Page last updated at 13:57 GMT, Tuesday, 22 December 2009
Valleys church helps community fight debt
By Rachel Broome
BBC South East Wales

The church wants to work directly with the poor and needy in the Rhondda

A church in the south Wales valleys has joined forces with Christians Against Poverty to set up a debt counselling centre.

The project launched by ACTS community church in Tylorstown is the first of its kind in the Rhondda.

Christians Against Poverty (CAP) is a national debt counselling charity which works through a network of centres based in local churches across the UK.

The charity offers free advice and practical support for people in debt.

ACTS community church is just a year old and meets in Tylorstown Sports Centre.

Tylorstown is an area of multiple deprivation and high unemployment

The name ACTS, as well as being a book from the Bible, stands for A Church for Today's Society.

Members of the church wanted to get involved in the community and embraced the idea of working with the poor and needy, those regarded by some as the least in society and to 'take the love of God to people in need in the community.'

The church decided to work in partnership with CAP, a debt advice charity established in Bradford by John Kirkby in 1996. They currently have over 100 centres across the UK.

From their headquarters in Bradford they provide training and support for those churches who wish to set up CAP centres across the UK.

Wrestling with debt

Once a church decides to partner with CAP they go to Bradford for a four day intensive training course, to enable them to provide debt advice.

They also attend refresher courses every couple of months, whilst all the time being able to refer back to colleagues in Bradford in the case of more complex debt problems

Rob Jones, centre manager for the CAP centre in Tylorstown and a member of ACTS community church, admits that debt is a major problem in the area.

Rob Jones
Rob Jones manages the CAP debt advice centre in Tylorstown

"It's a source of marriage breakdown, of stress, of people being ill, being off work - the knock-on effect of people wrestling with unmanageable debt in their lives can be massive," he says.

"As a church we felt that's one of the areas that if we are going to be relevant in our community and if our message means anything at all then that's what we need to be doing."

Referrals to CAP can be done through a freephone number or their website. Once a client has referred themselves to CAP, a debt advisor from the local centre visits the client in their home to draw up a debt repayment plan.

A CAP account is then set up for the client. This acts as a bank account from which all the client's bills and debts are managed. The client promises to fund this account either weekly or monthly to manage their debts.

Rob says that the difference between Christians Against Poverty and other debt advisory services is that they are able to offer one to one befriending and support as part of the service. They walk through the process of debt repayment with clients.

CAP workers also have the discretion to purchase up to £100 of food for a client in need or replace an appliance such as a broken washing machine.

Helping to feed the hungry

Tylorstown is in the top 10% of the Welsh Assembly's index of multiple deprivation. There's high unemployment in the area which goes hand in hand with big levels of debt.

By the time people contact Rob and his team things have usually reached crisis point, but Rob says it doesn't matter what stage people are at with their debt problems they can help.

Money for food can be hard to come by if you're still waiting to receive benefits

In addition to setting up a CAP centre the ACTS church has established a food bank - a lock-up garage filled with tinned and dried goods - in conjunction with the Trussell Trust.

They operate a voucher system through various support agencies which supplies three days worth of emergency provisions to people whose personal circumstances mean they do not have enough money to buy food.

They may be coming out of care, have yet to have access to social security benefits or have just left prison.

Rob says their aim is to help lift people out of the debt trap. In the last eleven years CAP has helped 36,000 people across the UK get out of debt.

"We are really excited about helping to see this oppression lifted from people's lives," he says.

"Feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, repairing the foundations of our society and restoring community is really just modern day language for the message of the Bible."

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