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2015 Inspire Awards shows Church impact at grassroots level

The Church in the UK is alive and well, with believers all over the country getting their hands dirty and making life better for their communities, writes Editor Russ Bravo ...

Editor RUSS BRAVO reflects on an inspirational afternoon in Parliament, presenting the 2015 Inspire Awards

The Church in the UK is alive and well, with believers all over the country getting their hands dirty and making life better for their communities.

That was the clear message from the 2015 Inspire Awards, held recently in the MacMillan Room, Portcullis House, part of the Houses of Parliament.

Shadow Employment Minister and Labour Faith Envoy Stephen Timms MP welcomed the guests and shortlisted entries and underlined his view that Christians at grassroots level are making a siginificant impact.

"Foodbanks are the best known example, but MPs like me are seeing increasingly that church initiatives are among the most hopeful and encouraging in our communities. I welcome recognition through Inspire of outstanding individual Christians and church-based projects, and warmly congratulate all those who received such well-deserved awards."

As ever, it was an afternoon of encouragement and inspiration. It is an immense privilege to get a glimpse into the love, care, sacrifice and prayer poured into their local communities by Christians simply being obedient to what God has led them to do. So many were surprised and delighted to be picked, and for some it's a welcome "well done" that isn't looked for but appreciated hugely nonetheless.

Every one of those attending – and many of those doing great work but who didn't make our final shortlist – had put themselves on the line to do the work God had called them to. Some had moved house, others had faced opposition more from within the Church than outside, others had battled health issues and all sorts of pressures visible and invisible.

Each felt they were ordinary people doing what they could, and seeing an extraordinary God change lives thanks to their willingness to say "here I am, send me!".

The Inspiring Individual Award, presented by CPO Chief Executive Andy Moreman, went to Dave Bagley (pictured above right), of Urban Outreach in Bolton. Dave and his wife Chris started the ministry 25 years ago, and since then they have made considerable impact, working with homeless people, families in crisis, running two food banks and seeing transformation of the town's red light area.

Runners-up were Clare Herriot (right), who works to bring Jesus into the heart of Chislehurst's high street and business community, running the 2gether charity shop which raises money for the local YFC (watch a short video Clare made of her day), and Jean Sharman-Golder, a veteran 'Bob the Builder' of the mission field who despite being well into retirement in years, still travels regularly to Europe and Africa taking relief parcels and working on projects missionaries don't have time for. "When God calls, he equips" she says.

The Evangelical Alliance Award, for the winner of the Inspiring Projects category, was presented by EA General Director Steve Clifford to New Hope (below right), based in Watford, another ministry celebrating 25 years in 2015. Started by two Christian women with a heart for homeless people, the charity is now one of the largest homelessness services providers in the Home Counties, looking "to support each individual at every stage of their journey of recovery".

Runners-up were two much newer initiatives: the House of Bread, an inter-church outreach project started in 2010 in Stafford that provides home-made meals, friendship, advice and support for homeless and vulnerable people in the town; and Yeovil4Family, a 2011 initiative from one church that has grown into a major programme offering mentoring schemes for families, working with a wide range of agencies and inspiring similar initiatives in Hereford, Ipswich and Bath.

One of the most passionate speakers was Sheila Fowler (pictured below right), who started Wirral FUSS (Free Uniforms for Secondary Schools), winners of the Inspiring Youth & Children’s Initiative, presented by YFC board chairman Ken Wright. She spoke of her anger that families on benefits were struggling to find £300 for school uniforms. Now her team in Hoylake wash, iron and repair uniforms to help them out.

Runners-up were 22-year-old Thomas Horton from Immingham, Lincolnshire – already a veteran campaigner and fundraiser for Fair Trade and anti-trafficking charities, and whose experience is already mentoring teenagers at his former school – and Staffordshire-based schools outreach team Synapse, whose care and mentoring input into local schools, colleges and young offenders’ institutes has recently expanded to providing ‘prayer spaces’ at special schools.

These local heroes are just a few of the hundreds of thousands of lights – maybe millions – shining for Christ across our communities and being Jesus to those who need it most.

What is God calling you to do in 2016? Make yourself available, and you’ll be amazed what can happen …

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