London: (By Hannah Chowdhry) In 2017, an article in the Ilford Recorder calling for the return of a Christmas Nativity to Ilford, spurred teenager Hannah Chowdhry into action. The article illustrated that people of other faiths wanted a similar introduction of a nativity. It was evident that local people were still inspired by the Christian account of Jesus’ birth, which is imbued in English culture and tradition around the month of December (not actual date but when Christians choose to remember Christ’s birth). Read more (here)
The article was in response to a petition of sorts for a nativity in the town centre from Rev Lesley Hilton of Gants Hill, United Reform Church. Her appeal resulted in a campaign by Hannah for reintroduction of a Nativity to Ilford Town Centre (click here).
The campaign like most campaigns by British Asian Christian Association was successful and the very same year (after only three months), we got the permissions and bought an acrylic set of nativity figurines that could be set up in Ilford every year (click here). So by December 2017 we successfully installed a nativity after an absence of 16 years (click here).
Donations came from a wide range of donors including some of our international donors, local donors, people of Redbridge and it included people of diverse faiths and none.
Hannah managed to repeat the exercise the following year, but Redbridge Council refused permission to install the Nativity in an entrance way of the Town Hall that was protected by a thick metal grill, in 2018. So forced to install our Nativity under the public Christmas Tree in Ilford Town centre, we published news about it in the local papers (click here). Many residents came out to share the nativity story with children by the nativity and feedback was positive, there seemed to be widespread support for the installation.
Only days later however we discovered that the nativity in Ilford had been destroyed with all pieces smashed to smithereens, barring the baby Jesus which was found beheaded (click here). Redbridge Council cleaners swept away the debris before any BACA officer could see them.
Hannah Chowdhry, said:
“When I learnt of the destruction of the Nativity I was really upset.
“Whoever did it, spoilt Christmas for many supporters who had wanted a nativity in the town centre.
“It had taken a long time to raise the funds and get permissions in place and the callous act had nullified all my effort.
“I promised I would not let them win and would bring a nativity back.”
In 2019, we still could not get permission for a new nativity to be kept behind the secure gates grilles of one of the town hall entrance, so we did not revive our appeal.
British Asian Christian Association had already been introducing a nativity in our shop window for a few years (see main image). This was the result of designs created by Hannah and her sisters (click here) along with Palm Tree Ministries.
Friends from Hannah’s school help to continue our Nativity programme.
Hannah had been preparing these since 2015 and continued with her friends from school until 2019 (here), this was not repeated in 2020 due to the lockdown and we no longer have access to that building. However, Hannah raised the funds to introduce a first ever Nativity and Christmas light spectacular to Chigwell Row, where she now lives.
After we installed a star at the top of the flagpole at All Saints Church Tower which is the highest accessible point in Essex, Hannah sent out this message on Whatsapp groups for Chigwella nd other social media platforms:
It is hoped that a similar star might be able to be added to the spire at Ilford High Road Baptist church if at all possible, next year.
The lights have returned this year now managed directly by All Saints Church along with an annual event that saw 80 people attend this year, just shy of the huge turnout we saw at the BACA managed initial launch last year.
Saddened that Ilford has no public nativity in 2021, British Asian Christian Association spoke with Ilford High Road Baptist Church, which is the oldest purpose built Church in Ilford. Pastor Andrew Willis has granted permission for a Nativity to be set up on the forecourt of his church, which will be protected to some extent by green wire fencing and gates.
Moreover, Hannah Chowdhry has now begun a campaign to reintroduce a nativity at a cost of £634.98. This would include a silhouette of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (click here) and one with the three wise men (click here). Further costs would include an external waterproof plug extension (40m) and a friend of BACA will build us a stable to match the one created for All Saints Church – we estimate that these additional costs will be in the region of £140.
We only have weeks to raise the funds and we appeal to our regular donor base to help us make this project happen as we continue to reintroduce and introduce Nativities to communities near us. We hope reviving this age old tradition will remind people of the true message of Christmas. It should inspire young children to learn more about the hope that a baby child brought to a broken world.
Hannah Chowdhry, said:
“It has now been three years since a Christmas Nativity was installed in Ilford – I should know I put it up!
“For me this is a growing shame.
“With so many churches in Ilford and Christianity still the largest faith in the borough, I cannot understand why this absence continues.
“We see Santa and his elves everywhere, what must Children think Christmas is about?
“Anything that reminds us of the Biblical message of hope and salvation that Jesus’ birth brings should be supported by Christians.
“I hope that this project reverberates amongst churches in other areas and that similar projects emerge across the country.”
If you would like to help us raise these funds we need your help as soon as possible to meet the very difficult deadline of only two weeks. Donations towards Hannah’s project can be made by using this link. Please write Ilford Nativity in the notes section for your donation.