A GROUP set up to bring people of different religions together is a quarter of a century old this year. ELAINE OKYERE takes a look at the work of the council over that time.

NOBODY knew whether it would work when The Reverend Roger Whitehead first came

up with the idea. His vision was for a community group which would bring together different religions.

But the cleric, from Trinity United Reform Methodist Church, in Hindes Road, Harrow, was obviously on to something because this year the Harrow Inter-Faith Council celebrates its 25th birthday and is still going strong.

Council member Mike Bishop, 64, of Charles Crescent, Harrow, said: "At first I thought we were ploughing a bit of a lonely furrow, but faith has a massive role now. I think it has an important role to play and we need to talk about it in a non-threatening way."

Harrow is the most religious-ly diverse local authority area in the UK. According to the Office of National Statistics 2006 there is a 62 per cent chance any two people are from different religions.

Harrow's main religious groups are Christian at 47 per cent, Hindu at 20 per cent, Muslim at seven per cent and Jewish at six per cent.

Mr Bishop, a retired teacher, was at the first meeting and a member of the council for 22 years.

He said: "We wanted to work with schools from the beginning and we still do a lot of

work with them."

Mr Whitehead held the first meeting with members of the Christian faith, which was arranged "to build up contacts and friends in the Harrow area and build up relationships between faiths".

The group of people from different religions first met to discuss how to move forward and on March 20, 1984 an official meeting was held with 14 people present from the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian faiths.

Years later the group has expanded to include representatives from the Baha'is, Jains, Sikhs and Zoroastrians. Meetings are held six times a year, with an annual general meeting in the spring.

Mary Hale, the chair of the council, said since its formation the group has been working with the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education to create a syllabus for religious education in state schools within the borough.

The council puts on community and schools events to raise awareness of the diverse religious make-up of Harrow.

Mrs Hale, who is a Buddhist, said: "The group has been great for community cohesion. A lot of problems we have between different faiths are because of a lack of understanding."

The council does not have a base but holds regular meetings and functions at different places of worship across the borough, from mosques to local churches and temples.

The council is hoping to host a range of events in the autumn to celebrate its anniversary, which will range from a discussion on the role of religion in a secular society to a visual arts display.

One event that sticks in Mrs Hale's mind is a meeting in January 2007 which the group hosted at Harrow Central Mosque, in Station Road. A range of prayers were said, including one from former Iraqi hostage Norman Kember.

Mrs Hale said: "A Muslim member of the mosque came up to me and asked if that was the same man who had been held hostage as he had prayed daily for his release.

"When I told him it was, the two men embraced - it was a wonderful moment."