Commending compassion: Faith to Faithless and Humanist Care win ‘local heroes in London’ award

22 November, 2023

Humanist pastoral carers and Faith to Faithless have been recognised at the seventh annual London Faith & Belief Community Awards, held on 21 November in Westminster. Two services received nominations – one for the non-religious pastoral care team at Wormwood Scrubs Prison, the other for services offered by Faith to Faithless – and both of them won! Humanists UK has extended its warm congratulations.

Each year, the London Faith & Belief Community Awards present forty £500 awards to inspirational projects to celebrate the vital work of London’s faith and belief communities. The awards aim to bring together local heroes, highlight their contributions to the community and demonstrate how Londoners from all religion and belief backgrounds can work together for a fairer and more inclusive city.

The first award goes to Humanist Care!

Non-religious pastoral carers at Wormwood Scrubs Prison have been working as part of the chaplaincy team since 2017. Robert Ross, Harry Barrat, Ruth Nolan, and Jim Coakes provide not only non-religious care for prisoners with non-religious beliefs, but also provide care and support to all prisoners no matter their beliefs. Working alongside paid and voluntary colleagues of many religions and beliefs, they are found walking the wings, checking in on prisoners, and playing an active role in supporting prisoners who are suicidal or in mental health distress. Providing a listening ear, a friendly face, and someone with whom to discuss ‘the big questions’, they are all highly trained and experienced, and their work makes a significant difference for everyone they support.

Humanist pastoral carers, left to right: Robert Ross, Harry Barrat, Ruth Nolan, and Jim Coakes

The second award goes to Faith to Faithless!

Faith to Faithless is a programme of Humanists UK which works to support individuals who leave high-control religious groups, and raise awareness of the issues they face. Leaving a high-control religion often means rejection from family and community, and apostates may become homeless, isolated, and at risk of abuse. Faith to Faithless provides peer support groups and social groups, a helpline, and training to professionals. Since 2018, Faith to Faithless has helped 96 asylum seekers fleeing persecution due to their belief, assessing the genuineness and validity of their claims, providing letters of support, and appearing at tribunals. They have also trained 200 asylum assessors in dealing with non-religious asylum claims.

Faith to Faithless staff and volunteers in Westminster with Baroness Bakewell (third from right) in October

Director of Humanist Care Clare Elcombe Webber commented:

‘We are so proud of the teams at Wormwood Scrubs and Faith to Faithless and are thrilled that their dedication, their expertise and their impact has been recognised at the the London Faith & Belief Community Awards.

‘While we celebrate their success, we must keep sight of the ongoing challenges. Non-religious pastoral care is still not available in most prisoners across England and Wales, which is discriminatory to non-religious prisoners. What this award recognises is just how crucial highly trained and experienced non-religious pastoral carers are to the prison population.

‘The number of service-users calling on Faith to Faithless continues to grow, and we are supporting people in more complicated situations who don’t always have easy access to other services. We find ourselves in need of even more volunteers, having to adapt and upscale our services in response to these needs, and more funds to meet up with demands.’ 

Notes

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at press@humanists.uk or phone 07534 248 596.

Read more about Faith to Faithless

Read more about the support provided by the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 110,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Through its support of the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network, Humanists UK has enabled the training and accreditation of over 220 current pastoral carers, who are present in 10% of prisons and 30% of NHS Trusts in England and Wales. Most are volunteers but around 15 are staff. In 2018, humanist pastoral carer Lindsay de Wal (formerly van Dijk) became the first humanist appointed to lead a chaplaincy and pastoral care team in the NHS. And in January, the UK Government announced that it intends to launch a new Chaplaincy Faith and Belief Forum to replace His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS)’s Chaplaincy Council, which will include humanists from the outset.

Faith to Faithless is Humanists UK’s support programme for so-called ‘apostates’ and those who leave high-control religions. The service is led by apostates themselves, who have knowledge and experiences of apostate communities facing serious and systemic issues.