I thank Kate Forbes for lodging the motion and securing the debate. It will undoubtedly help to raise awareness of the invaluable work carried out by churches and other faith groups across Scotland and encourage more people to get involved in this invaluable initiative.
The topic of community empowerment has featured strongly in many discussions and debates in the chamber over the years and is certainly a matter that has always been of great significance and importance to the Scottish National Party Government. Although there are many ways by which a community can seek to be empowered, one sure-fire method is to create the necessary channels to enable people who have the ability and desire to be of help to connect with those who are in need of that help. That is perfectly embodied by the services undertaken by Serve Scotland.
After Serve Scotland’s official launch in November 2015, I have been greatly interested in following the development of its mission
“to change Scotland for good”.
The umbrella group brings together the Christian voluntary sector at both a national level and a local level, and it is inspiring to see that almost two years on it is still growing and positively influencing communities.
In challenging times, people often find themselves seemingly alone when dealing with hardship and difficulty. However, they are not alone. Churches and faith groups are there to offer invaluable support that can make all the difference, from helping people to make ends meet by setting up food banks and community cafes to running night shelters and addiction services for those who are most at risk. Their dedication to serving poor, vulnerable and marginalised people in their own communities and beyond is invaluable.
However, I also recognise the need for this national initiative to be a touchstone for the voluntary sector and those who seek to connect with it. Since its inception, Serve Scotland has helped to bridge the gap that can appear when secular groups or local authorities need to work with local churches. It achieves that by establishing networks of churches of all Christian denominations, and, by doing so, granting those diverse bodies the ability to band together to better identify community needs and joint areas of concern and to access funding streams. That ultimately allows their efforts to be more far reaching than those of individual organisations.
Although Serve Scotland currently operates only in certain pilot areas, it is a long-term project that is constantly expanding. That expansion is most welcome. I understand that it is already undertaking research to show the value and volume of work that is being carried out by churches and Christian organisations throughout Scotland.
Having witnessed this first hand, I know that in my constituency of Cunninghame North such organisations play a vital role in many lives and go out of their way to offer invaluable support to many families and individuals, regardless of their background or denomination. I am sure that that evidence is mirrored in, arguably, every community around the country in which those organisations are present. I believe that the findings of the research will be welcome and effective in improving their services even further. That will be crucial, not only in recognising the positive impact of voluntary work but in gauging the future needs of communities. Serve Scotland’s mission to identify needs and to work to deliver transformational projects that meet those needs is testament to the strong sense of community spirit that drives so many people in Scotland, and it is a mission that I fully support.
With Serve Scotland’s overarching and universal goal of helping those who are less fortunate, regardless of background or denomination, I congratulate everyone involved with the group thus far and look forward to seeing what further positive influences it will bestow on communities in the future.
I also pay tribute to all those who volunteer to provide the services that have been discussed in the debate, from food banks to support work and beyond, in my constituency and around Scotland as a whole. The community work that is undertaken by churches and other faith groups inspires just that—faith. It inspires faith that Scotland is working towards an increasingly tolerant, inclusive and plural society, and that, as Serve Scotland expands, so will the abilities of the organisations encompassed within it to continue making a difference to the lives of people in need.