Near Neighbours funded a project from St Margaret's Church in Prestwich, in January 2017. The project was inspired by the outstanding medical and chaplaincy care received by so many people throughout the community at The Christie hospital.  The project worked to produce a wall banner for the local hospital, and brought participants from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faith groups, and White British and Asian ethnic groups together.

I visited the launch at The Christie hospital on Monday 22 May, at Prestwich. There were many key speakers at the launch such as: Bishop Mark Davies, Rabbi Walker from the Heaton Park Synagogue (North Manchester), Ann Morris (Vice Chairman NW Region LJW), Rabbi Simmonds from Stenecourt Synagogue and the Muslim Chaplain from the Christie will also be in attendance and is sourcing a grant for part of the cost of the frame. 

The design was chosen by The Christie Chaplaincy Team following a competition run at Parrenthorn High School in Prestwich. The winning design, by Alexia McCartney was taken back to the sewing group to interpret into textiles.

The sewing group was drawn together from the members of the congregations of St Margaret's and St George's churches in Prestwich, the Simister craft group, the League of Jewish Women, members of Stenecourt Stitchers and a members of the Asylum Seekers Friendship Group. It took over 460 person hours to make the banner!

I interviewed project leader, Rev’d Caroline Greenwood, to find out more about the story behind the project.

 

Where were you born?

Middlesbrough in Cleveland.

 

What was it like growing up there?

It is an industrial town with access to the seaside and the countryside. Although I came from a comfortable and secure background, I was very aware that there was a lot of social and economic deprivation in the area.

The industrial environment was something I could see a form of awe and beauty (with the lights of the factories at night) in. It defined the area. The economy of the area depended upon them and there was pride in local people living there. Teesport with its massive cargo ships help a sense of being part of a wider world in which Teesside played an important part.

 

Do you have any specific belief background?

I found faith in the Anglican Church in my late 20s. I am now an Anglican priest coming to the end of my Curacy.

 

Who inspires you?

My godparents have been a genuine inspiration to me. They were very community minded and people of great faith and integrity. As a couple they both had the gift of making everyone that they met feel important and cared about and they served so many community groups

 

What brought about your project?

In October 2015, my elder daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia just half a term into her A-levels at College. She was treated at The Christie hospital in Manchester and the family virtually took up residence there for nearly 8 weeks until she was well enough to continue her treatment from home.

During that time we were so grateful for the outstanding care and support at the Christie and the Chaplaincy Team played an important role in that. During one of the chaplains’ visits Lydia mentioned that she was doing textiles and a conversation was had about a very blank wall in the Chaplaincy Suite that she may like to make something for. She was, however, far too ill to do so.

When I returned to my Curacy, I needed to demonstrate some inter-faith work for my portfolio. That conversation came back to me as I reflected upon what I might do.

 

Why did you decide to focus on this specific issue?

During those weeks on the Teenage Oncology Ward, we walked alongside many people of different faiths and of no faith who were on a similar journey for different reasons. The experience of being a small community of mutual support was profound. The fight against cancer, the love of our children and the gratitude we all felt towards the staff at the Christie transcended any differences that may have otherwise been barriers of race and creed for some in the wider community.

Based in Prestwich, I figured that there would be make families inspired by the project and by the esteem The Christie is held in that might come together as a meaningful group that could relate on a deeper level than inter-faith dialogues (which, whilst very important, often don't achieve the level of community engagement that I was aspiring to. Building community within the community is what inspires me.

 

What went well in your project?

We had a really good mixture of people taking part from the community- people of Muslim, Jewish, Christian and non-faith communities. The group gelled very quickly and had very diverse sewing skills. One member, Lucy Nye, is a professional costume designer. She was a real gift to the project with the professional oversight to break the task of making the banner into many component parts do that machinists, stitchers and embroiderers could all make their contribution each week. She then pulled it all together for us.

It was a real joy, as we worked together to see the creativity of all these women being expressed as we puzzled through how to tackle different parts of the designs that in textiles. Everyone got on so well, without exception, and there was a lot of laughter shared. There has been a deepening sense of community and genuine sense of joy and accomplishment that has been buzzing around the community. A lot of positive energy.

Genuine friendships have emerged and the energy to loom for new initiatives to work on collaboratively. Warm links with the League of Jewish Women have evolved that will be fostered.

 

What were the challenges in your project?

Initially, it was challenging reaching the people who might be interested in taking part. I had found it hard to get in contact with the synagogues and mosques in Prestwich. However, I then contacted the League of Jewish Women online and, through them, 7 members of the group joined us from different synagogues. Networking at St Margaret's Asylum Seekers’ Friendship Group brought us a member of the Muslim community that was a gifted stitcher. I was inundated with people from church and the wider community by people who were excited by the vision.

I decided that 23 creative women coming together to come up with and implement the design could take more time than we had which is why I ran a design competition in Parrenthorn High School. This meant that all ages had been involved from ages 11 to 83 and gave the chaplaincy team some control over the image that they chose.

 

How did this project create an impact/make a difference?

I think that this really struck a chord amongst so many people whether they took part in the sewing or not. People, as they have seen the end result have been profoundly moved by its beauty. People shared the stories if their lives and these have been woven together as we sewed. It had come to symbolise so much more than the banner itself.

For our member of the Asylum Seekers group it offered an opportunity to meet people who she may not otherwise have met, to make new friends and feel that she was offering something important to the community that had welcomed her.

The warmth fostered between the League of Jewish Women and St Margaret's Church has been wonderful and will be built upon in future projects. The Simister Crafts group had been re-energised and drawn new members from the group. It has been a celebration of all that the group members have in common and the journeys that we have shared.

 

What was your favourite memory of your project?

I remember very early on how people were naturally sharing their stories about faith and healing as they talked about The Christie and it's work. I reflected how wonderful it is when people are occupied with a task, how the mind is freed to talk naturally and spontaneously.

As the weeks continued the conversations naturally deepened and a genuine sense of community grew. There was joy shared in each other’s’ achievements, deepening understanding of each other's religious festivals deepened and the stories of each other's lives were shared. As we completed the project everyone was commenting about what a precious time had been shared.

 

If you had to give a message to anyone who wanted to do a project, what would it be?

The project was a big vision to achieve in the time frame that I had. I would advise being confident that you’re chosen project is something that would universally capture interest and enthusiasm then be persistent in.