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Plea to Theresa May by Salvation Army chief to ‘keep hearts and borders open’ after Brexit

PUBLISHED: 18:00 22 March 2017

Salvation Army 150th anniversary march through Poplar and (inset) its international chief, General Andre Cox

Salvation Army 150th anniversary march through Poplar and (inset) its international chief, General Andre Cox

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A warning shot has been fired by the Salvation Army’s world leader on a visit London’s deprived East End about closing doors on people when the Prime Minister triggers Article 50 next week to quit the EU.

'Sally Ann' parade through Chrisp Street Market'Sally Ann' parade through Chrisp Street Market

General André Cox, the Salvationist organisation’s international Head, urged Theresa May not to close Britain’s borders.

His warning comes in an exclusive East London Advertiser interview tomorrow on the 150th anniversary to mark the founding at Poplar of the oldest surviving Salvation Army branch.

“I fear that Brexit will make us more insular,” he tells the paper.

“My message as head of the Salvation Army to Theresa May is that Brexit can be an opportunity for Britain.

General Cox meets east London cockney Pearly Queen of Bow Bells Doreen Goldberg and Forest Gate Pearly King Bob PaiceGeneral Cox meets east London cockney Pearly Queen of Bow Bells Doreen Goldberg and Forest Gate Pearly King Bob Paice

“But if we close our borders and our hearts to the world, that is not what will make Britain great again.”

He was speaking at Saturday’s Salvation Army parade through Chrisp Street Market to mark the No 1 Corp set up in 1867 to help the East End’s poor who were excluded from Victorian society.

“It’s important for any government that we don’t become insular,” General Cox added.

“That might be a concern with political movements today, whether it’s our vote on Brexit, what goes on in Europe and what’s going on in America.

Zena Graver leads her Sally Ann tambourine workshopZena Graver leads her Sally Ann tambourine workshop

“We’ve got to be careful not to close our hearts to the world.”

The anniversary weekend in Poplar came ahead of the PM’s announcement on Monday that Article 50 would be triggered on March 29.

General Cox fears quitting the Single Market would affect immigration and the 1.5 million EU citizens already living in this country.

“Human rights have to be respected,” he insists. “People need to have a secure future, not living in uncertainty and being uprooted.”

Even the very young join Sally Ann's tambourine workshopEven the very young join Sally Ann's tambourine workshop

There was a need for a Salvation Army in the 21st century, with the rise in poverty, homelessness and social exclusion.

“Our world is as it’s ever been with greed,” he observes. “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. We have three-million children in the UK going to school each day without a proper meal—it’s a blight on society. You still see this reality here in the East End.”

General Cox is calling for a partnership of the government with the Salvationist organisation, the churches and business to solve social exclusion and poverty “rather than building walls”, he urged.

The world’s oldest branch of the Salvation Army is still struggling in Poplar today, within walking distance of the affluent Canary Wharf business district, to deal with the same poverty and homelessness that it started with in 1867.

Poplar Salvation Army's centenery, reported in the East London Advertiser in 1967Poplar Salvation Army's centenery, reported in the East London Advertiser in 1967

The Poplar Corps is run by Major David Brown, with programmes including a food bank, homeless shelter and charity clothing shop. He tells tomorrow’s Advertiser: “The Salvation Army did what the Government of the day wasn’t doing.

“We raised the profile of homelessness, the slums, poverty and deprivation and fed poor families—that was 150 years ago.

“Today we have the food bank every Friday doing the same, as well as a night shelter for 15 homeless people and also provide clothing for families in need.

“There is still a need for homeless shelters in London, a need against poverty and landlords putting up rents.

1860s... William Booth preaching in London's East End1860s... William Booth preaching in London's East End

“We seem to be back in the 1800s—it’s a shame on society.”

Saturday’s parade led by the mass Salvation Army Band and Community Gospel choir marched past the market’s famous clock-tower built for the 1951 Festival of Britain and headed to the Calvary Charismatic Baptist Church and the Lighthouse Trinity Hall church.

The Salvation Army was born on the streets of Whitechapel in 1865, when William Booth began his first open air evangelistic campaign preaching in a tent in Vallance Road, tackling an East End rife with crime, debauchery, prostitution and drunkenness.

There was opposition from tavern keepers and a ‘skeleton army’ emerged determined to cause trouble on the streets for the Salvationists, led by Charles Jeffries, the son of an out-of-work docker.

But eventually the salvationists won over Jeffries and his ‘skeletons’ who joined their ranks. Jeffries went on to become a leading figure in the Salvationist world movement. He died in 1936.

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