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St Francis transforms communities
19/08/19

In Coventry 4.6% of people are registered as unemployed, 0.5% higher than the national average. According to the End Child Poverty Coalition there are an estimated 24,931 children living in poverty. Coventry also has provided homes for more Syrian (and other) refugees than any other local authority outside of London. The mix of poverty and cultural differences can lead to fragmentation of communities. However, St Francis of Assisi Church in Radford is working to transform communities and revolutionise the lives of local people by helping them to move forward to social and financial inclusion and employment or education.

Since January 2014, St Francis has run a successful work club and volunteering project. Over the last five and a half years this has grown into several social action projects, and last year St Francis registered as a charity, St Francis Employability Ltd.

St Francis’s work club focuses on supporting people through all the challenges of looking for work: job search, supporting people filling out applications, CV writing and taking people all the way through to interview practice. They also offer direct work experience placements for up to 40 people a week on 8-week placements. The work offered varies from administration finance, data entry, reception, children's work, cleaning, archiving and community support work. The team at St Francis find work that fits the skills of the individual and will assist them to work out their next steps, whether into employment, education or training. Many people who have attended the job club and completed the volunteering programme have gone on to find employment or training.

The church works in partnership with the local council to offer ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) lessons to the refugee and asylum seeker community. An ESOL qualification is important for gaining UK citizenship as well as being attractive to potential employers. Along with ESOL, the church has an integration project that helps newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers settle into the community and learn about life in Britain.

Arabian Bites is St Francis’s most well-known project. Arabian Bites is a vegan cafe specialising in Middle Eastern cuisine and located in Lamb Street, Coventry. The cafe opened in 2018 and soon grabbed the attention of the local press and received five star reviews on TripAdvisor. Run by refugees, Arabian Bites helps to promote community cohesion, understanding and tolerance. Newly arrived refugees are supported to learn new skills and share their culture. Over the past year Arabian Bites has gone from strength to strength and has welcomed thousands of customers from across the city and beyond.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the social action work St Francis does. From Monday to Friday the main church and church hall are a hub of activity with every corner of the two buildings used by different individuals and groups. Many from the congregation are involved in the projects or have become members of the congregation through participating in the projects. In the last five years since the projects started running the main congregation has grown from 19 to 70.

Vicar of St Francis of Assisi, the Revd Liz Jackson says:

“It’s such a privilege to be able to welcome so many people from so many different places into St Francis and support them towards better lives. As a church community we seek to live our lives incarnationally and to serve those around us and this has led us to work with some of the most vulnerable people in Coventry. There is an amazing team of staff and volunteers in our community who give so much to make St Francis a real place of welcome and support”

If you would like to find out more about St Francis Employability check out their website here - https://www.stfranciscoventry.org/

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