Faith, prayer and a significant nudge from God, has led to the creation of a new community money advice service in North West Leicestershire.
Launched at the beginning of the year, Hope67 opened its metaphorical doors during the pandemic, and is helping some of the poorest and most in need members of the community in Coalville and the wider diocese.
It’s a brilliant story of love in action; of different local church streams and denominations coming together for the good of the LE67 postcode area, and ultimately of people using their God given gifts to lift up those on the margins.
The Christian organisation was formed by Coalville Foodbank and Money Matters Leicester (which operates out of The Church of the Martyrs in Leicester) and is part of the Community Money Advice network - a national charity that enables community groups and churches to establish local, free to client, face to face debt advice services. They are supported by grants and donations.
Service Manager, Phil Antill, never imagined he’d be leading Hope67. Just three years ago, God told Phil to leave his job as an IT manager for an engineering company, and he did – not knowing what he would do next. Phil had never worked in finance, nor debt advice, yet felt called to help launch Hope67.
“I think it’s important to follow the leading of the Lord, wherever He takes you,” he says. “If the same drum keeps beating in the background, you have to listen. It might not be where you think you fit, but sometimes He wants to surprise you!”
A lot of hard work and training courses later and Phil is managing the fledgling organisation, mostly remotely. His former IT skills have enabled him to support the service across the partnership and offered him a way to give back to the team who helped to ‘birth’ Hope67.
“We’ve been able to launch a lot faster by being a satellite of Money Matters Leicester,” he explains. “It’s a great demonstration of the Church as a body working (and praying) together, and very much a Churches Together vision not just across Coalville, but also West Leicester, the city and those Christians with a heart for debt advice across the diocese.”
Phil, who is a member of James Street Church in Coalville, says there are two verse of scripture that speak to him, and they are: Isaiah 24:4 (ESV): ‘For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.’
“It really sums up how we would like people in need to see our service,” he says.
On the flip side, looking at this from a church perspective and as a Christian, Phil is also drawn to Ephesians 2:10 (ESV): ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’
“It’s just a wonderful opportunity for people to be encouraged into things God has prepared,” says Phil.
“I really hope that people will see our service as a way to grow in faith by serving and using their gifts, and feel called to volunteer.”
Those who currently volunteer with Hope67 and Money Matters Leicester are based all over Leicestershire.
One such volunteer says: “It's an amazing privilege being able to help and support people facing enormous challenges in their life, and then be part of a solution that brings them hope and a fresh start.”
As part of the journey to get to this point, Hope67 researched and recognised the need in North West Leicestershire.
The Greenhill Community Church in Coalville had been holding a ‘pay what you can café’ for many years and before lockdown, used to get organisations to come along, chat to people and signpost them to the support they needed. But debt advice was still very much lacking.
Phil says: “In 2018, a national charity received 15 debt related enquiries in a six month period that they were unable to help, all from the Coalville area, and while that might not sound like a large number, we know that around 40 per cent of those that look for debt advice cannot access it.”
Nina de Salis Young agrees. She is Centre Manager of Money Matters Leicester and part of the team that founded the centre six years ago at the church she worships at - The Church of the Martyrs, Leicester - in connection with the West Leicester Mission Partnership.
“There is an enormous unmet need for good quality, accessible debt advice,” she explains. “We want to enable and encourage other people to get involved in debt advice; it’s just such a crucial service and can transform people’s lives, helping them to make a new start.”
Nina’s story also began with a nudge from God, despite having had no experience in financial advice. She’d taken the JIF (Journey in Faith) course run by the diocese and, in response to that nudge was also reading Nevertheless by John Kirkby of Christians Against Poverty. She felt compelled to do something. When she started asking around, all the doors were closed. But just a year later, the door suddenly opened, people came forward and money was offered. God was most certainly at work.
“Oh, God’s been amazing,” she says. “I’m amazed how we got through the first year, but we know a great deal more now. We’ve started mentoring in other centres and contributing to the national training programme. It has been an incredible journey.”
Nina says the vision is simple: “We are showing loving service to our neighbours by helping the poorest and most vulnerable people in our community.
“Two thirds of our clients have told us they have suicidal feelings, four fifths are struggling with anxiety and depression and receiving treatment or specialist services, half are disabled, three quarters are on benefits, and more than half live below the poverty line. We are supporting people on the margins. One client said, ‘I literally do not know what would have become of us without you’.
“Our work is significant,” she continues. “We’ve stopped evictions, stopped court cases, we’ve won appeals and tribunals for benefits claims, we’ve had debts written off and at the moment are helping our clients to deal with half a million pounds of debt.”
Something really interesting to come out of the pandemic is a new, successful way of working remotely, says Nina. “Within two months of the pandemic we had moved entirely online, meeting over WhatsApp video and exchanging documents by text. It enable clients to access us immediately and not have to leave their homes.”
Today they operate in a hybrid way across the centres, offering in-person meetings for those who need them.
Phil says: “There are barriers to get around – fear, shame, embarrassment – so it’s important that we do this from a non-judgemental place and show people who come to us God’s love. We’re creating a safe space for people to discuss their problems, and to hopefully help them towards solutions.
“I think what I’ve learnt is that if you give God your willingness, he’ll sort out the blessing – and that will also be a blessing to you.
“We’re very grateful for God’s provision, to enable us to provide this much needed service to people.”
Do you feel called to help those on the margins? Hope67 and Money Matters Leicester are currently looking for volunteers.
For more information visit: https://hope67.org.uk/