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Community Projects (Funding)

Volume 493: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2009

3. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of churches and other faith-based organisations which do not apply for funding from the national lottery for religious reasons on alternative sources of funding for their community projects. (277585)

I have had no such discussions as national lottery matters and the listed places of worship scheme are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I understand that, in addition, the Northern Ireland Departments operate several funding programmes which are open to Northern Ireland churches and other faith-based organisations.

Is the Minister aware that churches and faith-based groups have made a valuable contribution to local communities and to wider society in Northern Ireland—a cost-effective contribution, mostly volunteer led? A recent study has shown that 70 or 75 per cent. of volunteer activity around youth groups is led by faith-based groups. Many of those groups have ethical difficulties availing themselves of lottery money. Has he done anything, or can he offer any suggestions? Will he meet those people in an effort to find alternative sources of funding?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the churches in Northern Ireland and faith-based organisations that provide so much by way of community activity, particularly aimed at young people and excluded people. There is a range of funding opportunities for church groups that have a problem with the national lottery. They can apply to different Departments in Northern Ireland. I hope that, with the transfer of money from dormant bank and building society accounts, there will be future opportunities and that faith-based groups will have less of a problem in applying under those schemes.

I knew this question was important, but I did not know that it deserved the acclaim it got from the House earlier.

Does the Minister recognise that in many communities churches provide the main source of community activity for the elderly, the young and others, and that because of some deeply held beliefs the infrastructure that would normally be funded through the lottery fund cannot be funded? Will he look at ways of ensuring that those areas that require and rely on church facilities are not disadvantaged?

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman. It is true not only in Northern Ireland, but in all our constituencies, that churches and faith-based organisations make a real difference. I acknowledge the problems some churches have in making applications to the national lottery. I say again that the new dormant bank and building society accounts proposal might be a way of getting money to those organisations. They play an important part, but I am sure, too, that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the £773 million invested in communities in Northern Ireland through the national lottery has also made a huge difference to local communities.