A group of mothers from diverse backgrounds were on hand to welcome the Minister for Faith and Communities, Baroness Warsi to east London this week.
The visit marked the award of the 400th Near Neighbours grant. The scheme is administered by four centres across the country – the Contextual Theology Centre co-ordinates the programme in London.
The visit took place at Departure arts cafe in Limehouse, where represetatives from five Near Neighbours projects were able to meet eachother, talk about their work and meet the visiting guests. They ate wonderful food together and even sang together.
One of the very first Near Neighbours supported projects – Baby Song – sees mothers and young children join together to sing and learn about eachother. This group, led by Captain Kerry Coke from Stepney Salvation Army, helped Baroness Warsi and other present to learn a new song – and even play the spoons!
The 400th project to receive the grant is a group of mothers of Bengali, Chinese, Turkish, Somali, Japanese, Russian, Kurdish, Italian and Lithuanian backgrounds. They all have children at the same school in Stepney but did not previously engage directly with each other. With encouragement, the mothers applied for a Near Neighbours grant to take excursions to key London landmarks and used the opportunity to learn about each other’s backgrounds and develop friendships.
Near Neighbours is a three-year initiative that aims to bring people together from diverse backgrounds, helping them to build relationships and collaborate to improve the community they live in. The Near Neighbours charity was created by Church Urban Fund following the award of £5m by the Department for Communities and Local Government in February 2011.
The latest grant builds on the recent work of a group of fathers with equally diverse backgrounds living in Stepney, who used the funding to take a camping trip together with their children, developing a tight friendship group of parents who now work to support each other and their respective children.
Baroness Warsi said: “Near Neighbours grants are benefiting so many people from different backgrounds, faiths and cultures helping to build stronger and more supportive communities. It was fantastic to hear first-hand how these small grants are making such a big difference to the lives of local people and I’m sure they will have a lasting effect on everyone involved.”
Revd Canon Paul Hackwood, Trustee of Near Neighbours said: “Mums and Dads are the backbone of strong communities and it is great to see people really getting to know each other for the first time and forming strong family friendships in the local community through this work. Projects like this help us to build a stronger, more compassionate society from the ground up.”
Alison Jones, the coordinator for the project said: “At the first coffee morning there were 17 mothers from 11 countries- we had to find an atlas to learn where Uzbekistan and Eritrea were. The Portuguese mum and the Iranian mum discovered that they both spoke Italian and so helped each other out with translating into English. After the first meeting one Somali mum said ‘now I know some Bengali parents so I will say hello to them in the playground.’ “
The East London advertiser reported on the event here.