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To Their Credit – How Churches Are Helping The UK’s Poorest: by Nicole Holgate


 First, A Brief History of the Church Housing Trust

Prebendary Wilson Carlile founded the Church Army in 1882 and Church Army Housing in 1924, thereby starting a great tradition which continues to this day through the combined forces of Church Housing Trust and Riverside ECHG (formerly English Churches Housing Group).

The Church Army soon became the largest lay society in the Church of England and Wilson Carlile himself was centrally involved in its social work for the homeless, often spending nights on the Thames Embankment in winter in order to care for those sleeping rough. Because of this work, many found the courage to try life in a hostel from where they could move on to better lives.

Church Army Housing transferred its hostels to Church Housing Association in 1977 and in 1984 Church Housing Trust was founded to raise charitable funds to support the hostels and the trust became a registered charity in 1991. In the same year Church Housing Association merged with Baptist Housing Association and United Reformed Church Housing Association to become English Churches Housing Group, and Church Housing Trust remained an independent charity raising funds for their work with the homeless. More recently ECHG became part of the Riverside Group and continues to be one of the leading providers of supported housing for homeless people.

Mission Statement

Church Housing Trust takes positive action to provide better facilities, opportunities and futures for homeless people whilst promoting a wider national understanding of the difficulties faced by those in housing need. It raises funds nationally for the establishment, equipping, organising, furnishing and maintenance of housing, hostel and other accommodation. Church Housing Trust reaches the elderly, students, single people, families and the physically and mentally ill who are unable by reason of poverty, sickness, age or youth to make adequate provision for themselves.

Nicole Holgate:”To Their Credit – How Churches Are Helping The UK’s Poorest”

The Church’s commitment to helping the most vulnerable members of society has never been more evident than over the past few years, as the need for food banks, the use of payday loans, and the increase of homelessness and rough sleeping have seen council and government-funded services stretched to their limits.


Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has become a fierce advocate for the creation of a fairer financial system, encouraging churches and individual Christians to add their voices or actions. This came after the news that one million UK households took out payday and doorstep loans with APRs of up to 6,000% every month because they had no access to bank loans.


Archbishop Welby’s criticism of Wonga and other payday lenders helped fuel a campaign to rein in the sector. Now that the Financial Conduct Authority has imposed limits on payday loans, the archbishop has turned his attention to mainstream banks and their role in society. Most recently, accusing the financial services industry of ignoring poor communities, he called on banks to put people before profit.


He added that banks should make sure all sections of society have access to bank accounts and free cash machines which, following the clampdown on payday lending, would give lower-income families much-needed access to financial services .  Between 1989 and 2012, 7,500 banks and building society branches were closed , two-thirds of these in deprived areas.


The Church of England now runs the  website ‘To your credit’, which advises individuals and churches how to get the most out of their banking, including the management of debts and ongoing bill costs. The Church Urban Fund has also launched a series of ‘poverty briefings’ to ensure that each diocese has the information available to form a tailored action plan to help those in the most financial trouble.


Last summer, inspired by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on responsible lending, songwriter and music producer Charles Bailey approached the Church of England with the idea for a rap. The song, called ‘We need a union on the streets’ , tells the stories of young people who get into debt because of payday loans with high interest rates and aims to highlight credit unions as a better way to borrow.

While benefit cuts and stalled wages continue to have an adverse effect on those on the bottom rung of society, the Church has come forward as a spokesman on their behalf.  This puts the Church in the firing line of Members of Parliament and the media, who have all been quick to react, not always positively, and this seems likely to increase rather than decrease in the near future. However, some good ground has also been made, even if it may take a while before the wider community finally gets the point.


Nicole Holgate, Communications Officer


Church Housing Trust


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