Community group offers the hand of friendship to everyone

Ousmane Drame, Charles Dickens Activity Centre manager Rob Neal, Smangele Gwengwe, Kwame Kyere, Franck Mengoum, Masimbashe Chikowore, Aimee Stratford, youth advisor Lisa Humphreys and Sanga Dolo
Ousmane Drame, Charles Dickens Activity Centre manager Rob Neal, Smangele Gwengwe, Kwame Kyere, Franck Mengoum, Masimbashe Chikowore, Aimee Stratford, youth advisor Lisa Humphreys and Sanga Dolo
Lewis Hine and his mum Emma at the Friend Finder Prom 
Picture: Ian Hargreaves (170626-1)

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It began its life as a group of friends meeting up for a chat. Now people from across the city are meeting up with Urbond to enjoy companionship and conversation. Miles O’Leary reports.

It started off as five people getting together to play football on Southsea Common.

Urbond= Urban (characteristic of a city) + Bond (Bringing People together)''We stand for Togetherness, Love and Peace in Portsmouth 5lR-WoC--KyKrcl-QG11

Urbond= Urban (characteristic of a city) + Bond (Bringing People together)''We stand for Togetherness, Love and Peace in Portsmouth 5lR-WoC--KyKrcl-QG11

Then one of the players had a vision to do something extra and reach out to everyone in the community, regardless of whether they had a religious faith or how they were brought up.

Ousmane Drame began inviting people back to his flat in Buckland, Portsmouth, to have some food and chat, and before long, the group was holding public barbecues on the seafront and raising money for charity.

And out of that came the creation of Urbond Portsmouth, an organisation encouraging people of all faiths to come together and have a great time and not be subjected to prejudice or discrimination. The name comes from urban (characteristic of the city) and bond (bringing people together).

Its work aims to tempt people away from radicalised circles – and make friends they wouldn’t otherwise have.

At its latest meeting, more than 100 people from the Buckland area turned up to play games, chat over food prepared by the group’s committee and share what’s going on in their lives.

Football tournaments are held regularly at the centre and Goals Portsmouth.

Ousmane, 29, from Guinea, west Africa, was inspired to make a difference through his own experiences of loneliness when he was a teenager.

He travelled to the UK when he was 17 and found life difficult while living in Brighton, before going on to settle in Portsmouth.

‘The purpose is to teach and help people integrate and help people who feel a bit lonely,’ Ousmane says.

‘It’s making them aware of the support that is available to them.

‘We have a mix of Muslims, Christians, and people of no faith.

‘There’s a big crowd of Filipinos and quite a lot of Polish people have come along for the football tournaments.’

Abs Manneh, co-founder of Urbond, says the group does not have a religious motive and is about breaking down social barriers, including with the Muslim community.

His comments come after Islamic convert Yvonne Rogers pleaded for society to ‘see beyond her hijab’ after suffering verbal and physical attacks.

The 64-year-old, of Portchester, revealed this week she has suffered abuse as a result of becoming a Muslim, which has worsened this year with the media giving coverage to Islamic terrorists fighting for Isil in Syria.

Four jihadis from Portsmouth have been killed fighting for Isil in the war-torn country this year.

Abs, who is a Muslim, says: ‘At the moment with regards to Muslims in the city, there is a lot of political suspicions.

‘But having a faith is not the only thing that makes a person.

‘Each person has their own individual qualities.

‘We want to encourage openness and peace, which is what we all have for each other.’

Ousmane adds: ‘I am a Muslim but I don’t let my religion come between me and my social interactions with people.’

And the pair believe the key to stopping radicalisation is through friendship and being around people who are ambitious.

‘As a person, when you go through life, you come across uncertainties and difficulties,’ Abs says.

‘What is tangible to helping you through that is getting the support of people around you.

‘They could be the positive lift you need. Radicalisation happens because people may end up spending too much time watching the TV and listening to what is going on abroad, and they are not integrating with others.

‘They find these radicalisation groups on the internet and see the things they are doing.

‘But if you are keeping yourself occupied and socialising with people then you don’t have the time to do things like that. Instead you are around people who want to show you love, want to give you food, play football with you, and want to have a good time.

‘You are being kept occupied by lots of different things.’

Through fundraising, Urbond has been able to donate sports equipment, games and refreshments to the youth wing of the Charles Dickens Centre.

Its work has also been given the backing of the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Councillor Steven Wylie, who went to one of its functions this summer.

And Heartlands Community Voice, a community group serving Buckland and Landport, has presented the group with a certificate in recognition of the difference it has made.

Cllr Wylie said: ‘Any group that seeks to get all different faiths and groups together in that manner is a positive, and any group that is about getting people together has my support.’

It’s hoped Urbond will become a charity in the near future and will reach out to others outside of the UK.

Ousmane says: ‘I’m amazed by how much we’ve grown.

‘At our next event, we’re expecting around 250 people, and that’s because we’ve invited everyone from the Buckland area.

‘A lot of people don’t have a Christmas event because they can’t afford to have one, so we invite them to come along and eat and socialise.

‘We are going to decorate the place for these people so they can come together.

‘In terms of our long-term vision, we want to expand and take it internationally.

‘With all of the problems going on around the world, we want to be able to give back.

The next gathering will be held at the Charles Dickens Centre on December 20, from 8pm. All are welcome.

City leaders back integration

CITY leaders have welcomed the work of Urbond in bringing together people of all faiths.

Independent Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock said: ‘It’s a brilliant move and I hope it’s really successful.

‘I would encourage people to go along and benefit.

‘There are lots of faith groups but not many which bring all faiths together.

‘A community faith group offers enormous benefits to the city as a whole, not least to stop the radicalisation of some people.

‘I genuinely believe this is something that everyone will be wanting to support.’

As reported, police and city leaders are working with communities amid fears more local young Muslims want to travel overseas to fight for terror group Isil.

Work being done in Portsmouth to help educate and prevent more young people from becoming radicalised was outlined at an event held at Fratton Park last month.

Councillor Donna Jones, Tory leader of the city council, said: ‘Community cohesion in Portsmouth is a very important issue. We’re working here as a council in conjunction with community groups, faith groups and the police to ensure community cohesion is carried out in a constructive way.

‘I welcome the creation of this all faith group and it’s an excellent opportunity for people to come together in a welcoming environment on a regular basis.

‘I look forward to attending one of their meetings.’