Bringing Freedom Week to Plymouth

This month we said hello to Chris Forster, a development worker with Transforming Plymouth Together (TPT), a joint venture between Church Urban Fund and the Diocese of Exeter.

Chris is our project lead in the Diocese of Exeter

Chris is our project lead in the Diocese of Exeter

Chris has lived in the diocese all of his life, and spent most of his career working in retail before switching to the charity sector eight years ago. We spoke about why he made the switch, what he has been working on with TPT, and how he wants everyone in Plymouth to get behind their modern slavery work this October.

Hi Chris! Thanks for speaking to me today. So how did you start working with Transforming Plymouth Together?

I spent 37 years in the commercial world - in retail.

It got to the stage where I thought ‘what am I doing!’, and I was walking with my son and I was having a moan, and he literally stopped me in my tracks and said ‘Father all my life you’ve told me to listen to what God wants you to do, so when are you going to do it?’ That was the moment I walked away from retail and started working in community development.

TPT came out of the Plymouth Fairness Commission Report that was written in 2014. That identified significant issues within the city of inequality, injustice and unfairness. And as a board of Trustees we reviewed that report to see what we as churches and the faith community can to do respond.

So what are some of the issues you’ve prioritised and projects you’ve worked on?

Child poverty in Plymouth has been key. We have 11,500 children living below the poverty line. One of the things we’ve done over the past couple of years is work with churches to support the Holiday Hunger programme - providing meals for youngsters during holiday time. Last year we had a pilot in Plymouth where we had five churches come together to put on activities and food. That fed about 600 kids. This year it’s grown to 26 events in the city, working with various churches, and we fed between 1500 and 2000 children over the summer this year.

And then there’s the modern slavery issue. We know modern slavery takes place within our city, within Devon, within our rural areas. This happens, right here, right now.

So how have you been raising awareness of modern slavery in the area?

One of the things we’re doing is working with Safer Plymouth which is an organisation that brings together local authority, police, and other agencies within the city as well as the voluntary sector, and the faith sector in to really raise the awareness around the city, and also then say what is it we can do?

Christians say to me ‘what can we do?’, and my response is, absolutely we can pray, and we need to pray but we need to pray intentionally and earnestly and directly. Secondly we need to be aware, unfortunately too many Christians don’t even think about it because they don’t believe it’s happening in their street. And thirdly we have to act appropriately. As Christians I think we do need to think about what we do, what we follow, what we buy.

And I hear you have big plans to spread that awareness even further! Tell me about what you have planned for October?

On the week commencing the 15th of October there are three days we’ve got events. On the Thursday we’ve got awareness events going on in and around the city, one at the local hospital and also in the city centre, where we will have faith and agency people there, just giving you information and sharing awareness about it. In the city centre we’ve got a large screen and I’ve managed to get some awareness films which will be screened on the big day.

On the Saturday we are joining with the Walk for Freedom that’s taking place around the world, including in Plymouth, so we are signed up to do that, and we’re trying to encourage people to do that too.

Then on the Sunday we’re trying to get all the churches in the diocese to at least acknowledge Freedom Sunday on that day and to do something. Whether it’s just a prayer, or actually have a whole service, or show some films, or get some resources.

Brilliant! Where can people find more information about that?

It’s going to be on the Transforming Plymouth Together website, it’ll be on the Diocesan website, and social media. I’ve made a little film about modern slavery, and I’ll be sharing that over the next few weeks. And Walk for Freedom Plymouth have their own Facebook page as well.

Thanks so much Chris. You can find out more about what they’re getting up to in Exeter here, or plan your own Freedom Sunday service here.