Making Suburban Faith at Hanwell Carnival

Making Suburban Faith at Hanwell Carnival, 20th June 2015, 2-6pm

The MSF Team in front of our stall at the Hanwell Carnival. Left to right: Dr. Claire Dwyer, Christian Sayer, Dr. Nazneen Ahmed, Natalie Hyacinth

The MSF Team in front of our stall at the Hanwell Carnival.
Left to right: Dr. Claire Dwyer, Christian Sayer, Dr. Nazneen Ahmed, Natalie Hyacinth Photo: Liz Hingley

As part of the Connected Communities Festival 2015 we took our Making Suburban Faith stall to Hanwell Carnival on 20th June 2015. Our interest in the carnival was first as a great community event where we would have the opportunity to meet members of the public and engage them with our research. However the Carnival, which was established in 1898 and is thus the oldest carnival in London, has an important place in understanding the making of suburban faith. The carnival, a secular event organised initially to raise money for the local hospital, has interesting religious connections. Members of churches and other faith communities have always participated in the carnival and we have images of carnival floats organised by local churches dating back to the 1920s. There were also Thanksgiving services held on the Sunday after the Carnival, and there are records of these held outside in Hanwell Broadway or Ethorne Park in the 1920s and 1930s. These continued in the park and in local churches including St Thomas’ Church, St Mary’s Church and Hanwell Methodist Church until the last recorded service of thanksgiving in 1996 at St Mellitus Church. Today the intertwining of religious and secular processions are evident in the annual Beating the Bounds walk revived by the Carnival Committee as a fundraiser.

We used this idea of processions to link to the wider histories of religious processions – and the making of suburban faith in public space – in our project displays at the carnival which included images and routes of religious processions and festivals. We invited visitors to our stall to add labels to our local map with details of their own practices and memories of faith in Ealing and Hanwell. It was interesting to learn about different places of worship locally which we did not know about, particularly those which are hosted by different buildings, such as Bless Church which meets in a local school and the Ancient Church of the East hosted by St Mary’s Church in Hanwell in their church hall.

A key element of this first phase of our research has been a focus on religious buildings and particularly the ways in which faith communities often adapt existing buildings for worship. Local examples in our research project include the Elim Pentecostal Church (Ealing Christian Centre) housed in a former cinema, or the West London Islamic Building in a former warehouse. We also have faith communities who have taken over vacated religious buildings such as the Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Hindu Temple in a former Baptist church, the Ealing Liberal Synagogue in an old ‘tin tabernacle’ or corrugated iron church and the the Ealing Gurdwara/London Sikh Centre in a building originally built as an exclusive brethren hall.

Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Hindu Temple in a former Baptist church

Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Hindu Temple in a former Baptist church

We decided to engage with visitors, and particularly children, to tell this story of religious buildings and change through an innovative ‘Lift the flap’ pictures activity. We distributed project postcards at the carnival with images of internal details of different places of worship.

Making Suburban Faith postcards at Hanwell Carnival

Making Suburban Faith postcards at Hanwell Carnival

At the stall visitors were faced with images of the exterior of different religious buildings, and had to match their postcard with the right building! This proved a fun activity for both adults and children and was a great way to meet people and tell them about our research.

The 'Lift the Flaps' board

The ‘Lift the Flaps’ board

Two eager participants of the 'Lift the Flap' activity with MSF project administrator Christian Sayer. Photo: Liz Hingley

Two eager participants of the ‘Lift the Flap’ activity with MSF project administrator Christian Sayer.
Photo: Liz Hingley

We also invited children who visited our stall to colour and decorate outlines of some different religious buildings in Ealing and Hanwell. Their wonderfully colourful artwork can be seen here. The idea of designing your own place of worship is one we will take up again with older students in Autumn 2015.

Children busy colouring and decorating at the MSF stall with Dr. Claire Dwyer and Dr. Nazneen Ahmed. Photo: Liz Hingley

Children busy colouring and decorating at the MSF stall with Dr. Claire Dwyer and Dr. Nazneen Ahmed.
Photo: Liz Hingley

We counted more than 120 visitors to our stall and got some great feedback both about our project and our activities. Things they told us included: ‘Great activities for kids’; ‘A really interesting project which I’ll follow with interest online’; ‘I look forward to hearing more about your project’. We also met many interested visitors who were able to tell us their own stories of making suburban faith which we look forward to following up as the project progresses.

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