Longer read: Bring baby Jesus back to Ilford

A Nativity scene. Picture Ben Birchall

A Nativity scene. Picture Ben Birchall - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A Gants Hill United Reformed Church preacher is calling on the community to work together to create a Nativity scene in Ilford town centre.

Lesley Hilton is a lay preacher at Gants Hill United Reform Church

Lesley Hilton is a lay preacher at Gants Hill United Reform Church - Credit: Archant

Lay preacher and ex-councillor Lesley Hilton said Christmas is about peace and love and not presents.

She believes that amid the emphasis on spending money, a religious symbol should be installed in Ilford.

“I would love to see a really nice crib scene, I want to remind people what Christmas is all about,” she said.

“I am calling on residents to come together to create one - it should be possible.

Crib scene. Picture: Ron Jeffries

Crib scene. Picture: Ron Jeffries - Credit: Archant

“But please no blonde-haired blue-eyed Mary and Jesus – we want middle eastern.”

A Recorder asked readers if they would like to see one alongside all the commercial events planned in the town centre received more than 600 responses and a whopping 83per cent said yes.

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Herbert Street commented under our Facebook post: “Like most people in the UK I have no religion but the Nativity is as much a part of the Christmas tradition as Father Christmas and mince pies, so yes.

Facebook user Caroline Cruse said: “Irrespective of the fact that some people don’t celebrate Christmas, a great many people do. It is a tradition that ought to continue as a symbolic representation of what Christmas means.”

Ilford town centre. Picture: Paul Bennett

Ilford town centre. Picture: Paul Bennett - Credit: Paul Bennett

Ben Waters joined the debate and added: “The last one in about 2001 was vandalised beyond repair, I think Christmas lights and decorations are suitable.”

Tj Bhamra shared a similar viewpoint and said it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money as it is likely to be vandalised.

Lesley is asking interested residents to get in touch with the Recorder so she can organise a group to make a crib and baby Jesus.

“It should be possible to do,” she added.

“All you need is a Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and a star. You don’t even need all the animals, kings and shepherds.”

John Clifton, of the Ilford Salvation Army, said while a Nativity scene is great, he is focusing on another part of the Christmas story.

“A key part of the story of Jesus’ birth is that he and his family were constantly told that there was ‘no room at the inn’,” he said

“This is basically the same message given to homeless people every day in Ilford.

“My focus at Christmas is on running the shelter at The Salvation Army, and being able to say ‘welcome’ instead of ‘no room’.

“Jesus was born into the world homeless and it seems to me that serving at the shelter is a great way to celebrate and honour him during the Christmas season.”

There has not been a Nativity scene in front of the town hall for a few years now.

Redbridge Council said it has no plans to put one in but will assist any group that wants to.

“We celebrate all religious and cultural events, and the council would be happy to work with any group wanting to place a Nativity scene in the town centre to help them to identify a suitable location,” said council leader Jas Athwal

“This year we’ll be continuing to work with Ilford Business Improvement District (BID) to support the Christmas tree and outdoor lights in Ilford, as well as the festive decorations in our other town centres.”

Ben Collins of BID added: “There are no plans to install a Nativity scene in the town centre this Christmas.

“There is a Santa’s Grotto in The Exchange from November 25 up to and including Christmas Eve, which is the most frequently requested attraction by the public.

“There is a Reindeer Trail to encourage families to shop their way around Ilford, a Christmas guide (printed and online) and much more which we will announce officially soon.”

Chairman of the Federation of Redbridge Muslim Organisations Farouk Ismail said he was “all for” a Nativity scene in Ilford.

“It is good to have Christmas celebrated in the way Christians do and it will take it away from commercialism to what it is meant to be.”