Royal Borough's interfaith group reaches 40 years old

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams

adrianw@baylismedia.co.uk

The Windsor & Maidenhead Community Forum (WAMCF) is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year – and hopes to hold its first face-to-face event for some time in July.

WAMCF was launched to strengthen understanding, mutual respect and trust between the different faiths as the interfaith group for the Royal Borough. Its president is always the sitting mayor.

“It started in 1981 with the One World Religion Day [in Maidenhead Town Hall],” said Karnail Pannu, who has been the chair of WAMCF since its inception. “We felt that we didn’t know who the other people were – I certainly didn’t know anybody.”

Following this, Karnail, along with Fazan Awan, Dr Jonathan Romain, Peter Hudson and Dr Mike Bruton founded the group to foster relationships between the communities.

In its first decade, WAMCF worked on getting to know each other across eight different initial faiths.

In the second decade, the forum began to reach out to local youth, making a DVD called Bridge the Gap and involving nine schools of 20 students each.

“That was a great success – the schools improved, that’s the achievement,” said Karnail.

WAMCF repeated this work in another video in its third decade, called Who Am I? which sought to bridge divides in the wake of 9/11. This was created with the help of 16-18-year-olds in the borough.

Most recently WAMCF has had to deal with the challenges of COVID-19 and mental health.

Over the years WAMCF has set-up conferences, seminars, festivals and dialogues. It also organises an Annual Diversity Display & Dinner attended by Slough and Royal Borough mayors, Theresa May and the Lord Lieutenant and High Sherriff of Berkshire or their deputies.

WAMCF was visited by Lord Bourne inn 2019, then minister for faith, culture and housing, who was impressed by WAMCF’s achievements.

“We’re probably one of the strongest interfaith groups in the country,” said Paul Samuels, trustee. “It’s an exemplar of the way a successful interfaith group operates.”

One of Paul’s highlights was a series of dialogues framed around listening without judgement. Around 80 people sat in groups of eight to listen to each other speak.

“It’s been a superb way of building trust and friendship,” he said. “No one will talk over you, there’s a genuine attempt to connect with others. Everyone left on a high.”

Other successful projects have been the women’s group, run by Reverend Sally Lynch of St Luke’s Church, and the bringing together of three ‘quite different’ towns to showcase their community activities on the high streets – the Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead Initiative (SWAMI).

Over the past four decades WAMCF has won several awards. One of the most significant was the Queens Award in 2011 which was presented by the Duchess of Gloucester.

The founders have since received MBEs including Karnail, who was awarded his in 2016, presented by Princess Anne. His highlights have been seeing the passion of others and the ‘humbling’ experience of being asked to remain as chair for all this time.

In July WAMCF will be organising a community event at the Berkshire College of Agriculture involving 100 community groups across the borough, 50 faith members and VIPs. It is hoped this event can be face-to-face.

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