Bringing people together to make a positive difference to local communities, be it through social action or dialogue and shared learning, can be hugely beneficial to your area. Yet engaging people of different faiths and backgrounds within the local community can seem difficult.

This page aims to help you to reach out and engage with people of different faiths and backgrounds in your local area, to create a successful project that engages people of different religious backgrounds, and promotes harmony.


KEY PRINCIPLES

Work relationally: The aim of cross-faith projects is to build lasting relationships, not simply to bring people together as project participants. Grassroots cross-faith engagement can be more fully supported if you are able to take this approach to your work.

Build on your existing acquaintances: Who do you already know from another faith? Existing relationships can give you a good foundation to start from as you reach out to others.

A willingness to share and learn:  In developing strong relationships with people of different faiths and backgrounds it is important to move beyond surface level interactions. Being willing to listen to what others say about their values and aspirations and to share your own is key to building the kinds of relationships which will last even when circumstances are challenging.

Be accommodating of difference: When working with people of other faiths, you don’t need to sacrifice deeply-held convictions. However, it is important to hold these with humility and a recognition that not everyone will share your views.

Look for shared values and experiences: Many faith perspectives share a belief in treating others in a way that you would like to be treated, something commonly known as the Golden Rule. Social action in local communities is often a common means by which this Golden Rule can play out and thus makes for a good starting point by which people can be brought together.

Create a safe and trusting environment: It is good to ensure that people know they are in a safe environment and that they should treat such an environment with respect. Here is an example of some short guidelines which have been used widely to enable such trusting environments to be developed from the IFN. (www.interfaith.org.uk/about-ifn/values-of-ifn)


PRACTICAL STEPS

It is helpful to think creatively about how to engage your neighbourhood with your work. Get in touch with local institutions; whether they are religious or secular, they can be a valuable resource for you.

Start with who you know:  Think about the connections you already have in your neighbourhood. Through these individuals you can build up an initial network of contacts that can support you as you reach out to those you don’t yet know.

Find who the right organisations are and people are to contact: There are numerous ways that you might be able to build your connections through existing institutions in your local community.

Places of worship and faith based community organisations: You could host your event at a place of worship or find out about local cross faiths groups near you using IFN’s locator tool here. (www.interfaith.org.uk/uk-activity/local-inter-faith-locator)

Other community bodies:  Sometimes, you might find that another way to get support in your neighbourhood for your project is through non faith-based institutions. For example, a local school, college, or your local Council for Voluntary Services (CVS) is also likely to be a helpful resource.

Develop commitment and shared ownership

Sometimes you might be motivated to do an activity only to find out that it is already being done in the neighbourhood. Find time to walk around your neighbourhood, contact community centres or places of worship and ask the question ‘Is there a need for this activity? Is anybody already doing this locally?’ If you find out it is already being done you might wish to offer help, or decide to do something different so that you can offer as wide a service to your neighbourhood as possible.

Planning with faith needs in mind

When planning an event be aware that your event does not clash with any local, community, or religious festival. A useful resource can be to check your local council website for calendars of events.  

When planning an event it’s important to make sure there is food and refreshments for everyone. You might find some people might be vegetarian or vegan. Some guidance on food can be found on the Inter Faith Network’s website: www.interfaith.org.uk/resources/briefing-notes/

Venue is a further factor to take into consideration when working with people of different faiths. Some faith traditions may feel uncomfortable, or even unable, to attend events based in a venue that would be considered a place of worship. Often a place of worship will have an adjacent community hall which is not a consecrated space or used for religious practice that may be a suitable alternative.

Be aware, some faith venues may require a certain dress-code or have regulations on what can be brought into the venue – for example tobacco, alcohol or certain foods (such as meat).

It is best to ask project members what venues they are comfortable with and your hosts what is expected of you when using their venue.


PROMOTION

Keep your message relevant to the people you wish to engage with. Spread the message far and wide across as many different channels as you think are relevant.

Face-to-face connections

Often the best way to generate support and commitment from others for the project that you wish to run is to talk with them directly. Be sensitive to how your neighbours might seek to communicate, including their understanding about issues such as gender or age that might be relevant to this.

Know your audience

When deciding which approach you wish to use, make sure you think about your audience. For example, if you are running a project that is designed to appeal to young people, communicate through social media, such as Facebook or Twitter. Equally, if you wish to work with the elderly in your community, printed newsletters or notices on noticeboards may be the best approach. For people who have office jobs, you may find that email works best.

It is good to leaflet the area you are working in, explaining what you want to do. You might want to consider getting in touch with local newspapers and radio stations to see if you can promote your project through them.

If you would like more detailed guidance, please read the full toolkit here.