On Thursday 14th November over 120 faith, community and public services representatives gathered in a lecture theatre on the Chelmsford Campus of the Anglia Ruskin University to celebrate the first two years of life of the Essex Faith Covenant (EFC) which was launched at First Site in Colchester in October 2017.
The EFC is part of a national initiative to encourage faith and community groups and public services to collaborate more closely in the care and provision for residents, especially those who are vulnerable, but the EFC is the first of its kind in its county-wide focus, supported by Essex County Council (ECC).
Delegates were informed that over thirty organisations had now joined the Covenant, and two projects - Chelmsford City Council’s ‘Culture in the Park’ event and ECC / Braintree District Council’s Supporting Refugee Resettlement – presented on their service to the community, and their support for minority and marginal groups.
The speakers for the evening were Stephen Timms, Labour Party candidate for East Ham, Daniel Singleton, The National Executive Director at Faith Action, and Cllr John Spence, ECC Cabinet Member. Stephen pointed out that the contribution of numerous faith groups nationally to the wellbeing and support of countless individuals and communities across a variety of needs was a hugely important contribution to society, and one that has been consistently underestimated and sidelined. He said that this was the biggest motivator for the planning of Faith Covenants by The All Party Parliamentary Group Faith Action, as a way of proactively building relationships and trust between faith groups and public services, and to create opportunities to raise awareness and share learning and knowledge between them. This was reiterated by John Spence who pointed out that Essex and East London contained some of the most deprived communities nationally, and that one of the most valuable contributions that faith groups bring to the table is unsurpassed local knowledge and contacts with their communities at a level it just wasn’t possible for councils to have.
Daniel Singleton was full of praise for the EFC, describing it as targeted, focussed and very effective. He said that he used the EFC as a template to describe to other potential Faith Covenant participants around the country what a Faith Covenant could look like and achieve, and he looked forward to the possibility of developing further projects for the County with us.
One of the highlights of the evening was a short speech by Chanelle Wilson, Director of Welfare and Wellbeing at Havens Hospices in Witham and Southend, who announced that from that evening they would be new Covenant members. It was a great testimony to the Covenant in action, continuing to attract new members, and was also significant as the Southend area up to that point was under represented in the EFC.
The evening closed with a Q and A panel chaired by Cllr John Spence, and Stan Kellar from Chelmsford Jewish community, Sidra Naeem from the Islamic community (and a Deputy Lord Lieutenant), Ivor Moody, Chair of the Mid Essex Inter Faith Forum and Chair of the EFC, Daniel Singleton and Stephen Timms, who answered a variety of questions from the floor.
The event ended with closing remarks from Cllr Susan Barker, and then a delicious curry and rice meal for everyone which itself became a symbol of what the EFC stands for: that in all our endeavours, we work towards that which unites us rather than divides us.
The video shown at the event can be viewed here