We (Project partners on SOAR) are excited to announce the start of the ‘Strengthening the security and resilience of at-risk religious sites and communities’ (SOAR) project. The SOAR project will contribute to advancing the protection and safeguarding of places for worship, with a focus on communities of worship within the European Union (EU).

SOAR is funded and supported by the European Commission and will be delivered by Enhancing Faith Institutions (EFI), Finn Church Aid (FCA), and Architects Council of Europe (ACE). The project partnerships will develop extensive networks and be inclusive of representatives from all majority and minority faiths practicing within the EU.

The main purpose of the project is to increase the awareness of, and capacity to respond to physical and human security threats to places of worship. SOAR will utilise a wide range of communication channels and will provide our audiences with a unique knowledge base. This will include training, guidance and resources, with the opportunity for virtual engagement and the evolution of virtual networks and communities of practice.

SOAR will undertake primary research to identify the factors that lead to threats of terrorist attacks on places of worship and on at-risk religious communities. Training needs for potential victims of hate crimes will be identified and assessed. Training will be delivered across the full spectrum of the project at EU, national and regional and local settings, in seven pilot EU member states. It will include a focus on increasing safety awareness, and on collaboration and cooperation between places of worship leaders and security offices with their wider communities and public authorities, including law enforcement agencies. The seven pilot countries we will be working in are France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, and the Netherlands.

The insights of those with lived experiences of the threat of or of actual terrorist attacks and hate crimes will be engaged to enhance regional level policy-dialogue with regional, EU and global organisations. These include the European Commission, the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations and EU member states, to further advance the protection of religious sites and develop a ‘security by design’ (SBD) ethos. SBD is an integral component of the SOAR programme. It is a security ethos that incorporates security features into the design and fabric of the building. Experts in the fields of SBD, community safety and resilience-building will be providing support and training at a national, regional, and local level to faith institutions in the 7 pilot countries.

The key target beneficiaries include religious leaders, security and facilities officers of places of worship, as well as active women and young people of congregations and faith groups. The project will also seek to engage city-wide law enforcement agencies, responsible for protective security for places of worship and key policy makers at the local, regional and EU level.