Business franchising has become commonplace: the High Street contains retail franchises such as Thorntons, Subway, and Boots Opticians. It involves duplicating success by providing an established brand, a product or service, and training to those who want to run a business.
Now the Church is drawing on a similar idea, community franchising, as a way for churches to replicate successful social-action projects in their own area rather than reinventing the wheel.
At times in its history, the Church has been pivotal in delivering our country’s social-welfare system, and, contrastingly, there are other periods when it has seemed woefully disconnected from the needs of society. It is now increasingly in the former mode.
Recent research by the Cinnamon Network (which confirms the findings of a range of earlier studies) suggests that church volunteers are contributing about 72 million hours every year in service to communities. This, with donations and gifts in kind, is valued at more than £1 billion per annum.
THE Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, said at a recent event about community franchising: “In the eyes of some, being religious is seen as being weird. They don’t want public discussion about faith, and don’t want faith to have a role in our communities. Everyone — whether religious or secular — loses out from that kind of attitude. We need to ensure that all our faith groups have every opportunity to make their mark” (News, 24 June).
Examples of community franchising projects that have been growing rapidly over the past decade include Street Pastors, which started in Brixton, and Street Angels, both of which address anti-social behaviour. Between them, they now mobilise volunteers on Friday and Saturday nights to support people in vulnerable situations on the streets. These projects have now been replicated by churches in more than 300 places in the UK.
Another example is the charity Christians Against Poverty, which started in Bradford to help people free themselves from debt; it has now been replicated by more than 160 churches.
The community-franchising approach builds up churches to serve their communities. It has a number of advantages, offering:
• off-the-peg projects, which can be adapted to fit the local context, without churches’ having to start from scratch;
• projects that have an established track record of working well in a range of situations;
• cost-effectiveness, because research, identification of the factors that lead to success, and training have already been developed;
• ways of working which serve local churches, without their having to raise significant costs for a central charity.
So far, community franchising has developed mostly by accident. When a church pioneers a social-action project that delivers positive outcomes, it is visited by activists from other communities, who are interested in replicating its success. Soon there are “how-to” guides, franchise agreements, and networks of practitioners to share best practice, professional training, and support.
More recent community-franchise charities, such as GB Job Clubs, have deliberately developed a nationwide network by following a community- franchising strategy. GB Job Clubs was inspired by a man who was made redundant and started a small group for mutual support, in order to share skills and do some word-of-mouth job-hunting. The first club, in Edenbridge, has helped 89 people to find work over the past two years. Each person now in work is saving the state £8500 per annum in benefit claims, which adds up to more than £750,000 for Edenbridge alone.
There are now more than 130 similar job clubs across the country, reproducing this success. They are a powerful example of the ability of community franchising to deliver local change on a national scale, and to do so rapidly.
What has changed most recently is that there are an increasing number of charities that are beginning to follow an intentional community-franchise approach from the start.
There are, for instance, a cluster of initiatives focused on homelessness. One is Curry Union, which helps churches to invite rough sleepers to be guests at a regular curry club. Another is Hope into Action, which assists churches to buy accommodation to house homeless people.
Thousands of churches are now addressing social breakdown, including family fragmentation, educational failure, worklessness, addiction, debt, anti-social behaviour, homelessness, ill-health, and other crisis issues, using community franchising. An online marketplace for projects (www.communityfranchising.net) has now been set up to help in such work.
It is time for the Church to do for social action what Alpha has done for evangelism. Community franchising is just that: replicating the best the Church has to offer; and not reinventing the wheel, but taking existing projects that have a track record. This approach enables churches to move quickly to address the most pressing issues of social breakdown in their communities; 72 million hours a year is just the start.
Matt Bird is the chairman of the Cinnamon Network (a group of executives of Christian social-action organisations), and chief executive of Make It Happen, a social enterprise (www.makeit-happenphilanthropy.co.uk).