In a busy week that takes in 20 engagements in the Presbytery, which covers the central belt of County Down, Dr Kirkpatrick acknowledged and encouraged the work of congregations as they make a difference in their local communities, while visiting a number of organisations supported by local churches. These included Via Wings in Dromore and Christians Against Poverty in Lisburn.
Founded in 2009 in the aftermath of the previous year’s financial crash by Gail Redmond, Via Wings began supporting single mums. It has now grown into an organisation of 18 staff and over 80 volunteers whose sole aim is to break the cycle of poverty for the next generation, meeting needs and changing lives in the town and the surrounding area.
“The number of people seeking our help has risen dramatically and we are seeing that week, by week, especially amongst those who are working, but struggling to keep their heads above water,” Mrs Redmond said.
“The support that we are able to provide is what we call a ‘wrap around service’ with the provision of food at its heart. This enables us to gently reach into the home to provide additional support where needed. We now have nearly 220 families on our books, but have seen a staggering 40% increase in those looking for help since the end of August, just five weeks ago. For the first time in 13 years, we are also getting calls from the elderly in need of help with their energy bills.”
During his visit to the cross-denominational Christian charity, Dr Kirkpatrick was briefed on the services that Via Wings provides, especially those targeted at food poverty, social isolation and mental health.
Mrs Redmond continued, “Poverty isn’t just about having little or no money, or food. Poverty is also about loneliness, isolation, deprivation, brokenness and so much more. Our aim is to show God’s love in a caring, practical and non-judgemental way through the work we do. To do that we work with the support of our partners, including Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, along with local churches, schools, social workers and healthcare workers, but that need has increased dramatically in recent months.”
Each week Via Wings cooks and delivers 120 meals for its elderly clients and distributes surplus food from its partners Tesco, Lidl and Marks & Spencer. Last year that support weighed in at 58 tonnes of excess food. At the same time it has a number of social enterprises, makes calls as part of its ‘Good Morning Dromore’ project and runs its ‘Recycled Teenagers’ initiative for the over 65s, which also lessens the effects of isolation. Dr Kirkpatrick also heard about a number of other projects, including a children’s afterschool’s scheme and the new Wellbeing Centre, which launches in November.
“Dromore and the surrounding area has really been blessed by the compassionate grace-filled carers I met, people who are on the front line of this economic crisis. What really struck me is that Via Wings is doing something that no church could do on its own, yet through co-operation and co-ordination, many are supported and helped as a result,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.
The Moderator concluded by saying, “It was not lost on me that their name ‘Via Wings’ is taken from Isaiah 40. To paraphrase, it says that our God gives strength to the weary so that they will renew their strength and will soar on wings like eagles. It is my prayer that those it supports, and those called to help those in need will not only be blessed in their work, but will also ‘soar on wings like eagles.’”
Taking in and the towns of Dromara, Drumbo, Moira, and Royal Hillsborough, the Presbytery also includes Lisburn, where Dr Kirkpatrick also visited staff and volunteers at Christians Against Poverty (CAP) that provides free debt help. Locally CAP in Lisburn is supported by 15 churches who provide financial and prayer support, along with ‘befrienders’ who come alongside those being supported.
Since 2014 the Lisburn Debt Centre has helped are a mixture of households, from single people to large families in the greater Lisburn area. “A recent CAP / YouGov survey, found that 19% of adults in the UK are already struggling because of the cost of living, with a further 35% just about coping, but at risk if costs rise further. As CAP said at the time, the crisis that we are in now is not new, but is reaching new heights,” Dr Kirkpatrick explained.
“Numbers are ramping up and in the first half of this year, in the UK as a whole, those seeking CAP’s help increased by over 30%. Another thing that struck me was that those seeking help to manage their finances, and their debt in particular, are people who are working and not necessarily on benefits. It was great to see the holistic approach of this well-grounded ministry that does amazing work with people who are in debt.”
Dr Kirkpatrick concluded by saying, “The work of CAP and Via Wings is impressive and meets different, but complimentary and increasing local needs. While the quiet work of these Christian charities is a huge blessing to those in need, it is incumbent on those in government to find ways to mitigate this developing crisis, bit also prioritise the development of anti-poverty strategies to tackle the root causes of the endemic poverty that we see.”
The tour concludes on Sunday when the Moderator will preach in Hillsborough Presbyterian in the morning and Legacurry Presbyterian in the evening.
Photos (1) the Via Wings centre in Dromore (2) Dr Kirkpatrick with young people and volunteers from Via Wings’ Learning 360 programme where participants take part in some hands-on kitchen training to help them gain future employment (3) the Moderator with members of the charity's Recycled Teenagers programme. Aimed at pensioners, or people feeling isolated, they twice a month for coffee and a chat where they can also take part in different activities and listen to guest speakers – like the Moderator.