Suzy Van Rooyen is CEO of C2C (Crime To Christ), a Christian charity based in Northampton that works with ex-offenders to help them take personal responsibility for their behaviour, in order to reduce re-offending. Their latest project is a social enterprise called the Good Loaf Bakery, which will employ vulnerable women and give them valuable work experience. Suzy talks to Amy Williams.
How did you become a Christian?
I became a Christian in 2003, here in Northampton. For the first 25 years of my life, I was fighting it ferociously. I was the furthest thing from a Christian as a child. I came from a family that was divorced and it took its toll: I was excluded from a few schools.
I went to a play at Elim Church here in Northampton when we moved to England, called “Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames” and it had an impact on my life. It impacted me because I was a new mum then, and I realised that it wasn’t just about me anymore, it was about my children and the home they were going to grow up in. That’s when I found God and committed to living this life. It’s been a work in progress since then.
I always thought I was going to be a pastor or something. I know what God’s done in our lives. My husband became a Christian as well and I dread to think if we didn’t have God, where we would be.
You initially got involved with C2C about five years ago. How did that come about?
I was a youth worker at my church and had done a counselling course at the Manna House; I wanted to work with vulnerable people. Julie Parsons, (the founder and director of C2C), was in my church home group, so it was through getting to know her and about the organisation that it all came about.
What are some of the main challenges you face at C2C?
One of the biggest frustrations is when you can see that people need help and you know that the charity can support them but they’re not ready for it, so they don’t engage. That’s got to be the biggest challenge. It’s being able to stand back and give them a clear message that you need them to work with you, you can’t do it for them. But the door’s not shut, they can come back when they’re ready and committed to their journey.
What have been your highlights of working at C2C so far?
When we’ve helped mums to regain control and then you see how that impacts the whole family. The kids start doing better at school, you see them get involved with clubs and socialising with young people their own age and all that stuff that was so foreign to them when we first started working with them, because of isolation and poverty. What’s normal for some people is miles away for them.
Sometimes it’s just the simple things in life, like a mum taking her kids to the park when she never used to even get out of her pyjamas for days on end. For me, it’s really around families and seeing them start to function again.
What’s your inspiration behind the Good Loaf Bakery?
I think for a lot of the people that we work with, some of this stuff could be a quick win for them; it’s having something to get out of bed for in the morning. Having the bakery project, it’s not massively scientific or medical or anything like that, it’s actually just giving people hope. Sometimes it’s hope that people need, to climb on the first step of the ladder and then the next step doesn’t seem so difficult.
We interviewed over 100 women, finding out what their needs are, and this kept coming up: meaningful use of time, low-level mental health stuff and barriers to employment.
Your vision for this whole project does come out of your Christian faith, how do you balance helping people practically with that?
One of the key things is that people you work with know that you’re a Christian and a Christian organisation, and then that gives them an opening to talk to you about it if it’s something they’re interested in. But we’ve had a lot of times when people have found out we’re a Christian organisation and said “Oh, I’m not interested in faith” and we said “That’s fine”, then with time they have started asking questions because we haven’t pushed it and we’ve been able to have really good conversations with them. We want to get that message over that we are Christians but we are inclusive of everybody, whether they’re interested in faith or not.
We feel God’s calling us to this, as individuals and as an organisation. I think that everybody that works for C2C needs to feel called to it, otherwise it’s a hard slog. It doesn’t work unless it’s what God’s got for you.
Do you think all Christians need to engage in social action?
I think that Christians need to understand that they don’t have to be working for organisations like C2C to use their skills. It’s really important that we have Christians in all workplaces, but a lot of people feel inadequate because they work at a bank or a shop, but actually that’s their mission field, where God’s placed them.
So I don’t think that everybody needs to be involved with Christian ministries directly but there’s still a space, if you can’t be involved because of time constraints, to give financially and pray for organisations as well.
Do you think that wider society is beginning to recognise the contribution from the faith sector, with Christian organisations like C2C and the work they do?
That’s improving, in the last couple of years especially. Massive statutory organisations like the police, for instance, are really embracing the faith sector now. Those barriers are being broken. Five years ago, I don’t think that statutory organisations did realise the impact of the faith sector.
It’s important that Christian organisations do what they say and say what they do. We really let ourselves down if we say, for example, we’ll give you a food parcel, but then you sneak a bible in there. If we’re going to do that, we need to say, we’ll give you a food parcel with a bible, and I think that’s what makes statutory organisations not trust us. Christian organisations need to really focus on maintaining their integrity and doing what they say.
How do you keep going when there are setbacks?
For me personally, it’s just knowing that God is in control. As hard as that is, when we make mistakes, taking a step back and thinking “Okay God, what do you want me to learn from this?” It’s never thinking that any situation or experience is a waste. There’s always something you can learn from it and there’s always good that can happen if you look for it. Professionally and personally, I have made blunders and I have to say, okay, I was wrong, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
What drives you and motivates you? What’s your passion?
For me, it’s definitely supporting vulnerable women and that’s why I think C2C’s work with women is so strong, because that’s what my passion is. It’s also finding hope in every situation. That definitely drives me, because we have people referred to us and it does seem like there’s no hope, but people can’t live without hope. So we find something people can hold on to and once they can hold onto something, they can start building their lives.
Do you find that people come through your mentoring programme and then come back to volunteer?
We’ve definitely seen people come full circle, which is great. For our cookery programme, we’ve had a woman come on it, get her food hygiene certificate and finish the course, then not want to leave. So she’s ended up volunteering and helping the next lot of people come through, which is really good.
People that have been supported by us can help in such a range of ways. We have a lady that I worked with for a long time and she does talks with me at churches and gives her testimony. There’s all sorts of things people can help with. Eight of our service users helped out for our Open Day at the Good Loaf Bakery; they’re just happy to come and give.
Sometimes enabling them to give, is just as therapeutic as the stuff we’ve done for them. It’s part of their journey. We try to make opportunities for everyone to give back. You have to be a bit creative, not everybody fits everything, but everybody’s good at something, so it’s about finding out what people are good at and trying to do something around that.
What would be your ideal for how things would run at the café and bakery?
We’re starting by opening 8am-3pm, so the next thing would be to be able to increase those hours, not by working everyone to the bone, but by making enough money to be able to employ people from our work programme. We’ve also been looking at doing outside catering events, being able to give people work opportunities when we get orders. We’re thinking outside the box, it’s not just about people coming to the café, but it’s about what we can do in the community. We want to make people aware on the work programme, that they can do this as well. It’s not just about selling sandwiches, it’s the whole social side behind it.
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