A snapshot of Near Neighbours in the East Midlands.

A snapshot of Near Neighbours in the East Midlands.

A blog by Tim Burton-Jones

Last week, Near Neighbours central team members, myself and Catherine, paid a visit to our East Midlands Hub to visit some of the projects that Near Neighbours has funded. Along with our East Midlands coordinator, John McCallum, we visited both Leicester and Nottingham to see how the work and funds of Near Neighbours have been transforming communities and bringing people together.

Our first stop on this tour was to St Martin’s House to meet with Jenny and Shali, who have been instrumental in the running of the Hello Leicester campaign, which operated with support from Near Neighbours. This campaign saw a series of volunteers and translators work together to offer personal support and care for Asylum Seekers in Leicester.

Jenny spoke of the ladies that she worked with; she told of how Hello Leicester offered basic neighbourly support that, for someone who is completely new to a city and a community, can make a massive difference. The first individual that Jenny worked with was new to Leicester and didn’t know anybody in the city. Jenny showed her the library and the market, she helped her with the accommodation problems that she faced, found her a car seat for her toddler, and ensured that she could access the food that she needed. Throughout this experience, Jenny was a friend in a potentially daunting new city.

Hello Leicester has been working with Asylum Seekers across Leicester and offering them the opportunities to make the most of their skills and abilities, as well as add to their repertoire of skills. Shali told us of how these Asylum Seekers have also now become volunteer neighbours that are welcoming other newcomers to the city. Jenny and Shali hope to continue this work into the future and make their impact sustainable.

After chatting with Jenny and Shali, our tour rolled on to look at some of the areas that we are present in and also to visit our hub for the area, the St. Philip’s Centre. As we drove through these areas it became clear that there is a huge array of diversity encompassed within each neighbourhood. Within minutes it was possible to drive past churches, mosques and mandirs, all the while passing underneath the remnants of the council organised Sikh Vaisakhi celebrations that were hanging from the street lights. Passing through such obvious and wonderful diversity brought home the privilege that it is for Near Neighbours to be able to work with this community.

After seeing the sights of some of Leicester’s finest communities, we pushed out to Nottingham to meet with some of the projects in the area. Our location for these meetings was with the wonderful Vine Community Centre, a centre whose building was originally funded by our partners at the Church Urban Fund.

It was at the Vine Community Centre that we met Cheryl, the manager at the Centre. We also met Mary who, as well as being a volunteer at the Centre, has taken part in a project that Near Neighbours have funded at the Centre. This project brings together various women from the local community from a variety of different backgrounds and invites them to learn arts and crafts styles.

We were lucky enough to be able to take a look at some of what these women had made and were blown away by the level of quality of the artwork. From intricate box decorations to earrings and broaches, the standard of workmanship was impressive. It was hugely gratifying to hear that each of the ladies had brought their own cultural input into the processes and given the art a uniquely Nottingham flavour. Mary told us about how this project had brought the women closer together and created an atmosphere where they felt as though they could confide in each other.

After some time chatting with Cheryl and Mary, we were joined by Parvez who has also used a Near Neighbours grant in Nottingham to good effect. Working with Nottingham Health and Education Support he has been bringing together adults in the Forest Fields area to break down barriers and enhance community spirit. Through a series of workshops, adults in this community have learnt new skills including good parenting, communication, team working and confidence building. Further to this, they have been able to successfully develop positive links between different faiths and cultures in the neighbourhood.

Visiting these projects and areas is a huge privilege. To see the impact that they are making in their communities, with our support, is inspiring. From working with vulnerable people, to creating new networks of support and friendship, and creating fresh and valuable skills; these neighbour workers in the East Midlands are transforming communities and bringing people together. We are so proud to have been able to play a role in their work. Long may this continue!

If you want to hear more about the work that we are doing in the East Midlands, stay in touch with our East Midlands Facebook page

Author: Mr Tim Burton-Jones

Date: 28 April 2015