On Ash Wednesday a group of staff from the FNC joined faith leaders, food bank representatives and community groups to commission the Hunger Hut in the grounds of Birmingham Cathedral.

The Hunger Hut is a focus for End Hunger Fast in Birmingham and will be staffed by volunteers to enable it to open six days a week. Do call in if you are passing  and find out more about the campaign at www.endhungerfast.co.uk.

Following the launch of the Hunger Hut the Bishop of Birmingham wrote the following article for the Birmingham Post:-  the full text is below. It is quite long but definitely worth reading.

Bishop David Urquhart writes:

At a recent gathering of faith leaders a Government Minister joked that a collective of Bishops might be called a ‘correspondence.’ The letter we wrote with other Christian leaders on February 20th about welfare reforms and poverty seems to have struck a chord in the nation and in the fortnight that has followed its publication, poverty has barely been out of the headlines.

Following the focus on food poverty and food banks, the spotlight turned to families as the Government re-launched their draft Child Poverty Strategy.  However its call for better measurements and data was met with a plea for more substantial action to support the poorest people in our nation and break the cycle of deprivation. I believe this is a good opportunity to refresh our Birmingham Child Poverty Strategy.

But while it is easy to agree the poverty needs to end and action needs to be taken the question that is not so easily answered is ‘What do we do?’  The Church has begun to answer that question with its campaign End Hunger Fast which I launched in Birmingham yesterday.

During the next 40 days, the season of Lent, Christians across the country will be fasting and praying as is our tradition. This year there is an added focus of food poverty and  following the example of Jesus we will be finding ways of reaching out to those in need. One practical action we have committed ourselves to is to try and raise enough money to ensure the local charity SIFA Fireside can provide breakfast to the people sleeping rough in our city.  We will also be creating prayer spaces with a hunger focus and visiting food banks and shelters to talk to people there and gather stories of hunger which will be presented to parliament just before Easter.

We hope these stories will help us understand the patterns of poverty in this city region and reveal simple steps that could be taken to help people live without the stark choices of heat or eat, payday loans or no bus-pass to get to work. We expect to hear about low paid work, zero contract hours which mean people do not know if they will be paid from week to week, benefit sanctions and the destitution faced by immigrants who have ‘no recourse to public funds’ and cannot access the usual support networks. We will of course hear stories of bad health, debt, addiction and relationship break-up and among all the stories we will hear of great sacrifice, bravery, determination and fortitude as well as despair, frustration and anger.

Despite the complexity of the issues I think there are steps that the seventh richest nation in the world can take to help redistribute some of our resources and ensure we care for the most marginalised in our communities.
An obvious start would be a higher minimum wage, or the living wage, which has been adopted by many organisations and helps to ensure people do not have to take on several jobs to make ends meet or supplement their income with benefits and food-parcels. In 2013 the living wage for people outside London was calculated to be £7.65 per hour – the national minimum wage is £6.31. According to the Living Wage Foundation, it implementation is not only good for employees but for employers too. 80% of employers believed that the living wage had enhanced the quality of the work of their staff, while absenteeism had fallen by approximately 25%. (http://www.livingwage.org.uk/what-are-benefits)

Alongside a living wage it seems essential that child-care is accessible and affordable so parents can afford to work in the confidence that their children are being well looked after.  We need tailored support to help people overcome barriers to work whether they are educational issues, health-related problems or any other obstacles.

Of course these solutions need to work alongside growing a creative economy that provides as many well-resourced jobs as possible for those who need them including a flourishing social enterprise sector and a commitment to making work accessible, meaningful and rewarding. We have some wonderful examples of social enterprises helping people into work including Devenish Girl bakery in Weoley Castle, Gear Up in Hodge Hill and Urban Cycles in Ward End.

These are inspiring examples of enterprise putting people first – bringing jobs, training and hope to young people but there is much more like this that could be done by people working together with a commitment to shared benefit from business. Partnerships between the public sector and private sector, voluntary groups and faiths communities are going to play an essential role as we realise we share responsibility for the welfare of our city. But equally essential are new kinds of partnerships that are formed when individuals meet each other across divides of wealth, faith or ethnicity and see their shared humanity and responsibility to each other. The Near Neighbours programme in Birmingham has helped us to develop some of these relationships over the last three years, giving away nearly £500,000 to enable faith and community groups to start small projects to bring people together and work to change their communities. I was delighted to be at the recent announcement that the Government is allocating a further £3 million to this programme.

Equally I have heard of food bank volunteers who are changed by the stories they hear and are moved to lobby MPs or press for change in other ways.  I am also excited by other movements such as Places of Welcome which offer hospitality and refreshments in a way which narrows the gap between guest and host and encourages all to participate and contribute. If you’re interested in these ideas I recommend The Stop by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis which tells how a simple food bank in Canada has developed, by encouraging participation rather than dependency,  into an internationally respected Community Food Centre with gardens, kitchens, a greenhouse and farmers’ markets. It centres on the idea of cooking and eating together to encourage healthy eating and mutual interdependency.
In the Christian tradition, our worship centres around a shared meal, instituted by Jesus Christ, which we call Holy Communion where young and old, rich and poor people of all ethnicities and abilities put aside their differences to share a foretaste of the banquet we believe is prepared in heaven. Meals have been very important in the bridging work of Near Neighbours and I believe they represent our shared humanity, our mutuality, our ability to share and our ability to provide for one another. So when the fast of Lent is over I look forward to the occasional feast, perhaps at a Place of Welcome, where all are included and no-one leaves hungry, where all are heard, seen and recognised as a human being who may have needs, failings and shortcomings but who brings their own unique experience, worth and gifts – carrying in them the image of God.


Near Neighbours Two Is Good News For Birmingham

Jessica Foster, Near Neighbours Development Worker writes:

I am really pleased that the Goverment announced last week a second round of Near Neighbours funding which will mean we can continue some of the work that has been developing over the last three years or so. An extract from the official press release follows:-
A £3 million grant from Government will enable the Near Neighbours programme to expand to new areas within the UK and to support existing community projects over the next two years, it was announced last week
Near Neighbours is a partnership between the Church Urban Fund and the Archbishop’s Council, and is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government. It aims to bring people of different faiths together to change their communities and build trusting relationships.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said:
“This renewed funding is recognition of the hard work and prayer put in over the last three years by hundreds of people from local faith communities supported by the national church and inter faith groups. That work has touched thousands of lives and strengthened the fabric of our society. We have heard some great stories from Near Neighbours over the last three years and we look forward to many more.”

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles who announced the new funding said:
“It’s been terrific to see Near Neighbours go from strength to strength over the past three years, helping grass roots groups to improve the lives of those around them through practical action. These fantastic projects have been met with huge amounts of enthusiasm, creating a sense of lasting community spirit, and helping to transform neighbourhoods in the process.
“This extra money is a real investment in our shared future that will enable Near Neighbours to reach many more communities so they can become even better places to live.”
The new funding will mean that there will be some small grants in the Birmingham area and the programme will develop in parts of the Black Country. Near Neighbours Development Worker, Jessica Foster, will remain in a capacity-building role based at the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre. Find out more here or contact Jess@nearneighbours.com.

The Winners Are Announced

The winners of the Near Neighbours Photography exhibition were announced and awarded their prizes on Saturday 16th November 2013. At a lively and fun evening at Birmingham Cathedral hosted by Nikki Tapper from BBC  RadioWM, the winners were awarded their prizes by The Right Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham. The audience was entertained with drumming from the Christian and Muslim women’s drumming group which had been supported by Near Neighbours.


The Winners were:

In the Faith Category 1st Prize Paul Hillcox with ‘Autumn Light’ 2nd Prize Andrew Brazier with ‘In faith we Ying and Yang on land and sky’ 3rd Prize Kirat Singh with ‘Interfaith Friends’







In the Friendship Category 1st Mary Simones-Jones with ‘Margaret and her friend’ 2nd Amrick Singh Ubhi with ‘It is an honour and a pleasure to meet you’ 3rd Leina Zaigirdar with ‘Heartfusion’







In the Community Category 1st, 2nd & 3rd were won by Ines Elsa Dalal with ‘Muslim Family and a Sikh family collide’ ‘St Paul’s Community Trust 10th  Anniversary Open Day’ ‘Olympic torch relay aftermath’







The overall winner was Paul Hillcox with ‘Faith Reflected’








All the entries can be viewed on the Near Neighbours Flickr site

Competion Winners on Display

The Near Neighbours in Birmingham photo competition was opened with a  private viewing for invited guests to St. Philip’s Cathedral. The 60 guests all spoke very highly of the photos which are being displayed in the Cathedral alongside the Faithful Friends Exhibition. The evening included speeches by The Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham and Mohammed Ali the well known Graffiti artist.

The competition winners will be on display in the Cathedral until the 23rd November and all the entries are available for the public to see when they visit.

The competition invited amateur photographers from Birmingham to submit pictures on the themes of:

There was a winner, runner up and third place in each category plus a selection of ‘Judges’ Favourites’ which did win prizes but which were highly commended by the judging panel.

There was also an overall winner drawn from all the pictures. This was won by Paul Hillcox for a wonderful close up study of an eye with a church window reflected in it. Paul said of his picture:
“The image was an inspired moment after our church service during the summer . I was trying out a new lens and just wanted to try something a little different and was attracted by the light from our church windows reflected in my wife’s eye. My wife, Veronica, has a very deep faith and I was quite moved by the image when I viewed it on my laptop. I have never tried this type of photo before and I am delighted that others find the same deeper meaning in the photograph.”

You can view all of the entries on the Near Neighbours Flickr Site


Faithful photographers across Birmingham have been capturing images depicting the breadth and depth of interfaith relationships across the city.

The photographers already submitted into the Faithful Photography exhibition are now on display on the Near Neighbours Flickr Feed and will be hung in Birmingham Cathedral during Interfaith Week.

Prizes on offer will help winners develop their photography and editing skills by offering them not only top photography packages but time with Faithful Friends photographer Dee Patel to learn how to use the packages and make the most of their new software.

Entries for the competition must be submitted by October 28th 2013 and we hope many more people will send us their favourite shot. Photos should be sent to jess@nearneighbours.com with a short description of where and why they were taken and the name of photographer. They should fit one of three categories, Faith, Friendship and Community.

Catalyst Team Synergy Video

In early 2013 the Catalyst group were split into three teams and each was challenged to run a Near Neighbours event. Each event was different effective and exciting. One group ran an art event, another trained local leaders in how to apply for Near Neighbours funding and the third, Team Synergy, ran a morning for children from two primary schools, one Catholic and one Sikh. They produced the following video which captures the fun and significance of the morning for the pupils.



Near Neighbours is calling for photographers with a faithful focus to train their lenses on the friendships that have been built across the city between people from different religious traditions.

We are looking for pictures that capture one of three themes:

A selection of the photographs will be displayed in St Philip’s Cathedral from 16-24th  November which coincides with Interfaith Week. The winning entrants will be awarded Adobe software packages to help them develop their images and create more professional pictures.

Judges viewing the pictures will include:
The Dean of Birmingham, the Very Revd Catherine Ogle
Internationally renowned graffiti artist, Mohammed Ali
Professional photographer at Outroslide Photography, Dharmendra Patel
The Bishop’s Director of Interfaith Relations, Dr Andrew Smith.

Birmingham’s Near Neighbours Co-ordinator, Jessica Foster said: “We have funded some 130 projects in the city which aim to turn neighbours into friends and build lasting relationships between people of different faiths.

“We would love to see images of all sorts of relationships and activities that show how people in Birmingham work together, play together, eat together, share together and laugh together, building stronger communities and growing in understanding.”

Photographs should be submitted to Jess@nearneighbours.com and will be displayed on the Near Neighbours Brum Flickr site. A selection will be displayed in Birmingham Cathedral from 14th  til the 23rd November 2013. The competition is open to any amateur photographer based in the West Midlands.

Follow the competition at #nnbrumpics

Young People Meet Birmingham Faith Leaders

How do we inspire a new generation of young people to take their faith and the faiths of others seriously? In June Andrew Smith went with the Birmingham Faith Leader’s Group for their annual day away. The main part of the day was a meeting between the Faith Leaders and pupils from Hagley Catholic High School Sixth Form. After eating lunch together there was a chance for the pupils to ask the faith leaders questions around the theme of ‘Views on life after death’. The questions were probing and insightful and opened up some lively discussion amongst the faith leaders. Because of their good relationships and willingness to enter into honest and robust dialogue the pupils experienced a healthy discussion where people didn’t agree but were able to talk honestly about their views. The frankness of the pupil’s questions was refreshing and opened up topics that weren’t planned for but which gave space for good discussion.


The young people gave their assessment of the day:

“The day Hagley Catholic Sixth Form met the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group by John Horton, Amy Price, and Laura Kirton. On the 24th of June members of the Hagley Catholic High School Sixth Form met with the Birmingham Faith Leaders group at Harvington Hall. The day began with the Sixth Form being introduced to the different representatives of each faith and the collective group were told what the schedule for the rest of the afternoon was. After the introductions were over we all gathered together in the dining room for a delicious vegetarian meal to suit all religious values. After our lovely meal we started the tour of the hall. The guide showed us a few of the priest holes made by Saint Nicholas Owen, our patron saint. One of our students even got the chance to try out one of the priest holes, much to the religious leader’s amusement. We had the experience of going into the Harvington hall chapel and were told about the difficulties of being a Catholic priest during this time period, certain details such as the position of the windows so that anyone trying to have a secret mass would be able to see the soldiers coming. This then led the guide to show us a secret compartment under the floorboards to hide all the priest’s religious belongings which was fascinating. One of the more interesting priest holes was located under the grand staircase when you lift up a few of the steps and more than a few students were shocked to see a mannequin looking back at them from the hiding place. Post-tour we gathered in the Great Chamber for our question and answer session with the faith leaders. There were representatives of several different faiths including Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim, Christianity and Judaism. This gave us a real chance to gain an insight into each of the individual faiths and their beliefs. In particular we talked about the issues of life after death from each religions’ perspective and we also enjoyed a discussion about conversion and proselytization, which was very insightful. Overall it was a very fulfilling experience for all of the students and it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be in a room with so many different faiths co-operating together, speaking openly with each other. The culture of respect and sharing of beliefs was very much appreciated by us and one that we are keen to pursue in the future. It really inspired us as a Sixth form to see such good being done by such a diverse group and we would like to thank the Birmingham faith leaders group for this amazing experience that we will never forget, and we hope this opportunity arises again for us and others around the county.”


Dear Birmingham Book Launch

The Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre hosted a book launch for local academic and author Karamt Iqbal. His book, which he describes as a conversation with his hometown, explores the plight of the growing Pakistani community in Birmingham. Karamat presented the book to the guests and explained that it came both from his personal experience of coming to Birmingham from Pakistan as a young boy as well as his many years of working for the city council on diversity issues and his current academic study.

Having told part of his own story and the history of Pakistani’s in Birmingham the book covers a wide range of topics:
Representation in private and public organisations
Representation in the media

Overall the picture he paints is fairly bleak with Pakistani’s coming out with poor health, low academic standards, over representation in the prisons and under representation in the media. Then in a very hard hitting and challenging section Karat asks what the problem is and looks at the issue of racism across a number of institutions in Birmingham. He argues forcefully that Pakistanis are excluded from a variety of posts either through lack of role models which results in fewer people aspiring for the posts and people being unwilling to promote as the post is only ever on merit. Or the networking culture that means those out of the networks never get a look in. Whilst he acknowledges this happens within the Pakistani community he points out it tends to be for much less well-paid jobs.

He then explores issues of religion, culture and language before making recommendations for the future.

You can read more about Karamt’s work and order a copy of the book at his Forward Partnership website.


The Gift of Giving and Friendship

Today two young men from The Feast project Y4M (Youth for Moseley) visited the Sparkhill food bank for a behind-the-scenes look at what happens to food once it’s donated.

These young men from Moseley School, one Christian and one Muslim, joined forces to make a video encouraging others from their school to take part in a food drive that will start soon.

Not only were these two representing the Y4M after school club, but they were also representing their faith and looking at how they could work together to tackle poverty.

When asked why they were willing to give up a day of their holiday to help out they said:

“It’s important because not only is it written in the Qur’an, but it nourishes your own soul, knowing that you are making a difference. When you give, it removes your own selfishness.” said Bilal.

“I like helping people. I was always taught to respect people and the Bible says to do for others what I’d like them to do for me. It’s part of who I am. Being Tswana (from Botswana) that’s how we’re grounded – you just know someday, someone will need to help you.” Mandla said.

These young men have also become pretty good friends in the short space of time they’ve known each other. Having met in the after-school club (Y4M) just 3 weeks ago, they spent most of the journey to and from the food bank talking about their faith and their beliefs. It was so encouraging to hear them speak so positively about each others faith and to have them both speak so passionately about recent events in the media.

When reflecting on their day, Bilal said: “It’s kinda cool when a non-Muslim defends a Muslim because it shows the brotherhood between them. It touched me when Mandla said he knew that all Muslims aren’t like how the media negatively represents us at times.”

“Bilal called me a friend and a good guy – that’s something I don’t get every day, especially from a Muslim. It made me feel quite good about myself and about how other people from a different religion can still view me an appreciate me.” said Mandla.

Today I thought we were simply going to a food bank to see how food is collected, stored and distributed. What I witnessed, however, was a marvellous gift of friendship, exchanged between two young men of different cultures and different faiths.

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