Photo: Tolga Akmen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

by Lord Bourne

FOR many people across the country, religion remains the most important and influential part of their lives. Whether Muslim, Hindu or Sikh, Christian, Jewish or Jain, faith shapes the beliefs and principles of many and guides their sense of compassion.

The role of religion extends beyond the individual level too. Faith groups and their places of worship provide valuable spaces for people of all faiths and none to come together, enabling a strong sense of community and belonging.

Such environments form the very fabric of our society, as faith-based organisations provide refuge and support to communities.

Focusing on this message, last week I launched my third national faith tour to shine a spotlight on the central role faith organisations play in building strong, resilient communities. Titled Belief in Communities: Bridging Divides and Strengthening Communities, the tour kicked off last Tuesday (4) at the Highway of Holiness church in Tottenham –  a community-oriented evangelical Pentecostal church working to support the most vulnerable in our society.

This will be followed by frequent flagship visits across the country to engage directly with faith communities. I will meet volunteers and faith leaders to understand the key success factors that could be applied elsewhere.

My driving ambition is to promote the ‘Power of the Place’. Indeed, large or small, faith communities are often at the heart of a local area – the glue that binds our society together.

Across the length and breadth of this country, faith institutions form community hubs and support centres, as well as places of worships. The Highway of Holiness church is a superb example of this – providing support to its community with a homeless shelter for those most in need.

But there are many more fantastic examples of how places of worship and faith-based organisations respond to local needs.

Over the coming months, I will aim to learn from their inspiring work. This tour follows the launch last month of the Belief in Communities: Bridging the divide report, which chronicles my visits to 55 places of worship across 15 towns and cities throughout 2017-2018 to better understand their role in bringing people of different faiths and backgrounds together.

From Holy Island in Northumberland to Canvey Island in Essex, I witnessed the work many religious institutions do alongside other faith groups from their communities to support the most vulnerable, help make their areas safer and cleaner, and tackle social issue such as loneliness.

Unsurprisingly, this experience has formed the inspiration for my latest venture. But other important lessons were also learnt. Indeed, many of the religious communities and groups I met had established hugely impressive interfaith networks, where religious groups come together to bridge divides and raise awareness.

Reflecting on this success, I urge people and faith groups across the country to reach out to one another and build local networks to support their communities, bridge divides and extend understanding.

As we enter the festive period and 2018 draws to a close, there is no better time to celebrate faith groups around the country who are making a profound impact on their communities, and to encourage people of all faiths to support and lead inter faith activity in their area.

I truly believe that we all intuitively understand the value of faith in our society. But perhaps too often we do not celebrate or recognise it. Over the coming months, my job will be to challenge this and to remind us all of the vital role our faith communities play.

(Lord Bourne is parliamentary under-secretary of state for housing, communities and local government).