The Churches, COVID-19 and Communities research project was set up to provide detailed data from a wide range of respondents to support national and local policy and decision-making in the face of COVID-19 through:
- Examining the impact of closing church buildings and restrictions on activities provided or hosted by churches on the lives and wellbeing of individuals and communities
- Exploring how churches have been able to respond creatively to COVID-19 challenges and adapt to meet new circumstances and needs
- Assessing the potential of church buildings and networks to support recovery and community resilience in the future
- Identifying the key resources needed to mobilise these assets fully
Surveys and semi-structured interviews were undertaken from September to December 2020, and from February to March 2021. Over 5,500 people responded to the surveys, providing multi-layered insights into the evolving impact of lockdowns and other restrictions at grassroots level.
The large body of qualitative data gathered and analysed gives voice to the primary deliverers and recipients of the wide-ranging work of churches across the nation: Church Leaders, Church Members, and, very importantly, those who do not identify as ‘Members,’ but nevertheless rely on and greatly value access to church buildings and networks of activity.
The surveys and interviews provide grassroots insights which are illuminating, and often moving, as individuals detail the impact on their lives of COVID-19 and the loss of core support structures; the challenges they now face; and the key factors that will help their communities recover. Data has been contextualised by interviews with experts in key fields such as Public Health and Bereavement and national church leaders, and the collation of related reports from an extensive range of church and secular organisations.
'Our church has developed a partnership with six others to form a Community Help Hub offering shopping, prescription collection, befriending, food and gift packs, meals for school kids, money courses, wellbeing courses, prayer ministry, listening, crisis response, and referrals to agencies.'
This research has been undertaken against the background of a very rapidly changing situation. Nevertheless, clear themes have emerged which are reinforced by conclusions drawn by other researchers in related specialist areas. The analysis presented here illustrates the essential contribution places of worship make to societal wellbeing and community cohesion in normal times and during crises. The report highlights the ability of churches to make a major contribution to national recovery through provision of social care; enhancing wellbeing through buildings which offer not only community hubs but safe spaces of solace and sanctuary; and supporting the many people suffering grief and loss. It also outlines the support which will be needed for this to happen; and makes important recommendations for future action at national and local level.
'I need the church as a physical space to focus on processing grief/feelings from COVID.'
Non Church Member
Summary of recommendations
Keeping churches open and maintaining their contribution to wellbeing, community cohesion, social care, and heritage tourism, is vital for both emergency support and long-term recovery.
Recognition of the multi-faceted contribution made to society by churches
- Greater recognition is needed from government, local authorities, and policy and decision-makers, of the contribution made by church buildings and associated green spaces to the wellbeing of the whole community, both during a pandemic and under normal circumstances. Funding and other support measures need to address and balance the multiple roles of church buildings as places of worship and spirituality, spaces of shared heritage, and community hubs
- Closing church buildings and suspending activities have substantial negative effects and should be a last resort. Every effort should be made to keep buildings open to support emergency social care, mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, and other community benefits.
'Keep churches open at all costs. Don't abandon us when we need you most.’
Non Church Member
Supporting churches in their contribution to community wellbeing and recovery
- It is critical that churches have the financial means to make and keep them fit for purpose in a context of increasing need.
- Churches and other places of worship need authoritative up-to-date guidance on Covid-19 which local communities can confidently interpret and implement for their own situation. Government guidance therefore needs to be informed by wider consultation with practitioners and transmitted to and through denominations in a timely, simple, and easily applied form.
- Churches need better training and support for enhanced partnership working.
- More flexibility according to each particular situation is needed in the regulations for provision of weddings and funerals and keeping churches open for private grieving. Expanded support for the sick, dying, and bereaved should include allowing church ministers to operate as key workers in the community, and greater investment in hospital chaplaincy to support patients and NHS staff.
- Summer 2021 must be used for consultation with grassroots practitioners; clarification and simplification of policy and guidance; and establishing more effective channels of information dissemination; so churches can fully support recovery and wellbeing, even in the event of further waves of virus transmission.
[Churches] are primarily places of worship and yet they also provide refuge during tough times. They are also centres of community activities and support hosting meetings and events. They are often the first to co-ordinate charity relief and can often provide meaningful contacts for the lonely and isolated. This has all been especially true during the coronavirus pandemic.
Caroline Dinenage MP
Minister of State for Digital and Culture, DCMS