EXTREMISM, immigration, and Brexit are dividing communities, presenting new challenges for churches, the executive director of the Church Urban Fund, Canon Paul Hackwood, said this week.
Speaking at an event at the House of Lords on Wednesday celebrating the work of Near Neighbours, Canon Hackwood said that “there is a job to be done in connecting people together and creating trust that makes our communities safe places”.
He said: “Roughly a third of people think integration is a good thing, a third think it’s a bad thing, and a third are swayed by particular events. The upshot of all this is that tackling issues of integration is not easy.
“The ground is continually shifting, we have to be vigilant in our activities if we are to respond to the situations that arise in local communities. There are no easy answers and there’s no silver bullet to how we tackle integration across the country.
“How do we deal with the complexity of integration? We bring people together and we create connections. Our networks have been established over many years, and we’re able to reach deeply into local communities and connect people together.”
Near Neighbours is a joint partnership between the Church Urban Fund and the Archbishops’ Council, funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which seeks to create positive encounters, resilient relationships, and an active civil society. It runs a series of projects throughout England.
Canon Hackwood set out three examples of disintegration which, he said, he saw in communities: extremism, immigration, and Brexit. He said: “There are quite a lot of communities that are divided down that particular axis that we need to be able to work with.”
Speaking to the room of Near Neighbours supporters and partners, he gave examples of its work. He said: “We have a beautiful project in Bradford where we support women who are new to the country and don’t speak English, and often don’t know anyone outside of their tight family circle. What we do is we give them the skills, the confidence, and the capacity to shift beyond that and open their horizons to a degree of agency that they wouldn’t otherwise have.
“In our early work, we did a lot of setting up of football leagues. We’ve set up more football leagues than the FA, and they’re a really good way to get communities to connect together.”
He explained: “If we can help an organisation to develop, that has people from different communities as part of its structure, then that organisation continues on into the future delivering services and connecting people together. What we end up with is integrated communities, sustainable for the long term.
“And when things go wrong in communities, they provide a method of communication, so that the suspicion and misinformation that gets produced can easily be dissipated, because there is an honest and truthful way of dealing with community issues.
“If we want to create a healthy democracy, what we have to do is create cross-cultural, cross-faith, cross-ethnicity civil society, in a way that binds people together.”
Baroness Eaton, who chairs New Neighbours, said: “The main message from all of this is building relationships, positive relationships, between people who have had different life experiences, different faiths, different educations, all these things, but what do we have in common and how can we build positive relationships?
“Near Neighbours is all about that and you are demonstrating just how good that service the community can be; so please carry on doing that good work.”