Hexham and Newcastle has become the first Catholic Diocese in England and Wales to partner with Green Pastures, a national Christian Social Enterprise that provides homes for the homeless and those in most need. A group of parishioners from Gateshead along with the Vicariate for Caritas began the process in January 2021 after forming an Outreach Group in 2018.
The group have sent the following inspiring report, charting their journey so far…
In October 2018, a small group from Corpus Christi and St Peter’s parishes attended a Church Action on Poverty meeting with a focus on poverty in Gateshead. It was an inspiring yet disturbing meeting, with statistics which shocked us. We had the privilege of listening to the testimonies of people who were experiencing poverty in many ways and felt compelled to share what we had just heard with our parish communities. We knew that we belonged to parishes with a strong commitment to help others and knew that together we could make a real difference in our own town by putting the values of our Christian faith into action in the wider community. All of this led us to form an Outreach Group which soon extended to include people from other parishes and we worked together to provide real and practical help in our community.
Activities we supported included providing Christmas Food Parcels, together with toys, clothing and toiletries for families in need. We organised regular collections of food to support the work of the Bensham Food Co-op held weekly at Corpus Christi Church. We also arranged seaside trips for local refugee and asylum seeking families. Many of our group volunteer at Joe’s Place, providing a safe, welcoming place with free meals to those facing difficult times.
The newly formed Vicariate of Caritas, under the leadership of Fr Adrian Tuckwell, and of which we were a part, held regular Zoom meetings during the difficult days of the Pandemic and the Lockdown. This new way of meeting together to share ideas and experiences gave us an exciting opportunity.
In January 2021, five members of our Outreach Group attended a Webinar organised by Fr Adrian and Caritas to learn something about a Christian Charity called ‘Green Pastures’. What we learned during that meeting inspired us to reflect on an exciting new possibility which would mean that we could provide a safe and supportive home for those in need.
We felt that the Holy Spirit was calling us to go further and deeper in our Outreach. As we listened to Green Pastures, we were once again inspired to pursue a new road. Green Pastures is a national Christian organisation with a vision to end homelessness. The method is simple: Green Pastures buys property for local churches so that they can lease it using housing benefit and accommodate homeless people in a safe and compassionate home until they can take their next step.
We began to explore the possibility of becoming partners with Green Pastures in order to address what we had identified as a great and very urgent need in Gateshead’s housing provision for ‘new refugees’. When asylum seekers receive ‘right to remain’ they must leave their asylum accommodation within 3-4 weeks, and so run the risk of homelessness. We felt we couldn’t ignore this and just hope that someone else would do something about it. By the end of March we knew that we wanted to go forward and partner with Green Pastures. Gateshead Council’s Migration Support Team supported our application as did several organisations who will refer residents including the Bensham Food Coop, Action Foundation and the Justice and Peace Refugee Project.
God has undoubtedly been with us on this journey. We formed ‘Outreach Housing’ and received much support from our clergy and the parish communities of Corpus Christi, St Peter’s and Our Lady and St Philip Neri. Fr Adrian has accompanied us throughout and the Diocese has become a Partner of Green Pastures – making it the first Catholic Diocese to work in partnership with Green Pastures.
We found a house in Bensham, ideal for our purpose, and were very happy when Green Pastures put in an offer. Our group prayed that the offer would be accepted as the property was ideal in size and location to meet the needs of the people we hoped to help and were overjoyed when, on 20th October 2021, that offer was accepted. It is a beginning! We are looking forward to providing a good home and supporting those who live there to settle in our community
We were visited at our parish Masses by the Founder of Green Pastures, Pastor Pete Cunningham. He told us that, over 20 years ago, his concern for the homeless in Southport, was inspired into action when he sat in church and listened in a new way to the story of the Good Samaritan who took the injured man to the inn and put his hand into his own pocket to pay for his care. Green Pastures began with three people who did just that and bought a flat for a homeless person. Since then many people have invested in the charity enabling them to partner with churches and provide houses throughout the country like ours in Bensham.
As we take this new step as Outreach Housing, we very much see this as part of our mission as Catholic parishes in Gateshead. As we develop and learn more there is the potential that this could be a pilot project for other parts of the Diocese where homelessness is a concern.
Find out more about Green Pastures here