NOTTINGHAM, England –Members of the Nottingham Pagan Network organized an ongoing food drive to the feed refugees who have made it as far as England and any others in need in this storied city. The donations have been given to the food bank run by Himmah, described on its web site as “the first Muslim food bank in the U.K.”It’s interfaith cooperation which made the effort possible, according to Sarah Kay, spokesperson for the Nottingham Pagan Network. “NPN joined Nottingham Interfaith Council in 2014, and we were invited onto the committee to represent Pagans,” she explained. “We’re finding that many parts of mainstream society are becoming more aware of Paganism and want to see it represented properly and sensibly alongside the other faiths, especially in a city like Nottingham where Paganism’s profile has become more visible thanks to things like the Pagan Pride festival,” she said. “We think the basic concepts of interfaith are already active in the Pagan community since, as Pagans of diverse and sometimes contradictory religious faiths and practices, we are used to coming together with people of a different religious and spiritual outlook.”
Paganism has become so visible in Nottingham due in no small part to the efforts of the Nottingham Pagan Network. It started as an online group and, then, transitioned to the physical plane when a local gathering, or moot, dissolved. “We’ve also run Pagan Pride’s community projects for several years,” Kay explained, “and thanks to a couple of our more high profile members we’ve been able to pull national Pagan leaders together for that.”
The NPN has strong ties to the Pagan Federation, the Children of Artemis, the Centre For Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation and, as Kay put it, has “a reputation of ‘punching above its weight.'” The NPN has itself seeded a number of moots and organized other events, but its purpose, said Kay, “has always been to encourage and facilitate Pagans to connect with each other and . . . to provide communications about Pagan, Pagan-related and Pagan-interest events in the region,” not simply be the source of those events.
Interfaith work is par for the course at Himmah, as well. Local Pagans had already been contributing to a project the Muslim charity had organized jointly with the Nottingham Liberal Synagogue, namely the Salaam Shalom Kitchen, which provides prepared meals to those in need on a weekly basis.
Refugees from the war in Syria started being admitted to the United Kingdom last year in a process slowed by a general anti-immigrant sentiment, with half of them so far being settled in Bradford, about two hours’ drive north. That touched NPN members so much that “. . . deciding which charitable project to undertake our members were probably, like everyone else, focused on current world events which is why [donating to Himmah food bank] was a good choice,” Kay said.Kay said that NPN members worked as part of a larger team, drawing more Pagans into the wider effort. “Himmah [has] support from both faith and non-faith communities in Nottingham, so we are just a part of the collective effort to support the project and we thought that if we targeted our own (Pagan) community then Pagans would be supportive of the idea, not just for the good of the project, but to be seen as a community to be doing something good for the wider community. . . the multi-faith aspect of Himmah . . . drives awareness of its good works.”
Where some social groups might make charitable giving into a friendly competition, the Nottingham Pagan community didn’t keep score. “It’s all about understanding that every little bit contributes to the whole, if everyone does something, whether it’s to donate a pound or a tin of soup or to offer to drive around collecting donations for the evening no one is counting, all efforts are communal and we just need to keep contributing and doing without worrying about how much we’ve achieved.”
Nevertheless, “the response has been magnificent, the Himmah people have come to collect from us over two or three moots and we’ve done several runs ourselves to take them supplies. Many of our members simply gave us money so we’ve had a couple of shopping trips to specifically buy for Himmah.”
The profile the NPN maintains by participating in interfaith and charitable work will, Kay hopes, serve as a model, to “inspire and encourage other small local groups wherever they are to get busy and do good works — after all everyone who achieves something big or global is also local to somewhere!”