West Ham Archdeacon Elwin Cockett on the legacy of Paddington Bear


- Credit: Archant

As a child, I loved Paddington Bear. With his floppy hat, his duffle coat and his liking for marmalade, he was a very appealing character, and the stories about his life with an everyday London family were great fun.

In arriving from (apparently) ‘darkest Peru’ with just a suitcase and a label saying ‘Please look after this bear’, he was also a reminder that a generation of London’s children had done a similar journey during the war. As Paddington’s Great Aunt Lucy tells him in the first of the stories, “Long ago, people in England sent their children by train with labels around their necks, so they could be taken care of by complete strangers in the countryside where it was safe. They will not have forgotten how to treat strangers.”

Of course, east London has a long tradition of welcoming strangers. As I keep reminding myself, my ancestors include one who came here as a 15-year-old refugee, having escaped religious persecution in France in the 18th century. He found a welcome in Spitalfields, got a job, and raised a family here. They continued speaking their native language, so it took them a while to integrate. But Londoners they became, like countless other refugees and migrants over the centuries.

Today, we face a new refugee crisis in Europe, largely caused by war in the Middle East. When we see pictures of the children involved, our hearts go out to them, and yet most of us feel powerless to do anything. That’s why I was really pleased to read about Project Paddington.

Project Paddington was started only a couple of weeks ago by kind people in Sheffield. Now, children across the country are being invited to send a teddy bear, with a message and a few pounds, to a refugee child somewhere in the world. (If you want to know more, do a search on Facebook for ‘Project Paddington’.)

It’s not much, and it’s not going to solve the refugee problem, but it will show a lot of children who need a bit of love that we still care. And that matters. More from Elwin

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