By Councillor Tulip SIDDIQ, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn.
If you’ve been living on Finchley Road as long as I have, you’ll know the saga surrounding the space where the old Mercedes-Benz garage used to be. There were rumours about a Habitat being built there, Starbucks coming in and then, for a short period, it was occupied by squatters.
Then finally, it looked like something concrete was being built – a barometer was even painted on the wall indicating how long was left to go before this mysterious building opened.
Last month, the magnificent JW3 was unveiled. Imagine my delight when I got invited to attend the opening event on July where the Chief Rabbi, Dame Vivien Duffield and Daniel Finkelstein were meeting to discuss the building and their plans for the future.
From the moment I entered the garden where the drinks reception was being held, you could feel the sense of community. There were people from all faiths and backgrounds who cared about the area and were excited to see this new resource.
They have every right to be excited: As well as local events and the planned nursery, JW3 will be the home for the organisers of Mitzvah Day, who mobilise some 20,000 volunteers every November – it’s on the 17th this year – and the home of the Union of Jewish Students, who work hard against anti-semitism and extremism. These messages resonate powerfully with me and my own upbringing. In the UK, as we work towards lasting peace and a two state solution to support Israelis and Palestinians, we must ensure our focus is on exporting dialogue rather than importing conflict.
I must admit that I had a vested interest in attending. I chair the Camden Faith Forum which provides a space for all our local faith communities to come together and tackle issues of common concern. Primary among these is local homelessness and food banks. Religions of all orders have often played an important, philanthropic role in supporting the needy and this is particularly relevant in a diverse borough like Camden.
I started the Camden Faith Forum after religious leaders told me that people were turning up to their place of worship and asking for advice about changes to benefits and welfare cuts. As a local councillor, I knew that the relationship between the council and faith communities had to be strengthened so that we could work together to support those most affected by the confusing cuts to welfare.
What has been interesting about the Faith Forum is the constant reminder of how similar the challenges are for our faith communities. Regardless of which place of worship people attend, they have all raised concerns about the rise in homelessness, about how more households are turning to foodbanks every month and about how universal credit will come in and disrupt their lives.
The Camden Faith Forum meets in different locations depending on which faith community is able to host us. I’m hoping that one of our future meetings can be held in JW3.