Like many of you, we were shocked by the BBC’s report into poverty in Burnley. The weekend before Christmas, a member of our editorial team visited St Matthew’s, the church which is at the centre of the programme.
We saw the foodbank in full swing. On one side of the church, generous locals would drop off bags of supplies, which would then be sorted by volunteers before being distributed on the other side to those in need, who ranged in all ages. The scale was immense: over 100 people visited the church on that day.
Speaking to Fr Alex Frost, he was particularly concerned about the mental health of his parishioners, who have untreated illnesses – ranging from depression to schizophrenia – all of which the pandemic has exacerbated.
That is why we are raising money for St Matthew’s Burnley. We are looking to raise £10,000. In the first instance, we hope to raise £5,000 to provide long-lasting essentials over the bitter winter months ahead. The next £5,000 will be to give professional mental health support to those desperately in need in south-west Burnley.
‘They fear the system.’ Fr Frost told us. The majority of his parishioners are employed, but work on zero-hours contracts and under a punitive benefits system, allowing the coronavirus to shatter what was left of the welfare state.
‘The pandemic has acted as a magnifying glass,’ said Bishop Phillip North in a conversation with us. The issues facing the poor in Burnley could be fixed quickly and simply, if the political will was there.