Cinnamon Network are proud to be supporting ambitious churches that are tackling issues in one of Birmingham’s most deprived constituencies.
You may not be familiar with Erdington, a suburb of the UK’s second largest city, Birmingham. It’s a community that has become characterised by unemployment, child poverty and a recent spate of violent crime.
At 8.1%, the unemployment rate in Erdington is way above the UK average of 3.8%1. Furthermore, 36.1% of children in the ward live in poverty2 and violence and sexual offences are the most common crimes reported in the area. It’s not uncommon to see discarded needles or broken bottles lying next to benches in the centre of the town.
However, if you ask Pastor Rasaq Ibrahim, pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God Covenant Restoration Assembly (RCCG CRA), to describe the community he lives in, he paints a very different picture. “This is a wonderful community,” he says in his measured, endearing tone. “So diverse, so caring.”
Serving the community is something that Pastor Rasaq believes is best done in collaboration. As co-chair of Erdington Communities Together Group, he has been responsible for drawing together the wide variety of church groups in the area.
The group, which includes Baptist, Anglican, Methodist and Pentecostal churches, mean business. United by a desire to do God’s work in their community, the group are seeking out opportunities to respond to some of the many, complex and varied challenges impacting the local community.
As the Pastor says, “Where the Holy Spirt wants us to go – there is always agreement. Each year we’reproviding around 7,000 emergency food parcels,” confirms the pastor. It was a clear indication of the huge need within the community and got Pastor Rasaq thinking. “We knew we wanted to do more, but didn’t know what would be good,” he recalls.
Tried and tested projects
This is where Cinnamon Network UK really enters the story. Pastor Rasaq isn’t quite sure when he first met Cinnamon’s ‘Pastor Mike.’ Mike Royal is one of Cinnamon’s Co-CEOs and also takes on the role of CinnamonAdvisor for the West Midlands. Mike put Pastor Rasaq in touch with the Jericho Foundation and their Ignition programme, one of Cinnamon’s Recommended Projects.
8.1% of the population in Erdington are unemployed, which is way above the national average. Ignition helps local churches to support those who are struggling to find work in their community, by providing guidance with CV writing, interview skills and job searches.
Within a few months the group had gathered around 12 volunteers from their networks to set up three job clubs at Erdington Six Ways Baptist Church, Bethany Pentecostal Church and St George’s Baptist Church.
“RCCG Erdington was able to raise funds to provide two computers for each of the groups too,” confirms Pastor Rasaq. The group have even managed to coordinate with local foodbanks, which serves as a good way to connect with potential clients. Each club now supports around eight individuals seeking work each week and about 100 each month.
Success is already coming
In January 2019, they received an added boost when the local Job Centre asked if they could be part of the regular meetings to help place individuals into work. They now send representatives to each of the clubs to help people the latest positions.
“Initially the job centre had been sceptical about the job club but now they want to be part of it!” confirms Pastor Rasaq.
Where Ignition differs from regular job centre support is the more holistic approach it takes to providing support. The programme recognises the multiple and varied social, economic and emotional barriers that prevent people from finding work.
“Sometime people come in and just breakdown. They just can’t take it, but we have space and people who can just sit them down and talk with them and ask ‘ok, what’s really going on?’ We never push the issue, but if they want us to pray with them, then we do,” says Pastor Rasaq.
Stories of success
One gentleman started attending the job club in January 2019. He hadn’t worked for some time and clearly was anxious about meeting new people. His IT skills were limited and his fear of technology was palpable.
Over the course of several months, the job club helped him develop his interpersonal skills, helped him become more confident with his IT skills and supported his mental health issues which were a significant barrier.
This gentleman has now taken a massive step towards employment by volunteering at a local charity shop where he is meeting new people, engaging with colleagues and learning to gain confidence in the workplace.
Anything is possible
When challenged about the secret of their success, the Pastor is keen to point attention away from himself, away from the Churches Together group and away from Cinnamon. The way he sees it – they are simply seeking out what God is already doing and getting on board.
“If God calls us to do something – it’s going to happen,” says Pastor Rasaq with the calm of a man who knows what he’s up to.
Despite its many problems, the community of Erdington looks very different when it’s viewed through the eyes of Pastor Rasaq. Hope and possibility fill the streets when you see potential being realised through these committed Christians.