Who you are and what do you do for Near Neighbours?
I am Jessica Foster, the Birmingham co-ordinator for Near Neighbours and part of the Thrive Together team – a joint venture between the Church Urban Fund and the Church of England Birmingham. I have lived in Birmingham, on and off, since 1988 and we have enjoyed bringing up our three children in this fantastic city.
A coordinator in Birmingham, since July 2011, I have connected people to the small grants programme and have uncovered a local network who are motivated by their faith to make a difference in their communities. We are now focussing on enabling people to come together in very local areas both to build friendships and to build community together. As part of my work with Near Neighbours I have been part of establishing the Places of Welcome Network which seeks to identify places of hospitality across the city and beyond.
What have you done in the past?
Before working for Near Neighbours I had done some work in local secondary schools but I have spent most of my working life in media and communication roles. I was the Bishop’s Director of Communications for seven years, I have been PR manager for a local children’s hospice and worked as a reporter on a West Midlands’ newspaper. I have been training for the last three years and was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England on July 5th 2015 – I will remain a deacon permanently and hope to continue working in the cross-section between interfaith work and work to tackle poverty.
Why did you want to work for Near Neighbours?
When I was working in education I became aware how faith and ethnicity boundaries could easily become divides and I wanted to do something that helped people build relationships with people that are perceived as different from themselves. Near Neighbours was a fantastic opportunity and I have really enjoyed working on the programme. Through Near Neighbours it has been an absolute privilege to meet some amazing people and make some friendships that have enriched my life immensely.
Why do you love the area you work in?
Birmingham is a fantastic city, large enough to remain interesting but small enough to be manageable. It is so unpretentious but it has a lot of things of which it should be proud. Its diversity is a fantastic asset – the world really is in this city and the opportunities to learn and discover more about the people who live here are never ending. There is so much energy here to make this city a place of peace and flourishing and it is fantastic, through Near Neighbours, to be a small part of that and join in with people of all faiths and backgrounds to work for an inclusive, welcoming and generous city.
Author: Mr Tim Burton-Jones
Date: 26 June 2015
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