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Youth officer’s advocacy helps Scottish churches tackle rural poverty

Posted on: August 15, 2019 2:12 PM
Food Bank sign
Photo Credit: Independent

[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] A youth officer from the Scottish Episcopal Church has been helping rural churches take practical steps to tackle child poverty in their communities.

Ley-Anne Forsyth (29), who works part time for the Diocese of Moray, Ross and Caithness, alongside working for a social housing provider, has been a powerful advocate visiting churches and challenging church leaders about tackling injustices in their communities.

She said: “I’ve been a youth officer for the past five or six years and the reason I do that is because young people need a voice. I was a young person in a church who needed a voice once, and I was given it by our youth chaplain. It is a really important thing that young people are heard and are influencing our decisions because it’s their world we’re leaving behind.”

Ley-Anne has been working as a part-time housing officer for the last four years attempting to mitigate the impact of welfare reform in the Highlands and maximise income for vulnerable tenants. She said the people she meets and situations she comes across have made her passionate about helping tackle injustices.

Inspired by the social action programmes at Inverness Cathedral, where she is a member, Ley-Anne spoke out at her diocesan synod, sharing facts about the hidden levels of poverty in the highlands of Scotland and the way public attitudes over poverty had hardened in recent years.

She told the synod: “As Christians we are charged with the task of caring for the poor. This is something which should concern us all. It is a matter being discussed in local and central government, by our General Synod, the Diocesan Ministry and Mission Board, a matter being addressed by Inverness Cathedral locally and an issue close to the heart of our Bishop, Primus Mark.”

Ley-Anne has been travelling around the vast area of the Scottish highlands (an area the size of Belgium) speaking to churches about how to assess their local situation and helping them take up the mantle to tackle poverty. Some of the practical steps involve setting up school uniform banks, computers in churches for people to use to register for universal credit and food banks. The outreach programmes were inspired by Inverness Cathedral which runs clubs for children during the school holidays providing food, as many were going hungry without their free school meals.

The Provost of Inverness Cathedral, Sarah Murray, said: “The Highlands is a beautiful and stunning place and as a result of that poverty is very hidden. So much of the economy relies on the tourist industry, which is very busy, but there are still lots of hidden levels of poverty. Here in Inverness, we have one of the highest levels of multiple depravation indicators, outside of Glasgow. This is what spearheaded what we’ve been doing in the cathedral.”

She said the cathedral ran a school uniform bank all year round for children from 5 to 18 and also a ‘winter jacket bank’ for children and young people.

“We were aware of many children in our own Episcopal primary school who couldn’t go outside during the break in the winter because they didn’t have the necessary clothing. This winter jacket bank has now grown to be city wide.”

The Provost said there was always something practical that could be offered to the community and it was part of the gospel call to show God’s love and look after people’s practical needs, as well as offering spiritual support.

She said Ley-Anne spoke to churches with a prophetic voice and from a real understanding and knowledge of what goes on. “I think Ley-Anne empowers young people and enables them to have a voice, and in that her own voice is heard as well.”

Ley-Anne was part of this year’s Anglican Communion delegation to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. In addition to her advocacy work on social justice she has helped her diocese implement ways of measuring gender equality progress against the Beijing Platform for Action. This defining framework for change has ushered in enormous improvements in women’s lives across the world.