A former homeless couple, a youth project leader, and the pioneer behind a debt-advice counselling centre have been announced as the winners of the 2013 Inspire Award for unsung Christian heroes whose work has helped to change lives in their communities.
The winners were announced at the Palace of Westminster yesterday (28 November) by shadow employment minister Stephen Timms MP, Evangelical Alliance general director Steve Clifford and Inspire magazine editor Russ Bravo.
Carol and Len Fowler, who were once destitute, opened The Well Centre in Blackpool, Lancashire for the homeless 10 years ago. It has since expanded and is now helping hundreds of people every year. They are the unsung heroes of the year in the Inspiring Project category (this now has a video feature on the BBC News website).
Hannah Gibbons, an award-winning financial adviser, is the winner in the Inspiring Individual category for her work in setting up and running the CAP (Christians Against Poverty) Centre that Gillingham Community Church, Dorset, had been longing to start. Since its establishment in 2008 they have helped more than 400 people, some of whom were at their wits end.
In Bournemouth, Dorset, The Shine Project which helps teenage girls with problems of self-identity is the winner in the Inspiring Youth/Children’s Initiative category. The youth programme is in big demand by schools across Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch requiring it to put on more programmes to cope with the demand.
Shadow employment minister Stephen Timms MP, speaking at the awards, said: “Believing in Jesus inspires people to do wonderful things. You don’t have to be a believer to realise that. Believing in Jesus moves people on to not just think something is a good idea, but to act on it. The contributions we are celebrating this afternoon are examples not of a dying phenomenon, but a growing one.”
Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, said: “I would have loved for those who believe the Church is dead or irrelevant to society to have been here today. This is one of the highlights of my year, as we see the amazing work that individual Christians and local churches are doing to make a huge difference in the lives of thousands of people – of all faiths and none – in their neighbourhoods. This is faith in the community at work.”
Russ Bravo, editor of Inspire magazine, told the ceremony: “We love to tell some of the most encouraging stories of Christians and the local Church in action, making life better for so many in their communities. These people are living their faith in a way that really counts.”
The Inspire Awards have been running since 2008 and are run in partnership by Inspire magazine, CPO and the Evangelical Alliance, assisted this year by YFC (Youth for Christ).
Quotes from the winners:
Hannah Gibbons: “It is really good to see how far the project has come since it started a few years ago and absolutely pleasing about the number of people who they were able to help. God just opened doors and the number of people that we were able to help is absolutely mind blowing. I remember the day when I first went up to Christians Against Poverty just to find out what it was all about and I literally cried the whole day … but we have just started God has big plans for us and I just look forward to see what’s coming next.”
Carol Fowler: “It’s about showing God’s love, grace and mercy and this is what we are trying to do this in a small way to show people that there is hope. Sometimes we have had people come in who are suicidal and we have been able to sit down with them and say ‘there is hope’ because Jesus is our hope. We have seen lives changed and we just thank God that we have been able to be part of this ministry and it will continue to grow.”
Beryl Bye of the Shine Project: “It’s so much fun spending time with these girls that we are going to see and giving them a different perspective on life. The media so often tells them who they should be and what is beautiful. It is fantastic going and speaking with these girls and telling them they are lovely just as they are.”