Vicar shines spotlight on social issues

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THE vicar of Long Sutton, Father Jonathan Sibley, is one of two Church of England figures taking a fresh look at easing social troubles in the Fens.

Isolation, poverty, health, the elderly, ‘new arrivals’, families and young people are among nine topics in the spotlight – and church leaders are drawing together the wider community so there is a joined-up, strategic approach to solving problems.

Among those contributing are Lincolnshire County Council, South Holland District Council, Lincolnshire Police, the NHS, South Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service and Spalding’s Agape Care Foodbank.

Father Jonathan and the Rev Canon Andrew Vaughan, senior chaplain with the Lincolnshire Industrial Chaplaincy Service, have already received responses from the 80 Church of England parishes within South Holland and The Deepings and Boston.

They asked parishes to pinpoint problems and, where possible, say what needs to be done.

Last October they widened the project by inviting statutory and voluntary agencies to the University of Lincoln campus at Holbeach – and will hold a repeat meeting there on March 1.

Father Jonathan said: “It’s not a talking shop.

“I think perhaps councillor Nick Worth put his finger on it when he said we are filling a vacuum where the Rural Action Zone used to exist.”

The Rural Action Zone was an initiative driven by South Holland District Council to combat rural deprivation but it collapsed in the first wave of Government cuts in public spending in 2010.

Father Jonathan says the scope of the Church project is wider – as it includes Boston – and is an example of ‘the big society’ at work.

Examples of churches helping the wider community include street pastors working in Boston, Spalding and Pinchbeck and churches opening their doors so other agencies can run things like parenting courses or tea afternoons for the elderly.

Father Jonathan says the work began at the suggestion of The Bishop of Grantham, the Rt Rev Tim Ellis, and is supported by South Holland and The Deepings MP John Hayes.