The launch of a new social cohesion scheme brings together elderly residents, new migrants and asylum seekers in Bethnal Green.
Coordinated by migrant support centre Praxis Community Projects and Simple Gifts, a charity part of the Unitarian Centre for Social Action, the project titled New Neighbours, Old Neighbours aims to integrate the area’s isolated residents through a weekly social lunch.
Rob Gregson, Programme Director of Simple Gifts, said; “The idea is to get residents who have been here for generations – especially elders and low income pensioners who might have been dealing with issues of social cohesion and food poverty – and bring them together with new migrants to open up communication between these groups.”
Around 25 guests attended the first mixer at Garret Hall on October 10, 2013 where they ate homemade pasta dishes, discussed the history of the local area and chatted over tea and cake.
Gregson said: “Everybody will sit down to a free meal that is halal but will also appeal to older Londoners – we hope this will help break down barriers between neighbours of whatever kind, new or old.”
Thursday’s guests, who largely came from the nearby Mansfield Street and Zander Court estates, were diverse – including several Bangladeshi women as well as settlers from Morocco, Iran, Cape Verde, Bolivia and Ecuador.
The majority of attendees was made up of migrant groups aged from their twenties to sixties, while roughly a third consisted of long term residents aged from their sixties to nineties.
While Tower Hamlets has the lowest percentage of pensioners across all local authority areas in England – just 7 percent compared with 12 percent across london and 16 per cent for the whole country- as much as 43 percent of the boroughs residents were born outside the UK, with 54% of this group arriving since 2001.
One ‘New Neighbour’ had lived in the UK for just a year and a half, while others had lived in Bethnal Green for over 15 years.
Just 33% of the borough’s community identify themselves as white British comparable to 33 per cent that are Bangladeshi – although this number is steadily falling.
Other white, black, Asian, Indian and mixed ethnicity groups continue to grow.
According to the 2011 Census, English is not the main language in 19% of all households in Tower Hamlets.
Volunteers from the nonprofit communication skills centre, East London Advanced Technology Training or ELATT in Haggerston which offers English language courses in Tower Hamlets, were also in attendance.
Simple Gifts has already built up a strong relationship with local school children, carers and parents due to an afterschool homework help club thats been running for the past 14 months.
Many more connections will be made through New Neighbours, Old Neighbours, which will be hosted every Thursday from noon until 1:30pm at the Garret Centre Bethnal Green and is open to all local elderly and migrant residents.