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Hereford Diocese (A registered Charity) which is the Church of England in Herefordshire and South Shropshire, is one of 16 organisations in England that has been awarded a share of the £1.3 million ‘New Deal’ fund to help support communities. The grant of £38,630 will be used to support several projects in Herefordshire which strengthen engagement and tackle social issues, including those arising from the impact of COVID-19. In many rural communities across the diocese, Churches provide a significant network of physical spaces, volunteers and community knowledge, reaching even small communities and providing many community-based support services. The new grant will seek to pilot the use of churches as bases for community-based mental well-being support, developing activities that build on the opportunities offered by churches for reflection and mindfulness and bring people together in a safe, hospitable space. The project plans to address local needs by welcoming people of all faiths and none into spaces of hospitality, sanctuary and reflection while providing community-based support on people’s doorsteps. In many rural areas there is often a lack public transport links and this had a significant impact during covid on people who need help. Many were unable or unwilling due to the risk of infection to travel. This social isolation often exacerbated demand for mental health services and increased the burden as life has returned to normal. Sam Pratley, Diocesan Secretary, explains: “We are thrilled to receive this grant, which will be used to support a number of schemes. “As a diocese, our focus is on intergenerational mission and community support. We have been instrumental in partnership social projects, including debt counselling, 6 food banks, increasing the number of Good Neighbour Schemes from 2 to 12, and 4 Compassionate Communities Schemes. The Diocese has also partnered with Citizen UK in supporting over 250 Ukrainian guests to find host families and with the local authority in supporting people being discharged from hospital. “We know that people of all ages (old and young) in rural communities want services on their doorstep, transport links are limited and the increasing cost of fuel places strain on household budgets which are already stretched to the limit. “This often means people choose not to seek the help they need in rural communities and remain isolated with deteriorating physical and mental health. “Piloting the use of churches to reach even small, rural communities is a potentially hugely cost-effective way of reaching tens of thousands of people who are otherwise hard to reach. This is what the Church does well and for the many volunteers, it is often an expression of their Christian faith.” The project seeks to build on the work churches began in lockdown by providing a wide range of opportunities for people to make and sustain social connections. Churches have been set up as Talk Community Hubs (These are the Council’s mechanisms for engaging communities) to ensure effective partnership-working with the local authority. In addition, the funding will support the ongoing work of other projects, including a foodshare, café and activities at St Martin’s Church, Hereford and Mental health GP support services run by LEAF Ledbury and well-being walks in Peterchurch nr Ross on Wye. This is excellent news for each and everyone of these wonderful projects, in particular, St Martin's FoodShare featured in the photograph, which Hereford Voice have supported since it began and long may it continue!