Bishop of Loughborough to lead Church of England drive to tackle UK’s ‘crippling’ housing crisis

The outgoing Bishop of Loughborough is to lead a Church of England drive to help tackle the UK’s “crippling” housing crisis and help those most in need.

The Right Reverend Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, who made history in 2017 by becoming the Leicestershire town’s first bishop, has been asked to look into the potential of freeing up church land where ‘affordable’ homes could be built.

It follows a new report recommending that the Anglican church should examine how its 6,000 acres of “strategic land” could be used to help.

Bishop Guli has been appointed as the Church of England’s Lead Bishop for Housing – a role she will take up later this year when she swaps Leicestershire for Essex to become the Bishop of Chelmsford.

The Commission of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on Housing, Church and Community has spent nearly two years researching the housing crisis.

Its newly published Coming Home report has warned that around eight million people of all ages live in “overcrowded, unaffordable, or unsuitable homes”, while those in poverty also “bear the brunt of this injustice”.

The task that Bishop Guli, who is Patron of homelessness charity One Roof Leicester, has been given is to lead an executive team which will look at how recommendations within the report can be implemented.

‘National Scandal’ – The report concluded that Covid-19 had exposed the true scale of the UK’s housing and homelessness crisis

Commenting on her latest appointment, she said: “The work the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community is inspirational.

“I’m delighted to be joining others in working to ensure that the aspirations become reality and the hopes are translated into concrete change.

“It will be a privilege to be part of this.”

The report concluded that the coronavirus pandemic has “exposed” the scale of the current housing crisis.

It states: “The scale and consequences of the housing crisis have been further exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is a national scandal.”

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The 10-member strong commission called for a “bold, coherent, long-term housing strategy” from the Government, while arguing that the Church should use its land assets to “promote more truly affordable homes”.

According to their report, the Church Commissioners manage £8.7 billion of assets, with roughly 15 per cent in various land holdings.

Around three per cent of the portfolio, 6,000 acres, is held as “strategic land” suitable for housing, with the report recommending a review is carried on whether such assets could be used for affordable homes and the Church “not simply be driven towards land sales at the highest price”.

The legal framework for selling church assets should be amended so church land and buildings can be used for “social and environmental, as well as economic, benefit”, the report also recommended.

Bishop Guli pictured outside Canterbury Cathedral with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Leicester
(Image: Diocese of Leicester)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend Justin Welby, said there needed to be a “national common vision” for housing.

He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that such a vision could be compared to the establishment of the NHS in the 1940s and its aim to deliver health care free at the point of need.

“There is no equivalent in housing and there is no definition of affordable housing,” he said.

Mr Welby added: “The report calls on the Church to be sacrificial, not to take its maximum possible benefit, that is the challenge that I welcome and support.

“It calls on government and landowners in the same way.”

Making history – The Rt Revd Guli Francis-Dehqani’s ordination service in Canterbury Cathedral to become the Bishop of Loughborough
(Image: Diocese of Leicester)

As part of its research, the commission interviewed representatives from more than 40 church-linked housing projects across the country, including a church hall converted to accommodate homeless young people in Blackburn.

Mr Welby has submitted a General Synod motion which recognises that “housing and communities are part of the mission and ministry of the Church of England”.

Bishop Guli, now 55, fled persecution in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in 1980.

Her father was the Bishop of Iran at the time of the revolution. He was the target of a failed assassination attempt and, shortly before the family went into exile, Bishop Guli’s 24-year-old brother, Bahram, was killed in the violence.

Understanding – Bishop Guli’s family fled persecution in Iran during the Islamic Revolution

He is remembered in the book of Saints and Martyrs at Canterbury Cathedral, close to the spot where his sister was ordained a Bishop in December 2017.

Part of Bishop Guli’s new role will be to “embed this vision within the Church” and support dioceses in “using their land well,” according to the report.

She will work to strengthen the Church’s relationships with housing associations, developers and other landowners.

Commenting on her appointment, Mr Welby said: “I am delighted that Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani will fulfil this role, bringing as she does enormous understanding of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised to this important work.

“Housing is an issue of justice, which Jesus cares about intimately.”

He added: “My prayers will be with Bishop Guli as she embarks upon this vital role, and with all those who suffer from unsafe,

unsuitable and unaffordable housing.”

Downing Street announced at the end of last year that Bishop Guli would be the next Bishop of Chelmsford, succeeding the Most Reverend Stephen Cottrell, who became Archbishop of York earlier this year.

“I want to thank my friends and colleagues in the Diocese of Leicester Diocese, where I have been very happy,” she said.

“I will be sad to say goodbye, but at the same time I am very excited about this next chapter in my ministry.”

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