A blog by Tim Burton-Jones
Its Saturday lunch time and I’m on my way to Southall in west London.
The reason I’m heading down here on my weekend is because I’m going to visit one of the neighbourhoods that Near Neighbours is currently working in; the Havelock community in Southall are hosting a ‘Summer Fun Day’ and they’ve invited me along so that I can capture the day with my camera.
So, I make the short journey down to Southall, unsure of what to expect upon arrival. What kind of community is there in this neighbourhood?
When I arrived at the park I was greeted by a very mixed group of local people who were already getting stuck in to the fun. There was a great mix of people, including Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, and Quakers, as well as English, Scottish, Indian, Kenyan, and many others. One little girl had already had a Hello Kitty face paint, people were having henna done, there was a food stall set up with a variety of sweet and savoury food, people were laughing and joking, and one woman had made the mistake of letting slip that she is a beauty therapist – she then spent the rest of the afternoon giving free massages!
I also met Rachel Moore, a community worker with the Nehemiah Foundation, one of our programme partners. She’s based locally with St John’s, a church actively engaged in reaching out to this hugely diverse neighbourhood. She was involved in developing the event and helping to gather local people.
She said “as local residents we thought it would be great to have an opportunity to bring people together in a fun way where everyone has a chance to contribute. During august lots of places such as schools and children's centre close, so there's not so much to do.
“People have brought food and skills to share, and despite the severe weather warnings the sun has shone on us! Everybody had such a great time, and it’s been so lovely to bring people together like this.”
Nehemiah workers are placed in neighbourhoods and focus their efforts on bringing people together very locally, helping them to reach different people and organisations as well as support new project work. This helps to build sustainable cross-faith networks in local areas, strengthening community bonds. That is exactly what Rachel was doing on Saturday.
As the afternoon progressed more people showed up to spend the afternoon with their neighbours. Groups of kids wondering through the park came across us and were surprised to find that they were being welcomed to join in, to have some free food, play sports, and generally get stuck in.
Perhaps the most unexpected moment was when a group of the party started singing and dancing. This evolved into a cultural exchange of songs as people from different backgrounds began to sing the folk songs that people dance to in their cultures and everyone else amicably joined in.
I was struck by how people were so quick to welcome me to their neighbourhood. I was asked several times if I’d had the chance to try some food and have something to drink. People came up to me and introduced themselves. Pardeep was one of the organisers of the event and insisted on taking a photo of me because, ‘no one ever takes a picture of the photographer!’ and, just before I headed off, a few local women insisted that I try some homemade chapati with a spinach sauce made from spinach from the allotments that we were meeting next to.
When I spoke to Pardeep he told me why this event is so unique: "The Summer Family Fun Day in Bixley Fields, Southall is a unique event. It is organised by the community for the community! It is a celebration of all that's great about Southall, despite the inclement English weather!"
The event, by the time I left, still had people arriving and everybody was having a great time, even if the weather had taken a slight turn. People were enjoying each other’s company so much that the event went over the allotted time by three hours!
When I spoke to Rachel afterwards, she said, "as local residents we thought it would be great to have an opportunity to bring people together in a fun way where everyone has a chance to contribute. During August lots of places such as schools and children's centre close, so there's not so much to do. It has been so nice to offer something fun to do and bring everybody together in this way!"
It was so lovely to see this neighbourhood joined together. It was also a testament to the hard work of Rachel and our partners, the Nehemiah Foundation, who helped make this project idea a reality.
Having seen Rachel and the people she is working with in Southall, I have no doubt that this Saturday afternoon was only one part of a rich and sustainable tapestry she is sewing that will continue to transform this community into the future.
You can see more great pics from the day here.
Author: Mr Tim Burton-Jones
Date: 19 August 2015
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