Blogs for Lent 2020: Care in an Ageing Society – Medaille Trust


When age related illness and social care issues make a grave Human Trafficking situation even harder to resolve

By staff writer, The Medaille Trust (CSAN member charity)

Retirement age is often seen as the time of life when struggles and instabilities are resolved, allowing our twilight years to be safe, secure and dare one hope, happy? Retirement age was no such comfort for one of our clients who was trafficked from Poland.

We know very little about Piotr’s life (name changed for safeguarding reasons) before he reached age 67 in Poland. Unfortunately, due to mental illness, alcohol dependency and psychological trauma, Piotr found it hard to communicate the full picture of his life and what led him into the hands of traffickers. We understand that Piotr was targeted as being vulnerable. Although he did not have much, traffickers preyed on his illnesses and insecurity to access his pension and equity in his flat, leaving him with nothing.  Having nothing of his own added to his vulnerability, leaving him wide open to the suggestion that moving to the UK would give him a better life.  The traffickers manipulated Piotr and left him destitute. With no option he followed their instructions and left Poland for the UK.

Arriving in England, Piotr was cruelly exploited. He worked in terrible conditions and lived in squalor. The traffickers confiscated Piotr’s passport and left him at their mercy. Unable to speak any English, the traffickers forced him to beg on the streets, taking the money he earned while leaving him cold, hungry and intoxicated.

Piotr suffers from diabetes and was in need of medication and was drinking alcohol very heavily, a dangerous combination. Sadly, Piotr was in so much danger while on the streets, he also posed a potential threat to others too, as his medication for schizophrenia was not being taken. It was only when Piotr was taken into hospital for alcohol-related illness and cuts and bruises to his face that Piotr’s dire situation become apparent to hospital staff. Piotr told the doctors and nurses treating him that he’d been coerced into shop-lifting by his traffickers and was living an abysmal life. The police were involved and it was clear to them that Piotr was a victim of human trafficking. Piotr was then supported through the National Referral Mechanism.

Medaille Trust welcomed Piotr with open arms and provided him with safety, care and a home. The Trust’s mission is to provide refuge and freedom from modern slavery. Medaille are the largest provider of supported safe house beds for victims of modern slavery in the UK. What started in 2006, with a house for women trafficked into prostitution, quickly grew into a national network supporting all people trapped in modern slavery – women, men and families.

Once settled in, we helped Piotr access the medical care he so badly needed. Piotr’s problems were not straightforward and a number of third parties were required to get him back on his feet.  It became evident that Piotr had suicidal tendencies and had previously tried to end his suffering. Medical intervention stabilised Piotr’s schizophrenia. He was also diagnosed with a dementia-related illness. This was a very difficult time for Piotr as he went in and out of hospital for his medical conditions and for the cruel treatment he had faced from his traffickers.  There was never going to be an easy fix to Piotr’s health problems, let alone the social issues which needed addressing. The team at Medaille Trust knew that the road to recovery was going to be long and drawn out.

With time however, Piotr’s physical and mental illnesses gradually improved and he began to think about his future. Having escaped his traffickers and with the horrors of how it all began in Poland fresh in his mind, it was natural that Piotr felt a fresh start in the UK could be the way forward. But he risked ending up back on the streets or in the hands of traffickers if he stayed in the UK.

At Medaille Trust we were able to provide him with English classes, help him access benefits to give him some financial stability, and arrange counselling.  Our aim was to get Piotr back into a position where he could make choices for himself and be in the best shape possible both physically and emotionally. As time went by Piotr accepted that going back to Poland was the right route for him. Although he could not go back to the area where he came from for safety and emotional well-being reasons, a new start in a country where he spoke the language and is entitled to his pension was the decision he took.

It is always hard when any client leaves us as there is a part of us that wants to cling on to them and look after them. It is even harder when they go back home to another country. We pray that they do not end up back in the hands of the traffickers or fall out of the support system of that country. When they leave us we provide them with connections, advice and contacts back in their home country or wherever they choose to go. In Piotr’s case we worked with an organisation in Poland to provide him with supported housing. We pray for Piotr and all those affected by human trafficking. We wish Piotr a happier life than the one he has known and we hope that he can begin to enjoy his life; a new start at 67.

This article was first published in The Catholic Times.

Any views expressed are those of the author.

Women address the causes of poverty

For the Third World Day of the Poor, on 17 November 2019, we have assembled a series of three articles. Each reflects on emerging developments in Catholic social mission. In November 2018, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales encouraged leaders of Catholic organisations to work together on addressing the housing crisis. This first article in the series explores some progress in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, within the wider context of the Church’s pastoral work and mission in communities.

By Maureen Meatcher, NBCW Convenor of International Committee

In his message for the 2019 World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis asks all of us, whatever our means, to unite in love and in acts of service to one another.  He explains: “It is my wish that … Christian communities will make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.” That is why the National Board of Catholic Women (NBCW) takes responsibility for the change Pope Francis wants to see – to use our resources to be the catalyst of change.

“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.  God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.  This is a very real danger for believers too.  Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless.  That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.” Evangelii Gaudium 2

It is our responsibility as citizens of the world to monitor what our country is doing to enable every person to enjoy their human rights. There are those in power who would prefer that this was not allowed. The space for civil society to remind governments of their duties is reducing. We must use whatever opportunities present themselves for us to be instruments of change. That is why, in March, NBCW sends representatives to New York to attend the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women (CSW64) – answering the call “to go into the court of the gentiles”. We work with other women’s organisations – both secular and faith – who have a united vision of the changes we wish to see in the world. We are all working towards the 2030 agenda when we hope we will have eliminated world poverty by achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Since the 1980s, Britain has been subject to rampant consumerism and individualism, while Christian values of solidarity and selflessness have been supplanted by a secular creed of self-interest. There is a widening gulf between rich and poor, while community life is declining. Christian leaders have warned that the politicians are “making promises aimed more at selfishness than basic fairness, fostering a brand of self-interest that is destroying the “glue” that holds society together. Pope Francis has advised that we are impelled to contribute to the public discussion of social issues, not only as involved citizens, but also because of the Christian understanding of what a just and sustainable society looks like. Politicians assume that the value of a given community is founded solely on its economic output. There is a general economic assumption that the economy has the power to dictate what is and is not possible for human beings; if the economy can be fixed, the fixing of human beings will automatically follow. While in the past our country was governed with Christian principles, our greatly secularised society seems to agree on only one un-Christian principle: every person for themselves.

In order to overcome structural problems, especially economic barriers, we need to disrupt and redefine what we value and how. As we prepare for CSW 64 in March 2020 we will be calling for a complete overhaul of the current economic system, moving away from extractive and profit-driven capitalism. We will advocate a move towards a care economy focused on people and planet to create measures that value social progress; that recognizes unpaid care work as “work” that gives right to social protection; that connects social protection and taxing systems to individual rights, and addresses gender-based violence at work.  We will be focussing on those areas of employment which are more exposed to violence against women such as care, domestic work, media, and informal work; over-representation of women in precarious employment, and low wage employment. The informal economy must be addressed by ensuring universal access to a living wage and social protection. A global care crisis must be averted by committing a minimum of 2% of income to public care services. 

In the words of Pope Francis, “no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. … An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.” (EG183)

Sowing tangible seeds of hope

In the run-up to the Third World Day of the Poor, on 17 November 2019, we have assembled a series of three articles. Each reflects on emerging developments in Catholic social mission. Pope Francis has often discussed a poor Church for the poor. This second article in the series, from our sisternational Caritas agency, CAFOD, considers the theme of housing and home from an international development perspective.

By Catherine Gorman, Theology Communications Lead, CAFOD

What makes a good home?  

A secure, safe space, a place filled with love. A place where you have good relationships with family, friends and neighbours. Somewhere with a garden to cultivate or a connection to nature.  

This is what communities and local organisations CAFOD works with in Myanmar told us. But the answers are universal. They recognised that a home is more than material concerns, and wanted to get to the real heart of the question. What is it that makes a dignified living place? As such, their answers would probably resonate with people anywhere in the world.  

This desire for a home is deep-rooted in all of us. It is a need for more than just shelter. We all need somewhere that we can flourish together with those who mean the most to us.  

And yet there are so many people throughout the world who are denied housing.  

It is incredibly difficult to get an accurate picture of how many people do not have a place to call home around the world. Some reports suggest that 2% of the world’s population may be homeless with another 20% lacking adequate housing.  

But as Pope Francis reminds us in his message for the World Day of the Poor, on 17 November, the poor are not statistics to be counted but people to be encountered. They are not one homogenous group but individuals, young and old, with their own stories to tell. 

The statistics give us no insight into the lives behind the numbers. They tell us nothing about Marwan, who returned to his home in Syria, after six years as a refugee in Lebanon, to find it largely destroyed by the conflict. Nor about how he and his young family lived in the house, which had no windows and where walls had been destroyed, while they struggled to rebuild.  

These statistics also tell us nothing about the causes of homelessness and poverty. They do not speak to the structural injustices that prevent people having the legal rights to their land or their homes. They do not speak of the interests of big business, like those in the Amazon, which wreak destruction on the lives of those who live there.  

They are silent about conflict, migration and the damage that is being done to the earth, our common home. This climate breakdown affects us all and is making life even more challenging for those already living on the margins. 

They do not reflect the indignity of being without a home, displaced and separated from your place of safety, your memories, from all that is comfortable and familiar.  

Neither do the statistics reflect the hope, which our faith teaches us remains in the face of so many challenges. Indeed, Pope Francis chose for his focus for World Day of the Poor a line from Psalm 9: “The hope of the poor will not perish forever.”  

He also reminds us that as disciples we must be the ones to “sow tangible seeds of hope.” We are called to identify Jesus with each person that we meet, or whose story that we hear. We cannot remain enclosed in our own small circles without reaching out to others. Instead we must show loving attentiveness to each person in distress, seeking no reward for the love and support that we give.  

We cannot write people off as being somehow responsible for their lack of safe housing. But rather we must look to the systemic causes that have led to this issue. 

And so, this is the challenge for all of us: to bring hope to those people who are caught up in unjust systems which keep them in poverty and prevent them from accessing safe housing. And to challenge these structures which shape our world.   

This article was first published in The Tablet.

In Plain Sight – Conference report


By Mark Wiggin, Director, Caritas Salford

In Plain Sight, the first national Catholic conference to promote the domestic strategies in parishes and dioceses to counter Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking was held on 15 October 2019 in London. Organised by Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) and organisations involved in delivering vital services, the conference attracted over seventy participants and was sponsored and hosted by CCLA Investment Management Limited. 

Many dioceses and parishes are awake to the de-humanising impact of modern-day slavery and human trafficking in England and Wales. Leadership from our bishops and action from many religious congregations and Catholic charities has enabled the Catholic church to play its part in beginning to eradicate in the UK one of the world’s most organised, profitable and criminal activities that causes so much misery and long-term damage to its victims.

The conference was designed to equip delegates through shared practical experience and planning to combat Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking at a diocesan-parish level.  A session on supply chains helped diocese to appreciate the need for organisations to operate ethically in their procurement.

Peter Hugh Smith, Chief Executive of CCLA focused his welcome and introduction on the mission of CCLA as “good investment” not just as a financial mission but as a social justice commitment to supporting organisations to develop positive approaches to managing their resources and supply chains. CCLA hopes to act as a catalyst to investing ethically and humanely in people and recognise the difference they can make to eradicate modern day slavery. 

The first independent government commissioner Kevin Hyland, now Senior Advisor to the Santa Marta Group of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, spoke of the 150 million children today in positions of exploitation, many of them integrated into business models, and where many displaced people are the market for this trade. It’s estimated that 20,000 children die every year though slavery, yet little if any action is taken against organisations that exploit children. Globally, 99.98% of human trafficking goes without criminal prosecution, so why wouldn’t a criminal do it if they will get away with it? Kevin concluded, “The Santa Marta Group is developing strategies to reset the moral compass within the Church to make sure we are not complicit by indifference to this massive global crime. It’s events like today that will help make this change from words into action.”

Those who contributed included Santa Marta, local parish initiatives from Caritas Salford and national perspectives and victim support from The Medaille Trust, Caritas Westminster’s Bakhita House, JRS UK and women@thewell.  Andrew Adams (CCLA Ethical & Responsible Investment Team) & Sion Hall (formerly Head of the East Lancashire Police Anti – Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery addressed the issue of supply chains & ethical investment.

Anthony Brown (Caritas Salford) spoke of parish initiatives and involvement and how the resources within a parish when harnessed in partnerships can lead to awareness raising through local press and radio, prayer cards for parishes as well as networking with the police and their anti-trafficking units. 

Beatrice Grasso, Detention Outreach Manager for the Jesuit Refugee Service UK described the supporting work of JRS in detention centres. These centres are not part of the criminal justice system. But detention centres look and operate like prisons even if those in detention have not committed any crime but have sought asylum in this country. Therefore, they are not places that aid recovery from the trauma of slavery and trafficking. The main role of JRS is to accompany people and stand in solidarity with them in detention. There is no statutory time limit for a person in detention and the UK is the only country to have no time limit to detain a person. There were 24,200 in detention last year. Many people who have been trafficked are eventually released but often back into the hands of their handlers in the trafficking and slavery world they came from. There is a need to build trust within a holistic approach of partnerships to support the victims of human trafficking. 

Karen Anstiss shared the work of Caritas Bakhita House.  Twenty-two religious congregations led to over seventy volunteers with many relevant skills including languages and therapy skills. In common is the non- judgemental approach they all share. “Don’t judge, don’t promise and believe the unbelievable” are the bywords that Bakhita House operates by.

Marc Pearson, the Community Engagement Coordinator, and Zoe Smith, Director of Communications and Advocacy, spoke of the work of the Medaille Trust. The Look Up project is a six-year partnership between the Medaille Trust and the Archdiocese of Birmingham, to raise awareness in every parish of the Archdiocese. “The take-up by the Archbishop himself has been a wonderful blessing to the project,” said Zoe, who added, “There is always hope for victims of modern-day slavery who can have a fulfilling life after slavery.”

Caro Hattersley from women@thewell shared stories of women exploited in the sex trade who managed to tell their stories of brutality in brothels and escape to the security and recovery supported by the charity. “Consent cannot be purchased,” she said, and, “decriminalising women caught up in forced exploitation is an important way forward to address the wider issues of modern-day slavery.”

Sion Hall, formerly the lead in the Lancashire Police Anti-Trafficking Unit reminded the conference that there are 140,000 people at any one time caught up in trafficking and modern-day slavery in the UK. The business model of supply and demand means that organised crime is the driving force behind forced labour and prostitution. He said, “Partnership between statutory services, police, NHS, probation, prison services, NGOs and voluntary organisations is the way forward in tackling slavery. Public awareness is the starting point for preventative work.”

Andrew Adams from CCLA gave an investor’s perspective on modern slavery and the supply chains to which investors need to be sensitive. The everyday products that are part of our everyday lives means that practically everything we purchase has a direct or indirect connection to slavery. He said, “CCLA will be working with other investors to develop strategies to help companies keep their supply chains clean.”

Luke de Pulford of the Arise Foundation brought the conference to its conclusion by asking questions about the obstacles to collaboration and partnership working that included building trust rarely fits into measured outcomes but is vital to address the problem of slavery. In a hard-hitting assessment of the barriers he had experienced in this fields, he named money, ego and institutional self-interest. Leading the plenary session, he gathered the key points from the focus groups which will inform a new strategic plan. The message that came through was that we all needed to collaborate and work together, sharing resources and where necessary sharing the platforms that individual charities had developed to pioneer their work. 

Cardinal Vincent Nichols thanked the organisers for the conference – Caritas Salford, CSAN and CCLA – for bringing together so many charities and organisations committed to the fight against human trafficking. He said, “We need a detailed public account of the good work of the Catholic Church in this field”, “Difference properly used creates harmony”, and “Agencies engaged in anti-trafficking need some clear and shared objectives.” He concluded by saying that the work of this conference was opening the door to the next phase.

Using the Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking developed by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the conference agreed the key effective action that the Church can adopt to contribute to the eradication of this growing problem. Summing up the day, Philip McCarthy, Chief Executive of CSAN said, ‘Partnership, Presence, Hope, Trust and Encounter are the words that have resonated throughout the conference.’

Any views expressed in this blog post are those of the author.

A different approach

In the run-up to the Third World Day of the Poor, on 17 November 2019, we have assembled a series of three articles. Each reflects on emerging developments in Catholic social mission. In November 2018, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales encouraged leaders of Catholic organisations to work together on addressing the housing crisis. This first article in the series explores some progress in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, within the wider context of the Church’s pastoral work and mission in communities.

By Steve Baylis, Head of Development, and Jane Bamber, Senior Development Officer, at the Archdiocese of Birmingham

Over the last five years, the development team at the Archdiocese of Birmingham has been hard at work connecting with its deaneries, parishes and communities to discover their unique needs and to identify their priorities. Through this work it became clear that there was a need to develop strategies and plans to support the maintenance and long-term sustainability of the Catholic community’s buildings. With approximately 1,200 buildings in the Archdiocese alone, these are significant assets which support the fulfilment of the Church’s mission. These buildings hold Masses and services, others provide outreach and support for those affected by poverty, or those who experience social isolation. These buildings can provide the setting in which communities come together in fellowship and mission.

By identifying the priorities, and the issues our communities face, we have secured more than £4.4 million of new funding, specifically for the development and improvement of our buildings. We have invested this funding in projects valued at more than £7 million. This is a wonderful achievement which allows us to make real improvements for the benefit of our community, but, as always, we are looking to the future.

To achieve the greatest positive impact with our resources, we have strived to ensure that Catholic-owned buildings remain a vital, relevant resource to the people and communities who need them the most. In keeping with the Archdiocese’s mission, we want to continue to use our expertise and funding to improve the lives of those who feel disenfranchised, who are experiencing poverty or are subject to discrimination.

The Archdiocese has a diverse mix of parishes with some that are particularly land or asset rich, despite being in deprived areas. We continue to invest in our churches as sacred spaces where we come together to pray and worship God, however we also want to ensure that we are fully utilising all our assets in pursuit of our wider mission, and that means looking at ways that we can respond to the needs of the local communities, working with them and reaching out to those in need.

We are currently working with a number of partners to scope and develop new housing schemes that will increase local people’s access to good quality affordable housing. This is a long term project that will contribute to our vision and mission, and demonstrates a commitment to future sustainability. When scoping these major projects, the team is especially keen to foster wider community engagement and participation. One of our partners is offering parishes 40 per cent nomination rights for any new social housing projects we develop with them (meaning we can nominate people we know who are in need, so this could be a local family, refugees or a retiring priest). We see this work as being key to our department’s role of developing sustainable and vibrant parish communities.

We believe in starting at the grass roots of the problem. By carrying out a full feasibility study on a site we are able to gain a wider picture than the one which may seem immediately obvious. We are committed to enabling and empowering individuals and communities to have their own voice and to get involved in shaping their neighbourhoods. By supporting the community to support itself we believe we can promote greater well-being and a sense of belonging. In our commitment to the community, we always ask ourselves: what would really work best for the community and its people? How can local people gain from this project, what are their housing needs, and how can we campaign and deliver safer, greener spaces as well as services and facilities that are meeting the needs of the whole community?

We recently secured some £430000 from the National Lottery to work in partnership with two of our churches, the local Irish Centre and two Muslim organisations to deliver a joint project around early intervention activities for socially isolated older people.

We are currently developing a project in partnership with the travelling community, having invested £9,000 to employ an outreach worker to engage and work with this community, to fully understand their concerns and issues, to make sure we have their voices embedded in how the project will be developed and ultimately delivered. We hope to have this project funded by the Lottery and expect to be submitting a funding application early 2020 based on a clear evidence of need with end users at the heart of the solution.

Alongside our major project developments, we are becoming more aware of the increased need for parish and community based responses to homelessness and localised poverty. Many of our parishes are facing daily challenges: from the pressures of sustaining food banks, with people seeking refuge, requiring support for addiction and experiencing a lack of safe pastoral areas, which has led us to develop a pilot in a cluster of four parishes to make sure we have training and resources to deliver a “dementia friendly” church.

By producing skill banks – how we engage, identify and build the skills of local people and by utilising the strengths that our parishes already have – we are committed to getting the best out of our resources and thus supporting and developing truly effective parish action.

This article was first published in The Tablet.

Seeking Sanctuary: Calais update, May 2019


By Phil Kerton, Seeking Sanctuary (CSAN member organisation)

Volunteers continue to work hard for migrants who exist in an extremely hostile environment: to offer a welcome, food, clothing, shelter, dignity, and to support them have their stories heard.

Over 90 people, a third of them from the Pas-de-Calais area, attended a gathering in St Paul’s Church, Dover, in October 2018, organised by the Justice and Peace Commissions of the Westminster and Southwark dioceses, together with Kent-based Seeking Sanctuary and the Maria Skobstova House of Welcome in Calais. This event enabled concerned people to share experiences, efforts and hopes for those in need and to try discern ways ahead and share ideas for action. Discussions were enlivened and provoked by a short interactive play, “Stage 3”, presented by students from Queen Mary University of London. The piece looks at the bureaucracy and power of the naturalisation system and young people’s sense of belonging and citizenship rights. By addressing the process through which individuals are dehumanised and arbitrarily categorised on the basis of race, age and socio-economic background, the performance highlights questions about perceptions of power and powerlessness.

Among the wide variety of organisations supporting migrants in the Calais area is CSAN’s sister Caritas agency in France, Secours Catholique. They run a Day Centre, where people can relax out of the weather, to chat, take a cup of tea or coffee, get a haircut, watch videos, play games together, seek advice from volunteers, or get involved in arts and crafts work. Another is the Association Maria Skobstova – a Catholic Worker House of Welcome. This is a residential community, serving people pushed to the margins of society since February 2016. They do not just try to ‘help’ refugees, but prefer to be there with them, providing support and friendship. Everyone lives as a community, sharing meals, friendship, and daily prayer; and supporting one another in the work that is done. Neighbours are invited to join the extended community and take part in the work. The main ministry is to youths who are suffering in mind or body and, as at the Secours Catholique centre, efforts are made to treat each person with dignity, as individuals each with their own hopes and concerns.

Groups working in Calais constantly need fresh volunteers and donations of supplies. The number of displaced people living in Calais is fairly constant at 600 to 800, while the number sleeping rough in woods at Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk, has recently more than doubled to above 1,800. These are mainly Kurds, including many women and children. Dozens more can be found near any port or harbour between Bilbao and Flushing and near their approach roads, not to mention hundreds eking out a precarious existence on the streets of Paris and Brussels.

Jean Vanier RIP


By Eddie Gilmore, Chief Executive, Irish Chaplaincy (CSAN member organisation), following the death of Jean Vanier (10 September, 1928 – 7 May, 2019)

As I was told of the death, at the age of 90, of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, there immediately came to mind my favourite story connected with him: an important story for me, and one which I discovered years later from Jean I’d actually misheard!

Jean was a son of Georges Vanier, a Governor-General of Canada, and he crossed the Atlantic at the height of the Second World War to join the British Naval College at Dartmouth. After the War, one of his tasks, together with a fellow young naval cadet, was to ‘entertain’ the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret on a long sea voyage to South Africa. I was touched to hear that when Jean went to Buckingham Palace in recent years to collect an award from the now Queen Elizabeth she said to him, “Hello Jock”, this being the name that those close to him used when he was growing up.

From this rather privileged background, Jean found himself in 1964 in a village called Trosly in the North of France, moving into a dilapidated old house with two men, Raphael and Philippe, whom he had met and befriended at a large institution, and whom he had invited to come and live with him. The house was named L’Arche, French for the ark, and it would grow into a worldwide network of 150 communities in almost 40 countries, where people with and without learning disabilities live and work and share life together. I joined the L’Arche community in Canterbury in 1988 and was there for 28 years, and it’s where I met my wife, so I have a particular reason to be grateful for what Jean started.

In 2006 I was attending an event in Trosly for directors of L’Arche communities in Europe, at which Jean spoke to us. In one of his talks he recalled how he’d been visiting a prison in America where one of the guys had told him proudly (or at least this is what I heard at the time), “I’m the best card-dealer in the State of Virginia”. Jean went on to say, “You know, we all need to be the best something; but where do I want to choose to be the best?” I interpreted this as meaning, ‘Where do I want to choose to use my gifts?’ At that time I was coming to the end of my initial 4 year ‘mandate’ as Director and unsure whether or not to continue for a second 4 year term, but this story inspired me to do so.

I told this story often to people, and I hoped I’d have a chance one day to say thank you to Jean. Years later I drove a full minibus of people from L’Arche Kent over to Trosly to visit Jean, whom we knew could be in his final years. It was never easy to get to speak to him one-to-one, but following Mass in the lovely converted barn of a chapel, I spotted that he was momentarily on his own in the courtyard, and seized my chance. I went over and said I wanted to thank him for something he’d said years earlier that had been very important for me. “Oh yes”, he replied, “what was that?” I said he’d been speaking about the man in a prison who claimed to be the best card-dealer in the State of Virginia. “No, no, no!” said Jean, “the best car-stealer in the state penitentiary”! And we both roared with laughter.

God bless you Jean, and Thank You.

Tabor House responds to Birmingham homelessness figures


Report from Father Hudson’s Care

After recent Government statistics showed a 60% rise in the number of people sleeping rough in Birmingham, Father Hudson’s Care (CSAN member charity) has spoken about the work at Digbeth homeless shelter, Tabor House.

Since opening in September 2017, Tabor House has supported ten people to move into their own accommodation. Yet more people have been supported to move back in with families or shared living arrangements. Volunteers at Tabor House provide hospitality to guests, offering them a warm and friendly welcome as they adjust to the shelter. Volunteer mentors assist guests in accessing the support they need to move forward – training, managing debt, building their employment skills – whatever they need to turn their lives around.

Christy Acton, Deputy Community Projects Manager at Father Hudson’s Care said, “The rise in homelessness is disappointing. We can see on the streets of Birmingham that the issue is getting worse. Tabor House is here 365 nights a year, and we’re trying to help people for the long-term. Some guests stay for three or four months, and during that time we work with them to give them every chance to move on. This may be into their own accommodation, or into work – we give them time and space to take steps forward.

“You can find yourself on the street very quickly. You can lose your job, a relationship might end – there are a whole range of complex issues. You end up with no choice but to sleep on the streets. But there’s a lot of good work going on in the city to try and help. Ideally we want to catch someone before they have that first night or those first few days because we find that once someone has had a few weeks or months on the streets, it’s a much harder situation to deal with.”

Tabor House is a collaborative project between Father Hudson’s Care, Midland Heart, Housing Justice, Irish in Birmingham, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (England and Wales), the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham, corporate philanthropists, and local homelessness specialists. Together they have formed iShelter—a new homelessness organisation that aims to help homeless people turn their lives around. Homeless people are referred to Tabor House by the Birmingham charities Midland Heart and Sifa Fireside. The project is managed by the iShelter Management Committee, made up of representatives from the key partner organisations, under the umbrella of Father Hudson’s Care.

European Catholics discuss future of work


By Kevin Flanagan, Director, St Antony’s Centre for Church and Industry, Manchester (CSAN member charity)

I was pleased to attend a meeting in 2018 of the Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (Comece), as a representative for England and Wales. There are several committees, of which the Social Affairs Commission is important in relation to the work of many of CSAN’s members. My main participation on the Commission was to represent the situation in England and Wales, in their discussions on the ‘Future of Work’. I participated in three Commission meetings and, together with Bishop William Kenney (Auxiliary in Birmingham), the launch conference for their report on The Future of Work which took place at the end of November 2018.

The primary purpose of the report was to put before the Commission and other partners a vision for decent, sustainable and a participatory world of work, that serves the common good and reflects the dignity and value of each person. This discussion is vital given the significant changes taking place globally: automation, more precarious work and the need to be alert to the impact that work is having on individuals, families, societies and global resources. There have been many reports that some sectors of the economy and communities will be increasingly impacted due to not having the ability to compete within the new forms of economy that are demanding high levels of skills. Within Europe, the percentage of those in work who are at risk of poverty is estimated to have increased by 2%, to 9.6%, over the 10 years to 2017. I was delighted to give evidence from my Trade Union work, the work of St Antony’s Centre for Church and Industry, and my knowledge of CSAN’s members.

The Commission also discussed the challenges facing young people. For example, youth unemployment had in some countries (for example Spain, Greece, Italy and Croatia) grown to around 30-40%, while the EU as a whole had record employment levels of 239m people in work. An expert from the Spanish Bishops’ Conference highlighted the need for vocational training and good school-to-work transition.

The opportunity to be part of these discussions dovetailed well with our engagement at St Antony’s Centre with EZA (the European Centre for Workers’ Questions) and GEPO (the European Workers’ Pastoral Group), both of which held conferences in Manchester last year.

Readers may be interested to know that Comece has published other relevant documents including, ‘Robotisation of Life: Ethics in View of New Challenges’ and a ‘Contribution to the consultation on “challenges of work-life balance faced by working parents and caregivers”’.