Dr Harriet Crabtree, Director, The Inter Faith Network for the UKHarriet Crabtree dr

Today tHE Inter Faith Network for the UK advance launches ‘Inter Faith Week’ at a special event in London: Young Voices, Young Agents for Change. ‘Inter Faith Week’ is a time when people come together, around the country, to learn more about each other’s faiths and beliefs, discuss and debate issues of common interest, celebrate together, share food and fun, and make a contribution together to social projects.

Interfaith understanding and co-operation are ever more important and that it is true all year round. But a special week helps focus minds and efforts and helps initiatives profile their work and put it on the civic map.

Young people are very active in Inter Faith Week through schools, colleges and universities, as well as youth organisations and young professional associations.

This year, the week has a focus on youth and intergenerational involvement and so IFN arranged a special day event where 80 interfaith practitioners and young people came together to discuss youth interfaith education and activity. It was chaired by the Inter Faith Network’s co-chairs, Bishop Richard Atkinson and Vivian Wineman.

There were presentations from young people of different faiths and from those developing interfaith activities and education through organisations including the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, the National Association of SACREs, Mitzvah Day, Near Neighbours, 3FF, the Joseph Interfaith Foundation, the Maimonides Interfaith Foundation, the Nehemiah Foundation, the St Ethelburga’s Centre, the Encompass Trust, NUS and FBFE, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, National Citizen Service, Girl Guiding and Scouting and the Jewish Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade.

Why did we hold this event and why has IFN always seen youth interfaith engagement as so important?

Interfaith understanding and co-operation between people of all ages is important. But, at the same time, there are unique factors about the involvement of young people and their needs vary depending on their backgrounds and circumstances.

Young Voices, Young Agents of Change was a chance to talk about that, to recognise the great work already under way, and also to discuss how we can all work more effectively to enable young people to gain a good level of religious literacy and develop the skills for successful engagement with an increasingly diverse society.

Opportunities when you are young to get to know people of other backgrounds shape your outlook in the years of your life ahead. My late father, a somewhat gruff agnostic with little patience for most expressions of religion, retained all his life a respect for the Quaker and Jewish traditions linked to his experience of being taught by Quakers and a friendship with a Jewish fellow pupil at a Quaker school in his childhood.

One of my sister’s closest friends whom she met at university is Muslim. It shapes my sister’s view of Islam as she meets it in the world today.

Whenever and wherever we meet people, the conditions of our meeting affect the outcomes. Enable young people to come together in ways that are safe, appropriate and positive and they will usually work through misunderstandings and difficulties and develop bridges of understanding and friendship that will stand them – and society – in good stead across the years to come.

Creating the conditions for such opportunities and supporting youth interfaith learning and engagement is vital. A last thought. As 3FF director Stephen Shashoua often reminds us, young people are bridge builders now, not just future bridge builders. Likewise, they are not just recipients of teaching or programmes.

They are active contributors. Young Voices, Young Agents of Change was not just about how young people are enabled to learn about faiths and to develop skills for interfaith dialogue and co-operation for the future. It was also a day to learn from them now, from their fresh vision, willingness to tackle tough issues and their positive commitment to living well together in our shared society.

• The Inter Faith Network for the UK was founded in 1987 and works with its member bodies and others to promote inter faith understanding and cooperation in the UK. Inter Faith Week is one of its main programmes. More information about Inter Faith Week and events taking place can be found at www.interfaith.org.uk or www.facebook.com/ifweek