Being a good neighbour in a diverse and divided country.

At a time where Britain is bracing itself for Brexit and the divisions it created in a multicultural and multi faith society, I met up with Elizabeth Fewkes of Near Neighbours (a trust which funds projects to bring different faith communities to interact through projects) to find out more about her work and its significance today.

How did you come to apply for this job with Near Neighbours?

So, I’ve always tried to invest in the communities where I lived. Prior to coming back down south, my family and I lived in Bradford, and one of the community jobs I did there enabled me to do some work for Near Neighbours in West Yorkshire, so it was here that I heard of the great work that they are doing to bring people together for better understanding, building relationships of trust and to collaborate together, and initiatives that improve their local area. I was really inspired by that, so when I came back down south, and heard that the West London post was being advertised, I knew that was the job for me.

What inspirations do you draw from it?

Well, I’m inspired on a daily basis by the individuals I meet and the community groups, because they are so committed to caring for the needs of their community, whether it be serving in a foodbank, or ESOL classes for those who do not speak English as their first language or just providing safe spaces for people who are more vulnerable.

What are the challenges you meet?

I think that in this work there are many challenges, but I meet many inspiring people. I am aware that there are many people who hold misunderstandings about the other, which can be less than helpful. So it's upsetting when you hear or see people who receive verbal or physical abuse for their visible signs of faith or their ethnic identity.

How important is this type of work in our society?

So, in a world and indeed a country that feels like it is becoming more and more divided, it feels all the more important to hold to the vision where faith communities live and work with their neighbours to create a safe, just and vibrant community where all can flourish.

How do you balance work and family?

I don’t actually work full time, I work thirty hours a week and my husband does the same, enabling us to juggle school drop offs and pick ups and all that fun stuff. It can be really hectic at times, but we really believe in the work that we’re doing. We also hope our children are inspired by the stories they hear. And that they, too, will learn and grow in their commitment to build relationships of peace and that they too will grow to know what it is to love their neighbour well.

What is your corner stone? What is the one thing that gets you springing again when you feel a bit flat while challenged in this work?

I think that the reality is that when you are doing good stuff, there will be challenges and there will be opposition, but my faith is a help to me, and Jesus never said it would not be easy but that he promised to be with me and to sustain me. And I believe that he wants to see all individuals flourish and he wants to see peace and reconciliation within our communities. And so my faith is a great help as I look to Jesus as the perfect peace maker & as a guide & help.

Is there more to do with this kind of work? Why?

I think that, as I said, communities are becoming increasingly divided, there is always going to be a need, communities are becoming more isolated, more influx of refugees, there is always going to be a need for this kind of work.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope to see more people given the opportunity to have a voice to shape the landscape that they live in. I hope to see faith communities working together for the good of their communities. And I hope that the more good can be done, the brighter the light will shine and the smaller the darkness will become.

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