Generous and courageous social justice campaigner honoured

First published on: 16th April 2021

A ‘generous and courageous’ social justice campaigner at the forefront of helping emergency food supplies reach people in need across Liverpool amid the pandemic, has received a prestigious award from the Archbishop of Canterbury.


Dr Hilary Russell, co-Chair of ecumenical group Feeding Liverpool and a founding Trustee of social justice charity Together Liverpool, is among 36 people recognised for outstanding contributions to the Church and wider society, in the Archbishop’s 2021 Lambeth Awards.


Hilary, 78, a retired Professor of Urban Policy at Liverpool John Moores University, and former lay Canon at Liverpool Cathedral, received the Langton Award for Community Service, in recognition of her: “exceptional work initiating and supporting the social justice ministry of the Church and the churches - particularly relating to sustainable and affordable food policy in Liverpool”.


In the last year Feeding Liverpool and Together Liverpool have in partnership supplied more than 30,000 food parcels through foodbanks, pantries and community markets, helping set up new food pantries, and campaigning for a more sustainable and affordable food supply system.


Hilary, a grandmother-of-three from south Liverpool, has spent the last 60 years dedicated to helping tackle social inequality through her academic career, Christian ministry and social action.


She said she was honoured to receive the award, particularly if it encourages more people to get involved in social action.


Hilary said: “I am privileged to receive this award alongside such a wonderful cohort of inspirational people. It is also testament to the dedication, faith and generosity of many people I have been able to work with over the years as we strive to work towards a fairer society.


“I hope that it helps highlight issues of social injustice and the need for greater equality in the distribution of resources, and that it might encourage more people to use their gifts to find ways to get involved in social action to make a bigger difference in our communities.”


The Lambeth Awards focus on a variety of aspects of Christian life and ministry. Past recipients are scientists, musicians, academics, activists, peacemakers, doctors and clergy. Among this year’s recipients are MOBO Award-winning rapper and author Guvna B (Isaac Borquaye), Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko, former Director of the Council of Christians and Jews, the Most Revd Danial Deng Bul, former Primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, and broadcaster the Revd Richard Coles.


Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “During the pandemic, we have seen just how vital the contribution of churches is to the fabric of our society. As well as finding creative ways to worship together safely, churches have been feeding the hungry, reaching out to the lonely and offering hope to those struggling in the midst of the crisis.


“This year’s Lambeth Awards recipients, not all of whom are Christians, embody this spirit of service - not just during the pandemic but, for many of them, through decades of faithful work. I commend them and their efforts and look forward to the time when we meet to celebrate their contributions to society.”


Hilary became Chair of Together Liverpool, a joint venture between the Church Urban Fund and Diocese of Liverpool, when it was founded in 2012 until 2018, when Rev Canon Dr Ellen Loudon, Director of Social Justice for the Diocese took over the role. She continues to serve as a Trustee.


She is co-chair of Feeding Liverpool, set up in 2015 as a local pilot of Feeding Britain, an independent charity which established following the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the UK in 2014.


Hilary said: “As elsewhere in Britain, there are people struggling on low incomes, whether it’s those with no recourse to public funds, those whose benefits are inadequate, or those who are employed getting too low a wage to afford sufficient food. There are also issues about access to affordable healthy food.


“An important part of the work of both Together Liverpool and Feeding Liverpool is about moving on from emergency food provision to supporting the development of more resilience and sustainable solutions to food insecurity, like pantries and community shops.  I am very encouraged by the work that is happening in Liverpool.


“Feeding Liverpool is at the heart of a huge effort in the city with the public sector working with Voluntary, Community and Faith Sector partners to develop a strategic plan of activity.


“It has been heartening to see the wider benefits of the food work done by Feeding Liverpool and all its partners - not just helping food to reach the people who need it most, but also fostering a real sense of community and bringing people together - in a properly socially distanced way!


“It‘s not only about food, but also about supporting people experiencing financial insecurity, with activities like welfare advice, debt counselling, homelessness provision. In all these areas, churches are very much a part of the response to social injustice.”


Hilary said: “Social justice is integral to Christian life. I want to see a kinder, more equitable, society, maximising people’s individual opportunities to fulfil themselves, but also getting the structures and policies right. I hope the pandemic has perhaps underlined our inter-dependence and that, as we emerge from it, people will be even more alive to needs within society, and see how we should respond, as individual Christians and as churches.”


Together Liverpool chair of trustees Rev Canon Dr Ellen Loudon said: “Together Liverpool trustees are immensely proud of Hilary. This award is richly deserved. Hilary has served at chair and co-chair of our charity for many years and her commitment to social justice and radical kindness is an inspiration to us all. Congratulations Hilary and thank you.”


Hilary’s award citation said: “For her exceptional work initiating and supporting the social justice ministry of the church and the churches – particularly relating to sustainable and affordable food policy in Liverpool – over many decades.


“Professor Hilary Russell, formerly professor of urban policy at Liverpool John Moores University, is an advocate for social justice and activist as well as a gifted scholar and theological thinker. She is an example of a strong grounded ethical Liverpool civic leader his faith in Christ mark her out as a person who seeks Kingdom justice here on earth as it is in heaven.

“Hilary is a generous and courageous leader who has mentored many and liberally shared her experience with all. Her commitment to Liverpool Cathedral, her regular place of worship extends beyond her tenure as a lay canon – most recently committing to hosting significant ecumenical dialogue in a series of talks focused around the Encyclical Letter ‘Laudato Si’ of Pope Francis ‘On Care for Our Common Home’. Her local commitment to the social justice work of the diocese and Archdiocese of Liverpool was recognised with the first ecumenical Sheppard-Warlock award for outstanding lifelong work in the Merseyside region.

“The present nomination indicates the value of honouring Hilary on a wider canvas. Hilary is a humble woman who challenges injustice in ways that serve the common good. This is most evident in her work with Feeding Liverpool - where she leads the conversations around affordable and sustainable food policy; and as a trustee of Together Liverpool - which she served as Chair for many years and where she now represents the charity in local and national conversations concerning local issues, where she has made an outstanding contribution.”


Hilary said: “I became a Christian in my teens, there was nothing dramatic about that but one thing that was very significant was reading Trevor Huddleston’s book, Naught for Your Comfort, about the struggles in South Africa.


“It defined for me a different perspective on being a Christian: that Christian love is so searching, so demanding  in its force and that the Christ of the Gospels is not  the sentimental figure sometimes portrayed, but rather one who could not live comfortably with injustice and intolerance.”


Having grown up Manchester, Hilary moved to Liverpool in 1960 to study for a degree in sociology in the University of Liverpool. She said: “At that time it was very clear there were huge inequalities in the experiences people were having even while living within a small distance of each other. There have been many improvements around the city since then, but some of the basic inequalities remain. Standards may have risen for everybody, but there is still the big divide.”


As a former Professor of Urban Policy and Deputy Director of the European Institute of Urban Affairs at LJMU, she was mainly concerned with the evaluation of urban regeneration schemes.


At the same time, she was involved in a variety of church-related activities, including Church Action on Poverty, the follow-up to Faith in the City on Merseyside, William Temple Foundation, and wider voluntary sector organisations, such as LCVS and Oxfam UK Policy Advisory Group.


As someone committed to ecumenism, she has had a longstanding link with Churches Together on Merseyside and its predecessor Merseyside and Region Churches Ecumenical Assembly.


In 2011, after retirement, Hilary undertook a study for the Church of England on Resourcing Christian Community Action: Parishes and Partnerships.


She was involved at the start of Together for the Common Good, which took its inspiration from the partnership of Archbishop Derek Worlock, Bishop David Sheppard and Rev Dr John Newton.


Hilary also sits on the Bishop’s Council, Liverpool Cathedral Council, Liverpool Diocesan Synod, and Oxfam UKP Policy Advisory Group. She is Chair of the Churches Together in the Merseyside Region Management Council, a Member of the Governing Council of Hope University, and Merseyside Executive Committee Member, Liverpool Charity and Voluntary Services.


She previously sat on the Church Urban Fund National Review Group, and was National Chairperson of Church Action on Poverty, from 1989 to 1997.


Hilary has written two books: A Faithful Presence: Working Together for the Common Good, published in 2015, and Poverty Close to Home: A Christian Understanding, published in 1995. She has contributed to six other books and also co-edited Rooted in the City: Recollections and assessments of 100 years of voluntary action in Liverpool, eds Roger Morris and Hilary Russell, 2010.

Printer Printable Version