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Interfaith ‘Dragons’ Den’ at Windsor Castle raises £70,000 for projects

29 October 2021

Jewish News

Participants and supporters of the project gather outside Windsor Castle

Participants and supporters of the project gather outside Windsor Castle

A TOTAL of £70,000 was pledged to support interfaith projects in a Dragons’ Den-style event at Windsor Castle last week.

The funding for the projects follows a collaboration initiated by the online newspaper Jewish News (News, 10 May 2019) between British Muslim TV, the Church Times, and Coexist House.

With the backing of the interfaith body Kaiciid, which sponsored the event, the leaders stayed overnight at St George’s House, in the grounds of Windsor Castle, and pitched projects to three generous “Dragons” who were ready to spend £10,000 of their own money to bring the projects to life. In the event, £70,000 in cash and in-kind marketing support was pledged.

Among the projects supported by the Dragons — Muddassar Ahmed, Dr Neil Harbury, and Christopher Kenna — was a project that will train 40 young people and 20 faith leaders in mental-health first aid in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, and in Birmingham and the south Midlands.

The bid impressed the entrepreneurs after its proposers, Josephine Davidoff and Ryad Khodabocus, were able to point to an already successful pilot of the initiative which had been featured on BBC News. “If they get it right, it will make a real difference to the communities that they have identified,” Dr Harbury said.

A second project also funded at the event, Hope Heroes, seeks to challenge harmful media stereotypes with a series of 21 children’s books about pioneering people of faith and diverse backgrounds.

Inspired by books that challenge sexist stereotypes, the team pitched the books for children aged seven to 11, to replace negative stories with positive ones. Mr Ahmed, who leads Unitas Communications, said: “It has fantastic potential to help highlight contributions of people of faith to the community.

“The more we can highlight the positive impact that people of our faith and other faiths have had on society, the better it is for everyone.”

The team behind the bid, which included Katharine Crew, Dr Kevin Shang, and Hashim Bhatti, said: “This was a fantastic experience. We look forward to working with the Dragons on next steps.”

A third project, presented by Lauren Keiles and Sharon Booth, was praised by the Dragons, who pledged to use their networks to help the initiative, but did not raise enough funding this time around. It sought to bring together a scheme of anti-racism work in Year 9 school lessons to tackle the rise in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

In a session co-chaired by Andrew Gilbert, who chairs the 21421 selection panel, the teams were then advised on how they could take their projects further.

Mr Kenna said: “It was an absolute pleasure to meet people pitching businesses with the sole aim of helping people across the spectrum of faith,” he said. “I cannot wait to get involved both as an investor and hopefully as a mentor, to help these fantastic faith-based businesses flourish.”

Rabbi Alex Goldberg, of the University of Surrey Religious Life and Belief Centre, was among those supporting the two-day initiative. He was impressed with all the projects, he said. “To make real long-term change, you need allies, you need solidarity, and why not do it with other people of other faiths?

“Faiths have commonalities, and that’s a shared belief that we’re the custodians of this planet, a shared belief we need to look after the weakest in society, and that there should be a safety net for those who fall on hard times.”

Michael Wakelin, the executive chair of the Religion Media Centre, who project-managed the event, said: “Every time you build a forum, a safe space, for people to build those friendships, it’s always going to be helping to make the world a better place.”

Talks are now continuing for a second cohort, involving people of more faiths, including non-Abrahamic faiths.

This is an edited version of a Jewish News report, used with permission.

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