At New Hope, religious values are the foundation of our work.
We do our best to help those who are homeless, hungry, misunderstood or vulnerable because we regard all people as made in God’s image, as our brothers and sisters. Because God knows and cares for us intimately, whatever we do to other people, we do to Him. When we provide people with clothing, food or a place to stay when they need it, we give God a place in our hearts.
It takes compassion to treat other people as we would want ourselves to be treated, but it also takes faith. Faith that the people we are helping will benefit from our work. Faith that they will regain their homes and their lives. Faith that when given the chance they will make the right choices. This faith has kept New Hope alive for 25 years. We hope this faith will inspire us for many more years to come.
In London, the importance of religious service is becoming more evident. Many people facing homelessness are turning to the Sikh community, who serve free hot meals to anyone who comes, whether they are Sikh or not. The Langar is a common kitchen or canteen where people are served whatever their background might be. This practice is a religious duty, meant to emphasise the equality of all people.
In the fifteenth century Punjab the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, established the Langar at a time when India was divided by castes and religious disputes between Hindus and Muslims caused social unrest. Whatever your social status or religion, you could come in to get a meal, and volunteer to help out if you wanted to. To this end, only vegetarian food is served at the Langar, so that it is inclusive of everyone’s dietary requirements. Anyone is welcome in a Langar, provided that they respect other people, are not intoxicated and cover their heads in accord with the Sikh tradition.
Thousands of meals are served in Sikh temples in the UK every day. But in London, where homelessness is an increasing problem, volunteers of the Sikh Welfare and Awareness Team, or SWAT, take to the streets every Sunday evening to give hot soup, drinks and chocolate bars. Most of the people who queue up are homeless. The Langar can be used as a barometer of the state of the economy. The number of non-Sikhs who attended the Langar to receive food increased after the recession in 2008.
The activity of SWAT is an example of the religious duty of Seva, or selfless service. Randeep Singh, the founder of SWAT made the point, “When you go to the temple, what’s the message? The message is to help others, help your neighbours. That’s what we are doing.” Like us, SWAT have faith in the importance of helping people regardless of where they’re from, or what they believe, or what they’ve been through.
New Hope is fortunate in receiving the support of the Sikh community, both through a local Gurdwara, which cooks a delicious meal for service users at the Haven every month, and through Seva day. We are truly grateful for this support.