A new chaplaincy and listening service for businesses across the South Yorkshire region has been launched by leading industrialists.
South Yorkshire Chaplaincy and Listening Services, will build on existing active services – the Sheffield Sports Chaplaincy and Sheffield Listening Services – and be available to everyone in the workplace, irrespective of their faith.
The new chaplaincy, conceived by Sheffield Forgemasters’ former director, Peter Birtles and current chairman, Tony Pedder, will fill a gap created by the demise of the South Yorkshire Workplace Chaplaincy last year. The service had been in operation since the 1940s and was first known as the Sheffield Industrial Mission.
The current 12-strong trained team of chaplain and listeners is expected to rapidly grow into a network across the region offering visits to workplaces, bespoke listening sessions and tailor made support for employees.
New charity director Reverend Baz Gascoyne, of The Eccles Church, who currently operates the Sheffield Sports Chaplaincy, said: “This is all about developing a comprehensive, combined Christian-rooted chaplaincy and a listening service offering for people in the workplace.
“We believe the need for confidential pastoral care, encouragement and support stretches well beyond the city of Sheffield and so we are launching a service that covers South Yorkshire.
“Working communities is such an inclusive phrase especially recognising our changing society, and the differing contexts in which people find themselves on a day-to-day basis.
“We are in a time of challenge and difficulty across the working sectors, and throughout the community as a whole, and the Church still has much to offer in terms of support.
“With anxiety about the future at many organisations across all sectors about transferring or cutting jobs, reducing hours or services. This anxiety sits within a time of wider society unrest, with uncertainties over Europe and the future of the UK’s global position.
“Within this context, the closing of South Yorkshire Workplace Chaplaincy was a worrying loss, as the picture reveals a time for the growth and strengthening, not reduction, of the provision of Chaplaincy and Listening support services for the people of South Yorkshire.”
The service builds on work already being done by Baz at Sheffield Sports Chaplaincy with SUFC, SWFC and Sheffield Eagles, and his wife Rev. Linda Gascoyne at Sheffield Listening Services, which have been operating since 2013 and 2006 respectively, and brings the services all under one name.
It will also incorporate the chaplaincy services for South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue and the listening service started at Greystones Medical Centre.
Both Baz and Linda, a former HR manager, have considerable experience of working with educational establishments, sports clubs, junior and secondary schools and businesses of all types, and agree the vision for this initiative is to grow it across the region and provide listening services and support for any organisation.
Linda said: “Effective listening can provide space, security and respect for people’s stories and can help us understand them more fully. It provides the opportunity for an individual to clarify their thoughts or feelings, helping them to process events and issues in a way that empowers them and assists them in their decision making. Alternatively, it can help us know more accurately what kind of assistance to provide.”
The new service will be overseen by an advisory board of trustees including Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust chairman Tony Pedder and Peter Birtles.
Chairman Tony Pedder said: “The South Yorkshire Workplace Chaplaincy has been a strong feature of life in the Sheffield steelworks during my time at Sheffield Forgemasters and indeed in my previous roles at British Steel and Corus.
“Its demise is a loss at a time when the industry continues to face an uncertain future. Hence, I view its replacement by a new service as a very welcome development and one which I expect a number of our employees, of whatever faith or indeed of no faith, may find reassuring.”
Organisers hope it will grow over the years as demand, support and finances dictate, into a countywide service.
It will cost around £35,000 per year to fund for the first five years, after which it will be self-sufficient and the board of trustees is looking for potential sponsors from interested companies and individuals. It is also looking for volunteer chaplains to help its work.
Former Sheffield Forgemasters director Peter Birtles said: “Many of the old steel and engineering companies have gone, replaced by a growing digital sector, sports facilities, retail, office developments and service industries.
“Amongst this changing face of industry and work, there are large numbers of people unemployed, or working on part-time or zero-hours contracts. The working community also now includes a significant proportion from diverse national and religious ethnic groups.
“In this environment, the need for workplace support, providing pastoral, well-being and care through service and a listening framework, offered to people regardless of their faith, or none, remains as strong as ever.”
The service has already been endorsed by national church and city of Sheffield industrialists.
Revd Dr Martyn Atkins, team leader and Superintendent Minister at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, said: “Chaplaincy is once again becoming recognised as a key means of supporting people and presenting a healthy, attractive image of Christian faith.
“Care, listening, time, concern, engagement and competence, embodied in a person, present in the places where we live out our lives today, never goes out of fashion and is proper, vital Christian ministry.”
Billy Kennedy, one of the Presidents of Churches Together in England & Leader of Pioneer Network, said: “This is a fantastic initiative.”
Richard Edwards, Master Cutler, the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire, added he was happy to endorse and promote the project across the region.