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Shadow minister praises community action at Reading summit

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Foodbanks feeding a million people shows David Cameron’s Big Society in action – but also highlights the effect of the coalition Government’s policies.

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That was the claim made by a Labour frontbencher when he visited Reading on Saturday, January 10.

Social action leaders from across the area met Stephen Timms MP at a special summit held to explore how faith and community groups’ projects are making a difference in the area – and how they can make more of an impact in the future.

The East Ham MP is Labour’s employment spokesperson and came to Reading Community Church in Tilehurst for the event, which saw leaders from local businesses, foodbanks, education initiatives and other social action groups share their experiences of working across the Thames Valley. It was chaired and organised by Victoria Groulef, Labour’s candidate for the Reading West seat in this year’s General Election.

In a short speech, Stephen praised the way in which churches have responded to the problem of food poverty.

“Churches uniquely provided the capacity to take on foodbanks and provide food for a million people over the past year.

“We couldn’t have predicted that it was the churches [that would help]. It’s not surprising that churches have the motivation, but it is surprising that it had the practical capacity to do it.”

He added that, in his opinion, it delivered a damning indictment of the coalition Government’s policies, particularly in welfare reform.

“It is a fantastic example of David Cameron’s Big Society, but it highlights what this Government is doing,” he said.

Stephen is aware that there is more that faith-based groups are doing to make a difference in their communities.

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He added: “It isn’t just foodbanks – Christians Against Poverty, youth work, Street Pastors, homeless shelters – there’s a whole raft of things going on. It’s a very important social movement and I don’t think we’ve really properly recognised what’s going on.

“It’s a real grassroots movement, all led and organised locally. Churches are reaching into communities. They are able to deliver and they give hope to communities.”

Victoria Groulef has also picked up on the need for political parties to acknowledge the role that faith groups play in helping the community and said that the event was a chance for the groups to express their views.

She said: “I want to hear what you’ve got to say.”

ALSO ON XN: Reading East MP heads Government’s response to foodbank report 

As well as being the MP for East Ham, Stephen is chair of Christians On The Left.

In his introduction, he said: “[Christians On The Left] exists to draw attention to the contribution that faith-based organisations are making to the community.”

Afterwards, ReadiFood, one of the participants, posted on Facebook their praise for the summit.

The post read: “Brilliant meeting of Reading Social Action leaders with Victoria Groulef and Stephen Timms MP. Good to present the work of ReadiFood amongst the other things that FCG [Faith Community Groups] do.”

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