Hamara Celebrate 20 Years of Interfaith Community Centre

Farah and Najeen
Farah and Najeen making healthy smoothies

It was ten years ago that both Tony and Hilary Benn MP officially opened the Hamara Centre on Tempest Road (2004). Hamara has now grown to be one of the largest ethnic minority organisations in the voluntary and community sector in Leeds.

As I reported from their Community Awards ceremony last December in Bradford, it was clear to see the amount of other charities who represent Hamara in some form of capacity. On Thursday (29 January 2015) I had the chance to witness the centre’s thriving mix of service users, interfaith representatives and volunteers celebrating their successful working partnership.

snow salutation
A Halo service user saluting the snow

The snow began to fall as I walked up the ramp to the front door. The mini bus had just arrived from bringing the ‘Halo’ members: Hamara’s adult learning disability group, from all over the city. A few of the project workers took the opportunity to throw snow balls narrowly missing my camera but then I was trying to take a photo in the snow, what did I expect?

Senior Citizen Group

So, if it was 10 years ago the centre was officially opened, how come it’s a 20 year celebration? I got talking to Bob Shaw the previous Anglican Vicar of the Holy Spirit Church who tells me the history of building swaps between the different sites. I learn that Hamara had started out on Lodge Lane as a shop front charity supporting isolated elders of the community in 1994 called ‘South Leeds Elderly Citizens Group’.

They soon began sharing venues between the Anglican and Methodist Church on Tempest Road. The Hamara Centre as it stands used to be the Methodist church. Leeds Federated Housing had bought the original Methodist church and turned it into flats, the church moved into the its church hall which is now the Hamara Centre.

Thai Chi
Over 60’s Thai Chi group

The Anglican church hall was demolished and in it’s footprint the Building Blocks family resource centre was built. The Anglican church has moved up the road to join St. Mary’s Church on Town Street. Bob says ‘there was a heck of a lot of trust, but it seemed to work’. Lottery funding was then provided to help build ‘Building Blocks’ and restructure Hamara. The centre strives to incorporate all original partners and key people as a genuine interfaith project. I asked Bob his opinion on how the centre has developed and was it what he had envisaged it would be? He said:

“I can’t put a high enough price on what it has achieved, not least because of  7/7 as we were in the firing line then. It’s got the roots, and that’s what keeps us together”.

kitchen staff
Kitchen ladies

I then get called to take a picture of the kitchen working hard at cooking our delicious food. Then sample free fruit and kale smoothies! the healthy option. I watch the multi-talented Jo Staton (Halo volunteer) singing 60’s songs whilst DJ’ing. The Halo group are dancing and the Thai Chi over 60’s group present their fitness regime. It really is a diverse inter-generational centre.

I speak to Harjinder Sagoo from the nearby Sikh temple on Lady Pit Lane. We chat about starting an IT class with his group of service users. Then I’m called over to stand for a group photo. Smiling for the camera I realise I should be the one taking the photo not being in it! But, then again, I’ve been made to feel so welcome maybe I am a part of it too.

Another celebration took place the next evening (Friday 30 January 2015). Ed Carlisle reports:

Hilary Benn MP was guest of honour once more, just as he was ten years ago, as a packed Hamara Centre celebrated 20 years of community work in Beeston.

Hamara Chair, Mohammed Farouk, described the building of the Hamara Centre as the tangible outcome of the area’s community spirit. He said that interdependence and partnerships are key to sustainable community development work.

In congratulating Hamara for its work over the years Hilary Benn MP said:

“The most important task for us all is to bring different communities together.”

The evening featured the unveiling of plaques and the presenting of awards; the recognition of so many volunteers and staff; plus food and performances enjoyed by an audience of 200 guests.