We want to start this update by saying a massive thank you for your generous support of Just Love. One of the main reasons we were bothered about not being in touch with you was because we know that, especially over the last year, continuing to support us may have been a sacrifice. It was important to us that you knew that we had noticed you have continued to give, and we are grateful. Charities are often saying ‘thank you’ which means that sometimes it loses its meaning, but we have been so moved by the faithful support we have received from you all. The pandemic has led to financial uncertainty and insecurity for so many of us and we are both grateful and humbled that you have continued to partner with us through that time. Thank you.
The pandemic has changed things for everyone. The last 18 months have been like no other. For Just Love, the pandemic has meant that our students have had an extremely disrupted university experience, our staff team have been working from home even more than usual, and all of our major events have been moved online. There’s been a lot of change and adaptation but in the midst of all of this, we have seen God move in new and exciting ways. In fact, it feels as though we are heading into the next academic year in as strong a position as we have ever been. Below are a few of things we have been up to over the last year or so.
Roots, Resilience, Rebuilding
We framed our response to the pandemic through a series called Roots, Resilience and Rebuilding and started with a blog series on how we respond well to the events that were unfolding. Growing our roots meant focusing on theology, leadership and impact. We launched 11, movement-wide book clubs which were attended by 132 students, alumni and staff, and recommended our top 5 podcasts, books on good development, leadership development and more! We focused on resilience in May and Rebuilding through June and July. As part of the Rebuilding focus, we interviewed inspiring speakers, including Shane Claiborne & Krish Kandiah, on their big ideas to change the world, learning about everything from ethical banking to unravelling racism, to cancelling debt in the global south. You can still watch the videos here.
One of the ways we develop our student leaders is through training events. We host three regional events at Easter and one national event in September. The first lockdown was announced less than a week before our first Easter training event in March 2020. We worked quickly to adapt and hosted two, two-day, online events for over 120 new student leaders. There were sessions on theology, team dynamics, how to run effective meetings, running JL during the pandemic, strategy and goal setting, and more. There was also time for prayer, worship and connecting as committees. 88% of students rated the training as excellent.
In September, our autumn training was also hosted online, though we had a little longer to prepare. It was another success with over 135 students joining in for more teaching on theology, prayer and justice, politics and justice, good development, developing other leaders, rest and self-care, time management and organisation and more.
A year on from our first online training, we ran our 2021 Easter training online with a brand new cohort of student leaders. It had a very different feel to last year, with people much more used to being online and with greater stamina for it, yet also much more tired. However, it was another great event and by the grace of God, there was a real community feel, despite it being online. The feedback from the students was really encouraging. One student said:
‘It was just so enriching, inspiring, challenging, refreshing and fun. I was pretty sceptical about it being online, but it was just so chilled but also super helpful at the same time. The quality and wisdom of the JL community is enormous. More than that, the people were just so humble and genuine. Taught me so much about what it means to pursue God’s justice as an individual and as a committee.’
We are very proud of the student leaders that led their groups from April 2020 – March 2021. Despite a whole year of the pandemic, never going to an in-person training, and many committees having never met in person, they did exceptionally well. They were incredibly resilient and invited more and more students into a holistic, lifelong pursuit of Jesus and justice.
Over the course of the year, they ran 940 events with an aggregate attendance of over 11,300 students. This is incredibly impressive when almost all student societies saw enormous drop-offs in number with very little engagement from first years especially. Working within restrictions, Just Love groups gave 1,991 volunteer hours to their local community, and, in our best fundraising year to date, they raised over £55,900 for other charities.
Last summer, we said goodbye to a couple of key staff team members. Fiona, our Scottish coordinator, and Tom our Founder and National Coordinator, both moved on to new opportunities. The staff team are good friends so it was particularly sad to see them leave. However, they have both moved on to very exciting things. In September, Josh Smedley, previously our Northern Coordinator, became the new CEO, and Sarah Blackburn became the Deputy CEO with many of the other staff team stepping up to new roles too. In addition, we grew our team by 1, as we hired a new Scottish Coordinator, a Relationships Manager, and another Regional Coordinator in the South. You can read more about each of the staff team’s roles here.
From the Ashes
Despite it being online, we held our biggest and best Just Love Alumni Network Day yet. Over 230 alumni joined us for From the Ashes, during which we explored how to acknowledge the reality of the world’s brokenness and engage healthily with lament before rising as resilient, hope-filled leaders who serve Jesus wherever they go.
We are currently helping our students wrap up their academic year well and start to plan for the autumn term and freshers. Many of our current student leaders have never experienced university, let alone Just Love, outside of a pandemic, so we are hoping that this inspires new and creative ideas in Just Love groups. Then it’s time for a big rest.
Over summer, staff will tentatively begin to travel again, meeting together as a whole team for the first time in 18 months. Some of the team are yet to have met in person at all! We are also gearing up for Autumn Training, which will hopefully see 150 students gathering together in London.
In August the team will change again. Tee Barnes, our North-West coordinator who has overseen our design for the last three years, will be stepping down, and Curtis Irvine, our head of communications, will be going part time to begin doing a masters. We have three new members of staff to cover those gaps and expand the team – we will introduce you to them in the next report.
That brings us to the end of your first quarterly update. Future updates should be shorter as they will only cover 3 months, not 14! You are investors in this movement and it’s important to us that you feel in-the-loop and confident of the impact you are enabling.
Thank you so much as ever for partnering with us and have a lovely three months,