Interfaith cricket scheme praised in Leeds

Not stumped for cash: interfaith players at Headingley Indoor Centre

Not stumped for cash: interfaith players at Headingley Indoor Centre

An interfaith cricket scheme launched by Leeds Jewish Representative Council has been showcased nationally as a model of bridge-building between communities.

It is the recipient of a £12,000 "Faith in Action" grant from the government-sponsored Community Development Foundation. The Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester has received a similar sum for a variety of interfaith ventures.

The Leeds scheme is one of 19 featured in Faith Matters, a new booklet from the CDF highlighting local success stories.

Rep council secretary Keith Ackerman explained: "The idea is to use cricket as a vehicle to get young people of different faiths to play together in mixed teams and beyond that, to use the social interaction to break down preconceptions."

Members of different faiths play in mixed teams

The rep council had originally tried interfaith soccer. "But cricket is more my thing," he said.

With funding from O2 and in partnership with the Black and Ethnic Minority Forum of Yorkshire Cricket Club, Mr Ackerman helped to stage an interfaith day at the Caribbean Cricket Club two years ago. "The event was so successful that there was interest in expanding the project and that's when we applied for a Faith in Action grant," he said.

The third O2 Cup will take place in summer, this time organised by a multifaith group of youngsters who are taking the English Cricket Board young leaders' course as part of the scheme. And there are additional team-building events, the most recent attended by 70 people last month.

"Getting communities to meet each other reduces the chances of prejudice spreading," Mr Ackerman said. "We are trying to create a safe environment where young people feel confident enough to talk through any area of conflict."

Participants are mainly Jewish, Muslim or Christian. "There is some Sikh and Hindu involvement but we'd like to have more."

In Manchester, the Jewish Muslim Forum has been working in tandem with other interfaith groups on initiatives including a faith in the environment conference last autumn.

"We also have a faith allotment where we are growing food to give to local people in need," said Jonny Wineberg, co-chair of the forum and a vice-president of Manchester Jewish Representative Council.

A major project, In Your Faith, involved visits "to schools, colleges and youth groups to dispel myths and encourage young people to have a more positive view of other faiths. It uses quizzes, power-point presentations and informal education methods and we've got very good feedback. We have found ways to do things creatively at low cost that bring people together."

Monthly dialogue sessions have included a talk by members of a group which had recently visited Israel and the West Bank. "People said it was the first time they had a rational discussion rather than have people shouting at each other," Mr Wineberg reported.

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, which has stepped up its interfaith work in recent years, said the CDF fund "prioritises inter-cultural projects at the local level, which is where they are at their most relevant and effective. The importance that the Board attaches to local co-operation between faith communities means that in the coming months, we will be piloting our own programme of locally-based interfaith encounter and social action initiatives."

    Last updated: 4:25pm, April 15 2010