Category Archives: Near Neighbours

400th Near Neighbours grant awarded

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.

Baroness Warsi 3

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!

Baroness Warsi 5

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.”

Baroness Warsi 1

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.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Prayers for Day 32 of Lent

Pray for St Philip’s Centre, which is administering the Near Neighbours programme in Leicester, and also offers training to churches and civic bodies throughout England in inter-faith engagement and dialogue.

St Philip’s also works with CTC to deliver the Catalyst training programme for young people in east London.  Pray for young people who met recently at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine (home of CTC), and for the relationships and activities which are flowing from that encounter.

Pray also for the other training partners involved in Near Neighbours – the Christian Muslim Forum, Hindu Forum, Council for Christians and Jews, The Feast, and the Nehemiah Foundation, which employs and trains community workers as part of the programme.  Pray in particular for Beti and Rukshana, the Nehemiah workers in eastern London.

Prayers for Day 31 of Lent

Please pray for Bradford Churches for Dialogue and Diversity, which is administering the Near Neighbours programme in Bradford and another of neighbouring towns – and in particular for Carlo Schroder, the centre’s Near Neighbours Co-ordinator.

In East London, pray for Waltham Forest Asian Seniors.  For many years, this organisation has provided lunch and fellowship to elders in the Asian community in the area.  With support from Near Neighbours, the lunch club has reached out to neighbours at Shern Hall Methodist Church – a simple development which is now building long-term friendships.

Prayers for Day 30 of Lent

As we continue to pray for Near Neighbours, please remember the work of the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre in Birmingham, and in particular Jessica Foster’s work as Near Neighbours Co-ordinator for Birmingham.  Pray also for The Feast, a Birmingham- based project which is supported by Near Neighbours, and is bringing together young Christians and Muslims to build friendship and to share with one another something of what their faith means to them.

Pray also for the East End Trades Guild, a project supported by  Near Neighbours in eastern London which is bringing together shops and businesses run by people of diverse cultures and faiths, and for Guild Organiser Krissie Nicholson.

Some facts about the Trades Guild…

  • Its 200 members employ 1200 people
  • In total we have a turnover of £77 million
  • Members put £17 million people’s pockets through wages last year, and £26 million of our supply chain supports other businesses in London
  • Members pay £1.3 million in business rates, and £5 million in VAT and £2.3 million in National Insurance contributions, every year.

Of particular significance for Near Neighbours…

  • We are the “face of the community” for international visitors and locals, serving 520,000 people per month. Our businesses know an average of 80 customers by name.
  • We have intimate local knowledge – we guide people to resources and other businesses, supporting each other.
  • Our relationships with local people help address social isolation and child safety, and our relationships with the police supports greater public safety and crime prevention.
  • We offer a quality of service based on in-depth product knowledge, and we build a loyal customer following.

Prayers for Day 29 of Lent

This week, one of the focuses of our prayers is the Near Neighbours programme – working to build and deepen relationships across religions and cultures.  The overall programme is run by the Church Urban Fund and the Church of England.  Pray for its Director, Liz Carnelley and Grants Officer Andy Mathews.

CTC administers the programme in eastern London.  Pray for Basic Sports and Fitness, a Near Neighbours supported project in Manor Park run by Olympic boxer John Bosco, which is bringing together young people of different faiths to get to know each other, develop healthier lifestyles, and work on other local projects together (including the CitySafe campaign, to reduce street crime and create ‘havens’ for young people in immediate fear of violence).

Prayers for Day 28 of Lent

Pray for St Aubyn’s Church, Devonport, which is being supported by the Church Urban Fund to establish a pilot work club in the local library for one day a week, working with local community organisations. The parish is the most deprived in Exeter and there is a history of long-term unemployment. Volunteers will be recruited to help, and the aim is to set up other work clubs nearby. 

Pray also for the Near Neighbours programme in East London, which will be the focus of this week’s prayer requests for the Contextual Theology Centre.  Today, please remember its Co-ordinator, Tim Clapton, who works across nine boroughs in London, Southwark and Chelmsford Diocese to encourage projects which bring people of different faiths and cultures into relationship for the first time – or which deepen those relationships.

Building Community Through Music

Tom Daggett, CTC’s Church-Based Community Organiser at Stepney Salvation Army blogs on how community is being built through music and the arts:

Many people understand that music-making is great for bringing people together. I’ve had first-hand experience of this through my work with the Salvation Army in Stepney ( Each week, three projects keep my musical sensibilities in check – and have helped me to recognise how powerful music-based activities can be in bringing people into stronger community.

‘Babysong’ has been running in Roland Philipps Scout Hall each Thursday morning during term-time since September 2011. Babysong is a singing activity intended to develop psychological bonds between parent/carer and child, and social bonds between people in a diverse community. We spend around 45 minutes singing a cycle of songs (which I accompany on the piano), each with a different focus – songs of welcome; songs with movement; songs with instruments; and songs for relaxation and calm, during which children listen to a live piece of classical music. We’ve seen around 100 local families – of diverse ethic, faith and social backgrounds — come through our doors on a regular basis since 2011 – and the group’s reach continues to grow broader and deeper.

The second group is ‘Smart Crew’, an extension of the work of ‘Smarties’ – an after-school kids club which the church has been running for a number of years. Smart Crew is a musical theatre group for kids aged 8-14. I co-ordinate this group (as Musical Director) in partnership with a professional actor, and we’ve now put on two hugely successful shows – ‘Jonah’ (based on the biblical story) and ‘The Landlord’s Cat’ (a fresh take on the nativity story). I have great fun teaching the kids about singing and general musicianship; there is so much energy to be channelled!

Smart Crew

Added to these, I direct a community gospel choir which meets every Tuesday evening in Departure Arts Café, Limehouse –part of the London City Mission. We’ve been running since October 2012, and are starting to do something quite special. Again, the spectrum of people inolved is considerable – and it’s difficult to think of other activities which would bring such different people together in union with one another. And that’s the real emphasis of community-based music projects such as these – they’re intended to be fun, socially rewarding, and to offer relief to other aspects of life which can seem burdensome. That’s why the Contextual Theology Centre recognises the missional potential of music for inner-city churches and communities – and it’s why we’re in conversations with others about scaling this work up, helping others to recognise this imperative and be inspired to do the same.

Health, Fitness and Fun – with Near Neighbours

Young people are lazy, overweight and spend all their time sitting in front of a screen, right?

Well, not in Manor Park. Thanks to a Near Neighbours-supported initiative called Basic Sports and Fitness, more than 30 young people have taken part in a programme of activities inspired by the 2012 Games.

The scheme was set up by John Bosco Waigo, a Ugandan former boxer who now lives in east London. Having competed at the 1988 Olympics himself, John was perfectly placed to inspire a new generation of young people to get involved in non-contact boxing, running and general fitness training.




John’s aim was to bring together young people from diverse backgrounds in the local area and give them the chance to get to know eachother while learning more about health and fitness – and of course having fun.

As well as the physical training, the young people took part in a healthy eating workshop and also attended a local celebration of the City Safe scheme – a community response to violence.

John says this helped them to build self-esteem and discipline, “Parents have written to show their appreciations for the changes they have witnessed in their children – physical and behavioural changes.”



This isn’t the end of the project though. Three young people have now progressed onto a local boxing club to continue their training, while John is keen to help more local teenagers keep fit and healthy.

If you are involved in a project bringing together people of different faiths and backgrounds in eastern London and want to know if Near neighbours could support you, contact Revd Tim Clapton: / 0207 780 1600.


Tagged , , , ,

Trading Places, Building Community

Daniel Stone is CTC’s Church-based Community Organiser at ARC Pentecostal Church in Forest Gate and the Catholic Parish of Manor Park.  He blogs about these very different congregations, and the work they are beginning to do together:

The differences between the Pentecostal ‘A Radical Church’ and the Catholic parish churches of St Stephen’s and St Nicholas’ are plain for all to see. For starters, while the parishioners at weekend mass are departing to get on with the rest of their Sunday, the congregation at ARC have just warmed their vocal chords and are settling down for another two hours of their service!  You’re also unlikely to find Pastor Peter Nembhard clothed in priestly robes and I suspect that if Father Sean Connolly hollered “God is Good” in the middle of his oration, he would be unlikely to hear his congregation chime back in perfect unison, “All the time”.

Nevertheless I have found that despite these superficial differences, both churches possess a burning desire to see their faith acted out in a manner that is impactful, faithful and radical.

Both congregations have a passion to serve the East London communities in which they are based. Seven years ago the ARC lost one of their young people, Charlotte Polius, in a senseless act of violence. Since then they have worked tirelessly in Forest Gate and beyond to promote the message of ‘Stop Da Violence’, a project which seeks to provide a holistic response to issues of gang crime. For St Stephen’s and St Nicholas’ based in nearby Manor Park, the questions they have sought to answer are: How can we play our part in responding to the city-wide shortage of affordable housing and how can we best cater for the needs of the elderly members of our community?

Of course these questions have at their heart quite complex socio-economic issues, way beyond what a single church could ever hope to engage with on their own. But what is common to both churches and their leaders is an understanding that change is only possible when working in unity with other institutions. In this past year Father Sean Connolly and Pastor Peter Nembhard have taken part in an exercise not too dissimilar from that exhibited by Eddie Murphy in Trading Places – with Father Sean preaching at the ARC and Pastor Peter speaking at St Stephen’s and St Nicholas.

My hope is to turn this useful cultural experience into a long term project that fuses together the passions and interests of these two congregations, and draws in other religious and civic groups in this incredibly diverse borough. At the ARC we have a group of young people who are meeting together regularly to discuss plans for developing the Stop Da Violence project and in the past few weeks we have begun to successfully integrate representatives from St Stephen’s into the discussions. The remainder of the year is likely to continue this focus on building relationships across, within and beyond these two churches – engaging with young people of other faiths in Manor Park and Forest Gate –  in the hope that we will soon be able to put on our first joint event.

With the talent and testimonies I’ve witnessed over the past few months, I can promise you that it will be energetic, powerful and will be one not to be missed! So watch this space…

Near Neighbours… in business!

Shops and businesses from around east London have come together to form an exciting new alliance. The first meeting of the East End Trades Guild took place this week at Christ Church, Spitalfields. The organisation is going to support small and medium-sized traders, independent retailers and family businesses.

Support and partial funding for the project has come from Near Neighbours. The huge diversity of the businesses involved and the range of different cultural backgrounds they come from is astonishing. The whole world is doing business in east London!


The East End has undergone huge changes in recent years with many boutique shops and creative businesses moving in. But there are still many traditional traders and businesses run by the communities who’ve made the area home over hundreds of years.

The 200 businesses describe themselves as “The Beating Heart of the East End.” Read more about their exciting vision in this story from the Guardian.

Tagged ,