‘There are numerous stories of people forming new friendships’

Love Your Neighbour, a movement of faith and community groups, was launched in July in Birmingham, in the wake of a rise in hate crime following the EU Referendum vote. Jessica Foster, policy adviser to the Bishop of Birmingham, writes about the impact of the campaign in a blog to mark Hate Crime Awareness Week

Walking through the streets of the suburb in which I live I see a woman I know vaguely wearing a Love Your Neighbour sticker. I never quite work out where she got the sticker from but she tells me a story of how she saw a woman being racially abused on the bus and she found she had the courage to step in and intervene.

Love Your Neighbour is an idea and a movement which emerged in several places, it brings together people from across all sorts of sectors and is interpreted in many different ways. Orange banners are dotted liberally around the city of Birmingham outside community centres, schools and places of worship while posters and stickers circulate at events and gatherings. The movement has also spread to other cities and neighbourhoods with local launches and gatherings proudly flying their orange banner of neighbourliness and kindness.

The banners are carefully designed to carry a number of messages very simply. The graffiti text is a direct response to the abusive graffiti that appeared over the summer. The ‘Love’ and ‘Neighbour’ are made to stand out and the ‘your’ is there to make you look closer and elicit a personal response The colours are related to the sun rising and the subtle shapes are about shaping community in our new world.

‘Do something kind’ was added to the initial text to ensure the campaign had a personal and practical element and could not be greeted with complacency or indifference. It has generated a lot of activity on-line as people happily record acts of kindness they have received as well as those they have generated.

Acts of kindness range from cleaning the staff loos and leaving origami on the toilet roll to Muslims and Christians cleaning up gardens together. There are numerous stories of people forming new friendships, food being shared by neighbours, pets being cared for and jobs done for one another.

Pledges made during the July launch event included:

  • I will befriend a refugee.
  • I will smile!
  • I will promote and encourage the people of St Michael’s Boldmere to get involved.
  • I will remove waste from my elderly neighbour’s garden before she returns from hospital.
  • I will be kind and friendly to everyone, even when they are not kind and friendly to me!
  • I will go to our local asylum hostel and assure them they are welcome in Selly Park & Birmingham.
  • I will buy some extra tins for the food bank.
  • I will tell people in certain areas that people in minority groups are fearful of them.
  • I will say hello to everyone who walks down my street.
  • I will take Christian friends to share Iftar with Muslim neighbours.
  • I will do everything I can to stop racism and xenophobia.
  • I will say thank you to a low paid worker whose service I depend upon.
  • I will be friendly and kind to everyone, even when they are not being friendly to me.
  • I will be inclusive and kind.
  • I will entertain 5 strangers tonight for dinner.
  • I will love justice, show kindness and walk humbly with God.
  • I will smile and say hello.
  • I will invite my older neighbour in for tea.
  • I will promote unity and kindness on campus – University of Birmingham.
  • I will embrace difference and celebrate unity.
  • I will speak to someone new from a different background to myself to start a new conversation.
  • I will smile and chat with people when I am out and about.
  • I will give out Eid food this year to all my neighbours.
  • I will chat and smile at people.
  • I will invite neighbours to a BBQ.
  • I will smile and welcome everyone!
  • I will look out and talk to unknown people.
  • I will forgive and let go.

A Love Your Neighbour week in Birmingham is being planned during November, a group of friends from different faiths are hoping to volunteer at Calais and the banner continues to pop up at festivals, gigs and gatherings. It’s a movement which anyone can join – the only criteria is that you do something kind and seek to love your neighbour – particularly those feeling unwelcome and on the margins.

Jessica Foster
Policy Adviser to the Bishop of Birmingham

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