Sara and Team, The Well West Auckland

Based in their church's Community Coffee Shop, also known as The Well, this Acts 435 team of Advocates are meeting the needs of those they come into contact with in a wonderful way. Providing a hugely holistic service to meet people's needs - whether through financial management, food or direct needs met through Acts 435 - they are enabled to provide for anyone who has need.

When The Well Community Coffee Shop was opened 8 years ago they had what they describe as a ‘blank sheet’ allowing God to write His purposes for it. The Church believed the project was His vision for their village and surrounding area. It soon became obvious that they were to serve and reach out to the poor and needy in their community. Firstly, their Food Bank began, alongside Durham Christian Partnership in conjunction with the Trussell Trust and The Well was the first Food Distribution Point to open outside Durham City. Through getting alongside people in the Food Bank they soon realised that when someone is in crisis there are other basic needs that also could be met. They were told of a community project which had been set up as a charity in partnership with a church in another town who used Acts 435 to help their clients. They made enquiries and spent some time with them learning how Acts 435 worked and then applied through their church to become Advocates.

The team went on to explain why Acts 435 is so invaluable in their setting: 'South West Durham is an area which has seen much decline in recent years. The rate of unemployment in the Bishop Auckland Area is much higher than the national average and the number of people claiming any sort of benefit is more than 25% higher than the national average. Statistically it is one of the most deprived areas in the country where 1 in 4 live below the poverty line. Many people are on low income or benefits and live ‘hand to mouth’. If something unexpected comes along it can so easily tip them into crisis. Whilst the Food Bank is usually their first point of contact with a needy person over the years the advocates have built good relationships with many professional bodies who also bring clients into The Well to see if they can help with specific needs.'

"When clients come to the Food Bank we will spend time with each person, maybe referring them to a professional to deal with the underlying problem and, at this point, we sometimes can identify a real need which Acts 435 may be able to help with such as children’s clothing, school uniforms, shoes, beds, carpets, white goods etc and occasionally an unusual item like a shed for a 14 year old giving him essential personal space and enabling him to live with his grandparents", the advocates explain.

'Bad money decisions and debts can cause major issues. We have been able to offer help in the immediate crisis through Act s435 to give some breathing space such as stays of eviction while professional money mentors work with them. We also have our own CAP Money coaches who can work alongside clients teaching budgeting skills etc and there are sometimes opportunities to use Acts 435 to help them through this time of adjustment such as buying a cooker so they don’t have to pay huge amounts of interest any more.

Acts 435 has helped people set up home again after a breakdown in relationship, or fleeing abuse and violence, or homelessness following addiction problems or mental health issues. Benefits take time to be implemented and often these clients have literally nothing. Carpets have been provided so children can visit parents and a bond for a house for a young Mum fleeing violence. There are so many people who have been helped by Acts435 and it is great that we can actually respond to a need and DO something to help people in dire circumstances and show God’s love in very practical ways. It is a wonderful resource which is an outpouring of God’s heart for the poor and needy.'

The team went onto describe the impact The Well Centre, and the partnering with Acts 435, has on their church: 'The church is in the community through The Well. There are many who help in the coffee shop ministry engaging in conversation and giving a listening ear to all who come in and offering prayer where appropriate. We find at times our Acts 435 clients return for support and friendship and often just out of gratitude for the help they have received and we get to know some quite well. Children from families who have been helped in the past by Acts 435 attend our Children’s Holiday Clubs and we all have a great time! A small number of clients have come into the life of the church and we have had some church people themselves benefit from help with Acts435 in times of crisis. We also have several Acts 435 donors in the congregation and we endeavour to keep a raised profile for the charity'

'It has been great to be able to do that bit more for people in their crisis. To be able to give a real ‘leg -up’ and put some ‘wind in their sails’ and then encouraging them to take control of their situations once more. We pray for and with our clients when we feel it is right and we have seen God at work in their circumstances. It is a real blessing to see people make progress in their lives through the help of Acts 435, professional agencies and friendships in The Well. Acts 435 makes a real difference to the lives of many and we are always amazed how quickly grants can come through and the generosity of the donors! It can be very challenging at times, particularly in difficult circumstances, but a real privilege to get alongside with the love of God being shown in such practical ways'

It's often hard for Advocates to pin down a few stories of people they have helped, but here are just a few from The Well:

Charlie and Evelyn (names changed) accessed the food bank fairly frequently because of resulting problems from Evelyn’s alcoholism. We gave support and friendship and referred them to agencies. Then they moved away to the north of the county. Several months later Charlie came to The Well remembering where he had received kindness in the past. Sadly Evelyn had passed away and he was bereft, not knowing what to do. Acts435 provided the removal costs to bring Charlie back to this area so he could be near people who could support him. We arranged counselling for him and slowly he began to get his life back together and became part of the church family. After 15 years of unemployment he was given a job in a hotel and he had a permanent smile on his face having been given back some self esteem. Out of his wages he paid for driving lessons and then saved for a car. He passed his test and is now independent and enjoying life once again!

Ursula (name changed) came to the Food Bank when she was homeless. A professional agency began to work with her and she was given a home. Several essential items were bought through an Acts435 grant to help her set up home and with the help of friends she made through The Well she began to get her life back on track and came into the life of the church. Acts 435 also provided bus fares for a course which helped her have a focus to face up to and deal with some health issues. The story isn’t finished yet but tremendous progress has been made thus far!

Gertrude (Name changed) came to the Food Bank in a pitiful state. She was unkempt and finding life extremely difficult. She wasn’t eligible for any extra money to make up her low coal workers pension and just couldn’t make it stretch any further. She lived in an outlying village and needed her car for just the basic things and bills were not being paid adding to the problems. With Acts435 we were able to buy her specific foods to last a month thereby releasing money so she could pay her car road tax. We referred her to a local Debt Advice Centre who visited and sorted out her debt management. She began to feel a weight was being lifted and she tidied herself up and got a part time job now she could drive again. She came in to The Well for help with forms, telephone calls etc but otherwise she has become independent. She still calls in occasionally to see us and have a chat and is doing well.

Violet (name changed) was referred to us just before Christmas by a community mental health professional. Violet had been in hospital for some time and had recently moved into a small flat so all her benefits were not in place. She desperately wanted to visit her family in the south but knew it was not possible. Acts435 provided Violet with her coach fare to spend Christmas week with her family which made a huge difference to her rate of recovery. Not only that, while she was there reconciliation took place within the family and they now speak regularly on the phone and have promised to visit her very soon.

This team find what they do, including their Acts 435 Advocate role, so worthwhile, and they also say that there needs to be support and commitment from your church to help you in this ministry. They find having a team of them, all passionate about what they're doing, very helpful - to talk through situations and get a second opinion. But to anyone considering becoming an Advocate, or team of Advocates, they'd say 'do it!'.