Many neighbourhoods in England have a number of different faith and ethnic communities living close to each other. Some of these communities rarely interact with one another and instead live parallel but separate lives.
Such separation can lead to misunderstanding and a lack of trust or respect for each other, which is not healthy for a local community. Also, there are often areas of deprivation, with residents sharing common concerns but often not coming together to talk or act on this as much as they could. It is these local people, in local communities, who are ideally placed to identify and develop solutions that can improve their own neighbourhood.
Near Neighbours aims to bring together people who are near neighbours in religiously and ethnically diverse communities. In this way, they can get to know each other better, build relationships of trust and collaborate together on initiatives that improve the local community they live in.
The programme works in a number of key locations across the north, midlands and south of England, where local hubs act as focal points.
Administered by Church Urban Fund, the Church of England's poverty relief charity in England, Near Neighbours has a multi-faith Advisory Panel, comprising representatives from the main religious communities of the Near Neighbours programme areas.
Sarfraz Khan (Saf), is the Near Neighbours worker based in Highfields, Leicester. With a rate of 39% child poverty, this area has one of the highest rates in Leicester and ranks in the top 3% most deprived in the country.
The area is also highly diverse, with 80% Asian, Black or Minority Ethnic residents alongside a growing number of recent immigrants from Eastern Europe. The area now includes a large Muslim population and also a significant number of Hindu and Christian believers.
Yasmin Shiekh, a youth worker said "I have always come across young people who may be living in very difficult circumstances. These circumstances are due to the multiple issues that plague their families and communities, and the root cause is poverty."
It soon became clear to Saf that there was an opportunity for residents to work together to make a difference and so the Leicester League of Heroes was born.
Borrowing the idea of superheroes working together for the common good and helping one another in need, Saf brought together local community workers from Islamic Relief, Christians Aware and the Sikh community to combine their efforts to help meet the needs of struggling families.
One local mum who had struggled to get a winter coat for her daughter said: "In the past, you would never know where to go or if someone could help. The fear and embarrassment of being turned down has deterred me in the past and I am sure many other people in similar situations would have felt the same."
The League of Heroes uses a webpage where local charities, voluntary bodies and faith groups can create a list of items that struggling families need, be it blankets, clothes or other essentials. Residents can then buy or donate items for the families.
Irfan Chhatbar, a youth worker based at the local Madani High School, recognises that "Highfields is known for its poverty levels and, for young people, poverty often leads to crime and drugs. To know there is a project being designed to tackle poverty, by someone local is fantastic. It brings together specialities of the many different groups in the city under one umbrella to fight poverty together."
To find out if Near Neighbours operates in your area, visit https://www.cuf.org.uk/near-neighbours/local-hubs