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Church of England told to increase reparations fund for links to slavery to £1billion

Rosemarie Mallett, Bishop of Croydon and chairwoman of the oversight group (PA)
Rosemarie Mallett, Bishop of Croydon and chairwoman of the oversight group (PA)

The Church of England’s £100 million fund set up to address historic links is too small and should be raised to £1 billion, says an independent oversight group.

The funding programme was announced in January last year for investment, research and engagement to “address past wrongs”.

But an independent oversight group says that £100 million is “insufficient” to counter the “historic and enduring greed, cynicism and hate with penitence, hope and love”, while adding the project’s nine-year timeframe is too long.

“The sum of £100 million is very small compared to the scale of racial disadvantage originating in African chattel enslavement,” said the group in a report.

The group said the Church Commissioners had “embraced a target of £1 billion for a broader healing, repair and justice initiative with the fund at its centre”.

Patrick Vernon, a member of the oversight group and a well-known Windrush campaigner, welcomed the church’s response to the report, and said it must be “the start of a journey for the country, to talk about this” issue.

He told reporters on Monday: “We have to recognise this is quite an historic occasion for one of the major institutions in British society, to put its hand up and say ‘we benefited from the African Chattel enslavement, we recognise injustice’ and in terms of the theology of the church, recognising that it had to do the right thing.”

Calling for a “mature conversation”, he said he hopes the report can spark other major organisations into action.

“I hope that this will inspire other institutions and other organisations who have been involved in a similar history, like the Church of England, to recognise they have to look at righting the wrongs,” he said.

Rosemarie Mallett, Bishop of Croydon and chairwoman of the oversight group, said the church was “stepping forth quite boldly, quite audaciously, and saying: ‘We can do this, others should join in.'”

The fund – which they said should be known as the Fund For Healing, Repair And Justice – will invest in members of disadvantaged black communities, aiming to “back their most brilliant social entrepreneurs, educators, healthcare givers, asset managers and historians”.

While there will be grants for non-profit investments “to promote and enhance healthy lives, thriving minds and cultural impact”, there will not be cash compensation for individuals or grants to government bodies, the group added.

The Church Commissioners will disburse the £100 million over five years, rather than nine as originally planned, the report said.

Both the commissioners and the oversight group stressed that they did not want to rush into action, but rather to focus on “doing it well”.

Gareth Mostyn, chief executive of the Church Commissioners for England, said: “I hope that we will be able to start deploying funds by the end of this year, but we’ll make sure that we work through all of the practical, financial, legal issues to make sure that we’re ready to do that before we do.”

The £1 billion target can be met through a larger allocation from the Church Commissioners as well as through third-party funds, the group said.

Mr Mostyn said the establishment of the fund will hopefully encourage others to “co-invest and join us on this journey”, and emphasised that as it is an investment fund it is hoped it will “grow and create a lasting legacy”.

The announcement of the fund last year was a specific response to what the group described as a “historic pool of capital tainted by its involvement in African chattel enslavement”.

Known as Queen Anne’s Bounty – a fund used to supplement the income of poor clergy, it invested significantly in the South Sea Company, which traded in slaves in the 18th century.

The fund also received numerous donations, many of which the church has said were likely to have come from people linked to, or who profited from, slavery and plantations.

Among a series of recommendations, the oversight group called on the Church Commissioners to separately fund research to uncover “the full picture” of the church’s involvement in slavery and wealth generated from it, beyond Queen Anne’s Bounty.

It also urged the church to “apologise publicly for denying that black Africans are made in the image of God and for seeking to destroy diverse African traditional religious belief systems”.

Rosemarie Mallett, Bishop of Croydon and chairwoman of the oversight group for the investment fund set up to address the Church of England's links to transatlantic slavery (Rich Barr/PA Wire)
Rosemarie Mallett, Bishop of Croydon and chairwoman of the oversight group for the investment fund set up to address the Church of England's links to transatlantic slavery (Rich Barr/PA Wire)

Rosemarie Mallett, Bishop of Croydon and chairwoman of the oversight group, said she hopes the investment fund can be “a catalyst to encourage other institutions to investigate their past and make a better future for impacted communities”.

She said no amount of money can “fully atone for or fully redress the centuries-long impact of African chattel enslavement, the effects of which are still felt around the world today”.

She said the legacy of slavery “continues to have a significant impact on communities today and inequalities persist till this day” in the form of pregnancy and childbirth outcomes, life chances at birth, physical and mental health, education, employment, income, property and the criminal justice system”.

The bishop told reporters: “We hope that by doing what we can do, others will look at us and see that as an example.”

She said people “like to berate the Church of England quite often”, but that on this occasion the church is “stepping forth quite boldly, quite audaciously and saying ‘we can do this, others should join in’.”

In a statement, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “In seeking justice for all, we must continue to work together remembering that all are created in the image of God.

“The oversight group’s independent work with the Church Commissioners is the beginning of a multi-generational response to the appalling evil of transatlantic chattel enslavement.

“My prayer is that this work will stimulate further visionary and practical co-created action.”