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Home > Home Articles > Features > Faith Related Community Activity in Bristol
On December 13th, the Bristol Multi Faith Forum launched it's Faith Action Audit at the Council house, with Barbara Janke, leader of Bristol City Council. At the bottom of this article is a summary of the report. The full report can be downloaded.

Simon Bale, chair of the Multi Faith Forum, introduced the report and said that Faith communities will need to work increasingly in partnership with the Council, to deliver services.

Councillor Barbara Janke talked about having a faith and a vision in our city, Bristol. The cuts need to have a minimal impact on the most vulnerable communities. She welcomes the specific work done in the communities by faith groups. She wants to look at the different ways we work and overcome boundaries. She wants to focus on young people and is open to suggestions for working co-operatively on a joint action plan.

Forward Maisokwadzo explained how the report was written. He explained that 62% were Christians in Bristol, with 2% Muslims. There were 105 responses (30% response rate). There are approximately 230 places of worship., including 12 mosques. From the 105 responses, there are about 400 full time staff, worth over £6million per year. Also most of the work is done by volunteers, who contribute 6,500 hours, contributing nearly £3 million each year in the city. Most of the income for this work comes from the faith communities themselves.

Rizwan Ahmed, from the Bristol Muslim Cultural Society, said that faiths are wanting to make a better world. The BMCS wants to strengthen their community, to engage more to make a better Bristol. The Muslim Forum helps the Muslim community, with about 30 organisations, including Mosques, in Bristol to have a unified voice. They work a lot with young people and also through cultural awareness.

Rev Philip Nott shared about the Easton Family Centre. The Families project has a nursery, mostly used by Muslims. There is a cafe, which is mostly fairtrade, with halal options. Child's Play helps with family issues, with parenting courses for hard to reach groups, in partnership with Bristol City Council. The church building is the most diverse building in Easton. There is a Church of England school, with a headteacher who is a Muslim, with an Ofsted “excellent” for community cohesion. Philip encourages people of faith to share their faith stories. He wants to celebrate what we have in common and to be honest about what we do not share, with honour and recognition. He works with the Crisis Centre, Bristol Refugee Rights, Prayer for Easton, City of Sanctuary and “seeks the welfare of the city”.

Bristol Multi faith forum

Faith Related Community Activity in Bristol: summary

1.1 Introduction

Background to the research

Over recent years, a number of studies in the United Kingdom have tried to measure the contribution of faith communities to civil society. There are a number of reasons for undertaking work of this kind, and they appear to be growing in importance.
Faith communities have become aware of the importance of demonstrating to government, at all levels, and to the general public, that their work has economic value- in other words, that it can be seen as useful in the terms generally used in public debate. In addition, inventories of the work of faith communities have been helpful as a means of encouraging these communities. Typically, it is found that much more work is being undertaken than generally realised. Knowing this helps faith communities to believe in their own importance, to network with others interested in the same areas of community service and to expand their engagement with their local communities.
On the side of the government, there has been increased interest in voluntary community work to supply services. Faith communities may provide many important services which government or local authorities have great difficulty in offering, as the cost of providing face to face service continues to increase. Relatively low level, but continuous support by faith communities may enable a number of people to participate in society, promoting social inclusion. The ethos of faith communities encourages them to reach out to those on the margins of society, including many who have been on the receiving end of the negative impact of social and economic change in the 21st century. They can promote sustainability because they are present in communities for the long term. Such considerations have led governments to consider working more closely with faith communities – although this has not always stopped them from insisting that these communities follow an increasingly onerous range of government regulations, from hygiene rules to equality legislation.

1.2 The Local Context

There has been an increasing use of faith audits nationally and locally to gauge the contribution that faith groups are making to their local community’s social support provision. Local reports have been done most recently in Bath and North East Bournemouth, Somerset and South Gloucestershire. It is certainly time for an area like Bristol, with such a vibrant faith sector, to have a similar report.

Bristol has a predominantly Christian population and this is reflected in the responses to this study. The 2001 census (although the data is recognised as out of date) gave the following information on faith communities: 62% Christian, 2.0% Muslim, 0.6% Hindu, 0.5% Sikh, 0.4% Buddhist, 0.2% Jewish, 24.5% no religion. Clearly these figures will change following the 2011 Census
Some estimates suggest there may be as many as 30,000 Muslims in Bristol (Bristol Muslim Cultural Society 2007
which equates to 7% of the Bristol population. However, all such data needs to be put into context. As observed by the Institute for Community Cohesion, diversity – ethnic, religious and cultural – is growing faster in Bristol than in most other British cities, but the population data used in this survey must be taken with some degree of caution.

The Bristol City Council recognises that working with faith communities is vital to promoting community cohesion. The Commission on Integration and Cohesion’s report ‘Our Shared Future’ (June 2007) states that faith communities ‘help to build integration and cohesion through their community buildings and leaders on the ground, their support for projects and networks, and the promotion of shared values, such as neighbourliness and civility among others’.
This is also further demonstrated by acknowledgement of the role played by faith communities in the recently developed City-wide Community Cohesion Strategy 2010/11.

1.3 Summary and Recommendations

The results have been analysed in a way that reflects how faith groups are contributing towards Bristol’s 20:20 vision. The findings are set out below, outlining ways in which faith groups contribute firstly through the social capital created by the activities carried out and secondly through the physical capital available within many faith organisations.

Bristol has thriving faith communities. We have identified:

Approximately 230 places of worship.
An estimated weekly attendance of between 25,000 and 30,000 people.
The responding 105 faith communities in the survey equates to 15,645 people attending weekly.
The majority are churches; 12 Mosques, a Hindu Temple, four Sikh Gurdwaras, two synagogues, one Bahai centre and vari­ous smaller groups.

The faith communities provide Bristol with:

At least 94 community halls and rooms
The equivalent of between 350 and 400 full time staff, paid or • as volunteers, whose value to community is over £6 million a year.
This benefits between 10, 000 and 15,000 people.

A Strong Economy - Our findings provide evidence of faith groups operating or supporting social and community enterprises, acting as collection points for a Credit Union, running charity shops, making training provision and providing conference facilities. There are a number of high profile examples across the city. The value of time, in terms of numbers of volunteers, hours volunteered and type of voluntary activity taking place, is more difficult to establish. Often it is not recorded. Roughly four in five faith organisations recruit, organise and utilise volunteers to deliver activities.

Responses shows volunteers contribute about 6,500 hours of voluntary activity per year (105 responses). Using the national minimum wage of £5.73, this suggests a replacement (economic) value of £3.7 million.

What was also striking from the responses was the fact that despite massive contributions made by the faith community, the majority of their funding comes from their members although a small number have accessed public funding.

Neighbourhoods - Faith groups provide a wide range of facilities and activities that help to make a neighbourhood a better place to live. These include coffee mornings, lunch clubs, arts and musical events, cafés and other opportunities for social gatherings. Many also work to make neighbourhoods more welcoming for asylum seekers and refugees by providing women’s conversation clubs, English classes, food parcels and space for worship for groups without their own buildings. The physical capital held by faith groups is used by a number of local decision making forums, community safety groups and Neighbourhood Watch groups.

Inclusive, Healthy Communities - The two significant areas of provision highlighted in the findings are the opportunities provided for physical activity and sport and the support given to older people. In addition, a number of groups provide advice and counselling, drug and alcohol user support, provision for learning disabled people, work with users of mental health services, provision of food and clothing for homeless people, bereavement groups and parenting support. Many also provide office or meeting space for voluntary and statutory organisations meeting a range of health needs.

A Great Place to Grow Up - Provision for children and young people ranges from parent and toddler groups, youth clubs, pre-schools, homework clubs, holiday clubs and uniformed youth groups. Faith group premises are used for dance classes, martial arts and children’s parties.

Social capital

Bonding capital: “Relationships between people with shared beliefs and values.” - Faith groups have an important role in providing people with a ‘spiritual home’ and a base for putting their values into action. A number of examples are given in the research of small groups without the physical numbers to carry out community activity but who offer a place for people with strong mutual commitments to come together.

Bridging capital: “Groups or individuals work together and form bridges between themselves and others.” - The research produced evidence of links within individual faiths, with other faiths, with national and international organisations and with a wide range of secular organisations. This ranges from community forums, advice centres, healthy living projects, community and youth associations, older persons’ networks, youth forums, asylum seekers’ groups, festivals etc. It is clear that faith groups from all traditions make a significant contribution to local community action.

Linking capital: “Links between people and organisations beyond peer boundaries which enable people to exact influence and reach outside normal circles.” - A number of examples of linking capital are provided in the case studies; of a church sharing space with refugee worshipping communities, the

1.4 Conclusion

The results of this study and conclusions arising from them suggest a number of recommendations:

Bristol Partnership

Should recognise the contribution that faith organisations make to community life in Bristol.
Ensure that faith representatives are en­couraged and supported in any strategic development in the city that builds on both social and physical capital.

Bristol City Council

Relevant council departments should recognise the contribu­tion made by faith organisations and look for active partner­ship with them in the delivery of services.
Promote Safer and Stronger Community Groups more actively and secure involvement of faith communities.
Should be more pro-active in including faith groups working in the community in their strategic partnership and networks across the city.
Should promote its small grants programme to faith organisa­tions in conjunction with the Bristol Multifaith Forum and the Bristol Interfaith Group.


Provide detailed information and communication for faith communities to encourage more active networking.
Some new or improved networks would be useful and appropriate for faith communities:
Youth workers and children’s workers.
Those interested in existing Partnerships.
Better contact with small black led churches.
Better contact with some faith communities who do not know of existing support available from both Voluntary and Public sector, such as help with fund raising.
Promote or organise training courses on funding opportuni­ties, health and safety and child protection responsibilities in conjunction with organisations such as VOSCUR, Black Devel­opment Agency, and Volunteering Bristol.