Newtownabbey minister to walk between churches to help residents experiencing fuel poverty

A Methodist minister in Newtownabbey is set to walk between the five churches on her circuit this month in a bid to raise funds to help people who are struggling due to the cost of living crisis.

Rev Karen Spence, the minister at Newtownabbey Methodist Church in Rathcoole, will be walking between the churches on her circuit to raise funds and highlight fuel and food poverty across Newtownabbey.

The Mission in Rathcoole issues fuel vouchers to people who are referred to the Rathcoole Drive church and Rev Spence is conducting her generous effort on August 23 as the number of people impacted by fuel poverty increases across the region.

Speaking to the Newtownabbey Times, Rev Spence said: “During the months of June and July 2022 we issued 19 fuel vouchers and in the same period last year we issued 10.

Rev Karen Spence.

“We expect the issue of fuel and food poverty to get worse as the cost of living continues to increase.

“It is very hard to predict how many people will need assistance over the next few months and into 2023, but given the trend this year it will exceed last year.

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“The people we help are not church members, but are referred to us via outside agencies with whom we partner. At Christmas we helped 129 families with fuel vouchers and 249 families received toy vouchers. We expect this to increase this year.

“I am walking from Rathcoole back to Rathcoole via Whiteabbey, Monkstown, Glengormley and Greencastle. I’m leaving the Mission in Rathcoole at 9.30am and hope to be back after 2pm.

“I will be stopping in each church to meet people who may have gathered and speak briefly about how we can fight fuel and food poverty and to encourage them in the work they do. I may receive donations at these stops.”

Rev Spence, who moved to the area last year from Co Kerry, came up with the idea to conduct the charity initiative during “a steroid induced sleepless night” as she recovers from treatment for bowel cancer.

Detailing her journey from diagnosis to recovery, she explained: “I was and still am a fit and active person, walking most days and playing golf regularly and had never been ill prior to last August when I took unwell.

“I had just moved to the area from Co Kerry and put it down to both moving house and to a new church. On August 23 I contacted the doctor and I am grateful she took my symptoms seriously and ordered some tests to be done.

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“The walk is on August 23 this year because that marks a year since I contacted the doctor. Her prompt action has saved my life, or at least extended it.

“I have remained positive since the diagnosis. I took a sort time off work to recover from the surgery in November 2021 and went back to work in early January 2022 on a phased return. My four cycles of chemotherapy started a week later and I continued working as best I could throughout the chemo as this gave me something to focus on which was good for my mental health. The idea for the walk came on a steroid induced sleepless night!

“I will also do some fundraising for a cancer charity in the future.”

Urging anyone experiencing any symptoms to contact a medical professional, Rev Spence explained: “I would implore people of any age to get any symptoms checked out as soon as possible.

People like the late Dame Deborah James and the Radio 1 DJ Adele Roberts have been really helpful in helping people talk about bowel cancer and stoma bags and removing the stigma.”

As Rev Spence’s recovery continues, the Methodist minister has thanked the medical staff and everyone who has supported her over the past year.

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She stated: “The treatment I received from my doctor, surgeon, team of oncologists and nursing staff in Laurel House has been amazing given the pressures they continue to work under with Covid-19.

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“I cannot thank them enough. The same goes to my family and to the many people from right around the world who have prayerfully supported me on this journey.”

An online fundraising page has been set up to collect money to help support residents experiencing food and fuel poverty.

Over £200 has been raised at the time of going to print. If you would like to make a donation, click here

Donations can also be sent via cheque payable to Newtownabbey Methodist Mission direct to the church office (Newtownabbey Methodist Mission, 35a Rathcoole Drive, Newtownabbey, BT37 9AQ).