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Improving neighbourhoods by bringing faiths together

Near Neighbours photo

The Just Act team met with community projects all over England, to learn about what they do and share it here on the blog. This week, you can find out about two of the Near Neighbours coordinators, Tim Clapton from East London and Becky Brookman from West London, and see how the programme has strengthened communities brought people of different faiths together in their areas.

What is Near Neighbours?

Near Neighbours is a programme that helps people of different faiths and of no faith come together in projects that help to create relationships of trust and improve their local neighbourhood. It is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), and delivered by the Church Urban Fund.

They run training for adults and young people and also offer a grants programme where groups, individuals and small organisations can apply for up to £5,000 to run projects that improve their community and bring people together. This is a rolling programme and you can find out how to apply here.

Near Neighbours photo

What sort of projects does Near Neighbours support?

The exciting thing about Near Neighbours is the wide range of projects and groups that have benefited from it. Groups that work with all faiths – and none – are welcome to apply as long as they bring the local neighbourhood community together across the boundaries of faith. Becky told us that the projects she has seen have ranged from ‘serious’ inter-faith community development work, to more light-hearted, fun projects. Take a look at the Near Neighbours ‘Snapshots’ report, which gives an insight into the kind of projects supported.

This has provided an opportunity for small organisations, new groups and individuals to have a go at running a community project, and often they have been trying something new. Tim told us that he’s seen a lot of English language classes, garden projects, sport and arts projects, lunch clubs, social clubs and activities for older people.

He also mentioned knitting and sewing groups and how they can bring people together, sometimes in unexpected ways. Tim recalled a project in Walthamstow, North London, which led to a group of men in a local mosque creating a pillow together. Another project made a blanket to illustrate what the local community is like.

Near Neighbours photo

What has been the impact of Near Neighbours?

Tim and Becky told us that many of the groups applied for the small Near Neighbours grants as a first step on their way to larger projects. They reported that many of the groups have expanded since receiving their Near Neighbours grants and that many went on to apply for additional funding elsewhere.

Becky Brookman, West London Near Neighbours Coordinator

Becky is the West London Coordinator for Near Neighbours, overseeing projects across 11 London boroughs. Since studying Abrahamic Religions at university, she has worked with various communities to help faith groups into volunteering and encourage grassroots community action.

She told us that a recent highlight of working with Near Neighbours for her was when an elderly Sikh lady entered the church where Becky was based and struck up a conversation. She felt this was a big achievement and showed how traditional religious barriers were breaking down as people felt more confident to work together.

Tim Clapton, East London Near Neighbours Coordinator

Tim’s community career began when he started youth work in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s: he subsequently got involved in inter faith work when he was working as a hospital chaplain in Milton Keynes. He told us that the most striking thing he has noticed during his time as Near Neighbours Coordinator was watching relationships and friendships between members of faith groups develop.

To find out more about the Near Neighbours programme, go to their website.

And if you run a faith-based organisation, you can head to the Faith Groups category in the Knowledge Bank for resources to help with your project.

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