt counselling, and education” as the aftermath of the pandemic plays out. 
  • There seems to be generally be less anxiety” about working with faith groups. 

Keeping the Faith recommends 

The report recommends that relationships between faith groups and local authorities are sustained and nourished, and that best practice is shared for these partnerships. 

The most radical of the report’s recommendations is for the appointment of a faiths commissioner in the Government to promote and champion faith groups” collaborations with local authorities. 

The hope is that the faith commissioner would encourage the widespread adoption of the APPG Faith and Society’s Faith Covenant and establish a new faiths advisory council for liaison between faith groups and central government, to look at ways faith groups could contribute to improvements in a post-COVID-19 Britain. 

Chair of the APPG for Faith and Society, Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, commented: Since 2012, the APPG has been encouraging collaboration between local councils and faith groups, and working to overcome the mistrust which can sometimes mark their relationships. This report shows that this finally seems to be happening at a significant scale”.

Council leader: my personal admiration for faith groups has gone through the roof, just in terms of their commitment