Royal visit to interfaith projects in Southall

The Bishop of London has joined the Prince of Wales on a visit to St John’s Church in Southall, West London, to meet the team and local community and learn about the work being done to promote community co-operation and interfaith relations as an integral part of the church’s flourishing mission and ministry.

St John’s is a popular church with a congregation of three hundred and a growing children’s ministry and youth group. It serves its local community – of all faiths and none-  in a variety of ways and has run English classes for over twenty-five years. The classes are usually attended by around fifty women and their success has led to a number of other groups being set up, including a women’s exercise class. Such outreach not only builds links between the church community and its neighbours, but also empowers and gives practical support to local women.

During the visit, His Royal Highness visited ‘Craft and Conversation’, a spin-off from the English classes that provides an opportunity for women to practice and build confidence in their English while their children can play in the church crèche. Members of the group, who are currently making tote bags for their shopping to stop the plastic bag charge impacting on their household budgets, gave the Bishop and Prince some examples of their work as a souvenir of the visit. The Prince of Wales, who has long promoted inter-faith dialogue, was also able to join representatives from the Southall Faiths Forum to hear about their contribution to making Southall a flourishing, harmonious and resilient community.

Much of the visit took place at the Kings Centre Southall; a hub for resourcing and equipping people to live, minister and thrive in increasingly multi-religious and cross-cultural contexts. The Kings Centre is ​based at St John’s Church, but will eventually relocate into the old Church building. This is currently being refurbished to act both as a place for Christian worship and as a state-of-the-art educational auditorium. Initial work in creating a new public square and protected memorial garden has begun as part of local authority-led regeneration. The Kings Centre team, which has developed organically from St John’s as a separate charity , is currently developing a plan to  deliver the vision of a new linked, three-storey building, which would host a café, counselling rooms, classrooms, offices and ‘hot-desk business start-up’ provision.

St John’s is led by the Reverend Dr. Anna Poulson, who took over from her husband, the Reverend Mark Poulson, when he became the Archbishop’s Adviser for Inter-Religious Affairs. One of his initiatives was the founding of the Southall Faiths Forum, the success of which has resulted in Southall being chosen to be the London hub for the national Near Neighbours project – a joint government and Church Urban Fund initiative, which brings together people from different faith backgrounds to work together on projects which transform the local community.

During the visit, His Royal Highness was welcomed by Dhol drummers and met representatives from local groups before attending a performance in the Church by local school choirs, and met participants who take part in the Onside Football Project, a project which takes a specialist ‘Panna’ football cage into local housing estates, parks and schools.

Reverend Dr. Anna Poulson, Vicar of St John’s Southall, commented: “It was a great joy for us to welcome His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, and Bishop Richard to Southall, and to celebrate the commitment to unity and friendship which is at the heart of our diverse and vibrant community.”