The Dean of St Edmundsbury has urged the people of Bury to ‘be mindful of others’ ahead of her final service in the town on Sunday.
The Very Reverend Dr Frances Ward has expressed concern about the increase in the number of rough sleepers in the town and has said that many people are unaware of the hidden difficulties faced by them and others.
“It’s verging a little bit on the complacent,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s going to get any better. I think austerity is real and tough for a lot of people.”
Dr Ward, 57, also said that Brexit and other recent events may make it more difficult for immigrants and people of other faiths to settle in the area.
“Brexit was devastating. We need to be mindful of others who are different to us and who might be feeling marginalised or isolated. We are all called to love our neighbours whoever they are,” she said.
But she paid tribute to those already trying to make a difference, including the Suffolk Community Foundation of which she is a trustee.
“I have been really proud to be part of the tremendous work that goes on. We both pray and do a lot to try and make life better for most people,” she said.
Dr Ward will be leaving the post after seven years to move north with her husband, Peter, who is training to be a priest. She has plans to write a book and will begin a PHD at Durham University next year.
Approaching the move with ‘mixed feelings,’ she said she is excited for the future but sad to leave Bury behind.
“It feels like pulling up roots and that’s really quite painful,” she said.
“I love Suffolk and Bury St Edmunds. There’s lots of really good people here and it feels a very settled and happy town.”
Dr Ward was a residentiary canon at Bradford Cathedral before moving to Suffolk and becoming the county’s first female Dean.
Despite some people ‘raising their eyebrows’ at a woman taking on the role, she believes she has made a positive impact.
“There’s different things a female brings to leadership,” she said.
“I would want people to think that the cathedral is a much more warm and welcoming place and that there’s a real sense of depth of prayer and beauty and that it’s a lovely place to come into,” she said.
She cited visits by Prince Charles and the Archbishop of Canterbury as personal highlights of her time in Bury, as well as ‘stunningly beautiful’ services for troops returning from Afghanistan.
“We have been here through all sorts of celebrations like the Queen’s 90th birthday, the jubilee of her reign and also sad things like Corrie McKeague. We have said prayers for him week after week. The cathedral is there for people in sorrow and joy.” she said.
And she believes that it is the cathedral, where she will preach for the last time on Sunday, that will remind people that they are not alone.
“It’s a tough world and a very anxious world we live in. It’s really important that the church is there at the heart of it all - as an anchor into hope, love and faith,” she said.