About Watford Interfaith Association
Watford Interfaith Association (WIFA) started in Geoffrey Bould's sitting room in 1977 with discussions between members of several faiths. WIFA was one of three pioneering interfaith groups that started that year, along with Wolverhampton and Leeds, and is now one of more than 300 groups which belong to the Interfaith Network for the UK.
WIFA developed over the years from talks about each faith in each other's sitting rooms to faiths working together in very meaningful and enjoyable ways in Watford and the East of England region, tackling very difficult social and interfaith issues.
In 2005, after the London bombings and the rise of so-called Islamophobia and other hate crimes, WIFA worked with the police and Prevent, and on from that with the Mayor to bring the faith leaders of Watford together so they may know each other in emergency situations: being friends before needing to be friends. This tailed off but was revised under the chairmanship of Lateef Hussaini. This has been a useful bond during the riots in London in 2011 and standing (and acting) together over the Manchester, Westminster Bridge, Borough Market, Paris, Christchurch and Sri Lanka bombings and the war in Ukraine and earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.
During the covid-19 pandemic WIFA's regular house group meetings were brought online every week, with many meetings taking place that way. Members formed different ways of connecting, especially when council officials needed advice on different faith funerals when families could not attend the last rites of their loved ones. The council also wished to include all ethnic and faith communities in their health and care in the community commitments: it all had to be done online
Some of WIFA's regular activities include an annual Harold Meyer Memorial Lecture (Harold was a founder member and Chair of WIFA and had come to London on the Kindertransport). For National interfaith week, in 2009 WIFA initiated an interfaith Pilgrimage around Watford walking through the town and visiting in 5 or 6 places of worship. It became an annual and successful event which included a 20-minute talk in each place of worship. The Watford & District Synagogue, St Mary's Church, Holy Rood RC Church, Al-Zahra Centre, the Central Mosque and the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha have been the most visited places. WIFA organises the sacred space at the Watford Celebration, an annual multi-cultural event which included the talents, foods and faiths of all those who live and work in Watford. People of faith are asked to go into school assemblies. Sport is another way in which WIFA encourages interfaith participation, with the Bishop's Cup Cricket Tournament which took place over four years and the Ramadan Football Tournament, plus liaison with Watford Football Club. WIFA publishes a regular newsletter.
An ongoing project is the Watford Peace Garden which members created in Cassiobury Park in 2013 for the Watford community, and which has held many events, including Week of Prayer for World Peace gatherings, vigils and tree plantings for special commemorations such as the 80 year milestone when Jewish refugees first came to England in 1939, and the passing of Baha'ullah of the Baha'i faith, and in thanks for the service of the NHS during the pandemic. Volunteers meet every Wednesday morning to maintain the garden.
At WIFA's 40th anniversary celebrations in 2017, the then Elected Mayor Baroness Dorothy Thornhill and WIFA's patron said, 'Interfaith work is like a beacon of light that grows when it is taken into the community.' In 2018, Peter Taylor became Watford Elected Mayor and patron of WIFA, showing great support for interfaith work in Watford.