Tuesday 27th October was a pretty special day for Near Neighbours. We celebrated the biggest milestone in our grants programme to date! In a packed house at All Saints Church in Luton, Near Neighbours officially awarding our 1000th grant.
Since 2011 we have awarded a mammoth 1000 grants to grassroots community projects; gathering people of different faiths and ethnicities to meet, build trust and work to transform their neighbourhoods. This means we have given out over £3.4 million to local communities; money that has reached an estimated 800,000 people.
The recipients of this grant are an Anglican Church who, with the help of a Nehemiah community worker, decided that they wanted to gather Muslim and Christian residents to build a Peace Garden for their community, as well as renovate an overgrown area into allotments for community members to grow healthy food.
Rvd. David and Husna Rasul are organising the 1000th grant. This is them and their soon-to-be allotment.
The celebration was attended by a large crowd of local people from a range of backgrounds. Guests heard from Bishop Richard Atkinson of Bedford, our Programme Director Liz Carnelley and Harriet Ackunson from the Department of Communities and Local Government’s Faith Team.
Afterwards, all those in attendance were treated to a guided tour around the Peace Garden and the allotment before they tucked into a feast of wraps, samosas, cake, and Luton’s famous fried chicken!
Listening to what people had to say at the celebration painted a picture of a community that wanted to defy what the media expected of them. The message that resonated was that they saw their neighbours as friends before they saw them as anything else.
This wonderfully encapsulates what we’ve seen throughout the Near Neighbours programme. Despite reports of extremism, of racial and faith based abuse, and of community conflict, we are seeing a different narrative played out.
Across the country we have seen hundreds of thousands of people join with their neighbours, regardless of their background, to work together for the good of their community. We can look back on those we’ve worked with throughout our programme and see that communities are strong and growing stronger; together we have been supporting new relationships and building trust.
Our Programme Director, Liz, summed it up best when she said, “This project is emblematic of what we have seen through Near Neighbours in England in the last four years. It is a significant milestone in this neighbourhood that is now one amongst a thousand others that is transforming the face of local communities in our country.”
The work of this project, and all of the others going right back to the first one in 2011, has been, in the words of Archbishop Justin, transformative and inspirational. Together we are have made and are making a difference.
Our 1000th grant celebration closed with the words of one of our colleagues in Luton, Jonny. He chose to close with a quote by William Blake that I think speaks to the heart of the Near Neighbours journey so far,
“I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my neighbour and I found all three.”
Click here if you want to see more pictures from the celebration.
Author: Mr Tim Burton-Jones
Date: 28 October 2015
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