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Churches meet in coffee shops to reinvigorate congregations

2 min read

Churches meet in coffee shops to reinvigorate congregations

The Church of England is holding services in coffee shops in attempt to reinvigorate congregations. 

As part of a £27m expansion new congregations will be set up in coastal areas and housing estates, with the traditional pews in a Victorian building being replaced by more relaxed meetings which are designed to appeal to millennials and attract new worshippers. 

Many of them will follow the example of a “cafe-style” church in Margate, which was set up 10 years ago and offers churchgoers coffee and cake before an evening service. 

The south coast of England is to be targeted with a string of similar churches in Herne Bay, Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey, Sittingbourne, Maidstone and Ashford, as well as St Peter Port in Guernsey, in plans costing almost £900,000. 

The Bishop of Dover, Trevor Willmott, said he had been “astonished” by the project’s initial success. 

Another investment in Swindon, costing £1.49m, will convert a former railway works building into a church specifically aimed at capturing millennials who don’t currently attend. 

The project is part of what is thought to be the greatest expansion by the Church of England since the Victorian era, with plans to create 2,400 new churches by 2030, many of them with non-traditional structures designed to attract new people.

Some dioceses have already branched out into the coffee shop business, with a cafe church being set up in the hipster area of Stoke Newington, east London. 

Other churches also meet in bookshops and community centres.

Another £1.69m will go to fund churches around Plymouth, and in Ely diocese expansion will focus on the market towns of Wisbech, March, Chatteris, Littleport, Ramsey, Huntingdon and Downham Market.

Another project in Newcastle will target its 67,000 students as well as young professionals in the city with a £2.6m investment creating a new church in the city centre. 

In Manchester there are plans to found 16 small churches over six years on estates and deprived communities in the poorest areas and those with the lowest church attendance across Greater Manchester and Rossendale.  

The developments are also designed to create more clergy and support for existing churches. 

Senior figures such as Philip North, the bishop of Burnley, have previously raised concerns that the church has been too focused on middle-class areas at the expense of poorer people. 

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said the changes showed that the church was going to the people at “greatest need” in society. 

John Spence, chair of the Church of England’s Strategic Investment Board, which approved funding for the work by the dioceses, said: “These grants are funding bold, ambitious initiatives. Their scale and breadth show that the Church is feeling confident about its future.”

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Health

Anthony Head to play Robin Fairbrother in Radio 4 soap

1 min read

Anthony Head to play Robin Fairbrother in Radio 4 soap

It was an affair that sent ripples through The Archers – young Elizabeth Archer falling for Robin Fairbrother, a dashing older man, only to have her heart broken when she discovered that he was married.

More than 30 years on, the couple could rekindle their romance after the BBC announced that Robin is making a return, now played by Anthony Head.

Long-time fans of The Archers will recall the original 1987 storyline, which culminated in Elizabeth angrily confronting Robin and pouring a glass of wine over him.

Many listeners will remember the character, but the BBC say Robin was a silent character throughout, referred to only in the third person, and this will be the first time he has been voiced.

Radio 4 paved the way for his return by introducing his sons, Toby and Rex, in 2015.

Head, a heart-throb since his days in the Nescafe Gold Blend adverts, will join the soap for a limited period from July 29.

Asked if his character had a prospect of romance, he replied: “That would be quick work, wouldn’t it?”

Head described Robin as “a bit of a smooth-talker. I find it fascinating that he’s been around for some time but he’s never been heard before. He’s a wine merchant. He is very affable to everyone, as affable as he possibly can be.”

Elizabeth is now a widow, following the death of her husband, Nigel Pargetter. The BBC recently teased: “Could there be room for someone else in Elizabeth’s life as she enters her sixth decade?”

It is unusual for The Archers to cast well-known actors. Head said: “When you’re asked to do something that is a classic British bastion, you say yes. I don’t listen constantly so I don’t know all the storylines. But when I’m mucking out the donkeys, I listen to The Archers and Desert Island Discs.

“It’s such lovely listening, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know exactly what’s going on.”

On whether Robin would cause trouble in Ambridge, Head said: “Not as far as he is concerned.”

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First smallpox treatment approved amid fears virus could become “weaponised”

1 min read

First smallpox treatment approved amid fears virus could become "weaponised"

Smallpox – a contagious and often fatal disease responsible for the deaths of 300 million people in the 20th century alone – was declared completely eradicated by the World Health Organization in 1980 after a mass vaccination drive.

Although the disease is no longer naturally transmitted between people, experts believe that the virus still remains a global health security threat.

Although today, only two stores of the disease are known to exist –  in research laboratories in Russia and the US –   stocks of the virus unknown to experts could still be out there.

In 2014, six  forgotten vials of the virus were found in a National Institute of Health storeroom in Maryland.  The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also stated that there is a “credible concern” that some countries have in the past weaponised the smallpox virus,  with these bioweapons possibly falling into the hands of terrorists or criminals.

Professor David R. Harper,  a senior fellow at Chatham House who was not involved in the research, said it is impossible for governments and security experts to be aware of all existing stocks of the virus – which could relatively easily be turned into a weapon. “It’s impossible to police that sort of thing,” he said. 

Another concern for experts is that terrorists could rebuild a synthetic version of the virus using gene editing techniques. But given the complexity of this Prof. Harper believes this is a less likely scenario. 

Fears that the virus could deliberately or unwittingly be released prompted the US government to fund the current research which began 15 years ago. 

TPOXX works by containing the virus in an infected cell before it can spread to the rest of the body, giving the body’s immune system time to fight off the disease.

The US government aims to have a vaccine for every person in the country to prevent the spread of smallpox in the event of an outbreak and is currently stockpiling 2 million treatment courses of TPOXX.

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We can treat Aids with medicine – but only love will beat its insidious stigma

1 min read

We can treat Aids with medicine – but only love will beat its insidious stigma

Aids activism has always been about connecting with people on the margins. Our movement is defined by uplifting those cast aside by society: reaching out with love, connecting them to a supportive community, and helping them get the care they need. That is the spirit in which thousands of researchers and activists, myself included, will attend the 22nd annual International Aids Conference in Amsterdam next week.

The international community has made remarkable progress in the fight against Aids, in no small part thanks to this gathering. The last two decades have seen the number of people on treatment for HIV/Aids increase fiftyfold. Dramatic medical advances mean that people living with HIV lead full, joyous lives. A diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. Such progress has been made not only thanks to scientific innovations, but to efforts around the world to fight stigma and social isolation with compassion, dignity, and love.

I’ve seen this progress first hand in my visits to South Africa. When I first visited Durban in 2005, I met with a local LGBT support group in relative secret, because no one wanted to be seen or photographed with me in my capacity as an Aids activist. They couldn’t risk revealing their HIV status or sexual orientation to the broader community or even to their own families.

This was sadly the case for one lovely young man, Leslie Jackson, who was ostracised by practically his entire family simply for being gay. But thanks in part to extensive training of healthcare workers, and support to the LGBT community through a programme funded by the Elton John Aids Foundation, by the time Leslie joined me and David at the Gateway Health Clinic in Durban in 2016, he proudly explained his work as a peer educator to not only clinic staff but to the world’s media as well.

The progress is undeniable, yet our work is far from over. There were 1.87 million new infections in 2016 – and nearly half of people living with HIV that year did not have access to treatment. Medicines may reduce viral loads, but they cannot eliminate the insidious stigma still attached to the disease. And we still face enormous challenges in testing and treating people in remote parts of the world.

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