Free Churches Commission

Free Churches Commission Project Update # 3, 4th October 2019

Photo credit: Emma Goff, image from Unsplash

Photo credit: Emma Goff, image from Unsplash

The project has now been running for almost a year. We have completed the vast majority of our data gathering, and are now analysing the material to prepare the Commission write-up.

* Theos researchers have consulted 353 participants across 282 interviews, and completed 19 observations. That equates to a rate of more than one participant every day since the project began!

* Research teams have visited Bolton, Bury, Bradford, Middlesbrough, Derby, Peterborough, East Lindsey, Solihull, Thanet, Plymouth, Cornwall, Newham, Haringey and Croydon.

* In partnership with the Cadbury Centre, the Free Churches Group and Theos have started a series of roundtable events which have brought expert voices into conversation with the emerging themes of the project.

* We have also interviewed a selection of experts in this field as participants in their own right, from academia, policy, and frontline delivery.

We have seen inspiring work happening across the country, demonstrating the power of positive partnership and the incredible potential of the church in every place we have visited. We have noted the unique assets that local churches can bring to their neighbourhoods – whether that is their buildings, strong leadership, the convening power to bring community voices together, the ability to mobilise volunteers, or (perhaps most importantly of all) a strong vision for the well-being of their communities.

The strength of this contribution also means that local churches are often on the frontline of service delivery – although this can sometimes bring tensions with local authorities, as churches risk going from ‘serving’ to becoming ‘service-providers’. This relationship worked most fruitfully when both parties understood the priorities and unique language of the other.

We are also excited that Theos and the Free Churches Group have been selected to deliver the British Academy’s Companion Review on “The Place of Faith & Belief in Social Cohesion”, as part of its Cohesive Societies series. Existing work in the series can be found here. This means that the FCG Commission itself will now be released in Summer 2020, later than originally scheduled. We look forward to expanding the reach of our investigation into a greater consideration of existing policy in this area, and applying what we find to the conclusions of the FCG Commission.

Free Church Commission, Project Update #2, 15th January 2019

The project has now been running for three months, and we have completed our first case study – with more on the way!

  • 49 participants consulted across 38 interviews, and 5 observations completed, with a further 40 interviews anticipated for completion by early February

  • Pilot case study (Bolton) completed and introductory blog published on the Theos website here.

  • MPs for several case study areas interviewed at Westminster

  • Croydon and a supplementary sample agreed as the 12th and 20th case studies

  • Case studies currently underway in Newham, Haringey, and Croydon, with imminent case studies upcoming (late January/early February) in Middlesbrough and Thanet

  • Dates for all 20 case studies and the mid-project review scheduled

  • A range of experts consulted in the social cohesion field, and literature review ongoing

    Since the last commission meeting, the research team has completed the pilot case study in Bolton, begun interviews for our London case studies in the boroughs of Haringey, Newham and Croydon, continued to interview MPs for our chosen areas in Westminster, and finalised a timeline for all our case studies and dissemination schedule through 2019-2020. We have now completed 38 interviews (involving 49 participants) and 5 observations, with a further 40 interviews scheduled for completion by the start of February.

    The Bolton pilot yielded fascinating interviews and insight into emerging themes, such as the importance of physical place and space to community cohesion, the relationship with local councils, and the centrality of strong personal relationships to successful community cohesion projects. We spoke with churches across the denominational spectrum, representatives from other faith communities, journalists, council officials, executives/staff of local charities, and local people with no professional link to social cohesion work. We were given tours of religious buildings and social action projects, visited social clubs, and attended community lunches and cafes. We are now in the process of transcribing these interviews and observations, and implementing our findings from the pilot into subsequent case study planning. We particularly noted the importance of the quality of relationship churches enjoy with the local council, both in terms of practical considerations like funding, and also in the recognition of churches as community stakeholders.

Project Update #1 [15-11-18]

The project has been running for almost a month, and is progressing at pace!

Our first eleven case studies have been selected: they will be

  • Bolton

  • Bury

  • Bradford

  • Middlesbrough

  • Solihull

  • Derby

  • Peterborough

  • Haringey

  • Newham

  • Thanet

  • Plymouth

Our team of researchers have met with leading academics and public figures in the field, and interviews have begun with key community leaders in our case study locations.

We are excited about the progress being made on this important research, and we encourage anybody who is interested in being a participant in the research to contact Madeleine Ward (