Faith minister 'comes home' to Redbridge and speaks on Sri Lanka bombings, Brexit and extremism
PUBLISHED: 14:07 02 May 2019 | UPDATED: 14:23 02 May 2019
The government's faith minister, a self-avowed "Redbridge boy", has returned to the borough to speak with its religious communities and offer condolences to the Sri Lankan diaspora in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings.
Lord Nick Bourne toured five religious sites in Redbridge yesterday (May 1), and a sixth in Dagenham, on the most recent leg of his nationwide Belief in Communities tour.
The trip began at the Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery, in Elmbridge Road, Hainault, where Lord Bourne met its co-founder Mohamed Omer.
Mr Omer then joined him in visiting the VHP Hindu Temple, in Cleveland Road; SS Peter and Paul's Catholic Primary School, in Gordon Road; and the Sri Selva Vinayagar Temple, in Ley Street.
Asked what brought him to the borough, Lord Bourne told the Recorder: “First of all, I am a Redbridge boy.
“I've lived in Redbridge for a large part of my life. It's coming home in a sense.”
He spoke of growing up in Chelmsford and moving to Peel Road, South Woodford, for around a decade during the 1980s and 1990s.
“It's very important as a London borough, where we know so much is positive about Redbridge and its interfaith relations,” he said.
He told the Recorder that his trip will help ensure his department – the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) – has a “very coherent integration policy that works throughout England”.
Arriving at SS Peter and Paul's Primary, Lord Bourne offered condolences and flowers to members of the Sri Lankan community.
“The only way we overcome this is demonstrating that we have great, vibrant communities,” he told them. “Ultimately, we will prevail.”
Among the group was 50-year-old Marcus Sekaratnam, from Ilford.
He said: “It is very good he came to give his sympathies – my mum and dad live in Colombo and they are Catholics. Fortunately my family was not affected by the bombings.”
But Inoka Warnakulasuriya, 38, said that her friend still living in Sri Lanka lost 10 family members in the attacks.
“It is so sad,” she said. “I really hope it does not happen again.”
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Ilford Salvation Army Captain Dr John Clifton and SS Peter and Paul's Church parish steward Paul Samuels then told the minister about pioneering hostel for rough sleepers Project Malachi, which is set to be built in Chadwick Road.
Dr Clifton said: “Lord Bourne seemed very encouraged about the way the faith communities in Redbridge have worked together on the development of Project Malachi.
“We hope he can continue to be a supporter in the future as we bring the plans to fruition over the coming months.”
Pupil Arya Bagmar, 11, asked the minister: “How do you think we can be unified as local community and in the world as well?”
Lord Bourne responded: “In a way the simple things. You are all friends - you all know each other and will probably remain friends for a long while – different races and religions but same school and same country.
“These things must always bind us.
“We are all different but there is much more that unites us.”
The Recorder asked the minister his thoughts on how to prevent a spike in hate crimes if and when the UK leaves the European Union, as was seen in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“Clearly we do want to ensure that doesn't happen again and I have reason to believe it won't.
“But, of course things do trigger hate crime statistics,” he said.
“We have to be very vigilant about that and ensure, as we do, that our communities are strong, united and resolute.”
The Recorder also quizzed Lord Bourne as to whether he is concerned that the government's Prevent policy may be undermining community cohesion.
In January, the Recorder reported that an eight-year-old Ilford schoolboy was left “traumatised” after being interviewed by counter-terror officers.
“I have heard about that case but I don't know about the detail of it so it would be unwise of me to comment in detail,” he said.
“But what I do know is the Prevent programme is a very important programme.
“Most of it, or about 50pc of its time now is spent on Far Right organisations that try to infiltrate our resilient, effective communities like the one in Redbridge.”