Monthly Archives: November 2011

Near Neighbours is launched!

Monday 14 November 2011

Eric Pickles officially launches £5m Near Neighbours programme

Eric Pickles MP at the launch of Near Neighbours

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, today formally launched the Near Neighbours programme at a special event at St John’s Church, Bethnal Green. The event was attended by national faith representatives including the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev. Richard Chartres, as well as the Bishops of Southwark and Chelmsford.

Near Neighbours is a three-year initiative that aims to bring people together in diverse communities, helping them to build relationships and collaborate to improve the local community they live in. Near Neighbours was created by Church Urban Fund and the Archbishop’s Council following the award of £5m by the Department for Communities and Local Government to the Church of England in February.

Rt Revd Dr Richard Chartres, The Bishop of London

Near Neighbours is focused on four areas of the country including Eastern London (specifically in the boroughs of Greenwich, Hackney, Islington, Lewisham, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest) where there are many deprived multi-faith neighbourhoods. The programme is co-ordinated by the Contextual Theology Centre working in partnership with the Christian Muslim Forum, the Council of Christians and Jews and the Hindu Christian Forum.

In addition to developing work already underway at the centres, the Near Neighbours Fund awards small grants of up to £5,000 to projects that enable people of different faiths (or none) to work together to the benefit of the community. The national fund has received 35 grant applications since it opened in September (11 in Eastern London), and has approved over £98,000 of funding for 26 different projects in the four areas (£28,000 so far in Eastern London). Examples include a women’s group organising Zumba dance classes and other cross-cultural social activities in Bethnal Green and a community youth choir that unites young people in a highly diverse area of Southwark. (Here the choir sing and listen to their extraordinary story here:

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:

“The work we are celebrating today is the next chapter in the same centuries-old, proud and unbroken tradition of people of faith giving back to local communities. They enrich their neighbourhoods and improve the lives of those around them through practical action.

“Too often communities that live side by side don’t get together as often as they could to discuss and tackle the issues and challenges that matter to them most. This can lead to isolation and misunderstandings which are not healthy for local communities, when by and large, irrespective of background or faith most people want the same thing, for their neighbourhoods to be better places to live.

“Faith groups play a vital role in our neighbourhoods. We want to give them help to do what they do best. That’s why we are funding Near Neighbours as an investment in the future; supporting grass roots groups and projects to allow communities to get on transforming their neighbourhoods for the better.”

Eric Pickles meets Fulma Begum and others from the DIVA group in Bethnal Green

Baroness Eaton, chair of the Near Neighbours charity, said:

“Near Neighbours is able to make a real impact in local communities because it works directly with people who know and understand their specific issues. The applications that we have received so far are extremely encouraging and show us the depth of care that people of all faiths and backgrounds have for their communities.”

Ramesh Pattni, Faith Advisory Board member for Near Neighbours and Co-Chair of the Hindu Christian Forum echoes the praise:

‘‘Near Neighbours’ resonates with the Hindu ethos of ‘Universal Family’ of Man at many different levels. At the interpersonal level, one relates to the other, in this Universal Family, with friendship, trust and respect. Our faith can provide a significant context for these qualities to develop. These strands give strength and resilience to our personal, communal and social engagement. With this vision we have hope and confidence that the programme will result in positive outcomes of greater understanding and appropriate local change’.

If you want to listen to a recording of the whole event, simply click below:

Contact details: Revd Tim Clapton at the Contextual Theology Centre: 020 7780 1600

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The Church and the Camp

Canon Dr Angus Ritchie, Director of the Contextual Theology Centre, has recently contributed to the ResPublica blog about the Occupy camp at St Paul’s.

The post is one of a number of recent attempts by church leaders to engage seriously and constructively with the substantive issues raised by the presence of a disparate group of protesters outside the cathedral.

Another contribution worth reading is by Graham Tomlin, who argues that repentance needs to be central to the way forward.

And some of the other articles which have added value to the debate are:

The City’s ethics don’t bear scrutiny, Independent leader

Sitting on a fault line at St Paul’s, Giles Fraser

The Real Battle of St Paul’s Cathedral: The Occupy Movement and Millennial Politics, Luke Bretherton

Occupy London are true followers of Jesus, even if they despise religion, Terry Eagleton

What is the role of the Church in all of this?, Caroline Julian

Outside St Paul’s Cathedral sits a mess, but it’s a holy mess, Alan Green

As always, linking to external blogs and articles does not necessarily imply endorsement by the Contextual Theology Centre of the views expressed.

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Near Neighbours Official Launch

Although Near Neighbours has been going for a little while, an official launch is taking place to mark the commencement of the project.

We’re delighted to say the National launch is happening here in the Eastern London patch. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP will speak alongside the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Dr Richard Chartres.

If you’re a journalist or reporter, especially with local or community media, we’d love to see you there. The event is happening on Monday 14th November 2011. Full details of location etc. will be given on request. Simply email to find out more.

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Can we help you?

Near Neighbours in Eastern London is now up and running. Every day we’re having productive meetings with local community groups in Greenwich, Hackney, Islington, Lewisham, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

If you have a project we could help, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve got an idea for a project, we’d love to hear from you. If you know someone who’s doing fantastic work in the local community, we’d love you to tell them about us!

So what kind of thing are we talking about? Well there are three areas…

1) Creating First Encounters between people of different faith and ethnic communities and encouraging the development of mutual understanding.

2) Creating Everyday Interactions by encouraging families and individuals to come together regularly to eat together, jointly participating in religious and other festivals, encouraging children to play together in a neighbourhood.

3) Creating Civil Engagement which brings together people from different faith or ethnic communities to work together to change their neighbourhoods for the better.

If you’ve got an idea or you’re already doing something that fits these criteria and you’re in one of the areas mentioned above, then get in touch.

Award amounts range from £250-£5000. It is possible to be awarded more than one grant, especially when a locality or grouping is progressing from First Encounters, to Everyday Interactions, to Civic Engagement.

For more information and to discuss whether you and your group may be eligible for a grant, contact Revd Tim Clapton via the following methods:

Phone: 0207 780 1600

The Contextual Theology Centre, The Royal Foundation of St Katharine, 2, Butcher Row, LONDON, E14 8DS

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The David Idowu Choir

When Grace Idowu’s 14-year-old son David was stabbed outside her home in Southwark in 2008 he became the 19th victim of knife crime in London that year. Grace and her husband Tim said in a statement to the court which tried his killer, “The knife which pierced David’s heart will keep the wounds open in our hearts forever.”

But Grace has since met David’s murderer and forgiven him. In 2009 the David Idowu Foundation was set up. She’s now made it her life’s mission to bring young people in her community together to prevent future attacks.

The David Idowu Choir


Her latest initiative is the David Idowu Choir which is taking young people from schools across Southwark and getting them to sing together, regardless of their background, faith or race. Grace says, “Music is so powerful… it’s one way to bring unity. When you are singing you’re just speaking one language.”

The choir's first performance at Goldsmiths College, University of London

The choir is being partially funded by a grant from the Near Neighbours programme. It’s been set up to provide local communities with the resources they need to bring together those of different faiths and none, as well as those of different ethnic backgrounds. To find out more, or to apply for a grant, check the website:

Here, you can listen to snippets of the choir and a conversation between Grace and Andy Walton from Near Neighbours:

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Up and running…

Welcome to the brand spanking new blog for eastern London Near Neighbours.

Near Neighbours has two key objectives:

  1. Social interaction – to develop positive relationships in multi-faith areas i.e. to help people from different faiths get to know and understand each other better.
  2. Social action – to encourage people of different faiths, or no faith, to come together for initiatives that improve their local neighbourhood.

The purpose of this blog is to share the stories of those who are taking part in this exciting journey.


The boroughs covered are Greenwich, Hackney, Islington, Lewisham, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest. We’ll be hearing from those taking part in innovative and exciting projects across these areas.

Feel free to comment and interact…