Mustard Seed programme leader, Heather Black, writes:

This week we are sharing ‘Stories of Hope’ from Middlesbrough, a town that has been particularly hard hit by the impact of Covid-19. In recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics, there were 79 deaths per 100,000 in Middlesbrough compared with 12-27 per 100,000 in other areas of the York Diocese. There have been over 200 deaths at James Cook University Hospital, a death toll almost double that in York and Hull hospitals.

This is the harsh reality of Covid-19 in our poorer communities. People are living in small overcrowded houses and flats with no outdoor space, so the risk of infection spreading is much higher. Many people already experience poor health and so are much more susceptible to the virus. Work is often low-paid employment on the frontline – working in shops, carers, waste collection so the number of people who can work from home is very low.

The good news is that in the midst of these anxious and challenging times churches are planting seeds of hope. A good number of Middlesbrough churches are live streaming their Sunday services and daily offerings of Night Prayer have become a source of comfort and hope for many people. Churches are also active out in their communities and this week we have shared three ‘Stories of Hope’ from Grovehill, Brambles Farm and Thorntree Estates and North Ormesby.

Food provision has been central to the mission of Middlesbrough churches, hosting the regular Foodbank sessions, which have been serving up to 3 or 4 times as many people as normal. Churches have built good working relationships with supermarkets and local producers and have been able to distribute surplus food. When Lidl had to close due to staff ill-health local families benefitted from fresh bread and pastries and a healthy supply of fruit and vegetables, which otherwise would have gone to waste.

Having children at home 24/7 is challenging for everyone, but if you live in small, cramped houses and flats with no outdoor space it is even harder. Recognising this churches have been supporting families with activity packs to help keep children entertained and also support informal learning. There were lots of wonderful VE day resources online but without a computer or printer families could not access them. Hundreds of VE day activity packs were distributed with colouring competitions and other challenges to help families stay connected.

In the midst of all this practical action of course there has been pastoral love and care, with many opportunities to connect with people in new and deeper ways. Our church buildings may be closed but the love of God is being spread abroad in our communities, and many seeds of hope are growing.

You can follow all the ‘Stories of Hope’ on social media: