Fr Jonathan Sibley is Vicar at St Mary's in Long Sutton, an ancient market town in the south of Lincolnshire.  In 2020 it celebrated 850 years of the church's foundation.

As well as being a busy parish priest he oversees the work of the Social Issues in South Lincs Group he founded in 2010.  This was established to assess the needs and nature of social injustices in the area and to create an informed and co-ordinated response to them.  A particular focus at the time was the integration of new migrant communities from Europe with the existing population.

Jonathan said: "This was a real time of transition and change in the town, and it was clear that there was nothing systematic in place to help those in need, so in 2010 Bishop Tim asked me to look at this to develop a coherent response with other agencies.  What we needed was a directory of all the services in the area and who they were designed to help so I sent out a questionnaire with 3 questions on it and once we had a clear outline of what the problems were, we could start to join up the organisations that could do something about it."

The three questions he asked were: What do you know about the social needs in the area? What are you doing about these needs?  and What are other agencies doing about it?

Since then, Jonathan has been at the heart of co-ordinating  the many agencies that deliver services, including among others, The Lincolnshire Resilience Forum, Lincolnshire County Health and Wellbeing, community Lincs, YMCA, Primary Care Network, CAB and CVS, South Holland District Council, Voluntary & Community Sector Emergency Planning, The University of Lincoln and Lincolnshire Police. At each meeting there are a number of speakers and The Rt Hon Lord Dr Rowan Williams has also addressed the group on a number of occasions as he and Jonathan have remained friends since Jonathan's student days.

"We have all the right organisations that can make change possible on our Social Issues group, and because we all work together we can, and do, make a difference.  Group members have the authority to make decisions and this is a key factor in how we are able to drive change.  The University of Lincoln has helped a lot as they are able to make sure that we use objective criteria – why are we doing this and  where are we going? which stops you going adrift.”

Like many churches, St Mary's runs a food larder from a fully equipped portacabin located at St Mary's church hall.  This was procured from a connection that Jonathan had with Lindums Construction as they completed the work on the new ‘Welcome area’ inside the church.  "We now have the cabin rent free for as long as we wish" said Jonathan.   It is currently helping 30 families a week and in the first wave of the pandemic helped around 1,000 people.  To feed those in need it has created its own food chains with the local Coop and other businesses and food supply factories.

Fr Jonathan is also part of the Lincolnshire Resilience Forum as Co-ordinator of the Suttons in the Wash Emergency Plan where he gives operational support to 40-50 volunteers who are responding to community needs in a predominately rural area with no transport links.  This led to the establishment of a Good Neighbours Scheme and some 20 volunteers have come forward to support the project.

Looking forwards to the next challenge, the group is now also looking at Mental Health and Wellbeing issues and Jonathan is providing input to the planning for the new £37 million NHS mental health hub for Boston and Lincoln.  They are also looking at modern slavery, what the ‘new normal’ may look like after Covid, and the effects of Brexit on the area.

Although Jonathan is happy with the description of ‘manager’ or ‘overseer' he is hands on with the various projects and relies on his ‘slim line management team’ which consists of Becky Heron , his administrator, and his family who he says “support him with tolerance and patience”. Other key collaborators include Emily Holmes, Communities Manager from South Holland District Council and Ivan Annibal from Rose Regeneration.

Some of the issues the group look at are not just confined to the local area and Jonathan also participates with discussions at the national level.  This includes growth of the National Rural Centre of Wellbeing which was established in 2019 and has been developing since, and a green paper on the differences in NHS funding between the rural and urban environments which has been in progress for two years.

In his desire to make changes for the better Fr Jonathan has a distinct focus.  He looks at the needs of the area, evaluates the links already present and thinks about what is possible.  Having lived in the area for 20 years, he knows a lot of people and has connections.  There is also a team of 80-100 volunteers some of whom are worshippers. “It is important for congregations to see the outreach work that we do as that is part of the gospel and our duty as Christians” Jonathan noted.

Somehow Fr Jonathan melds all this work together with being a parish priest. “I am very lucky.  I work with fantastic people and there is a richness in that relationship.  I also love my community and there is something new every day.  We achieve it all with prayer and by the grace of God”.