Faith and Friendship Tent

A church-based project to bring a culturally diverse community together in faith and friendship, is doing well in nurturing good mental health and building bridges between the many different people living in the parish of Evington.

The village’s ‘Faith and Friendship Tent’ was launched during the Jubilee celebrations at St Denys Church and is the culmination of months of people coming together for craft, coffee and companionship, in the community.     

Working in partnership with Anita Barrand from Equality Action Charnwood, and in conjunction with the Vita Minds mental health project, St Denys developed the idea for creating a moveable safe space where people of all ages and cultures could have conversations about the things that matter to them.

Equality Action is a Loughborough-based charity tackling discrimination, campaigning for equality, and strengthening partnerships in the area.

Vicar of St Denys, Revd Anthony Lees-Smith, said: “As we slowly came out of lockdown, there was a greater need than ever to bring people in the community together, and what better way than through making art, sharing faith and building friendships.”

As an Intercultural Worshipping Community Partner Church in the diocese, St Denys were able to access seed funding, which enabled them to employ the talents of local artists, Paul Barrand and Kirsty Whitrow.

Several sessions took place in the St Denys Parish Centre on Saturday mornings and around 30 people from across Evington’s diverse community - members of at least five different faith traditions including Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Baha'i - came together, made new friends and practised skills in printing and appliqué.

Anita also went into Krishna Avanti Primary School and worked with the children there on words and images they felt related to positive wellbeing.

The result was an abundance of vibrant patches, created to decorate the Faith and Friendship Tent.

“The group grew its own momentum and energy as the final touches were made,” said Revd Anthony. “A brilliant result of this project is how they are keen to continue meeting, as the process of getting to know one another has been just as important as the final product - as stunning as it is.”  

People are being encouraged to use the space in all sorts of ways, not only to consider and appreciate the patchwork art, but as a means to really get to know others in the community.

Revd Anthony said: “You could take time to look at all the different patches. Which grabs your attention? What do they say about the things people value?

“You could sit and talk to someone who is different to you in some way. Be curious and ask questions about what they value in life. Listen carefully and try to understand a different point of view.

“You might share with someone else about the things that you value or that motivate you in life.

“You might not feel like talking and that is fine too. You could try sitting in companionable silence with someone else and just enjoy the peace.”

During the launch, Bishop Saju modelled how the Tent could be used by having a conversation with the High Bailiff of Leicester, Councillor Deepak Bajaj.

Rev’d Anthony said: “It was fascinating to hear them talk about the things they value, which ranged from oneness to cricket, and friendship to curry.”

They also chatted about the need for a safe and brave space to meet, and the impact of recent times on mental health.

The Tent will next appear at the Evington Village Fete on August 13. After that, it will be available for the ten schools in the parish to use, as well as care homes and other community spaces.

Anthony added: “In terms of reconciliation, I certainly see this as hugely important in a very diverse community like ours, breaking down barriers and building bridges.

“This has been influenced a lot by my doctoral studies at Chester University where I am developing a project to find out about how Christians living in very diverse communities approach their relationships with those who are religiously different.”

In addition to this project, St Denys has forged further partnerships in the community, working with a local school and a national charity to create The Jubilee Community Garden, which Bishop Saju officially opened during the church’s Jubilee event.

Development of the garden began last year, as part of the Polli:Gen Project being run by Learning Through Landscapes – a leading UK-based charity dedicated to enhancing outdoor learning and play for children.

The church received funding to work with Oaklands Special School in Evington, to identify how they could improve their outdoor spaces at school and church for bees and butterflies, through increasing the number of pollinators. As part of their ecological commitment to protecting and preserving God’s creation, they’ve also been looking at growing food locally.

Though the Polli:Gen project is now finished, church members and helpers from the community have continued to develop the garden, which is in St Denys’ car park.

Local schoolgirl, Grace Davidson, 14, was key in designing and completing the garden as part of her Duke of Edinburgh Award and was introduced to Bishop Saju during the grand opening.

The Bishop of Loughborough also planted a small apple tree and read the poem, Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.

As a lovely aside to the story, Bishop Saju confirmed Grace yesterday (June 12th) during a service at St Denys.

Reflecting on the work happening in this community, Bishop Saju said: “It was wonderful to spend the afternoon at the Platinum Jubilee Event in the vicarage garden and meet a diverse group of people from the community and the church. 

“I met a very vibrant 94-year-old lady called Phoebe who demonstrated her zest for life, and shared with the community the old Greek proverb, ‘A society grows great when old men and women plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit.’ 

“The Faith and Friendship Tent will be an important, safe space for people to talk, to share the things they value and inspire each other.

“I pray for God’s rich blessing upon this community.”


First published on: 9th June 2022
Powered by Church Edit