Churches and faith groups in Northern Ireland are missing out on funding opportunities to support new and existing projects according to a local charity.

The call came from Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT), one of the UK’s largest providers of social finance.  UCIT manages a £12m loan book for community and voluntary groups, and social enterprises, including faith-based organisations.

UCIT, which is both a regulated financial company and a registered charity, has provided loans to over 400 organisations in the past 16 years.  It believes, however, that faith groups could benefit more from social finance.

Phelim Sharvin, UCIT Director, said:

“In recent years the way in which churches and faith groups have sought to practically serve their communities has changed.  In many instances groups have set up social enterprises providing social housing, childcare facilities, community spaces and employability programmes.

“UCIT manages a number of schemes designed especially for such projects, be they large or small, offering loans of all sizes.    We’ve supported a number of faith-based projects, but stand ready to support more.

“Faith groups have traditionally relied upon donations, high street banks and grants as a funding model, but with grant levels declining and reduced capacity from banks to support the sector, we’re encouraging groups to think about social finance options from UCIT.”

Groups supported by UCIT include Strabane Community Project, originally set up by Strabane Parish and Sisters of Mercy to tackle unemployment, and Oasis Caring in Action which grew out of a vision by Belfast’s Christian Fellowship Church to work more closely with the community.

The Elim Trust Corporation has also received funding to assist affordable housing and childcare projects in Newtownabbey and Carryduff.

Rev. Robert Ginn, New Mossley Elim Church, said:

“With UCIT’s assistance we’ve been able to provide six affordable housing units in the New Mossley estate in Newtownabbey.

“The project is an important part of our ministry and is a practical demonstration of our commitment to the community.  Without the social finance and advice provided by UCIT it would have been very difficult to make this ambition a reality.”

UCIT funds are available for a range of purposes, including buildings and repairs, renewables and energy efficiency, debt restructuring, bridging finance and start-up costs.

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