Plea for churches to play wider role.Byline: By Tony Henderson
Rural churches should double as doctor's surgeries or shops as a way of serving villages and remote areas, a countryside chief urged last night.
The call came from Dr Stuart Burgess, new Countryside Agency The Countryside Agency in England was a statutory body set up in 1999 with the task of improving the quality of the rural environment and the lives of those living in it. The Agency was formed by merging the Countryside Commission and the Rural Development Commission. chairman, as he ended a two-day visit to the North-East.
He said that churches and church buildings could be used on different days of the week to deliver all kinds of rural services, including post office functions or as bases for training courses, especially in computing and information technology, which was increasingly important for rural areas. Dr Burgess, who is the Government's new Rural Advocate, is a past president of the Methodist Church of Great Britain The Methodist Church of Great Britain or British Methodist Church is the largest Wesleyan / Methodist body in the United Kingdom, with congregations across Great Britain (although more limited in Scotland). .
He said that it was time to reconsider the practice of only using churches for Sunday services.
"The challenge is in using churches and church buildings much more creatively, because many of them are under-used." he said.
"One of the great tragedies is that many are being sold off and once we have lost them they are gone."
He said another major rural issue was that of hidden poverty and homelessness, especially among young people. "There is wealth in the countryside but there is also a great deal of deprivation and I want to bring that out very strongly and be a champion of that cause," he said.
"The problem is that much of the evidence is anecdotal anecdotal /an·ec·do·tal/ (an?ek-do´t'l) based on case histories rather than on controlled clinical trials.
anecdotal adjective Unsubstantiated; occurring as single or isolated event. and we should be conducting studies to collect hard evidence which can be given to Government and be turned into policies."
Dr Burgess's visit took in the new Bell View Resource Centre in Belford, Northumberland
The centre includes five sheltered housing bungalows within its courtyard and also acts as a hub for a wide range of specialist services such as exercise classes, life-long learning, health promotion and leisure activities as well as providing a day care unit.
Dr Burgess also visited the Northumberland Coast The Northumberland Coast is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covering 39 miles of coastline from Berwick-Upon-Tweed to the River Coquet estuary in the north-east of England. Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
He said: "Not only is Newcastle now a very vibrant city but the North-East has some of the best countryside in England. It is absolutely stunningly beautiful and the coastline is superb."