The Surrey Interfaith Forum (SIF) is an important partnership bringing together faith leaders across the county to harness and build on the work that was carried out with partners during the pandemic, supporting the communities of Surrey.
What is the project/programme and how does it work
The Surrey Interfaith Forum (SIF) is an important partnership bringing together faith leaders across the county to harness and build on the work that was carried out with partners during the pandemic, supporting the communities of Surrey. The SIF continues to bring the strength of faith communities together, making the best use of collective resources, reach and cohesion within communities, sharing intelligence and insights and enabling strategic and practical collaborations that focus on key priorities for Surrey’s communities and help in delivering the 2030 Community Vision for Surrey. The main objectives are:
- to increase the understanding and awareness of faith and beliefs
- to enhance dialogue, connections, and community cohesion
- to coordinate activities and resources leading to efficiency and wider benefit to communities
- to create conduits through 'trusted voices' and support with important messaging to communities.
What has been the impact of this project/programme?
During the height of the pandemic, this partnership working ensured we were utilising the extensive reach and influence faith leaders had in communities. This helped with important messaging and support to communities at a time when they needed it the most. For example, it is well documented that black, asian and minority ethnic communities were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and in parallel the uptake of vaccinations was low in these groups. Faith leaders were crucial in increasing the uptake of vaccines, from offering their religious buildings as vaccination sites to leading by example and publicly taking the vaccines and supporting with ongoing positive messaging relating to vaccines. In times of crisis and with the huge number of Covid related deaths, many people were also looking to faith leaders for support and guidance. The county council worked closely to support faith leaders in this, through bolstering bereavement counselling, sharing information about latest policy relating to funerals etc so faith leaders could focus on effective implementation and support with sensitivity and in line with the legal requirements.
By establishing the SIF, we are now working on other important agendas such as the climate emergency with the Diocese of Guildford sharing their plans with other faith groups and the county council offering collaboration and access to funding opportunities.
What has helped this project/programme to be successful?
Trust has been key. By working together on areas of shared interests, to protect communities and keep them safe during the pandemic, trusted relationships were built with speed and the role each partner played was visible, demonstratable and valued.
We will now continue to work on community cohesion and shared goals, that serve and support Surrey’s communities. The work has had full support and profile of the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey and the then High Sherriff of Surrey. They utilised their connections to drive the formation of the SIF and remain members of the Forum, as well as chairing meetings they remain key ambassadors working closely with the county council in enabling and facilitating successful work with faith leaders.
Were there any challenges? If yes, how were these mitigated?
There were challenges around ensuring all faiths were included. Surrey County Council funds a Surrey Faith Links Adviser and they have been instrumental in using their knowledge and existing links to ensure the SIF is inclusive to all faiths. Additional support is also offered by the Faith Links Adviser to any faith group that might need it.
There was also a risk that the SIF became a 'talking shop' and unable to deliver any outcomes for communities, and again the shared support of the Surrey Faith Links worker and county council, helps drive the agenda, maintaining an overview of associated actions and has been key in keeping the SIF outcome focused and working on delivering meaningful impact.
Any other advice or learning takeaways?
The key takeaway is every area has faith leaders, these are individuals that carry gravitas and respect and have a real influence on their communities, they can reach those parts of communities that may not always be accessible to councils and public agencies and we would strongly recommend bringing a similar forum together in any area.