Fighting debt in the Black Country

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Black Country people battling debt are to benefit from the appointment of a new worker who will coordinate efforts to help them become more financially resilient.

The Revd Cassius Francis (above) has joined Transforming Communities Together - a joint venture between the Church Urban Fund and Diocese of Lichfield - as its Just Finance Black County Development Worker, working with churches and local community groups across the four boroughs.

In 2015 the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Revd Justin Welby, helped secure a cap on the cost of payday loans and helped raise awareness of community based responsible financial providers like credit unions.

Further work has led to the creation of a new national charity, the Just Finance Foundation, to increase the supply of fair and affordable credit, build financial capability and develop fair financial systems in local communities. The Black County is now the fourth area in the country to benefit from a dedicated development worker.

Cassius will be working with partners across the region, including the Dioceses of Lichfield and Worcester, Sandwell Churches Link, whg Housing Association in Walsall and Wolverhampton City Credit Union, supported by local and national charities.

The Rev Dr David Primrose, Chair of Transforming Communities Together, said: “We are delighted to welcome Cassius to our team. We know that churches and groups across the Black Country are doing some great work to support people in their community to become more financially resilient, but changes such as Universal Credit and the already high debt levels locally mean that extra capacity is needed.”

Cassius will be able to offer churches and other groups a range of options to help them support people, including UCSavvy, Cash Smart Credit Savvy, the Debt Course and Money Talks.

Alongside this new role Cassius will be continuing to develop a church planting programme for the Wesleyan Holiness Church British Isles District. He was the Senior Pastor of the Wesleyan Holiness Church in Wolverhampton until the end of 2017. Cassius is particularly passionate about social justice, reducing poverty, and young people. He and his wife, Vanessa, have also established and run a charitable project in Haiti. Last summer Cassius also organised the Black Country Homelessness Conference on behalf of Transforming Communities Together in partnership with Housing Justice.

Cassius completed his foundational training for ministry at the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, in 2013. He has run his own business, and previously worked as a youth and community worker in the diverse and vibrant parish of St Mark’s CE in Tollington Park, north London.He has been a trustee for Church Urban Fund’s Thrive Together Birmingham focussed on engaging churches in reducing poverty across the city, and is still a member of the Wesleyan European Council.

Cassius said: “I didn’t think I was poor growing up, but I do remember Mom and Dad telling me that we were having a party by candlelight when the electricity had run out! As an adult I have seen the crippling effects of debt on families and I have personally experienced the feelings of financial exclusion particularly during periods of unemployment. I am glad to see that the Archbishop has made this programme a priority and I am excited to be part of something that can engage churches in making a real and lasting difference to people’s lives.”