Archbishop of Canterbury volunteers at Providence Row homeless centre

The Archbishop of Canterbury led Christian and Jewish leaders who rolled up their sleeves to help out in the kitchen when they turned up at a shelter and training centre for the homeless in London’s East End.

The seasonal spirit arrived early when members of the Council of Christians & Jews looked in at Providence Row’s Dellow Centre in Spitalfields, which was preparing food for the next day.

It was all part of a ‘Mitzvah Day’ project inspired by the Jewish tradition of ‘doing a good turn’ for others.

Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams explained: “We decided to join in some of these Mitzvah Day activities with a bit of cookery in a centre for the homeless as an expression of how we as Christians can get alongside our Jewish friends in their service to the community—and I’m grateful to be part of it.”

Dr Williams teamed up with the Spiritual Head of Britain’s Saphardi community, Rabbi Abraham Levy, making mince pies with volunteers at the centre.

Meanwhile, other council members including Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, Free Churches Head Michael Heaney and Church of Scotland Moderator David Arnott were busy stacking shelves and stocking freezers with food donated by the City of London Boys and Girls schools.

David Gifford, the council’s chief executive, said: “It was a ‘hands on’ experience working side-by-side expressing solidarity with homeless people and other marginalised adults.”

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Laura Marks, who chairs the Mitzvah Day project, said the aim was to “bring different faiths into contact with causes that really matter.”

The charity’s Pam Orchard explained how the centre ran its trainee schemes such as language classes and computer and decorating workshops that helped rebuild often-destitute lives.

“The people we work with, rough sleepers, those with mental health or addictions problems, would often be excluded from other projects,” she told the faith leaders.

“As the weather gets colder and rough sleeping becomes even more dangerous, there’s greater demand for our services helping some of society’s most excluded people.”

Providence Row is the East End’s oldest homeless charity, set up more than 150 years ago by the Sisters of Mercy.