News / Building Closer Communities launches in Birmingham

Building Closer Communities launches in Birmingham

News / Blog

The Faith & Belief Forum

07 / 01 / 21

I am Anna Lockley-Scott and I have recently started at The Faith & Belief Forum (F&BF) as the new Project Coordinator for the Birmingham Building Closer Communities project. I originally came across the F&BF as a teacher in 2016. The project I am working for now is funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government MHCLG) with the aim of building strong connections between different faith and belief communities in Birmingham and Barking & Dagenham.

On Tuesday 15 December, we had our first community dialogue event for Birmingham.  We had 20 participants ranging from 17 communities around the city. These communities include members of Birmingham’s Hindu communities, Humanists, Shia Muslims, Islamic Society of Britain and Ahmadiyya Muslims. They also included a number of Christian groups from around the city, including Focolare. Other communities involved include two Jewish groups, a member of the Buddhist community and two non-faith specific groups, the Polish Expats Association and Birmingham’s Women’s Peace Group.

The first event was our Community Connectors Session One. Community Connectors are participants who have put themselves forward to become the connection between the Faith & Belief Forum and a local Birmingham community. The Community Connectors are invited to play a leadership role and will also co-facilitate in the linked dialogue sessions. After this first session, the Community Connectors go back to their communities to invite up to 10 members of their community to become paired up with one other Birmingham community through our linking project.

The session began at 6.30pm on Zoom and everyone came online. The turnout was amazing and as we did the icebreaker asking about everyone’s motivation for being here, we learnt of the participants’ enthusiasm for such a project and their communal desire for improvement in interfaith relations. I was bowled over by people’s passion and enthusiasm for meeting others and stepping beyond their own community to encounter others in their city they had not had the chance to meet before.

We then moved to the Guidelines for Dialogue. The Guidelines were introduced to us by the Feast, our Birmingham partners on this project. The Feast have been conducting dialogue and encounters across faiths for over ten years amongst young people and their Guidelines have been thoroughly tried and tested. These include ‘Do not treat someone as a spokesperson for their faith or culture’ and ‘Do not judge people here by what some people of their faith or community do’.

The session then focused on identity, something all of us experience at a personal and social level. We explored our identities through the Faith & Belief Forum’s Identity Cupboard activity. Here the participants wrote on the outside of the door, how they feel seen in passing, perhaps, feel seen in the street, noting aspects of their identity which might be acknowledged at face value. They then wrote on the inside door, identifying what might be known about them in a short conversation and then wrote onto the back of the cupboard, what might be known over a longer period, perhaps months. Afterwards, we explored both how the process had made us feel and also explored what we felt we could share with one other participant in a breakout room.

The process was seen to help many of the participants quickly learn about each other, it was seen as a ‘friendly exchange’ and a positive icebreaker. However, some participants also referred to finding it tough to reflect on their own identity, difficult to open up and how many layers of the self there are to open up. The realisation was that although we might identify as separate communities, we are all complex individuals with many similarities and differences beyond just our community boundaries.

The participants left the event positively, feeding back with enthusiasm and keenness to move forward to the next stage. The next stage is when we link two Community Connectors and their communities together for their paired dialogue which will happen in January.  We look forward to telling you about it then.

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