Donations to Burnley pastor whose work for the poor, homeless and vulnerable touched hearts of the nation top £95,000 in one week
Donations to help a Burnley pastor, whose work for the homeless, poor and vulnerable has touched the hearts of people around the world, have topped the incredible sum of £95,000 in just one week.
The total donated to the Church on the Street Ministry today stands at £95,151 and Pastor Mick Fleming said the money would 'save lives.'
Thanking everyone for their support Pastor Fleming said: "There is no doubt that this money will save the lives of so many people.
"This has been a life changing and momentous event for us and this is just the beginning. I cannot express enough how grateful we are for these donations."
Donations started flooding in after Pastor Fleming, along with Father Alex of St Matthew's Church, featured on the BBC last week to talk about how poverty in Burnley had reached unprecedented levels during lockdown.
The ministry already had a swell of support in the town and across the county after featuring in the Burnley Express many times since it was launched last year. But that support grew to an almost unprecedented level when in the national spotlight.
Donations have come in from 1.4k people in the UK and around the world who were left shocked and saddened to see so many families suffering and going without.
Pastor Fleming revealed he is preparing to sign the lease within the next week on a building that will be used as a community hub. And the money donated has made that possible around five years ahead of what he had planned for.
Since its launch Church on the Street has operated from van or on the street and from other churches and community centres. But now the ministry will have its own base.
Pastor Fleming said: " We have experts looking at the lease but I am hoping to sign for it in the next week.
"We'll run the church from here. We'll be able to feed people every single day from here, and help people in the way we feel they need to be helped.
"Once we get that going it will change the face of the town; the problems ie. addiction, homelessness, rough sleeping, debt and all the other things that go along with this; we will be able to fully tackle.
"The building will be a community hub open to all, where Church on the Street will operate from, providing food, clothing, counselling, recovery groups, access to IT for help with benefits, debt advice, signposting and referral to drug and alcohol services, showers and lockers for the homeless.
"We will hold our Sunday Church services and pastoral care here and it will also be used to support our expanding ministry in Preston, Barnoldswick and other places the ministry spreads to."
Committed to breaking the cycle of poverty, Pastor Fleming said many families were scared to seek help for fear of having their children taken from them, adding: "We are a church, we don't pass judgment on people.
"We are here to help them break out of poverty and make a better life for themselves and their families."
At the beginning of pandemic, Pastor Fleming spoke to the Burnley Express about how he, along with an army of volunteers, had been delivering more than 100 food parcels a day to vulnerable households.
He told us he was being met on doorsteps by elderly people in floods of tears, and by hundreds of young families desperately ripping open care parcels.
It is poverty epidemic that he believes has now been exacerbated by recent events.
He said: "It's certainly got worse since then. We're seeing different problems now. A lot more mental health problems, suicides, the relapses, the use of opiates."
Pastor Fleming revealed that many of his friends had died and access to mental health and drugs services was shocking which has led to more people living on the streets.
BBC analysis shows the death rate from all causes between April and June this year in the most deprived areas was nearly double that of deaths in the least deprived parts of the country.
Pastor Fleming said it was partly down to Covid-19, in respect of how lockdown had affected large swathes of the population, but the issue is more systemic.
"There are so many people with underlying mental health conditions," he said. "We have people who are disabled with no food. They haven't got the capacity to do the things that need to be done. And there's nobody there to help them with these issues."
From the age of 11, Pastor Fleming battled drug and alcohol addiction, and experienced homelessness himself before what he calls a 'religious experience' seven years ago gave his life new meaning.
He boasts a theological degree from Manchester University and in March 2019 was ordained.
Shortly before his ordination, he started up the Church on the Street ministry in response to the rise of rough sleepers in the town.
The ministry meet outside McDonalds in the town centre every Tuesday and Friday, from 1pm until 2-30pm, where they hand out food and drink to Burnley's impoverished along with help and advice.
They also hand out food on Wednesday and Thursday evenings from the old Thompson Centre car park.
"We've had to obviously tailor it recently," he said. "But we're still doing it. And we're still handing out food deliveries on a daily basis as well.
In the face of what feels like a never-ending battle, there is hope. Pastor Fleming believes they have found a structure that works, one that doesn't keep people in a cycle of perpetual poverty.
"We've found a tried and tested way that is now working. We've started recovery groups and these are absolutely flying. They're going all over the north of England.
"People come to us who are struggling, and we all come together. We sit down, and it's like a self-help group and we help each other to get free.
"So what we're doing is helping the addicted community, and the homeless community, which go hand in hand a lot of the time, out of poverty.
"We're seeing people get clean, we're seeing lives changed. We're helping people a bit further along the line as well now. We're helping people out of poverty, and we're helping them stay out of poverty."
COTS has opened it first charity shop, located in Barnoldswick, and the minstry also carries out work in Preston.
Last year a Christmas Day dinner catered for 120 people at Gannow Community Centre.
Sadly, due to covid this won't be able to take place this year but Pastor Fleming said food would be handed out on the old Thompson Centre car park on Christmas Eve along and around 300 families would be given brand new Christmas presents for their children.
There is also a 'shoe box' appeal to bring treats and essentials to the town's homeless. Anyone who would like to make a donation to Church on the Street is asked to click HERE.Drop off points for food donations are at St Matthew's Church in Harriet Street, Burnley and Mount Zion Church in Cliviger. Please check facebook pages for opening times.