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In the Spotlight….Smethwick CAN
Smethwick is an interesting place. Bordering some of the toughest parts of Birmingham, it is the most deprived town in the Black Country and one of the 20% most deprived areas in England. As is usually the case in places like this, children are some of the hardest hit. 31.8% of children living in Smethwick are living in poverty compared to the national average of 19.9%.*
It was because of statistics like these that Smethwick Church Action Network (Smethwick CAN) was formed in July 2014. In a town with such prolific need, local churches chose to join together to help alleviate hardship and tackle the causes of poverty.
Initially, the work of Smethwick CAN focussed on developing Smethwick Food Bank, with the support of Trussell Trust. The work of the food bank has grown and in 2020 alone, they supported over 6,000 people providing nearly 130,000 meals. This was 350% increase on previous years, with the Covid-19 pandemic providing the catalyst for such a dramatic escalation in need.
Alongside the Foodbank, other projects have emerged to help tackle food poverty, including “Your Local Pantry Smethwick”, a Community Food Club where people can sign up as members and visit the pantry to pick a variety of food including fresh, frozen and tinned produce for £4 per week. On average the value of the shop equates to around £20 per week providing significant savings for households that might be struggling to make ends meet.
To complement the work of the foodbank and pantry, Smethwick CAN also developed a Community Café, serving hot meals to those in need and providing opportunities for partner charities to offer support to those using the café. Finally, the Smethwick CAN Grow Community Allotment is a volunteer run allotment that supplies fresh fruit and vegetables to Café, Pantry and Foodbank projects.
Gareth Brown, Director of Smethwick CAN, is passionate about the work they do, insisting their vision goes beyond alleviating immediate needs.
“The overall aim of Smethwick CAN is to work with local churches and communities to end destitution, build community, increase opportunities and inspire hope.”
That’s quite a vision statement in a community as deprived as Smethwick. An incredibly diverse place, 56% of the population of Smethwick are from ethnic minorities. The UK average is 15%. Such diversity brings with it a huge variety in the needs of residents and Smethwick CAN are not unaware of this issue.
“We’re excited to be part of a network of organisations, groups and individuals pledging to build a culture of welcome across Sandwell as part of the national City of Sanctuary network. We are involved with other partners in helping Sandwell to become a Borough of Sanctuary that works towards greater inclusion and equality for refugees and asylum seekers. Smethwick CAN is the lead agency for the Community Sponsorship Group which has been set up to support a refugee family in their first year as they arrive in the UK.”
Togetherness and cooperation are key factors in the outworking of Smethwick CAN. Individual churches or organisations simply cannot tackle needs on this scale on their own. It’s only through working together and collaboration that a significant difference can be made.
This is at the heart of the vision of Smethwick CAN and it’s at the heart of Love Black Country’s vision too. That’s why we’re excited to be welcoming Gareth Brown to our Together Apart gathering on Sunday 21stFebruary to ask him more about what God is doing in Smethwick. To hear what Gareth has to say, please email email@example.com to watch live on Zoom or tune into the www.facebook.com/loveblackcountry at 6pm to watch the event live on Facebook.
You can find out more about the work of Smethwick CAN here.
*Data used in the article was sourced by Research Sandwell for Sandwell MBC Public Health.