Bishop Sarah opens the three shop front Shildon Alive Hub with Paula Nelson, Joanne Iceson and Revd David Tomlinson (Picture: Keith Blundy)

The Rt Revd, Sarah Clark, Bishop of Jarrow has formally opened the new premises of Shildon Alive marking the next stage in the project ongoing success story.

Like her predecessor, Bishop Sarah was delighted to continue the patronage of the Bishops of Jarrow for the St John’s church project that has become a crucial lifeline for the community in the County Durham Town.

Shildon which is amongst the most deprived communities in the North East has grown in its reliance on Shildon Alive. Centred on the high street, it provides a safe space for its visitors to come and engage with services such as a food bank, a credit union, a learning environment for home cooking, as well as a place of sanctuary and calm.

The project has been awarded more than three-quarters of a million pounds (£0.75M) during the last few years, with the recent award from the big lottery enabling the opening of a new, more significant centre of food and finance solidarity. Shildon Alive continues to build on the experiences of the last five years by continuing to enable local people to care for local people.

The project was founded by the Revd Canon David Tomlinson when he was vicar of St John’s and is now responsible for helping other churches in the diocese to become advocates of their communities and grow for their communities.

Revd David said: “The larger premises [grown from 3 shop units from the previous 1] will allow us to respond better to demand. This is exemplified by the Credit Union now running daily instead of twice weekly, and more excitingly the expansions of the food for all program to include a healthy take away for children and young people, intergenerational cooking and learning together, a community supermarket with low priced staples not otherwise available in a town that has no supermarkets.”

Food Champion – Joanne Iceton, Bishop Sarah, Paula Nelson and Revd David Tomlinson in the new Shildon Alive Food Hub
(Picture: Keith Blundy)

Projects Coordinator Paula Nelson said: “The ‘food for all’ program was established with the support of Morrison’s, Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury‘s, Aldi M&S food and Greggs. It recognises that the £13bn of food trashed in the UK every year is a national scandal, impacting the environment, food costs, and human flourishing.

“As a Christian group, Shildon Alive believes passionately in taking care of the world around us so every week we collect surplus food from local supermarkets, encouraging local people to make use of it and working together to minimise this problem in their area. Our food champion Joanne Iceton also runs the intergenerational cooking programme we call Littlechefsbigchefs which aims to bring generations together to learn and share in the joy of cooking.

“Alongside the Credit Union, partnering with NE First, we run savings clubs in schools, budget lessons, and seek to challenge loan sharking. A financially healthy people are an emotionally healthy people too.”

Revd David Tomlinson, Bishop Sarah and Paula Nelson Talk Credit Unions at the new Shildon Alive Hub.
(Picture: Keith Blundy)

Revd David added: “A full-time advocacy service supporting people out of difficult places, signposting and being a kind and listening presence is making a massive difference to families and individuals who simply need a ‘leg up’ every now and again. Physical health and caring for the environment go hand in hand with two community gardens, a guerrilla gardening project involving around 800 children and young people (annually) litter picking and planting across the community.

“We also have an Alzheimer’s café has proved popular with both carers and those living with the condition, giving support, along with planning musical and other events have combined to make this a success. Girls keep fit, pop up table tennis table, youth group meetings, and more complete the picture.”

Bishop Sarah said: “We are called to shine the light of our faith in our everyday lives and for the people of St. John’s this means caring for our community in a way that ensures no one need be hungry, or lonely, or broken by financial crisis or family heartache. Shildon Alive is the lamp through which the church shines its light into the community of Shildon.

“I speak on behalf of this church, one that seeks to stand with the communities it serves, that listens to its people, and that offers itself through acts of love daily.”

Revd David added: “ Coming from the Welsh Valleys, Bishop Sarah, understands what it feels like to be part of a community that has seen its industries closed and work opportunities erode, so having her in Shildon and adding her support to the next phase of the project is particularly poignant.”