25 / 03 / 21
A government-funded dialogue project run by the Faith & Belief Forum (F&BF) has connected people from different communities online at a time when social distancing has left many feeling isolated. Supported by a grant from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG), the Building Closer Communities project has brought together people of different faiths and beliefs in Birmingham and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.
Through the dialogue project, many communities that live alongside each other without many opportunities to interact have had authentic conversations and got to know each other for the first time. The project, delivered by F&BF in partnership with The Feast between November 2020 and March 2021, has enabled people to meet, share and explore issues related to faith, belief, and culture through interactive online sessions.
In a local area groups from different backgrounds have been paired, for example a Buddhist group and a Catholic residential community, an Ahmadiyya Muslim community group and an African Portuguese speaking community group, a humanist group, a Hindu group, and a Jewish group. By connecting different communities, the project helps participants overcome any anxiety they might have about interacting with other groups and build more positive relations.
As the project draws to a close at the end of March, participants got together for online celebrations to share what they have learnt with each other. The events invited all 180 participants and other community members to share their visions of hope for closer, better connected communities.
Jessica Hazrati from the Faith & Belief Forum:
“For many participants, the linking Zoom sessions have come at a good time during lockdown. They have allowed people who are shielding to engage with others and people who live alone to connect with the world. Participants have appreciated meeting new people at a time when they cannot in many cases even meet their own family.”
Rajinder Kaur Johal, Vice Chair, Sikh Women’s Alliance:
“I was inspired to take part in this project as the pandemic has created a void in opportunities for different community groups to meet and I wanted to make new links. We found out that we had many similarities. For example, we talked about our shared experiences of living in a country that is different to where we were born and experiences of being treated as immigrants, even if we have lived in the area for years and have three or four generations of family here. Most importantly, we all feel like we belong here and share a commitment to make Barking and Dagenham, and surrounding boroughs, a harmonious place for all communities.”
Tony Howe from Birmingham Humanists:
“I found it all positive and enriching, and I’d be very interested in doing something similar in future. Once it’s safe to mix after the pandemic it would be lovely to do at least part of a project like this in person. For now, I’m looking forward to the prospect of some ongoing contact with the people we spoke to during this project and their wider communities.”
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