A leaving blog, by Tim Burton-Jones
Almost exactly a year ago I started my one year internship with Near Neighbours. I had done my interview and a brief induction but I was very much new to the world of community building and working across faiths. What was really informing my actions at this point was this video.
I had watched the video in preparation for the interview and had been so moved by it. If what it was suggesting was true, Near Neighbours was making real and transformative difference to lives across the country.
As it turns out, the video was accurate. For the past year of my life I’ve been witnessing and hearing of incredible and very human stories.
After less than a month at Near Neighbours I packed my bags and made my way up to Yorkshire for the week. Once there, I took part in one of Near Neighbours’ Catalyst courses and it was there that I got my first real glimpse of what Near Neighbours is capable of.
A group of young people of different faiths and nationalities who, at best might have become casual acquaintances, and at worst could have been antagonistic towards one another, instead demonstrated the power of seeing people as people.
We went away for a residential for about four days and I couldn’t believe how strange it was that it felt as though real friendships were tangibly forming at an incredible rate in front of my eyes! That group of fantastic young people are still excellent friends and have been working together to change their community in Leeds for almost a year now.
Since that eye opening experience I’ve been off and about, travelling around the country and visiting some of the projects Near Neighbours has funded through its small grants. My greatest pain from that (other than Virgin trains) is that I had to try and do justice in my communications work to what was happening in those communities. It was really hard!
People were giving up their time and energy and they were giving it back to their community. They were doing truly selfless things on an almost daily basis. It is really very moving (and quite challenging!) to go through a whole year and find yourself surrounded by amazing selflessness.
But not only was there selflessness, but there was a willingness to defy expectations. What angered me throughout the past year was that I had been seeing the strength and generosity of faith communities in England and yet all the while I’d be looking over shoulders on tubes and buses and seeing far too many headlines that portrayed faith communities (particularly Muslims) in the most awful way.
These negative messages kept making their way into our homes in 2015 and you’d think it would be poisoning minds all round, but it’s just not true. I’ve had the privilege this year to see that there are so many people in England that see these headlines as the nonsense they are.
And that brings me to the heart of what this year has been for me and what Near Neighbours has been and continues to be. It’s about a million little interactions between people when the camera’s not looking; where the media onslaught is stripped back, where social expectations are ignored, and where people are seen simply as people. Weak and vulnerable, just like you and me, but with incredible gifts to offer to those around them and the capacity to change lives and communities for the better.
The reality is, no communications could ever quite do justice to this. I’m afraid you’ll just have to go and experience it for yourself!
Author: Mr Tim Burton-Jones
Date: 02 February 2016
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