As the anniversary of the London riots approaches this week, churches in London are engaged in a broad range of practical community activities in an effort to address some of the underlying causes of the disturbances.
The work being undertaken by local churches is hugely diverse according to need and area, from former military personnel mentoring some of the most challenging young people in the capital, to an X-Factor inspired performing arts academy for 8-12s to encourage them to be active and build their confidence.
Many of these initiatives have been running for many years and are part of how local churches in the capital work with the community. Some have been expanded or reinforced as a direct response to last year’s riots, partly through the support of the Diocese’s Emergency4London fund. However, in all cases, the work being done is part of a long term process.
Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, said:
“I was dismayed by the disturbances last summer and yet at the same time enormously proud of the way so many of our parishes responded in the name of Christ. As with other tragedies in our capital over recent years, we had clergy and people mobilised immediately to offer help and support. These examples represent how we were not only ‘there’ when we needed to be but continue to be a practical presence in every community helping to combat some of the underlying causes of the disturbances.”
Examples of our activity in areas affected by last year’s riots
In Tottenham and Haringey
Local Tottenham churches Holy Trinity, St Ann’s Tottenham and St Mary’s Lansdowne Road were in the eye of the storm during the August 2011 riots and at the forefront of the response.
St Mary’s, led by Fr Simon Morris, stayed open for 15 hours a day helping local residents who lost their homes and serving refreshments to the police, while Holy Trinity hosted meetings of local church leaders and a prayer vigil.
A huge range of work has gone on in the area since last summer and much additional activity takes place on an ecumenical basis through the Bless Haringey network, and on a multi-faith basis.
The Church Times has written about the work in Tottenham following the riots in its feature ‘Still a long road to recovery‘ (subscription required for full article).
Youth work and mentoring
The churches run over 15 youth groups per week over a number of Haringey estates as well as undertaking detached youth work. Last year, community activities at the Church at the Hut, on the Tiverton Estate, continued despite the riots, giving children and families the confidence that they had a safe place to come together. The team phoned and visited their regular families to make sure a link was kept up with the community, at a time when the risk of isolation and fear was at its greatest.
Missioners Andrew Kwapong and Obi Onyido, who led the work on the Tiverton Estate, have continued this work by establishing a strong project on the Edgecote Estate. Both have been developed in a way that empowers local volunteers to take a leading role when ready.
Work is now underway by Andrew and his wife Martina in the Ferry Lane and Tottenham Hale Village area to partner with local primary schools to build a presence in the community via pop-up cafes and activities like a Big Jubilee Lunch. Andrew and Martina hope to expand their work with more activity and trips and will be joined by additional youth worker support this summer.
The efforts put into earning trust among the local community over many years recently paid off when the St Ann’s youthwork team organised a trip to a survival centre in Berkshire for 17 challenging young men, where they took part in an intense overnight programme run by ex-SAS sergeants. This was a considerable achievement given the problems involved in some young men even moving between estates in the area. More trips are planned for the future and a number of youths who have benefitted from the clubs are now becoming youth leaders themselves.
Work with younger children
Under the leadership of its vicar, Olubunmi Fagbemi, Holy Trinity has worked with The Green School to empower pupils and restore their confidence following the riots. Volunteers have accompanied them and members of the Safer Neighbourhood Team on walks down the High Road with the aim of developing stronger relationships with shopkeepers, police and their neighbours.
The Fowler Newsam Hall Counselling Project provides trained counselling for the social and emotional needs of children in 30 primary and secondary schools in Haringey, reaching up to 400 children per year. Founded in 2002 by local vicar, the Revd John Wood, who remains its director, the project aims to reduce the incidence anti-social behaviour within the schools, as well as giving teachers themselves more skills and confidence in dealing with their students.
St Mary’s Boys’ Brigade with Girls’ Association plays a key role in helping local youngsters develop schools and friendships and encourage youngsters to have a positive and responsible view of the community. As part of the activities, the younger children make Christmas and Easter cards and deliver them to the local old people’s home, while older children give up their own time to take part and assist in taking care of homeless people in a night shelter in the winter.
‘Give Tottenham A Chance’, based at St Ann’s Church, is a local programme that works in partnership with other churches to help 18-24 year old young men in finding jobs. Working with the College of North East London and the Rank Foundation, it has recruited career mentors in Haringey and interviewed local businesses to identify unmet local employment needs and match them with young people.
The Diocese of London and three local Anglican churches are heavily involved with the local Tottenham Hale Project to provide a new community centre and housing, committing £25 million over 125 years. The project is part of wider efforts to augment and showcase Tottenham and assuage some of the negativity associated with it.
Holy Trinity has been involved in the winning of a substantial grant from the Mayor of London’s Outer London Fund. The £1.4 million grant will be used to regenerate Tottenham Green. The aim is to link the Church and its grounds with the Green to open up the public space and make the facilities more visible and accessible to the community.
In Hackney and the East End
Though badly affected by rioting, churches in the East End were quick to respond and try to rebuild community trust. Only a week after the riots, a tea party was organised on Clarence Road in Hackney, which was badly affected. Over 300 people gathered to reassert the positive community spirit of the area in the face of the riots. Since then, the churches have played a key part in bringing people together and addressing some of the underlying issues.
St Luke’s in Hackney has worked with the David Stinson Theatre School to engage positively with young people in Hackney. For example, NewStarz, a five week performing arts ‘academy’ for 7-12s, tapped into the popularity of shows like X-Factor to encourage youngsters to get active, mix with new people and learn new skills in singing, dancing and acting. The popular course ended with a mini-musical, ‘Celebrating Hackney’. Vicar of St Luke’s, the Revd Betsy Blatchley, who has herself worked in the theatre, is keen to expand the church’s use performing arts as a way of reaching young people.
St John at Hackney, led by the Revd Rob Wickham, regularly runs residential trips for local young people, aimed at taking them out of the city and enabling them to mix freely and make friends with their peers from different postcodes and schools, something that would be difficult in their normal environment. Next month’s trip will take twenty five young people to Dorset.
The Urban Hope project, run by St Stephen’s church in Islington, focuses on marginalised young people and received support from the Diocese of London’s Emergency4London fund following last year’s riots. Since then, young people have been offered an opportunity to meet with a trained mentor on a regular basis to reflect on issues that affect them and to take greater control of their lives. The project has also provided regular targeted and individual support for those most at risk of offending
St John’s has worked with partners including London Citizens to hold job fairs for local young people in the past year, addressing the pervasive issue of poor job prospects in the area. The project recently helped 1,200 local people find jobs at the Olympic Park on a London Living Wage.
St Luke’s held an event before Christmas to help local families with strategies for celebrating Christmas without damaging their financial situation for the rest of the year. The ‘Christmas: Does it have to Cost the Earth’ event worked with partners including Traid, Christians Against Poverty and EcoActive to offer budgeting and financial advice as well as crafts and activities for the whole family.
Work with younger children
Local churches run a number of holiday and Sunday groups for under 11s which aim to support home life and improve literacy by encouraging parents to read with their children. St John’s plans to offer a Bible to every child who attends these groups as part of their drive for children’s literacy.
The Riots: Were you there?
A brochure, The Riots: Were you there? has been produced to highlight some of the very practical ways in which parishes responded to the riots.
The diocesan communications team provides support to the network of clergy, churches, parishes and other worshipping communities that comprises the Diocese of London, as well as to the staff teams of the London Diocesan Fund.
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