On Sunday we joined in a celebration of the Jewish Festival of Harvest thanksgiving which united two of Ealing’s faith communities to discuss the challenges of housing in London with the group London Citizens. Members of Ealing Liberal Synagogue, led by Rabbi Janet Burden, constructed a Sukkah – the traditional ‘hut’ or ‘booth’ which symbolise the temporary dwellings of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness – decorated with harvest fruits, children’s decorated autumn leaves and lulav a combination of date palm, willow and myrtle branches in the grounds of the Church of Christ the Saviour.
Members of the two communities gathering together to listen to a short introduction by Rabbi Janet and Fr. Simon Cuff from the church before splitting into small mixed groups to meet each other and share housing stories.
The event was organised in partnership with West London Citizens, a community organising group which numbers both faith communities amongst its members. Through the shared testimony of individuals about the difficulties of finding affordable housing in London the event sought to build stronger alliances for a campaign around housing which West London Citizens will take to the Mayoral election hustings in April 2016.
I met Agnes, a Ghanian member of Christ the Saviour who shared a very distressing story of being let down by local housing services and who faces a precarious home life in a small room in a shared house with her son, while her possessions remain in ‘storage’ in a friends garden. She described stumbling into the church which has become her parish when she left the neighbouring town hall after an unsuccessful meeting with a housing officer. Young people from the synagogue reflected that they felt it unlikely that they would be able to return to London after studying.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, just hours after Ealing’s half marathon had filled the nearby streets with runners, the Sukkah gathering attracted curious glances from passing shoppers, as the participants squeezed into the decorated ‘tent’ and examined the attached fruits. The event was a reminder of what West London’s diverse faith communities share – linked by locality but also with stories of migration to settle from many other places. Participants had French, American as well as Ghanian accents! The campaign work of West London Citizens also highlights that increasingly it is the suburbs where the housing crisis is experienced as workers are pushed further from the city centre and must commute long distances to school or work.
Claire Dwyer, 27th September 2015