Tower Hamlets

Muslim and Christian Young People From Tower Hamlets, Talking Faith + Making Friends, While Exploring London by Land, Sea and Air

This is a guest post by Steve Lee, part of the Eden team in Bow, who is doing a placement with The Feast.

Growing up in a white middle class market town in Hertfordshire meant that I rarely interacted with anyone from a different race, background or religion. However, after moving to Tower hamlets around 4 years ago to do youth and community work I quickly grew to love the variety of different people who live side by side in east London.
This was highlighted in the day I volunteered with The Feast trips in the February half term. The trip consisted of taking a bunch of young people of different backgrounds, faiths and ethnicities and traveling around London in a variety of ways representing land, sea and air. The different modes of transport included foot, train, cable car over the river, and a Thames river boat. I was told by the organisers that the different types of transport were meant as a physical experience which represents a metaphorical representation of the different perspectives we all have on life.
Other elements of the trip consisted of splitting the young people into two groups for a photo/video challenge as well as questions and discussions at different points of the day finishing with a meal.

When I arrived on Wednesday morning I met the young people who were a mixture of Black, White and Bengali young people and I later found out were made up primarily of Muslims and Christians. Most of the young people arrived not knowing each other, so the first activity was a couple of ice breakers and a discussion on The Feast guidelines for dialog.

As we went through the day starting on the DLR to head the cable cars, the young people were really getting stuck into the challenges and were ticking certain things off the list like taking a selfie with a TFL worker and videos of themselves talking about a time when they were most frightened in life. There was a lot of banter about one of the photo challenges which was a selfie with Beyoncé in which you get 5000 points!
The young people seemed to be bonding with each other well and making friends. I think the photo challenge helped in this and worked as an icebreaker through the day. When we arrived at the cable cars there was a mixture of excitement and nervousness as it was a new experience for most of the young people. When we finally got on the cable car it was an enjoyable experience however the wind picked up making the car move slightly from the left to the right which I personally found quite unsettling and scary. Some of the young people were scared too! The views over London were great and Dumaeza was using flashcards with the young people. The cards just had one word written on e.g. “Londoner” or “foreigner” and the young people were asked what comes to mind when they see the word in question. This resulted in an interesting mix of answers highlighting the fact that all of us stereotype people.

After finishing the cable car, we gathered together and Dumaeza asked each person in the group to think about and share how they see their identity and the order of significance. For example, a Muslim, British and female or someone else might say an English, Christian, teacher etc. This provoked some good thought and discussion.

We then boarded the Thame Clipper boat, which would take us all the way from the 02 in north Greenwich to the London Eye. This journey took nearly an hour and Dumaeza handed out flash cards for the young people which have questions about faith and life. It is worth saying that these conversations were amazingly polite, gracious and honouring. The young people were very honest as some of the questions consisted of hot topics like “what’s the worst thing about my religion?” or “what happens to people when they die?” Some of the other questions were more political and ideological, for example “should the age of marriage in the UK be lowered to accommodate for other cultures?” With this question most of the young people agreed that the age should not be lowered; however some of the other questions resulted in the young people disagreeing. But despite any disagreements it was all civil discussions rather than heated arguments. I must admit that I was impressed with the culture that The Feast has cultivated where young people are encouraged to talk about what they have in common as well as things they disagree on, but learn how to disagree with respect.
At this point we were still on the boat approaching Tower Bridge which looked amazing from the boat. One of the things on the photo challenge was to take a selfie of the team with London Bridge in the background. Surprisingly none of the young people made the mistake of photographing Tower bridge, mistaking it for London bridge. However, there were comment about how rubbish London bridge is (I didn’t disagree with them on that!). We passed some more landmarks like HMS Belfast, the shard and Big ben. We then came to the end of the boat trip getting off near the London eye. We then went to lunch in the only halal restaurant in the area; I was surprised but it reminded me that, in East London, where the young people and I live, it is a highly Bengali Muslim area and that the availability of Halal food is taken for granted there.

We had a good lunch and it felt like friendships had been established throughout the day. After our food the videographer went around and asked the young people what they had learnt and experienced throughout the day. He also asked the leaders and when it came to me I told him that I was blown away by this group of young people. As a youth worker I know that young people can be a nightmare, however this group were respectful, fun and a joy to be around.

What frustrates me is that the media often portrays teenagers (especially in inner city London) in negative terms, never mentioning young people like this group who even though  are all from different backgrounds and faiths, seem to be teaching older generations about how to treat each other. After lunch we made our way back home to East London on the tube and I came away excited and hopeful about young people in the next generation.

(2020-02-24 11:02:29)