Building Community in Shadwell

Author: Andy Walton

Date: 01 November 2013

Until 2017 the month of Ramadan will fall in the summer months, during long day light hours, the exam season and the school term. What few non-Muslims appreciate is that Ramadan is not just about going without food and drink. Gathering for Maghrib prayers as the sun sets and iftar, breaking the fast, is not the end of devotions. Many Muslims will also gather for further night prayers, Tarawih. This means that activities in a mosque may not end until midnight or even one in the morning.

Religious practices develop in cultural settings and when faith groups move to a different culture it is not always straight forward to accommodate the familiar way of doing things in to the majority cultural pattern. So, in Tower Hamlets where there are large numbers of Bengali Muslims, observing Ramadan in the traditional manner has implications for the school day and work patterns given the loss of sleep.

The large numbers of worshippers gathering in one place in the late evening will impact on the locality in terms of traffic and noise wherever or whatever the faith. Two years ago residents around Gosling Gardens became concerned about the levels of noise, minor acts of vandalism and general antisocial behaviour. They realised that quite young children and older boys were accompanying their fathers to the mosque but slipping out in to the park where they were totally unsupervised. Whilst this was disruptive for the residents they also realised it was potentially dangerous for the children and young people.

The mosque recognised a need to provide something for the youngsters but realised they had a lack of capacity and could benefit from some youth work training. Meetings with the parks department, representatives of the Darul Ummah mosque, youth workers and local residents resulted in a project to deal with some of these issues. Over the last two years a group of trained volunteers have maintained a presence during the crucial hours, and a nearby Youth Centre has been opened. Although volunteers may only cover one session a week over the period of a month it has been possible to engage in a meaningful way with individuals. Young people are not only protected by the presence of identifiable, responsible adults they also have a listening ear to chat through concerns about mixed identities, limited horizons and aspirations in general.

The project received a Near Neighbours grant, in 2012, to cover costs of vests used by volunteers to identify themselves, hire of the youth centre and sessional youth workers to offer support. Although not a parish story, volunteers have been drawn from the congregations of St George-in- the-East, Stepney Salvation Army and St Paul’s Shadwell. Churches support for individual members to engage with their community is an important element of Presence and Engagement.