Servants Southall

The Southall team began in 2008, when the invitation of a local church to start a Servants team in the area coincided with a long-held vision of our first team leader to do exactly that. We’re here to follow Jesus in loving God and loving our neighbours as ourselves. We live near to each other in a variety of households and share our lives together through regular communal rhythms of praying, meeting and eating together. Every team member’s schedule is different, but we each work part-time in paid employment as well as supporting the ministries of nearby churches, volunteering with local organisations and spending time with people in our neighborhood.

    Southall is a pocket of Asia tucked into the west corner of London. A focal point for immigration since the 1960s, Southall is home to well-established Punjabi, Pakistani and Sri Lankan communities, with more recent arrivals from Somalia, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe. The single largest faith group is Sikh (31%), followed by Muslim (23%), Hindu (19%) and Christian (18%). From the rich array of fabrics, spices and jewellery available in local shops to the impressive sight of the largest Sikh temple outside India, visitors are often struck by Southall’s vibrant multi-cultural atmosphere.

    Homeless in Southall

    But the local community faces a series of challenging issues. Almost a third of Southall’s households are designated as overcrowded and the area is well-known for having a hidden population of people without official papers. It’s not unusual to find houses with two or three people living in each room. Outhouses and garages, the ‘sheds with beds’, provide unregulated accommodation in the back gardens of every street. Many people are dependent on the free meals served daily by the Sikh temples or gurdwaras. Recent government statistics show neighbourhoods in Southall are some of the most deprived in the UK, struggling with a combination of high crime rates, low income levels and difficulties in accessing services. Traffic congestion and fly-tipping are commonplace, resulting in a polluted environment and problems with rats and cockroaches.

    Here are some of the activities the Southall team is involved in:

    • Hosting a weekly evening for our friends and neighbours with a ‘bring and share’ meal and games, crafts, discussion, a film etc;
    • Running a community garden in partnership with A Rocha;
    • Supporting our friends and neighbours by helping with job applications, hospital appointments, legal issues etc;
    • Volunteering at toddler groups, soup kitchens and shelters for homeless people run by local churches;
    • Leading a Bible study group for people on the edge of church.

    There are various ways you can find out more about the Southall team. Have a look at our Facebook page for recent pictures and updates. Email us if you would like to sign up to receive our newsletter (three times a year) and/or our email prayer letter (monthly) by email. We host a couple of interns every year, so get in touch with your local Servants sending office if you’re interested. But if you’d just like to drop in for a visit, you’re very welcome! Send us an email and we’ll contact you to make a date.

    Reflections on an Internship in Southall by Gian-Luca Schmid:

    After three months in Southall, I’ve been back home in Switzerland for three months. During the first few weeks here in Switzerland some people asked me what I had learned in Southall. For me that was a really hard question to answer. I was full of a lot of things I could tell but I didn’t know where to start. And I think the word “to learn” is definitively the wrong one. Perhaps “to experience” would be much better. Most things I didn’t “learn” actively but I was brought into a situation I’d never experienced before. And it was a gift that I could just live in this great but completely different community for three months. I’ll just give three short examples of what I’ve experienced in Southall but there would be much more to tell:

      One of the first things was that I was away from all the activities at home. I had a lot of time just to think about my own life. Something I took out of this time was that I would like to spend more time to build and to live relationships instead of having a lot of activities and projects. In Southall there was no problem to live this principle but here in Basel it’s hard. Sometimes I have managed to say no to something and to have time for the more important thing: real relationships and community.

        It was really interesting to live with the Servants team. They live a lifestyle I only knew a little in theory. I enjoyed living in a team which has the purpose to build community, to help where it’s possible, to have time for those in need, to seek the will of God… There I started to dream of a different life. Now I cannot change my main life-situation. But there are a lot of small things I can change. And I try to do it.

          In Southall it was the first time in my life that I was really blessed and challenged by the presence of other religions. I’ve got to know and to like people who really follow another religion. There are a lot of questions connected to that. What happens if someone prays to another God something I could easily pray to my God too? Is it the same God even though the religion is different? I didn’t get (and still haven’t got) any answers but a lot of thoughts and discussions. Often I was challenged with the question of what I believe. I think these questions are a great blessing for me.

            While writing this, I was reminded of a couple of different themes I experienced in Southall. I’m really thankful for all these things; it was a great time there. I think absolutely the best things I’ve got to know are the people there: the Servants team, the community, the youth from the church and all the connected people there. Everything I’ve learned I learned through these people I got to know and to love.