THE glad rags were the same, but the people inside them were not the usual crowd that assembles in Buckingham Palace. On Tuesday evening, 160 community activists were invited to meet the Queen and drink champagne in the Blue Drawing Room overlooking the Palace lawns.
Not that they would have called themselves activists, or anything other than good neighbours — or, rather, Near Neighbours, since this was the organisation, started by the Church Urban Fund (CUF), that has funded nearly 1500 grass-roots projects. Since 2011 it has received more than £1 million a year from the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government to add to grants from CUF and other sources.
The reception was billed as an occasion “to recognise the work of faith groups bringing local communities together.
The programme director for Near Neighbours, Liz Carnelley, spoke of the Anglican vision behind the enterprise. “Because we’re Anglicans, with a parish system, we recognise that we have a duty to everyone in the parish — offering generous hospitality to people from all backgrounds.” If the vision is Anglican, she said, the organisation is truly interfaith. A Muslim colleague, Rabiyah K. Latif, explained that she was happy to be part of “the change that the Church of England needs to make”.
She said that the involvement of the Archbishop of Canterbury was an asset: “He is very well respected by people of other faiths.”
The Queen is a patron of the Church Urban Fund, and takes an interest in the work it does. Among the people drawn into conversation with the Queen was Valentine Nkoyo, whose organisation, the Mojatu Foundation, was behind the declaring of Nottingham as the first zero-tolerance city for FGM. Another was Rachel Cox, of no particular faith, who works with Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham, which works with refugees and asylum-seekers.
With them were Emma Holton (Christian), from Walsall Women Together; Nighat Khan (Muslim), from New Vision 4 Women; and Anna Dyson (Jewish), from ToastLoveCoffee, one of the young community leaders chosen for a 21 for 21 award, jointly sponsored by the Church Times.
Read more on the story in our leader comment