Eid in Paradise

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A guest article from The Ascension Paradise Garden & Community Space

The Ascension Church, Lower Broughton, Salford, ranks 23rd in terms of deprivation out of over 12,300 parishes across the UK, with its nearby partner parish church of St. Paul’s, Pendleton, ranking 12th, a situation compounded by a recent surge in the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, contributing to the significant percentage of over 40% ethnic minorities in the area. In response to the evident need within the local community, over the last five years The Ascension Parochial Church Council has established an innovative and truly inclusive, 'Paradise Garden and Community Space' with related food-growing initiatives, events and social activities so that the church can serve as a multi-cultural, ‘spiritual oasis’, opening up areas of common interest and providing opportunities for inter-faith dialogue.

The Priest-in-Charge of The Ascension Church, Canon David Wyatt, welcomes people of different faiths to come and use the Community Space and worship at the church; many of the volunteers who give so much of their time to help create the Paradise Garden are Muslim and various different faith communities of different Christian denominations also worship at the church, particularly those from the various African communities of East Salford who also use the church and community space for social events and worship. Project Manager, Anthony Milroy, who has  worked with a diverse range of communities over the last four decades, particularly Muslim groups, both overseas and in the UK, to develop sustainable, self-help, grass roots solutions to run-down, inner-city and urban communities, believes that different cultural and faith groups can easily be brought together through practical, community-based, local food growing and related activities.

Christianity and Islam both historically share in the tradition of 'Paradise Gardens', where beauty, colour, scent and the sound of water heightens all the senses, with Islamic Paradise Gardens traditionally integrating the gardens and surrounding buildings harmoniously into one, aligning trees and paths with the pillars of the mosque, much as the Christian 'Cloister Gardens' would align plants and trees with the Gothic arches of monastic buildings. Based on these key, traditional elements of this iconic feature, The Ascension Paradise Garden also draws on the characteristics of traditional ‘English country church-yards,’ with wild-flower meadows, a native species cottage garden, organic vegetable plots, fruit trees and bee-hives, with a wildlife pond in the traditional, iconic layout of a cross-channel water feature currently being built over the summer. Activities within the Paradise Garden are aimed at delivering practical skills training and 'learning by growing' activities for volunteers from within the community, providing a sense of collaborative, ‘shared ownership' and space for outdoor activities, events and celebrations. 
A Celebration of Eid For The Local Community

To honour the important religious feast day of Eid, celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, a celebration event was held at The Ascension Paradise Garden & Community Space on Tuesday 29th July, 2014, attended by Muslims from the local community, parishioners, local families, clergy and local residents, particularly the elderly and isolated. Many of those attending brought a favourite, traditional dish so that a collaborative, 'Jacob's Table' of festival food provided a feast for all, including traditionally cooked Halal lamb and rice dishes, spicy chicken, creamed coconut curry, samosas, Indian Dhaal and last but not least, traditional English meat and potato pie! 

The event was also the first of five weekly 'Family Summer Activity Day's' held at the church, providing free activities for children and community meals, so the Eid celebrations were accompanied by arts and crafts activities to create a collage of the Paradise Garden, music and toys; other planned upcoming activities include 'sports-day' out-door games in partnership with Salford Health Improvement Service and activities which focus on the environment delivered by The Irwell Valley Sustainable Communities Project. Local co-operative enterprise Salford Involved, the sister church of St. Paul's, Pendleton, the churches of Lower Broughton and community group, Women of The World, who support refugees and asylum seekers, have also provided support for the initiative. Emily Mmbololo, Chair of 'Women of The World', commented: “these activities and community meals are a brilliant way of bringing the local community together, particularly for refugees, asylum seekers and people of different faiths as everyone is made to feel so very welcome and part of the community”.

Working Together To Renew Belief and Faith

The Ascension Paradise Garden & Community Space aims to reflect the belief that it is only through working alongside members of other faiths and ethnic groups in practical, social and task-oriented projects, sharing resources and tackling specific problems through local initiatives, celebratory events and communal meals, that trust can be created as well as leaders, renewing belief and faith. The project therefore provides a practical demonstration of how grass-roots and parish-based initiatives are well-positioned to offer the kind of support to which disadvantaged, inner-city, multi-ethnic and faith communities respond well to. This was recognised by Church Urban Fund and Frontier Youth Trust in their national research of 2011 when they created a workshop of multi-ethnic/faith volunteers from The Ascension Paradise Garden Initiative to discus the underlying issues of unemployment and disadvantage; the resulting report: ‘Making Sense of the Riots: Reflections from the Church at the Time of Unrest’ (2011), highlighted the need for local churches to engage with people from different backgrounds and faiths and support them in ways similar to those methods which the project is applying.

The Ascension Paradise Garden & Community Space welcomes people to get in touch and find out more about the project, believing that it is only by reaching out to, engaging with and inspiring local people and developing a network of congruent, partner initiatives and multi-cultural events, such this recent celebration of Eid, that churches can open up dialogue between faiths and foster good relations between communities.

Words by Frances M-Harris, Project Assistant at the Ascension Paradise Garden & Community Space

website: www.salfordascension.org
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