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Faith groups' role in keeping communities together is undervalued, says new report

by Tola Mbakwe

A new report says the positive role UK faith groups play in society is undervalued and they should have more of a say in local social policies. 

The research, commissioned by the British Academy and the Faith and Belief Forum, looked at the practical impact of the faith and belief sector on communities. 

It found that society normally views faith groups as important at times of crisis, but in reality, they're doing vital work all the time. 

Maddy Pennington is a Christian and wrote the report. She said there need to be more awareness of how religious groups help society. 

"The report is saying that often they are seen through a very narrow lens of things like security concerns and conflict between groups. But actually, they're often doing quiet work that doesn't really meet the headlines," she said. 

"So for example, they might be running social groups, social initiatives, there are opportunities to meet different people of different faiths. Wherever you look there are faith groups that are often they're doing important and bonding and bridging work between different groups in society."

The research entitled 'Cohesive Societies: Faith and Belief', carried out by the thinktank Theos has called for local councils to include faith groups in decisions that aim to promote the welfare of a community. 

Pennington said a council in Bolton has set the standard. 

"I think often it's about being at the table. So a good example of this would be in Bolton, where the local authority along with the various local stakeholders have a Bolton 2030 vision, and that has bought different community stakeholders together to think about that vision and where Bolton needs to be in 2030. 

"Lots of the people there have been faith groups. Churches in Bolton ran a series of conferences getting behind the vision and they've made plaques that say 'I'm behind the 2030 vision'. They've been offered the opportunity to give and to be a part of that conversation. I think that the main thing is about seeing faith groups as having important resources and therefore opening up the routes by which they can offer those resources rather than seeing them as a problem."

The report is part of the British Academy's ongoing Cohesive Societies programme, launched in 2017, which explores how societies remain cohesive in the face of rapid political, social, economic and technological change. 

 Phil Champain, director of the Faith and Belief Forum, said: "Faith and belief groups are best viewed as an asset to society and not as a problem to be solved. This report clearly shows that integration issues are better addressed by approaching faith and belief communities in a spirit of partnership, recognising the positive role they can play in creating a more connected and cohesive society. Many faith groups already play a central role in bettering social cohesion while also providing crucial services in their local areas. By working to build better relations between our diverse communities, we can unlock even more of this potential for positive change." 
 Listen to Premier's interview with Maddy Pennington here: 

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