In 2015 after an absence of a public nativity scene in Ilford BACA began a programme of building one with local children and partner churches in our shop window. The project was a real success with good attention from local media. With our shop then conveniently placed before a zebra crossing and near 3 primary and 3 secondary schools the nativity was seen by a large number of local residents who would often take pictures, inspired by the return of Jesus to Ilford. Read more (here).
Thanks to Hannah Chowdhry, the project ran for several years often with school volunteers who she invited to participate, as part of various community award projects such as the Yoni Jesner Awards, Duke of Edinburgh Awards and Jack Petchey Awards.
However, all this effort was because we were struggling to get permission for a Nativity in Ilford Town Centre about a mile away from where we were located. Reverend Lesley Hilton a lay preacher for Gants Hill United Reform Church raised the matter with a local newspaper. Better still the Ilford Recorder confirmed that over 80% of local residents on a poll, wanted a return of a nativity scene in Ilford (click here). Local, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and atheists joined the clamour of support for a return of a Christian nativity scene. Suddenly BACA were leading a project with many churches to bring Jesus home to Ilford.
We started a crowd fund and were able to purchase a nativity that we placed in the centre of our town for the first time in 2018. This was after an absence of 21 years. Feedback was good, many local residents climbed the steps of Redbridge Town Hall to view our nativity which was behind the protective grilled-gates to the main entrance. Read more (here).
The following year (2019) however, Redbridge Council refused permission for our nativity to be placed on the safety of the town hall steps. Thus our nativity was placed before a large Christmas tree, in a pedestrianised shopping centre. Sadly that same night the figurines were smashed to pieces and the Jesus figurine was unceremoniously beheaded (click here).
We had a few years without a nativity in Ilford because of COVID-19 though in 2020 we were able to create a light display and Nativity in Chigwell, at All Saints Church. This was due to a house relocation for the Chowdhry’s who are founders of BACA. The light display also triggered Chigwell Parish Council installing christmas lights on lampposts in Chigwell Row for the first year ever. Read more (here).
IMAGE: Some of the lights and Nativity at All Saints Church.
In 2021, The light display and nativity returned to All Saints Church and we also established a light display and nativity at Ilford High Road Baptist Church. Using the same methodology as we did at All Saints Church. It should be noted that since the introduction of our Christmas light display at All Saints, Chigwell Parish Council have not resumed festive lighting on streetlights. But that only brings more focus on the church and away from shops, which can’t be bad.
IMAGE: Nativity and light display at High Road Baptist Church
In 2022, All Saints Church again put up festive lights using volunteers from a variety of faiths, which were established from the very first installation. High Road Baptist Church only put up the nativity this year due to a busy schedule. Their display was late due to the snow before Christmas which delayed installation for safety reasons.
Hannah Chowdhry, volunteer for British Asian Christian Association, said:
“When we set out to reintroduce a nativity in Ilford, it seemed an impossible task.
“Despite the difficulties we faced the Nativity project has been a huge success, every year new member of the community take images of the displays we established.
“In Chigwell, there had never been a public nativity before, there had not even been any large scale Christmas lights, we have established a legacy here.
“We are in an age where Christianity has seen a decline in Britain, with less than 50% of the population now professing to be Christian.
“Small projects like these reintroduce the hope and peace of the Gospel to local communities.
“Understanding the importance of the birth of Christ and what that meant for the world, is a start point for salvation.
“We hope our expanding work around introductions of a Nativity to local communities, leads more people to rediscover the value of the Gospel.”
If you are a church or community group that has thought of a similar project and need help with funding a Nativity and obtaining permission for it to be introduced in your area. Please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 020 3488 5316. We can help with fundraising and can guide or be more involved in obtaining council permission where required.