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Member Spotlight: Clergy Support Trust

Clergy Support Trust has recently appointed their new CEO Ben Cahill-Nicholls to the charity. We spoke to Ben about his appointment, and what is in store for the future for the charity. 

Tell us a bit about your charity and its history. Who do you support and what support do you offer?

Clergy Support Trust dates back to 1655, when a group of clergy children met to support destitute ministers during the time of Oliver Cromwell. In 1678 the charity received a Royal Charter from Charles II and, over the centuries, has merged with six other Anglican support organisations. As a result, we are the largest and oldest clergy support charity with a proud 365-year history. We cover the UK and Ireland, and support not only clergy (serving and retired) but their families as well.

Historically, we have been a grant-giving charity, providing support for the prevention and relief of financial hardship, relief of illness and promotion of health. This remains a central aspect of our work, but we increasingly take a more holistic definition of ‘support’ and, through partnerships, provide a range of specialist services to clergy and their families, including for debt and relationship management, and specific concerns such as insomnia. We run some distinct programmes for clergy-in-training as well, including a free eBook library in partnership with the Christian publisher SPCK.

Applicants are supported by a team of five grants officers, guiding them through the relevant support available to them, depending on their personal situation. We also have a central services team looking after finance, administration, marketing and communications.

As new CEO to the charity, could you tell us a bit about yourself and what made you want to work as CEO of Clergy Support Trust?

I’m currently training for the Anglican priesthood part-time and, once ordained, hope to continue my ‘secular’ career alongside parish ministry. As a Christian and an ordinand, I see first-hand the incredible work of clergy in communities across the country, never more so than during the current pandemic. To play a small role in supporting them as they support so many others is a real privilege, and was the great attraction of this role.

My earlier career has been quite varied, and I’ve been lucky to do some different and interesting things! I began as a civil servant and then spent several years in the education world, holding management roles in both state and independent sectors. Before joining Clergy Support Trust, I was leading corporate philanthropy and public policy projects for a global outsourcing company. I’ve held a range of voluntary roles, including as founder and chair of a youth arts charity, and trustee of an international education charity. Away from work, I’m obsessed with musical theatre – which even dictates the names of our pets – but recently most of my time has been taken up as dad to seven-week-old Hector.

Can you give an example of someone you have helped recently (particularly during this pandemic)?

Early on, we recognised the need to increase the number of emergency grants available (usually two every calendar year) to three, per clergy household.  This was mainly due to the added expense of the initial lockdown for clergy families.  We especially promoted our technology grant to those clergy now having to live-stream services and/or provide home schooling for their children.  So far this year, we have awarded over 250 grants (£122k) towards technology costs.

Having extended our charitable objects in 2017 to include the promotion of health, we were able to promote our fitness and leisure grant throughout the year.  Our support ranged from fitness equipment, gym memberships and bicycles; the latter has been particularly popular.

Many ordinands who had completed their training were, due to the pandemic, not able to be ordained.  We therefore opened up our emergency grants for these applicants, to support them over the summer months ahead of their delayed services

What is your charity working on now?

We have just launched a pilot with Sleepstation to help those with sleeping difficulties and insomnia. Delivered online through a sleep diary and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (CBTi), this is a way we can extend our reach through partners and one which is scalable. The initial take-up has been fantastic.

We are also talking to some possible providers of mental health support, which would include counselling, coaching and mentoring, and the potential to run virtual workshops on subjects like resilience and stress management.

What are your plans for the future?

Although grant-giving will always be at the core of our work – and is much needed – we are keen to continue developing our broader programmes: there are many challenges facing clergy and their families which cannot be met with financial support alone. We are eager to do this through partnerships with specialist providers, and are growing this work significantly.

We’re also really interested in moving to a more preventative model. What could we be doing to help clergy confront potential challenges before they become a reality? This is a big question for us over the coming months, and one which we look forward to exploring with beneficiaries and Dioceses.

Our future plans also include more funding for research and thought leadership in the areas of clergy wellbeing, financial issues and relationships.

What issues are of concern to you at the moment?

We know that this year has been tough for clergy; many are exhausted from supporting their local community in new and important ways, while running physical and online services.  

We know that clergy debt can be a problem and financial education isn’t central enough on the training curriculum.

Isolation and loneliness can also be a problem and we’re looking into ways as to how we can help facilitate support in this area.

What would you like to see from the ACO?

We find the regular forums / online conferences very helpful to learn about services and share experiences. We are keen to see the ACO continue to highlight the work of member charities, raising awareness of the sector as a whole.