Spice of Life
Ever see a really brilliant, life-changing initiative and say to yourself, “that really should be rolled out everywhere?”
Matt Bird had exactly that thought..and did something about it.
His first step was to bring a group of well-connected and largely well-heeled pals together for breakfast at his favourite London eatery to discuss how they could use the energy and commitment of church communities to fight poverty and support families.
From that first meeting came the determination to set up a new network which would effectively franchise the best social justice projects being pioneered by churches. When they wanted a name for the new body they looked no further than the name of the Indian restaurant in which they were meeting.
Thus was born the Cinnamon Network which has now rolled out 32 projects across 3,500 communities throughout Britain. These include Reflex which helps teenage offenders, Night Shelter which helps churches offer vulnerable rough sleepers accommodation, and Welcome Boxes which helps churches reach out to refugees by giving newly-arrived families a box containing small gifts and local information.
Now Matt Bird (a great name for Twitter, by the way) is bringing his bright idea to Ireland.
On Wednesday past, Bishop Harold Millar of the Methodist Church invited supporters for dinner to hear Matt Bird pitch for funds to launch Cinnamon Network Ireland. At many fundraisers I attend, the person appealing for donations waits until the odd glass of wine has helped to loosen the purse strings. That wasn’t an option for Matt as the Methodists are famously anti-alcohol but the power of his pitch delivered all the kick you needed. I have no doubt those gathered made a significant dent in his £105,000 fundaising target.
All of which will make it possible for faith groups right across Ireland do even more magnificent work to lift up communities.
You can see more about the Cinnamon Network’s ‘off the shelf’ church-based community projects and learn about their aim to incubate five new social action initiatives based on Irish best practice by contacting their newly-appointed Advisor for Ireland Tommy Stewart.
Tomorrow is Marathon Day in Belfast when the city streets are given over to the strong of feet but weak of mind who insist on running 26.2 miles to prove a point to themselves.
I’ll be doing my bit but with old age has, at last, come wisdom: I’ll be limiting myself to two stages of the relay and not the entire grueling route. Children’s charity Mencap NI has invited me to join their relay team which includes Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle. I’m delighted to do so and have pledged to help Chris hit his fundraising target of £1,000. He’s almost there as you can see from his EveryDayHero fundraising page and I’ve chipped in. I plan to join Chris on the first leg of the relay from City Hall through his East Belfast constituency. I then plan to cheer on the other runners before picking up the baton later from Irish rugby star Paddy Wallace to race the final leg through South Belfast. Keep an eye out for me: I’ll be the guy with the yellow hair (Mencap’s colours) who’s pretending he has run the entire route.
I was delighted this week to hear that the eighth annual New York-New Belfast Conference has been confirmed for the American Irish Historical Society and Pier A on 15-16 June. The American Irish Historical Society is a jewel in the crown of Irish America and a Fifth Avenue repository of many historical treasures. But Pier A has many Irish connections too as a former station of the New York Harbour Police where many Irish served with honour. But that’s only half of it: the incarnation of Pier A as the Big Apple’s most talked-about new hospitality venue is the brainchild of Irish expat Danny McDonald. And of course among the many hostelries in Pier A is Blacktail, the Cuban Speakeasy created by Belfast mixologists Seán Muldoon and Jack McGarry. And I’m told they can do amazing things with Cinnnamon and, indeed, many other spices — not all of which the Methodists would approve!