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Many churches are used, if they are lucky, for a couple of days a week for various services, and others maybe once a week. The church in my village in Norfolk is used once a month; otherwise, it remains locked. Maybe there is a difference in rural areas, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. Examples of the successes that we have heard of this evening are all about urban churches; so there is probably a difference due to the size of the communities involved. It may be easier to do it in urban areas than in small rural parishes. But there is scope there too, no doubt.

There are many other more everyday co-uses for church buildings, such as cafes, cyber-cafes, shops and farmers' markets; they can also be used for cultural activities, such as exhibitions, drama performances, lectures, rehearsals and concerts; or for community

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services such as mother and toddler groups, playgroups and drop-ins for youth groups or elderly people, to name but a few. Some churches may not like the idea of having a commercial activity under their roof, but there are many non-commercial activities to think about. At a time when our essential public buildings and services are being scaled down or closed altogether, we are fast losing these vital spaces and opportunities for our daily activities, or to just come together to meet and talk. Co-locating key public services on the same premises offers benefits to service users in terms of lower journey times to get to a service that they require, and to providers, in that they would benefit from reduced overhead costs, such as the duplication of rent and building maintenance.

Often churches are on large, central plots of land, which can be used and developed to provide vital community activities. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, has developed a garden centre on excess church land. Many churches support that idea, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester said. In 2004, the Church of England published a Green Paper on its ideas for facilitating such a development, and in March 2009 the Government outlined a blueprint to help churches and local authorities work closer together to deliver a greater range of community services. What progress has been made since then? Maybe this question would be better directed at the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, but can the Minister say of the 16,000 Church of England churches, how many have started offering public services and what measures have been taken to engage other denominations and faiths so that they can open up their places of worship to local communities? What is being done to ensure that church and public alike are properly informed and supported about these possibilities?

Sadly, we now live more and more in a secular society. The church used to be one of the hubs of the community, a vital component in community cohesion. The church today is continually looking for ways to engage with its communities. Surely this would be an excellent way to achieve that and one way to bring the church back to the centre of community life. This might ruffle the feathers of the right reverend Prelate but all too often, especially in the rural areas that I see, the church is rather distinct from the communities. That is sad.

The best if not the only way of achieving the required results is probably at a grass-roots level. At my church in Norfolk, for example, there would need to be discussions between the parish council, the parish priest and maybe the local school. As chairman of our parish, I have heard nothing of the Government's plans to help churches and local authorities work together. Maybe I missed it. Have the Minister's plans filtered down to parish levels and, if not, should he not ensure that this happens?

As for the church, the local vicar is in a difficult position. Presumably he would need to ask permission from his superiors for other approved activities to take place in his church. In the same vein, if the bishops think it would be a good idea, as I believe they do, and a good way of bringing communities together in the

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church and utilising the church facilities, should they not ensure that this policy filters down to parish-priest level? It may well do. I am looking now at the right reverend Prelate. What better way is there to get the church back into the centre of the community?

Some churches and cathedrals already provide venues for many other uses, as we have heard. Yet the percentage is too small. The portfolio of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, is testament to the potential success of this programme. We on these Benches support any proposal aimed at developing communities and bringing people closer together. The co-location of public services in underused church buildings is a great idea if properly thought out and supported. I hope the Government will support it.

7.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for introducing this debate on public services and church buildings. As others have done, I acknowledge the work he has done at the Bromley by Bow Centre and the innovative projects in which he has been involved, some of which he outlined this evening. I also recognise the expertise that has been available to us in this short debate. I understand that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester goes back 25 years with Canvey Island.

The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, outlined some difficulties particularly with larger regeneration projects, with a slightly ambitious proposition that we should somehow redefine the role of politicians in all this. I accept that politicians should have a more practical engagement at local community level. The noble Lord said we should look closely at opportunities that might be going amiss. Perhaps we can find time outside this debate for a discussion of this, as I am interested in feeding that back to colleagues.

I begin by referring to an earlier debate on a similar theme. In October 2008, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford introduced a debate entitled Welfare: Churches and Faith Communities by asking Her Majesty's Government,

In his opening remarks he stated an important principle:

Let me put this another way. At the heart of every tradition of belief is an integrity that cannot be simply co-opted to serve the ends of the powers that be at any one time or place. If government, national or local, is to work in partnership with faith communities, respect for this integrity is a fundamental principle, but it would be unfortunate, to say the least, if this principle were misinterpreted to mean that there can be no common ground between the public sector and faiths. Of course there can.

All communities need resources if they are to be thriving, cohesive and sustainable. They need reliable public services, particularly during such times that we

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have been through recently, when economic conditions are less favourable. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, this is the time to be innovative, particularly at local authority level. The days are gone when the public sector could deliver virtually all these services in a top-down manner. If services are to meet the needs of communities, communities themselves have to be engaged. Faith groups are deeply rooted in their local communities and are often better placed than public agencies to reach people who might otherwise be marginalised. This engagement is a great deal more than mere consultation; it is sometimes correctly referred to as co-production.

I began by referring to the important principle of respect for the integrity of faith communities. I now want to stress another principle at the heart of faith communities-the principle of service to others, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, referred. This can be about working for a better quality of life in a local community or it can be about global issues of justice or the environment. It is on the basis of this principle that the public sector can build a working partnership with faith communities.

There is a straightforward conclusion to be drawn from all that I have said so far. We cannot afford to overlook the important community assets represented by churches and other faith buildings, and we certainly cannot afford to allow them to be underused. I think that the right reverend prelate referred to the fact that they are custodians of a significant infrastructure.

A key element of my department's current partnership with faith communities is the shared desire to build strong and positive interfaith relations. We are currently taking forward the major programme of work and investment announced in FacetoFace and SidebySide, published in July 2008. It aims to release the greatest public benefit from the resources of faith communities through partnership working, especially through partnerships between faith communities and the public sector. FacetoFace and SidebySide recognises that buildings are among the most significant resources of faith communities. I quote from Section 2 of the framework on shared spaces for interaction and social action:

"With 54,000 places of worship in the United Kingdom, faith communities are essential providers of sacred and secular spaces for people to interact and pursue shared activities. These spaces are found in all parts of all our communities from large cities to small rural villages. They are used by local people for local events and activities".

We have heard of a huge array of things that go on in faith buildings in our short debate this evening. They,

Much of what I want to say today simply expands on this quotation, drawing out in more detail its implications and setting out what is being done to tackle the challenges that lie behind it. There certainly are challenges to be faced if the full potential of the resource is to be realised. A key challenge is the relationship between faith communities and the wider third sector. The third sector itself can often face barriers when working in partnership because of inadequate understanding of its scope and diversity. The work of faith communities is no different, ranging for example from a neighbourhood-level lunch club

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once a week to nationwide support for people with problems such as homelessness and drug addiction. Without their stock of buildings across the country in every community, as well as dedicated volunteers, faith communities would not be in a position to deliver this impressive range of services.

The Government have continued to invest in the capacity of the third sector over recent years, especially through the programmes of the Office of the Third Sector, which are worth more than £515 million over the 2007 CSR year. It is vital that this investment reaches faith communities, who are, simply and straightforwardly, eligible for it; I must emphasise that to eliminate any doubt. This principle has underpinned an important recent paper on faith buildings. Churches and Faith Buildings: Realising the Potential, which has been referred to already, was published jointly last March by the Church of England and five government departments. It confirmed the position of faith groups as significant contributors to society, and outlined the different sources of funding and other resources which faith communities could draw on to ensure that the potential of faith buildings is realised.

One important source of funding that faith communities could apply to to support similar approaches to the use of their buildings is the DCLG's Communitybuilders programme. That provides support for community anchors: organisations that operate locally, at the heart of their communities, and are able to respond holistically to local problems and challenges. Through the Communitybuilders programme we are investing £70 million to help anchor organisations work towards long-term financial stability, so that they can meet the needs of their communities for generations to come. Clearly, many faith buildings may be seen as community anchors.

However, central and local government funding for community-focused organisations will be increasingly strained in the current economic climate. For this reason, my department wishes to make it easier for all community groups to develop the resources and finance they need to make better use of their buildings for the good of their local communities. The DCLG recently launched its community enterprise strategic framework, outlining the department's direction of travel in supporting community-focused organisations. Community enterprises represent a distinct and important part of the third sector. They operate not just as a not-for-profit deliverer of local services, investing any surplus back into their communities, but as focal points for local people to identify the unmet needs of their communities and to respond with help from their own income-generating activities.

Many faith buildings already host community enterprises-cafés, room hire and nurseries, for example-all of which have enhanced the community and provided important income for the building. We want to see that approach extended. Just this month, it was reported that a church in Carmarthenshire is looking to run its own tenpin bowling alley, would you believe. Not only will it be used to create important local jobs, but the profit that it makes will allow the church to undertake important community projects, such as developing a food bank and debt counselling.

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Money cannot do everything; we also need to equip people by helping to change cultures and changing the way people think. Churches and faith communities have to learn how to work effectively with the public sector, and vice versa. This culture change cannot simply be decreed, either by the public sector or by faith communities. Like any relationship, it has to be worked at. We have consistently promoted that key message, not least in supporting the publication by the Church Urban Fund of Believing in Local Action alongside our Face toFace and Side by Side. Believing in Local Action uses practical case studies to demonstrate the benefits of partnership between local third-sector organisations and local faith groups. It shows consistently that local faith communities are better equipped to work in public partnerships, and therefore have better access to appropriate resources when they align themselves with wider third-sector networks.

As I have said, this is a two-way process. I want to affirm the efforts that faith communities are making to equip themselves, such as the Church of England's Crossing the Threshold programme, which is aimed at helping dioceses and parishes to get the best from their buildings for wider community use. It began with a conference in the Hereford diocese last November, where one of my officials was the main speaker and a toolkit was launched, aimed at supporting parishes in beginning the process of developing their churches as a resource for the whole community. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, will see that as one route into helping parishes to understand and engage in the process.

My officials are also currently planning a conference to take place next month, whose working title is "Faith and Social Action: Innovation and Expertise". The conference will highlight examples of good practice and use workshops to explore some case studies in greater depth. I am pleased to say that two of the case studies deal explicitly with public service delivery by churches: the Springfield Centre in Birmingham and St Peter's, Peterchurch, in the diocese of Hereford. Incidentally, St Peter's is a listed building and English Heritage is very much involved in encouraging and helping in these situations.

The intention is to produce a conference report that will be a resource both for faith communities and for the public sector, supporting them to co-operate effectively in delivering the services that local communities need and deserve. One of the main speakers will tackle directly the collocation of services, such as village shops and post offices, in churches, especially in rural areas, and will show how his own organisation, the Plunkett Foundation, is offering resources to churches wishing to go down this social enterprise road.

I shall try to deal with one or two of the points raised, but I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not deal with them all. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, talked about buildings, areas and congregations differing. We very much recognise that, which is why local engagement is important. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that having faith communities as an effective part of the local strategic plan is entirely appropriate and should be encouraged. One can understand the dilemmas when places of worship

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could be closed. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, people have memories and do not want churches to close. The right reverend Prelate talked about all the uses that are being made of living churches; we do not have to empty a church for this to happen.

The right reverend Prelate talked about the vision of the Church of England to be at the heart of the community-the whole of the community. That is supremely important. He referred to the 16,200 churches, but I am afraid that I do not have any data for the noble Earl on how many of those are engaged in some form of community use. The idea of public library services being collocated seems an interesting example. Then there is the issue of urban areas that are running out of spaces for new school places. There are some interesting concepts there. It is part of the theme of having an innovative approach, which will certainly be the watchword for the local government.

The LGA completed a survey of local authorities' engagement with faith groups in 2008 to inform, update and resource local authorities to work with faith and interfaith groups in their area. It is hoped that the next step towards producing this updated resource will be taken in the near future. Both the LGA and the

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Improvement and Development Agency are actively engaged in this. There was the interesting example from the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, of the church that is used just once a month. His concern about the rural community was not so much that the building was isolated in a field but that the church was isolated from his community. He was talking on the same theme of the benefits of collocating services.

I hope I have demonstrated that the Government are actively supporting the collocation of public services in churches and other faith buildings, both in principle and in practice. The Government have no magic wand that will transform things overnight. Indeed, I have argued that a top-down approach would be counterproductive. We are not complacent; we acknowledge that more can be done. We will continue to work with faith communities in the spirit of partnership, which as well as being about mutual support is equally about mutual challenge. In doing so, we must keep before us the aim of partnership, which is not about scoring points off one another but about improving outcomes for local communities.

Committee adjourned at 7.33 pm.

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