The SPARK of Social Justice in Leeds

Written by CAFOD volunteer Matty Maslen


CAFOD has joined a number of organisations and charities from the Diocese of Leeds in coming together during this period of lockdown to help the local project SPARK to provide a series of online videos encouraging young people to become active in social justice causes.Spark pic

In 2019, the Diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission, a group which has been active in the area for over 45 years, launched a project called SPARK. SPARK is an ‘Arts in Faith’ project for young people aged 16-30, rooted in drama and theatre. Aoibheann Kelly, a theatre professional and the project director, uses drama to provide a space to have challenging conversations and explore ways in which young people can make a difference.

When SPARK began, it identified poverty and climate change as key issues that it would explore. These are principle focuses of CAFOD’s work to ensure that every man, woman and child has a full and dignified life.

SPARK is an ‘Arts in Faith’ project for young people aged 16-30, rooted in drama and theatre. Aoibheann Kelly, a theatre professional and the project director, uses drama to provide a space to have challenging conversations and explore ways in which young people can make a difference.

Under normal circumstances, SPARK delivers interactive workshops in schools, parishes and colleges and the group have been particularly active in Leeds Trinity University. However, the group has had to adapt to the new world that the Covid-19 Lockdown presents. Although the group only started to run sessions in September 2019, it has already delivered them to almost 300 young people across the Diocese.

Over the past few weeks, Aoibheann has been working hard to organise a set of video episodes so that the momentum for action that the sessions have been creating is not lost.

In the first of these online episodes, Marc Besford the National President of YCW (Young Christian Workers), and the National Secretary of YCW, Ben Sinclair, joined Aoibheann. In this episode, the group explored youth leadership and examples of inspirational young people who have taken positive action to help others.

The second episode, led by Tom Chigbo from Leeds Citizens, will look at how young people can set up their own social justice action group both during lockdown and beyond.

For the third episode, Sarah Barber, CAFOD’s Youth Programme Team Leader, and Bronagh Daly, CAFOD’s Community Participation Co-ordinator for Leeds will be joining Aoibheann. They will discuss volunteering opportunities and ways of making a difference during the lockdown period to ensure, as Bronagh said: “no one is beyond reach.”.

The following episode will feature John Battle, former MP for Leeds West and a community activist, who will be talking about his passion for social justice.

When SPARK was initially formed, it recognised CAFOD’s success at working with and engaging young people under 30 in its volunteering programmes and campaigns. Within Catholic schools, CAFOD is a well-known and active charity. With school Lenten appeals, the ‘Step into the Gap’ programme and office, parish and school volunteering opportunities, CAFOD provides a range of ways for young people to get involved.

During this time of social distancing, many young people will have found they have more time to consider how to put both their faith and their passion for social justice into action. SPARK’s video episodes provide a space to ask important questions and opportunities to answer them.

The group’s motto is a South African saying which reads: “Many little people, in many little places, who do many little things, can change the face of the earth”. SPARK’s online sessions show that although we may be separated, the call for a fairer, safer world is still sounding and it brings us together.


SPARK’s first session is available now on YouTube. See:

To keep updated on when new episodes are posted follow SPARK on Facebook at @SPARKsocialjustice or visit their website:

CAFOD’s volunteering opportunities for young people:

Diocese of Leeds Justice and Peace Commission:

Young Christian Workers:

Leeds Citizens:

2019: A look-back and message of thanks

We started 2019 by waving our gap year volunteer, Madeline, off on her trip to Uganda with messages of support and solidarity from supporters and volunteers from across the diocese.madeline in ufganda


In the run up to our Lent 2019 Fast Day appeal, we met with supporters and volunteers at two Inter-generational days in Bingley and Skipton


We welcomed our newly appointed Director, Christine Allen, to our Diocese Lenten Lookback on the 5th April, as we looked through posters, leaflets and resources from the 1960s up to recent years and chatted with volunteers who have supported CAFOD for over 40 years.Lenten Lookback


Our school volunteers continued to visit local Catholic primary and secondary schools, and we held our first CAFOD Children’s Liturgy meeting in May, with two liturgists saying they would like to train as new school volunteers.

Children from local schools and parishes met with CAFOD’s DRC Country Rep to hear about how Climate Change is having an impact on livelihoods in some of the poorest communities and we talked about what we can do to support with fundraising, prayer and campaigning.


As the summer approached we ramped up our campaigning spirit and lobbied 100s of MPs at the Mass Lobby of parliament in June and our CPC, Bronagh Daly, wrapped local MP Alex Sobel up in a ‘The Time is Now’ banner whilst asking what he will do to make sure our country reduces carbon emissions to net Zero by 2045. Alex Sobel with Gappers June Mass Lobby


Moving on towards late summer and harvest, many parishes and schools across the Diocese continued to arrange Creation Masses and signed petitions for more action on Net Zero from government. Across the Bradford Deanery plans were under way to host a week of celebrations and conversations on Climate Change


As Madeline’s gap year came to a close, she gave us an insight into her year as a volunteer with CAFOD and how much her trip to Uganda had changed her view on social action and how we can all play our part in the fight for equality.

1800 children attended workshops and assemblies across the diocese led by our local CAFOD school volunteers hearing about water projects in Uganda over the Harvest period, THANK YOU so much to all the schools who prayed, campaigned and fundraised so families living in the world’s poorest communities can flourish.


And so, we arrive at Advent, a time when we reflect on the nativity story, and remember this is a time for giving. A time to stretch out the hand to the stranger, offer food to the hungry and shelter to those in need of care.

On behalf of all the CAFOD supporters, staff and volunteers here in the Diocese of Leeds we would like to thank you for all your prayers, your many 100s of hours of volunteering and offers of support wish you a very happy and peaceful Christmas

Our Volunteer center will be open again on Monday the 6th January 2020 so please get in touch if you would like to find out more about volunteering for CAFOD.

2nd Nov 2019:Campaign volunteers and supporters: Faith in Action day, York

The Faith in Action events were created with a simple ethos: to help explore the links between faith and politics.


To help define the moments when we should pray from the side-lines and when should we roll up our sleeves.

Our global church has a proud history of encouraging Catholics’ political reflection and action.

This day will focus on reflecting on church teaching and scriptures, alongside sharing inspiring stories of CAFOD campaigners both here in the UK and overseas – and of how you can get involved

From Trump to Brexit to climate, politics is everywhere. But when should we pray from the side-lines and when should we roll up our sleeves?

The Church here and around the world has a proud history of encouraging Catholics’ political reflection and action. With amazing results.

At this CAFOD day, we’ll explore the links between faith and politics.

Join us and reflect on Scripture and Church teaching. Be inspired by others and CAFOD’s campaigning and work overseas.

Date: Sat 2nd Nov 2019
Time: 10am-4pm.
Venue: Our Lady’s Parish, Cornlands Road, Acomb, York YO24 3DX
Lunch: Please bring something for a shared lunch

To book your place: click here