More people than ever will benefit from the opportunity to improve their local communities as £3 million was today (27 February 2014) announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government to expand the successful Near Neighbours programme across 9 new areas of the country.
Launched by the Communities Secretary in 2011 in partnership with the Church Urban Fund, Near Neighbours provides small grants and support to grassroots groups and multi-faith communities, recognising that local groups know what works best in their area. Funding is given to communities with significant religious diversity to help them run projects which will bring about lasting benefits to their neighbourhoods.
The new funding will enable projects to expand into Luton, Rochdale, Bury, Dewsbury, Leeds, Nottingham, North and West London and the Black Country. It will also further equip people with the skills, relationships and confidence to improve their local communities, building on the achievements on the first phase of Near Neighbours.
Speaking at an event at the Rockingham Community Centre in Elephant and Castle in London, which was also attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced the new funding and said:
It’s been terrific to see Near Neighbours go from strength to strength over the past 3 years, helping grass roots groups to improve the lives of those around them through practical action.
These fantastic projects have been met with huge amounts of enthusiasm, creating a sense of lasting community spirit, and helping to transform neighbourhoods in the process.
This extra money is a real investment in our shared future that will enable Near Neighbours to reach many more communities so they can become even better places to live.
Some successful Near Neighbours projects to have benefited from the small grants include:
- a youth football team in East London - using sport to provide mentoring and development opportunities
- a youth music programme in Oldham which has brought people together from different backgrounds
- a community garden in Leicester created by local residents and school children and enjoyed by the whole community
Faith Minister, Baroness Warsi said:
We developed the concept of Near Neighbours many years ago - using the existing infrastructure of the church to bring together people of all faiths. It was ambitious and it was challenging. But after 3 years, hundreds of small grants, and thousands of volunteers, this programme has proved one thing: that faith can make a real difference at the heart of our communities.
So today I feel immensely proud to see Near Neighbours reaching out to more people, having more of a local impact, and showing more and more that faith is a positive force in our society.
At the event Communities Minister Stephen Williams heard from an interfaith women’s group from the Rockingham estate in Southwark who have benefited from the Near Neighbours programme. The group is comprised of women from Sunni, Anglican, Methodist, Sufi, and Buddhist backgrounds who have been meeting and building relationships among themselves for the past year.
Stephen Williams said:
People of faith have a strong history of contributing to their local communities and Near Neighbours enables us to build on this legacy.
The hundreds of small grants already issued over the past 3 years have enabled strong relationships to be formed across faith boundaries, demonstrating the vital role that faith groups play in our society.
I’m delighted that this substantial new funding will enable Near Neighbours to bring real and lasting changes to many more communities across the country and look forward to seeing more projects than ever before in action.
To date over 500 groups have received Near Neighbours grants of up to £5,000 and the impact of these projects has been far reaching as:
- 89% of those who have received Near Neighbours grants consider their projects to have lead to a greater sense of togetherness or community spirit
- over 280,000 people are estimated to have benefitted from the Near Neighbours programme
- 97% considered that their projects had developed relationships with neighbours from different religious backgrounds
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, welcomed the additional funding and said:
We are delighted that the Department for Communities and Local Government has shown its commitment to local inter faith work for the common good by renewing its funding for the Near Neighbours programme. This means that Near Neighbours can continue for another 2 years, expanding into new areas of the country.
This renewed funding is a recognition of the hard work and prayer put in over the last 3 years by hundreds of people from local faith communities supported by the national church and inter faith groups. That work has touched thousands of lives, strengthening the fabric of our society. We have heard some great stories from Near Neighbours over the last 3 years and we look forward to many more.
Near Neighbours was set up in 2011 in partnership between the Church Urban Fund and the Archbishop’s Council and is funded by DCLG.
Near Neighbours was originally targeted in 4 areas: the M62 “mill towns” corridor (Bradford, Burnley, and Oldham); Leicester; and selected boroughs and wards in East London and Birmingham.
The Rockingham community centre is home to many local groups including a Bengali women’s group, a Somali support group, and the African and Caribbean Health Foundation.
The Near Neighbours Small Grants Fund final impact report (PDF,282 KB) was released in February 2014.