This is an abridged version of the speech outgoing 3FF Director Stephen Shashoua gave at his farewell party.
We are here to celebrate the past ten years, and herald this wonderful organisation into its next chapter. In order to do this properly, I need you to travel with me, backwards first, before moving forward.
Please allow me to briefly tell you the beginning of my story:
When people ask me why I had left beautiful Montreal, Canada to these rainy shores my usual answer is “It was something to do”. The whole truth is it was something I had to do. After a year of living “down and out in London”, I met the true catalyst for all of this – our Sir Sigmund Sternberg.
The “Indefatigable”, Sir Sigmund, has taught us so many things – his gritty tenacity, his vision, his connecting mind, his charm, his tenderness, his sheer chutzpah. I feel personally so lucky to have had the chance to work with such an amazing human being.
Him, Zaki Badawi, and Marcus Braybrooke are giants in interfaith, but also in life. What they created with the help of the late Sidney Shipton by founding this organisation cannot be simplified – they created a home for many of us, a space to exchange genuinely and learn, and yes, a chance.
Zaki Badawi’s voice is truly missed – a man of great knowledge, morality and wisdom. I learned many things, but one thing that I often repeat is that the goal is for interfaith to be part-and-parcel of society – to embed. We are still a way off but I feel in some ways, it is happening more – if we build the trust, we do have that chance – yes, easier said than done.
Marcus Braybrooke is easily one of the kindest and most humble people I know. It’s not just that he and Mary drive out from Oxford for almost every single event we have had, he will engage with everyone, and he will find beauty in all his engagements – interfaith’s detractors will say this is naïve, it is actually something else, it is about work and hope and true leadership. I am thankful to him for his wisdom and continuous support of me and 3FF throughout.
I was Sidney Shipton’s Deputy for a year before I started what was then “the Youth Division” – he took me under his wing from the word go and I learned so much about the intricacies of communities, the interfaith field, and wider. He put so much of himself into the organisation and the work. His will and energy to do as much as he could, from travelling to the most remote communities to speaking on the international stage, has been a great lesson to me.
After Sidney’s passing, I was asked to take the reigns of the organisation. This was a brave thing for the Trustees to do, to take a chance on a 32 year old and to agree that 3FF’s work would focus on our programmes – a complete departure from what we were as an organisation.
There are many things that contributed to the 7 years since then and I am reminded of so many moments shared, laughing, planning, earnestly dialoguing – so many stories, thank you for sharing your time, thoughts, emotions with me. I feel that, if we as an organisation are seen as successful, it is because of your trust and support as individuals and our “community” of friends, partners, volunteers, stakeholders, and beneficiaries. Thank you for working with us towards our collective goal of a connected and cohesive society.
We have had lots of staff who have worked at 3FF and moved on. You have helped build an organisation with blood, sweat and yes tears – your values have become 3FF’s values, your hard work have made your programmes thrive and continue to thrive.
To existing staff – Your positivity, energy, and work ethic are something to admire. Yes, you worked with over 14,000 people last year directly, but it is your focus on the individual and the trust you build and the confidence people have in you which makes you successful.
The one person who has made the most significant change to the organisation in its latest incarnation is Michael Sternberg when he became our Chair of Trustees. His taking up the position took 3FF into a more professional space, ensuring what we were doing was well thought through and well supported. It is this stability that helped take us from a staff of 10 to nearly 20.
3FF are indebted to the support of our Champions represented by Princess Badiya, as well as Cllr Lazzaro Pietragnoli, who was until a couple of weeks ago Mayor of Camden and who chose 3FF to be his Charity of the year. Thank you both so very much.
None of this would have been possible without the funds many of you have granted to 3FF, in particular, I will make mention of our major funders the Sternberg Foundation and the Pears Foundation. Thank you for putting your trust in us. With your support 3FF has tried to make a deep and significant impact, challenging some of the issues that prevent society to thrive. Throughout, you have believed in us, in our work, and our vision – enabling us to do more.
One last person for a special thank you. Some of you may have yet to meet the next director of 3FF, Phil Champain. In him, I see someone who can take us to the next level. He promises a safe pair of hands as well as a commitment to better. I hope all of you will give him the support and trust you have so generously given me.
To conclude, again it has been a pleasure and privilege to be the caretaker of this organisation – I am excited at what lies ahead for 3FF, as some of the plans we have put in place bear fruit.
Thank you all again for your generosity of spirit throughout. As a chapter closes, a new exciting one opens at 3FF – please help to develop this organisation and this work further and deeper. There is so much to do.