Tributes to founder of Building Bridges in Burnley and prominent church vicar who is leaving for pastures new
A highly respected vicar who helped to found the Building Bridges in Burnley group following the town's "Disturbances" of 2001 is bidding farewell to the church he has called home for the last two decades.
Fr Peter Hapgood-Strickland has been the vicar of St Andrew's Church, Duke Bar, for 22 years, a place where he found himself at the centre of a national malestrom when in June 2001 race riots erupted in that area of Burnley.
He has spoken to the Express about his experiences in the town, his work at the church and his lifelong decision to leave the Anglican church to join the Roman Catholic faith.
Fr Peter had arrived in Burnley in 1997 and was in the process of trying to co-ordinate multi-faith groups, which had been working separately when the disturbances took place and accelerated the founding of Building Bridges.
He said: "I was very shocked by the 'Disturbances' and felt that we had to bring our different communities closer together. There were a lot of community groups doing work but they were all separate. Building Bridges brought them together under one roof. It is always better to do this.
"We are now no longer strangers and welcome our Muslim brothers and sisters into our churches and vice versa. However, we now face different challenges. The government gave us a lot of money at the time, which has now dried up. It is important that we continue this good work."
Fr Peter (62) led his last service at St Andrew's in October and will soon leave Burnley to go and live as a Catholic lay person near Bolton. He said he hopes one day to become a Catholic priest.
"I am very grateful for my time at St Andrew's and in Burnley. I have made a lot of friends and am proud of what we have achieved together. Becoming a Catholic has been on my mind for some time. Myself and the Anglican church have changed over te years and perhaps we have gone in different directions.
"However, I will continue to keep an eye on Burney and keep in touch with my friends. It has been my home for many years now."
Fr Peter left with the good wishes of his friends at Building Bridges who presented him with a Jubba (a Muslim tunic) as a departing gift.
His replacement as chairman of Building Bridges, Afrasiab Anwar, Mozaquir Ali and the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt. Rev Philip North all praised his contribution to the town over the last 20 years.
Through a message, Bishop Philip said: "Peter has made a quite exceptional contribution to social cohesion in Burnley over many years.
"The connections he has with both Christian and Muslim communities are outstanding and he has used these to play a full part in making Burnley a town where the quality relationships between people of different backgrounds are the envy of many other places.
"Along with all the people with whom he has worked over the years, I wish him all the best in the future. Whilst Peter may have moved on, we promise to be true to his legacy as we carry on Building Bridges in Burnley."
The director and one of the founders of Building Bridges Mozaquir Ali said: "Peter was a great ambassador for racial equality and community cohesion in Burnley and bravely challenged all forms of racial and religious bigotry in all its shapes forms.
"His contributions are immeasurable since the disturbances in 2001 and helped turned things round in Burnley. He leaves many good friends in all communities in Burnley and Pendle."