A community conversation in the Hindu Temple
The white pinnacles of the Neasden Temple dominate the landscape of North West London and, though it attracts a massive crowd of Hindus from across the UK, especially during the Diwali festival, it is rare for the residents of Wembley and Brent to cross the gates of the Mandir and visit the inside, with its white marble carved pillars and its wonderful sculptures in Burmese teak.
More than 70 local people however removed their shoes and went inside the Mandir on a windy Saturday at the beginning of February for an event organised by Near Neighbours West London with the aim of promoting mutual understanding and to facilitate a dialogue between different communities that live in the same area but do not have meaningful interaction.
After the visit to the temple, various Christian and Hindu groups, including the Harlesden Methodist Church, St Mary’s Church in Willesden, the Brahma Kumaris and the Brahmin Society North London, came together in the hall of the school next door and were invited to share what they loved and would like to see different in the local area.
There have been some radical changes in the last three decades, with the area experiencing a steady social decline, from a village-style residential suburb to a commercial and shopping centre affected by traffic congestion. At the same time, the development of the Underground’s main storage and maintenance depot and the influx of immigrant communities settling in the area have managed to keep a vibrant local economy.
Some of the people attending remembered the local hospital, which used to be nearby the site of the temple, which closed in 1986 along with other services available for local people at the time.
They all expressed appreciation for the amazing transport facilities of the area and for the shopping centre, highlighting however that people, especially the younger generations, may feel a sense of isolation.
Many expressed worries for the violence in the streets, for knife crime and for the gang culture among young people and wished for a strong sense of community and for bringing back traditional family values.
The conversation was organised around different tables and was facilitated by a professional, who invited attendees to reflect on the role of religious groups and how faith communities can contribute positively to the area.
People from both the Christian and the Hindu communities, spoke about their faith, and how it has kept them strong during very tough times and how attending a place of worship has helped them to feel included in the community.
Both groups acknowledged that it easier nowadays to be of a different faith to others in the vicinity, in comparison to earlier years. They all recognised however that very often people do not approach faith centres easily and more should be done to reach out to those that feel excluded and isolated and encourage them to participate and be more active.
One of the closing activities encouraged those present to think of a personal action they could do to help see the positive changes they would like to see in the community.
Along with a strong desire to have a community which is more inclusive, where people have access to care homes, there is less social isolation, and more opportunities for young people, there were some very strong personal commitment to respect the homeless, to start a project to clean the streets and the canal, to be welcoming and celebrate differences, to be aware of what we buy and where it comes from, to reach out and help other people.
It is too early to say if the positive outcome of this meeting will lead to concrete social actions involving the people who took part (though the strong commitment of all the organisations involved is a very positive sign); however, from now on, for all those who took part in the event, the Neasden Temple will no longer look like a secluded national monument to local residents and will instead represent a local community asset, where people from different backgrounds, cultures, faiths, can come together, know each other and discuss constructively about the things they would like to change in the local community.