A new poverty map

As the 2011 Census figures are released, Andy Mathews blogs on the way one of CTC’s partner churches is using the latest technology to map its parish – and work more effectively for social transformation:

Maps are great when you want to get from point A to point B. I have spent the last three months finding out how this is true in an entirely unexpected way.

Whilst interning at St Peter’s Church, Bethnal Green I have discovered an entirely different way of using maps as a guide; not to get from a geographical point A to a geographical point B but as a means to help get from a general problem towards specific, achievable change.

At the beginning of October I was tasked a mapping project to help better understand the needs within the parishs. To do this I needed to use a very modern type of map known as a Geographical Information System (GIS). If you are unfamiliar with a GIS, imagine an interactive version of Google maps – upon which you can add layers of important information.

What this gives you is an interactive data store tied to specific locations – in other words, a very effective means by which to tailor a church’s ministries and social projects to areas of greatest need.

If you are still unsure, let me give you an example. Recurring themes of our listening within the parish are the impact of unemployment and poverty. From research we have undertaken I was able to find a huge swathe of demographics at multiple levels within our parish; at the borough, ward and estate level. We now have data on unemployment, age, ethnicity and even tenant satisfaction – just to name a few.

So what to do with all this data? We can now use this data to find the estates with (for example) the largest levels of unemployment, or the highest rents and target ministry to these most needy areas. We can now act with precision as opposed to vague gut instinct; we can make a deeper impact for God’s kingdom in Bethnal Green.

GIS is also helping the work we are doing to build a safer neigbourhood.  We have been able to plot on the map the location of our 30 ‘CitySafe Havens’  – shops and businesses which are now working with St Peter’s and Shoreditch Citizens to provide safe havens to people in danger of gang violence.  We’ve also come across this website on London Street Gangs, and are checking and mapping the information.

Modern technology is opening up remarkable ways for us to work for God’s Kingdom – and GIS mapping is one very exciting example. I’m sure Charles Booth would have jumped at the chance to use this when he mapped poverty in London back in 1898!

There will be more information on how to harness demographic data for effective ministry at our Making Sense of the Census workshop on 18th February

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