Portsmouth Cathedral has committed to giving entrepreneurs a helping hand as one way of responding to the difficult economic climate in Britain.
The cathedral unveiled plans in the House of Lords on Tuesday to help entrepreneurs launch small businesses.
The Cathedral Innovation Centre will open up spare office space to 14 fledgling businesses and offer them a package that includes desk space, a start-up loan from the Parity Trust, administrative support and the chance to meet business leaders.
Local business people, many from within the churches, will also be invited to act as mentors for the new entrepreneurs.
The project is a partnership between Portsmouth Cathedral, the University of Portsmouth’s Business School, and the Joint Venture, a new social enterprise that works with local government and community organisations to make the most of their assets, resources and people.
If successful, the project could be started in other cathedrals and large churches across the country to create a network of innovation centres.
There are already plans afoot to launch the project in Southampton, where a building has been offered to run the venture.
Unveiling the plans in the House of Lords, Baroness Berridge said: “Perhaps the major contribution needed from our faith communities today is job creation.
“If all 61 cathedrals in England joined, then the Cathedral Innovation Centre would be a movement which in the 61st year of the Queens reign could see over 600 new businesses created. What a wonderful Jubilee legacy that would be.”
In reply, Baroness Hanham, minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, said: “I hope very much the Cathedral Innovation Centre will succeed.”
Francis Davis, the chairman of the Cathedral Innovation Centre, said: “When St Paul’s and other cathedrals saw the Occupy protests recently, there were very few practical alternatives being suggested.
“But the Church is in a position to help businesses to launch, develop and expand. This is a concrete response at a time of economic crisis, when talk is obviously not enough.
“We can only have growth in our economy if real firms are creating real jobs, and we can help to attain social justice if we are creating businesses that are run along responsible lines.”
Mr Davis is looking for 50 mentors from across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to give advice on all aspects of business, from management, to recruitment, marketing and human resources.
“I’d like to tap into the expertise that’s available in our churches,” he said. “It will be a new way of volunteering for members of our churches.
“And in a new approach to philanthropy, we’re looking for 500 people to invest £300 to get these businesses off the ground. They would be helping people back into work and stimulating the economy.”
Among the first businesses looking to move in are technology start-ups founded by local students, a healthcare firm spun out from the local hospital, and a community leadership and training foundation.
Another firm that has already signed up is the Turnaround Foundation, which offers management consultancy to small firms in trouble, and ethical business advice to firms facing insolvency.
The dean of Portsmouth Cathedral, the Very Rev David Brindley, said: “This is a creative response to some of the problems we face in the city. I’m very happy that we can offer some of our facilities and resources to help in this way.”