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Featured project: bringing together different faiths in Luton

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In March 2015 we visited Kim Greig, the Near Neighbours Co-ordinator for Luton at the Grassroots centre where the project is based.

Near Neighbours is a national programme of grants and training, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). You may remember our recent feature on the Near Neighbours London co-ordinators, you can read this here.

Near Neighbours aims to bring people together in communities that are religiously and ethnically diverse, so that they can get to know each other better, build relationships of trust, and collaborate together on initiatives that improve their local community.

What Kim was really passionate about was the Near Neighbours’ ethos. She viewed Near Neighbours as being more powerful than just a programme offering grants and training to community projects. Kim told us that Near Neighbours is really exciting because it encourages different communities and ethnicities to work together.

She really liked how the programme helps people to develop relationships with each other and deliver their own projects in their area, empowering people to take responsibility for improving their community and solving any problems they have identified.

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Projects that Near Neighbours has supported

Kim’s work covers the Luton hub, which means that she is responsible for supporting all of the Near Neighbours projects across Luton. These projects vary wildly, from community gardens to coffee mornings, faith talks and women’s events, grand one-day events to workshops that run throughout the year.

Highlights for Kim include ‘The Feast’, which is a partnership of Muslim and Christian young people, increasing knowledge about each faith to promote cohesion.

And another highlight is a series of really successful archery projects run by Luton Council of Faiths: these projects work across Luton with different faith communities and Kim said these have become a landmark in the UK. Near Neighbours has supported by helping fund a spin off event a training event with a Team GB Paralympian archery champion which has increased community cohesion.

Luton Archery Friendly Game 02 11 14 Paresh Solanki-13

About Luton and its community

When we asked about the area, Kim described Luton with affection and a sense of excitement about all of the community activity that took place every day. She acknowledged that for outsiders, Luton can sometimes be perceived quite negatively. But she also told us that she thought the perceptions were unfounded: while media coverage has focused on some extremist groups, she felt that in reality there was a lot of cohesion across ethnicities and faiths.

She also mentioned Luton airport, which has increased the multi-cultural nature of the area, as well as bringing in some extra funding for local community projects. Thanks to the airport’s work in communities and its corporate social responsibility (CSR) scheme, projects in the area were able to secure additional grants to help boost their work.

It was great to meet Kim and see her enthusiasm for the area and the community that she works with. After years of working for various charities and community development projects all over the world, Kim chose to settle down in Luton because she really loved the area, its strong sense of community and its international feel.

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