Tributes to founding member of Building Bridges in Burnley and former Stoneyholme Primary School headteacher Colin Wills MBE

A founder member of Building Bridges in Burnley, and a former headteacher of Stoneyholme Primary School, Mr Colin Wills MBE has died.

By Dominic Collis
Monday, 30th May 2022, 10:53 am
Updated Monday, 30th May 2022, 6:14 pm

Tributes have been pouring in for the hugely respected Mr Wills, who was also an active member of the Burnley and Nelson United Reformed Church.

Mr Wills was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 2016 for services to his home town when he was accompanied to his Buckingham Palace investiture by his wife Freda.

A man of deep faith, Mr Wills worked tirelessly to foster closer relationships between Burnley’s different faith communities following the founding of Building Bridges in Bridges in Burnley in 2001.

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Founding member of Building Bridges in Burnley and former Stoneyholme Primary School headteacher Mr Colin Wills MBE

Colin was instrumental in bringing people together through interfaith dialogue. A stalwart of the interfaith organisation which brought together faith leaders from across Burnley in the aftermath of the disturbances of 2001. Colin served as secretary in the early days of the organisation and was a member of Lancashire SACRE, helping develop and deliver the RE curriculum in county schools.

The daughter of late Burnley MP Peter Pike, Carol Pike, said of Mr Wills: “Colin has been a quiet, yet determined and passionate advocate for community cohesion in Burnley.

“After the disturbances, Colin was involved in the creation and running of Building Bridges in Burnley; an organisation that both my late dad, Peter Pike, and myself have been involved over the 20 years.“Colin pulled on skills from his role as headteacher at Stoneyholme Primary and his Christian faith and work with Churches Together in Central Burnley.

"It has been a privilege to know and work alongside Colin, to attend a huge number (and variety) of events, to be able to listen to and participate in discussions with people of all faiths and no faith, all cultures and to celebrate what we share.

Mr Colin Wills receiving his MBE with wife Freda at Buckingham Palace in 2016

"Colin has left a great legacy for the town in the work he has done and will always be remembered. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Burnley Council leader and current chairman of Building Bridges in Burnley, Coun. Afrasiab Anwar MBE, said: “I first met Colin at the opening of the Ghausia Mosque in 2009. We got talking and his passion for community and faith was such that by the end of that interaction I had agreed to join the board.

"Colin played an instrumental role in my interfaith journey and was a great support when i was appointed Community Faith Coordinator. We would often travel together to County Hall to attend SACRE meetings and we became good friends.

"A few weeks ago I made an unplanned visit to see Colin at his home and he was delighted to see me. He hadn’t been well for some time and I am so grateful that I got to see him. Colin and those who founded Building Bridges were pioneers who led the way and I hope we as the next generation are able to do justice to their legacy.”

Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Rev. Philip North said "The work of reconciliation takes strength and courage and Colin, though a quiet man, possessed a remarkable resilience and a passionate desire to improve his community by working for reconciliation between faiths. His contribution to the town is immeasurable and he will be hugely missed. However Building Bridges in Burnley, the organisation he helped to found 20 years ago, is a healthy one that is able to grow new generations of leaders. There are plenty who are committed to continuing the work that he began.”

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Former pupil Ghulam Mustafa said "Mr Wills was the headteacher when I was a pupil at Stoneyholme Primary School. One of my earliest memories is when my father invited him and his fellow teachers to The Islamic Centre and Mosque on Rectory Road, Burnley.

"The feast was enjoyed by all! Mr Wills was active in and cared for the local community of Stoneyholme even in the 80s. This shows the mark of the man. In my adult years we rubbed shoulders at Burnley Building Bridges. He will be sorely missed.”

Former Mayor of Burnley Rafique Malik on hearing the news said "Colin and I have over 50 years of partnership , first as teachers and later he was headteacher and I was chairman of Stoneyholme Primary School governors and finally we set up and worked together for Burnley Building Bridges.

"The most sincere person and truly committed Christian.”

Former councillor and vice chairman of BBB Bea Foster said: "I have been privileged to have known Colin for many years and to call him not just a colleague but a wonderful friend.

"He was a committed Christian, who not only talked the talk but walked the walk. In his many years of service with Building Bridges in Burnley, he went over and above to encourage good relationships based on mutual trust and respect between all people. His generosity, caring nature and example will be sadly missed. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, who meant so much to him.”

The Rev. Andy Williams, who was minister at Sion Baptist Church in Burnley and worked with Colin during the Building Schools for the Future discussions with LCC, said: "Colin was a Christian gentleman, passionately committed to his faith and to inter faith and BBB. He would do whatever was needed to make the work thrive.”

Mozaquir Ali, founding member of Building Bridges and former Daneshouse councillor, said: “My dear friend Colin was a deeply religious man and practically lived Christianity, loving and serving humanity. He was passionate for inter-faith and community cohesion and served Burnley and its diverse communities for many decades. He leaves a gap that will be difficult to fill. I will miss him dearly.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced in due course.