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2012 Inspire Awards: believers encouraged to "get your hands dirty" in changing lives

Christians putting their faith into action to make life better for local communities were honoured in Parliament yesterday at the 2012 Inspire Awards ...

Christians putting their faith into action to make life better for local communities were honoured in Parliament yesterday at the 2012 Inspire Awards.

Organised by Inspire magazine along with the Evangelical Alliance, the event put the focus on grassroots community action by unsung local heroes, and the awards, hosted by Inspire editor Russ Bravo, showed huge evidence that the Church is alive and well and making a massive difference to thousands of lives.

"It's been a real privilege to be involved in telling the stories of ordinary Christians allowing God to use them to do extraordinary things," he said.

After a passionate welcome from Gavin Shuker MP (left) from Christians in Parliament, who encouraged believers to "get their hands dirty" in making life better for others in their neighbourhoods, the guests were treated to a constant stream of encouragement as stories were shared of the way God is at work across the UK. Later there was similar encouragement from Fiona Bruce MP (right).

In the Inspiring Individual category, with awards presented by CPO chief executive Paul Slide, former bank manager Mike Hulcoop (pictured above) was the winner, for his sacrificial work in Aylesbury providing free money management advice based at his church Southcourt Baptist. He helps people get out of debt, helps with claims for benefits and advises people setting up small businesses.

Runner-up in this section was the work of Steve and Chrissie Croucher, a couple from Bournemouth Vineyard Church who felt called to minister on the streets to addicts, homeless people and those working in the sex industry. The couple's call developed into The Release Project which regularly touches the lives of 40-50 on the streets, helped by a team of 20 volunteers.

Highly commended was Gordon Cochrane from Harrow, who is a tireless community organiser and was the brains behind this year's Olympicfest in the town, attracting more than 3000.

Evangelical Alliance Director of Advocacy Dr Dave Landrum presented the EA Serve Awards in the Projects category, and said the Inspire Awards were the most "humbling and encouraging event I went to in Parliament all last year".

This category was won by Hope Into Action (above), based in Peterborough who help vulnerable people in the community, particularly former prisoners, by investing in houses to provide homes for them, working alongside local churches. Some 13 churches in the region now support a house and lives are being changed by compassionate care, one by one.

Runner-up was The Thrive Team, who work with young people on the Barton estate in Oxfordshire. One of the top 1% of deprived areas in the county, more than a third of children there are classed as living in poverty. The team encourages young people to bring change themselves and runs youth clubs, allotment projects, mentoring programmes and a church plant. Again, lives are being changed and the difference is being noticed by social workers, police and local councils.

Highly commended was another ministry working with ex-offenders, Restart in Stoke. Going since 2004, Restart currently offers 89 beds for male and female clients and housed 200 people last year. As well as offering mentoring and support, they now bring life skills and training to many as well. And the effects are clear with re-offending among Restart users at just 5%, compared to the national average of 68% and the local average of 77%.

In the new Children & Youth Initiative category, with awards presented by Tearfund's Emerging Generation Co-ordinator Abigail Okunlola, huge numbers of young people are being reached powerfully and effectively.

Winners were Birkenhead-based Wirral YFC (above right), who in response to last year's riots launched their own Youth Awards event to show the positive side of young people. Churches, local schools, local people and their MP were all involved, and the event was so successful it has now become an annual event, and is being seed-funded out to five new parts of the country. Hopes are it will go national.

Runner-up was Make Jesus Known, a dynamic youth ministry in Manchester based around the energetic evangelism of the band Crossfya. Led by Tim and Charissa Cooke, it has made a big impact in the city and beyond working with schools, churches and city events.

And Highly Commended was K2 and Kube, part of the work in Colchester done by youth and children's work specialists Keith and Karen Barrett. These clubs are run in particular for families and young people who have suffered bereavement and terminal illnesses, and who are involved in fostering, adoption and caring for youngsters with special needs.

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