Faith organisations worry about future funding
A Preston conference has heard that only 10 of the 56 organisations in Third Sector Lancashire are entering the new financial year with stable funding.
The Faith and the Big Society event was organised by the Blackburn Diocese to share common understanding and practice amongst faith groups and social action projects.
Canon Michael Wedgeworth represents organisations dedicated to helping social action initiatives through partnerships.
He told the conference: "Our members are very worried about their funding and the future of their projects."
But speaking at the same conference, the Chair of the Conservative Party and cabinet minister, Baroness Warsi said: "Faith communities have to play an intrinsic part in the vision for a Big Society."
In her keynote address, Baroness Warsi suggested that around three quarters of all charities don't receive public funding and went on to say: "Every local authority has been given very clear guidance from the government not to see the voluntary sector as an easy target."
Later, Baroness Warsi told BBC Radio Lancashire: "Charity funding and funding for voluntary organisations has never been secure. I have worked and volunteered in the voluntary sector for many many years and one person in the organisation spent their time chasing the next bit of funding."
The conference had been organised amongst a backdrop of increasing financial worry within the county's voluntary sector.
Nasrullah Anwar is from Building Bridges Burnley, a faith-based organisation that has been widely praised for their work in helping bond the town's diverse communities after the disturbances.
He told me about their monetary difficulties: "We have no new funding coming in. We have had several applications turned down by trust funds and we have had to make one of our senior officers redundant.
"We are going to dip into our reserve funds. We will diversify what we do to ensure we are meeting all our targets though with a smaller organisation."
Nasrullah says the situation looks bleak. "It's quite gloomy right now but we are hoping that there are some pots of money in August that we can access. If things are the same this time next year, I will have to hand my own notice in."
Monsignor John Devine, who speaks about public policy on behalf of the North West churches, said people should not underestimate the work done by faith-based organisations: "In the past what we did was often seen as running alongside the current provisions and we were almost seen as second best well meaning amateurs. If you had a faith label on what you were doing it was almost a disqualifying factor when it came to be taken seriously."
Monsignor Devine, who was one of the main speakers at the conference, said times are changing. "I think the tide has turned. Over the last decade or so the faith dimension has been seen as adding value. That's because we are imbedded in the local communities and we actually are in touch with people on the ground."
The conference in Fulwood set out to establish exactly what is meant by the Big Society. The conference organiser, the Reverend Ed Saville, also wanted to ensure the voices of faith-based organisations are heard: "Faith organisations can't be marginalised. We need to be prepared when the needs are there.
"There is a tension in all this. If people are falling through a net, the natural faith response is to catch them. But there comes a point where they will point to the hole in the net and say 'you cut that'."
As Baroness Warsi left the conference she told us that in years to come funding would be improved for the organisations she had met in Lancashire. Some of the delegates in the hall left with a clearer and enthusiastic understanding of the Big Society but still were wondering if they could afford to be part of it.
Joe Wilson presents the faith programme on BBC Radio Lancashire from 6am each Sunday.