A project has been building bridges between different Barking and Dagenham communities during lockdown.

The government-funded scheme run by the Faith and Belief Forum (F&BF) put people from different backgrounds in touch online at a time when social distancing has left many feeling isolated.

Barking and Dagenham Post: Participants were forced to meet online due to social distancing rules. The picture shows a meeting held before the pandemic.Participants were forced to meet online due to social distancing rules. The picture shows a meeting held before the pandemic. (Image: Maria-Alejandra Huicho)

Rajinder Kaur Johal, vice chair of the Sikh Women’s Alliance, said: "The pandemic has created a void in opportunities for different community groups to meet.

"We found out we had many similarities. We talked about our shared experiences of living in a country that is different to where we were born and experiences of being treated as immigrants, even if we have lived in the area for years and have three or four generations of family here.

"Most importantly, we all feel like we belong here and share a commitment to make Barking and Dagenham, and surrounding boroughs, a harmonious place for all communities."

Backed by a £180,000 grant from the ministry of housing, communities and local government, the Building Closer Communities project united different faiths and beliefs in Barking and Dagenham and Birmingham.

The project, in partnership with charity The Feast, ran between November and March this year. It enabled people to explore issues related to faith, belief and culture through interactive online sessions.

Groups from different backgrounds were paired, including a Hindu mandir and Christian church as well as Ahmadiyya Muslim and African Portuguese groups.

Its aim was to help participants overcome any anxiety they might have about interacting with other groups and build more positive relations.

Participants held an online celebration to share what they have learnt with each other. Barking and Dagenham's event saw all 90 participants share their hope for closer communities.

The event was attended by Barking MP, Dame Margaret Hodge, who praised all the participants and emphasised the importance of building strong community across boundaries.

Jessica Hazrati, from the Faith and Belief Forum, said: "For many participants, the sessions have come at a good time during lockdown.

"They have allowed people who are shielding to engage with others and people who live alone to connect with the world."