Bringing People Together – making the strapline a reality

Near Neighbours Development worker Jessica Foster writes: The small grants part of the Near Neighbours programme has been running for just over seven months now and we have funded well over 40 projects, distributing nearly £170,000 to projects and activities that will create and strengthen friendships between people of different faiths who live close to one another.

For some projects the planning is over and it has been an absolute privilege to have been invited to the launch of a job club in Handsworth and the evening celebration of Hodge Hill’s Unsung Heroes recently.

While both events were very different, responding to the different needs in different parts of the city what delighted me was that at both occasions I saw that very real friendships were being built and nourished between people of different faiths and ethnicities who discovered huge amounts in common – shared values, shared concerns and shared neighbourhoods.

On my table of heroes in Hodge Hill, people from different faiths and ethnicities chatted away, building and deepening friendships. Throughout the evening we saw people appreciating the contribution their neighbour was making and that appreciation was enthusiastic, heartfelt and warm as people saw in one another the shared willingness to work together for the good of Hodge Hill.

In Handsworth the commitment to give the most disadvantaged people a second-chance had brought a steering group together to support Alvin Henry and the Dorcas Club to set up a job club. Here people wanted to see young people skilled and equipped to achieve in a competitive employment market. There was a particular concern for people who had left prison and were struggling to quit the offending cycle without any hope of a job.

Amongst this steering group of people was Ajit from the local gurdwara. Alvin told us that the Near Neighbours grant meant he needed a steering group made up of people from different faiths and he had approached Ajit from the Nishkam centre expecting a formal half-an-hour meeting. Three hours later Alvin and Ajit had become firm friends and Ajit is now an integral part of the group overseeing the job club.

At a lecture I attended as part of the Muslim-Christian forum residential for women we heard that friendship is not only personal and intimate but also civil and political. Friendships have the power to bring about real and lasting change in communities. We sometimes think they are something that happen to us but in reality we choose and nurture our friends. We hope Near Neighbours helps to build hundreds of new friendships across this city – we do hope you can be part of it

friendship, Interfaith

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