Emma Kennedy, Chipping Norton

Our local Advocate Emma in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, has recently spoken to us about the increasing need in her community due to the rising cost of living, and the desperate situation many will be finding themselves in this winter.

We have visited Emma and her church community before, and you can read more about her church, St Mary's, on our earlier Partner Story.

Emma is not only part of the church in her town, but has also set up a local charity called The Branch Trust whose aim is to create a community space for those in Chipping Norton. The charity will be able to offer people, or signpost them to, holistic services to help with debt, housing and wellbeing. They're about to begin renovating an old bank building to be able to do this, and are hoping that it will be up and running in 2023.

This winter however, St Mary's will continue to offer various different activities for the community every day of the week. They run a Christians Against Poverty (CAP) Life Skills course, a drop-in for those who have experienced domestic violence, as well as a toddler group and cafe for those over 60. They also provide a CAP Debt Centre and a Kintsugi Hope wellbeing group.

The level of need for services such as these has increased in just the last few months, and they have seen a rise in the people waiting to access their foodbank, as well as more people wanting to come on their budgeting course. Emma also runs a drop-in at her local primary school, meeting families and seeing how she is able to signpost them for help either through her church, or elsewhere. She has said that she is speaking to parents who are "taking out lightbulbs so that their children can't leave the lights on, and then replacing them when they need them at night time". She also went on to say that parents are also turning the hot water off so their children don't wash their hands in hot water all the time, and for those on low income "watching the key meter clock down is quite frightening".

While Emma, and her church, are able to provide much support for those who need it most in their community, they're also looking to extend this welcome and become a Warm Welcome space. Emma explained that they're hoping to extend the times of their groups to include hot drinks and sometimes food, as well as a warm space where people don't have to be afraid to turn on the heating, and can get warm. One example of this is their toddler group that they hope to extend and include breakfast, so carers can come straight from the school run giving parents peace of mind and access to a warm space for longer.

As St Mary's extends their already warm welcome already created by their many activities and ministries, Emma hopes to be able to help individuals further by posting requests for specific needs onto the Acts 435 website. She is going to make sure that all their volunteers are aware that they can support specific individuals who are coming into their Warm Welcome space with one-off financial help during this time of crisis. And as a charity we hope to be able to do this for more churches and organisations opening their doors as a warm space this winter, take a look how you can get involved on our News Page.

Emma has also recently spoken on local radio about the increase in need and warm spaces that they're hoping to provide for the community. You can listen to this here.

Emma Kennedy and her husband James

Emma, and her husband James, who is the vicar of St Mary's outside the building for The Branch Trust.