Friday, 31 December 2010

Faith groups will not fill gaps left by spending cuts, warns Anglican bishop

Maybe I'm feeling lethargic and slapdash, what with it being the end of the year and all, but after having succumbed to temptation yesterday by copying into the blog an interesting article from that day's Guardian, here I go with another one today. I know that I do cut'n'paste in this way from time to time, but two days in a row from the same source does seem rather lazy of me! This one makes extended reference to comments by the Bishop of Leicester, the Right Rev. Tim Stevens (who is the Patron of Leicester Council of Faiths). I've reproduced the article as it appears on the Guardian website, in full below. The four paragraphs at the end don't appear in the version printed in today's paper. 
Faith groups can't fill gaps left by state, warns bishop
Riazat Butt, Religious affairs correspondent

Bishop of Leicester says it would be 'completely irresponsible' for government to roll back on its responsibilities to the needy

A senior Church of England bishop has warned that faith groups will not step in to fill the gap left by state spending cuts, saying it would be "completely irresponsible" to leave the care of the vulnerable in the hands of "amateurs".

The bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, who has spoken forcefully about David Cameron's proposals for a "big society", said that although faith groups were ready and willing to play a greater part in community life, their enthusiasm and engagement should not mean the government rolled back on its responsibilities to the needy.

The warning follows fears expressed by a leading charity figure this week, David Robinson of Community Links, who said massive public spending cuts threatened to undermine the big society project.

Government ministers have stressed that faith groups are vital to the success of the big society, the flagship policy of the Conservative party's election manifesto, aiming to empower local people and communities to play a greater role in public life.

But Stevens said faith groups should not be a fig leaf for dismantling vital services. "We stand ready to co-operate and play our part but we will not collude in government neglect. We can't simply take the weight of all those areas of responsibility. If there is the assumption that the church will carry that load, we will have to speak out.

"This can't be the throwing of a switch and saying the state walks out and the church walks in. It is completely irresponsible to say these people will be cared for by amateurs."

He said there was a "big question" about whether the big society was in fact a "veil for covering up a massive contraction of public support for the neediest people".

Stevens also urged faith groups to show caution, especially after communities secretary Eric Pickles said faith groups would not receive additional funding for projects. "They must be realistic and not raise expectation that they can take on the care of the elderly, children and asylum seekers. It's not going to work," said Stevens.

One example of how the church wants to play its part is Near Neighbours, a £5m project to promote community cohesion. The church has already claimed it will be more effective than the government's £61m "Prevent" programme.

Near Neighbours would focus on four areas with large Muslim populations – the M62 mill towns corridor, east London, Leicester and east Birmingham – with the aim of enabling "Mr and Mrs Smith, Mr and Mrs Patel, and Mr and Mrs Hussain" living in the same neighbourhood to relate more "positively" to each other.

Stevens said the big society offered the church an opportunity to showcase what it was doing and talk proactively to government and local government to develop its role in national life. "The church can't do it all on its own. It can have a role, not an imperialist one, but in bringing others to train, create and co-ordinate."

He pointed to the thousands of buildings, volunteers, institutions and staff that formed the Church of England network, saying no other group had such reach.

The government proposals were a chance for the church to strengthen its place in the "heart of the community".

"The big society is a description of what we do. It could well be a productive moment for the church."

Christian groups and leaders have been the most vocal in their support for the government's plans to empower communities.

In his Christmas reflection, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, said the Christian faith gave society a chance to act for the common good.

Nichols told the congregation at Westminster Cathedral that British society was "capable of great generosity in the face of adversity" and that a sense of solidarity arose from disaster.

He, along with the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, have already met the prime minister to discuss the big society and the contribution of faith groups.
Read the article in context and comments left by readers:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/dec/30/bishop-big-society-faith-groups?INTCMP=SRCH

Thursday, 30 December 2010

back on The Wave


This month's edition of The Wave comes out today and we're back on the front cover! Well, that might be overegging things a bit, since the front cover features a thumbnail of every cover they published in 2010. We're in the one featured top left (honest - it's legible enough when you see the real thing!) But since we were the big story in the November edition (with a report on our exhibition for National Inter Faith Week in Highcross), it might at least serve to jog the memory of some readers. And since there are 70,000 copies distributed free inside today's Leicester Mercury, that's a lot of potential memories to be jogged!

Charity chief says cuts could destroy David Cameron's 'big society'

Interesting article in today's Guardian. I've resisted simply lifting articles from external sources to drop into my blog, but this one is so clear and concise, shows the situation we're up against - and comes from a prominent figure in the Voluntary and Community Sector who supports the Big Society.

Charity chief says cuts could destroy David Cameron's "big society"
Patrick Butler & Nicholas Watt

Key supporter of PM's social policy initiative says spending cuts could become Hurricane Katrina moment for government 
A leading charity figure and key supporter of David Cameron's "big society" project warns that massive public spending cuts could doom the prime minister's main social policy initiative to failure and become a Hurricane Katrina moment for the government.
As Ed Miliband accuses the government of adopting a "forbidding and unheeding" approach to reducing Britain's fiscal deficit, David Robinson declares that a barrage of unsustainable cuts will damage Britain's poorest neighbourhoods. 
In an open letter to Cameron, the co-founder of the Community Links charity warns that vital local voluntary organisations will be wiped out. 
Robinson, whose charity has been described by Cameron as "one of Britain's most inspiring community organisations", writes: "Forcing an unsustainable pace on a barrage of uncoordinated cuts that hit the poorest hardest is not an act of God. Why let it be your Katrina?" 
The attack on the PM comes as Miliband launches one of his strongest attacks on the coalition's plans to eliminate the structural deficit over the course of this parliament, in contrast to the Labour proposal to halve it over four years. In his new year message, the Labour leader says: "Here at home, 2011 will be a year of consequences for Britain. Consequences that will be felt by hardworking families across the country. Consequences of the decision taken to reduce the deficit at what I believe to be an irresponsible pace and scale. 
"Many people feel powerless in the face of these decisions that will affect their lives, families and communities. The political forces in Whitehall which have made these choices appear forbidding and unheeding." 
There were also warnings from trade unionists of possible strike action. Mark Serwotka, the leader of the Public and Commercial Services Union, told the Times: "Strikes are inevitable. We are looking at the spring. The more of us that stand together against the cuts, the more problems we can create. 
"Unless you look like you want a fight, they won't negotiate. The government has to see we are serious." 
Robinson gives a practical example of the impact of the cuts when he warns that deprived areas face a "double whammy" of increasing unemployment and cuts to services. He says that Community Links, based in east London, faces an uncertain future because of the government's changes to legal aid and welfare-to-work funding. "Charities like us are surely the bedrock of the big society, and we are wobbling." 
Robinson, who regards himself as a "critical friend" of Cameron, praises his "big-hearted vision" and commitment to big society principles, but warns that without a big injection of cash, Cameron is in danger of losing any credibility he has a compassionate politician. 
His comments reflect widespread nervousness and anger in UK charities at the speed and unco-ordinated nature of the cuts. As councils, NHS primary care trusts and Whitehall departments attempt to deliver the massive budget cuts from next March, recent surveys suggest huge numbers of charities face potentially calamitous losses of grants, contracts and infrastructure support. Examples in the last fortnight include:
  • About 2,500 charities that provide welfare services in Greater Manchester – around a quarter of all voluntary groups in the area – could go bust because of the cuts, according to estimates by the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisations.
  • A quarter of charities in the north-east of England which depend at least partially on public funding will go bust in the next 12 months, according to research by Voluntary Organisations Network North East. It says that while demand for services has rocketed, 64% of charities surveyed say they will be forced to close services.
  • A third of charities nationally that receive state cash say they will have to reduce the level of services they provide, while over a quarter expect to make staff redundant, a survey by the Charity Finance Directors Group, consultants PWC and the Institute of Fundraising found. 
The charity thinktank New Philanthropy Capital recently estimated that the voluntary sector's income from state sources could shrink by between £3bn and £5bn as a result of the cuts. 
Nearly a quarter of all charities get cash from the government, and 13% rely on state funding for more than half of their income. 
Robinson calls for an urgent assessment of the cuts. He tells Cameron: "I'm not asking you to renege on policy pledges, but give us more time … Allow us to draw breath or you will kill off the agencies you need to build the society you seek." 
Although the government is preparing to launch a big society bank to lend to charities and scoial enterprises next spring, Robinson argues it is undercapitalised, and will not solve the immediate funding crisis. "Our most desperate need now is to maintain those services for the most vulnerable which will never be self-sustaining. 
"It is these that are least likely to survive and it is the public funding of this provision that marks out our economy as that of a civilised and compassionate society." 
He says the rapid withdrawal of resources as a result of cuts will cause a build-up of unmet social need among the most disadvantaged citizens that will in turn create an expensive long-term problem for the state. 
Community Links, which was set up in a back room in East Ham by Robinson, Kevin Jenkins and a group of volunteers, has grown into the UK's biggest and most admired community organisation, providing a range of welfare services, from housing and debt advice to employment support and children's centres and youth clubs to more than 30,000 East End residents. Its latest accounts show it has an income of £9m, of which the lion's share comes from central or local government sources.
Read the article in context and comments left by readers:

Friday, 24 December 2010

CHRISTINGLE AT ST THOMAS THE APOSTLE PARISH CHURCH


It's Christmas Eve. To St Thomas the Apostle Parish Church (South Wigston with Glen Parva) for the Christingle celebration this afternoon, held in aid of the Children's Society. My son Harry is singing in the choir. Everyone attending has been asked to bring a Christmas present to donate for a deprived child, suitably wrapped, with appropriate gender and age clearly marked on it. these toys will be collected and distributed to children here or abroad by the Salvation Army.

The church is full, with more than 350 people crowded in. Alastair, Rabia and I get the last three seats, right in the back in the corner. On the odd Sunday when I stay for the service in which Harry is singing, there are often more in the choir than there are in the pews. It's good to be here at one of those occasions when the Church comes more fully alive, above the squeaks, squeals and burbles of babies, children and toddlers - and amid the coughs and sneezes of adults too! You get a sense of the church being at the heart of the community today; and whether or not one buys into the theology seems not to matter right now. It's good to be here, good to be sharing this special time. When the Vicar (Rev. Peter Day) comes to the back of the church to bless the crib, he says that those children who cannot see what's going on can stand on the chairs (as long as a responsible older person is holding them steady).

Christingle (which means "Christ's Light") is a tradition dating back some 300 years ago to what is now the Czech Republic. The custom of giving out lighted candles in these services originates from the Moravian Church in Germany in 1747 but they weren’t introduced to the Anglican Church in England until 1968. Christingle can be celebrated any time from Advent in December till up to three weeks after Christmas in January. Christingle celebrations take place in schools, youth groups and churches, with more than half a million kids taking part each year all over the country.

The bells at St Thomas haven't been rung for some time as they don't have enough volunteer bell ringers. But we're treated to something I've never seen before inside the church: the ringing of hand bells by a team of performers, half a dozen strong. They play assorted carols then launch into some popular Christmas songs, including a singalong version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"!

The boys of the choir sing an anthem: "The Truth from Above" by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I love listening to Harry singing in the choir. I know I can't pick out his voice, but I find it thrilling to know he's in the mix.

During the singing of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" we are all invited to come to the front of the church and receive a Christingle. We filter down the central aisle, then return to our seats via the two side aisles.The Christingle consists of an orange with a candle protruding from the top of it, a red ribbon around the middle and sweets on cocktail sticks (jelly babies today). Each part of a Christingle stands for something:
  • Orange – the world
  • Candle – Jesus, light of the world
  • Red ribbon – the blood of Jesus, shed for the people of the world
  • Cocktail sticks and sweets – the seasons and all the good things in our world

When everyone has their Christingle, the lights are put out and we sing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", the church lit only by the candles in our oranges. The Vicar gives the blessing then, on the count of three, we blow out our candles and the Christmas tree lights come on.

Harry's too young to sing in Midnight Mass tonight, but he'll be back here for the Christmas morning service, 0930 tomorrow. On the way back to his mum's house, he tells me that some of the boys in the choir barbecue the jelly babies on their cocktail sticks over the flame of the candle. The ingenuity of naughty schoolboys has no end (I should know - after all, I used to be one!)

RELIGION - NOT AN OBSESSION BUT THE TRUTH

The Bishop of Leicester's First Person column appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Religion - not an obsession but the truth
The Bishop of Leicester explores the importance of the Christmas message for our society
This week the National Secular Society has accused the BBC of being "obsessed with religion". I think they are objecting to the invitation to the Pope to give the Thought for the Day on Radio 4's Today Programme which was broadcast this morning on Christmas Eve. They might also be objecting to the decision to run the Nativity series on BBC TV in the prime slot at 7pm each day this week. I wonder why it is thought to be obsessive for our major national broadcasting institution to be helping the nation to understand what Christmas celebration is all about. Recently a shocking statistic demonstrated that only a small percentage of our young people even knew the story of Christmas. Have we gained anything from losing our hold on the story which makes sense of this mid-winter celebration?
This week our city council has decided to press ahead with an election for a Mayor of Leicester. Hidden in all our preparations for holiday-making and partying comes a solid piece of political news.
Are these two completely disconnected worlds? Do politics and Christmas have anything to do with each other? In one of the great Bible readings from our Carol Services this year come these words from the Prophet Isaiah: "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon His shoulders; and He is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
The Christmas story tells us that God comes to us as a human being. 
And that all of us stand under His authority and judgement, even politicians, even the most powerful people in the world. That truth is right at the heart of how we understand ourselves as a nation. It is acted out in the Coronation Service when the Queen places the sword of state on the altar of Westminster Abbey – acknowledging a higher authority than her own.
The Pope, speaking in Westminster Hall earlier this year, acknowledged that the voice of the Church of England in this country has helped to create a Britain that has fought against the most secular evils of the 20th century, by holding our politicians to account.
The celebrations we all share in are not based on a fairy story of long ago and far away. But upon a real story of a real truth about the real world. God comes to us in Jesus. He comes today and everyday. And He comes to reveal to us that the way to peace, justice and prosperity is by means of the law of love. This is not an obsession, but a truth.
A very happy Christmas to you all.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

future funding for Leicester Partnership host organisations

22 December 2010

Dear George

I am writing to clarify the position in relation to future funding for the Leicester Partnership Community of Interest Host organisations.

Within the last week, the City Council has received its funding settlement which has as anticipated, resulted in significant cuts to the local financial envelope available to deliver all of our services into the future. Alongside this a number of specific funding grants have been stopped or significantly cut, including the Area Based Grant which will cease to exist from 1st April 2011. This does require some very difficult decisions to be made which have not been taken lightly.

Elected members are committed to protecting front line services. All services are being asked to achieve this as far as practically possible whilst being mindful of the funding stream notifications and restrictions, needs analysis and developing plans in connection with future service priorities.

It has been the Area Based Grant which has been the source of funding for the Leicester Partnership Community of Interest Host organisations. In view of the pressing financial situation and in order to meet our legal obligations, the principles set out under the Leicester Compact and protect the Council's financial position, I writing to formally advise you that the service you currently provided as a host organisation will not be re-commissioned at the end of the current term on the 31st March 2011 when the arrangement between us come to an end, and in particular no further payments for the cost of the services will accrue. You may wish, given this position, to consider the measures you need to take in respect of the organisations you represent and any staff or individuals that may be effected.

The Council recognises that having strong involvement of the Communities of Interest in the work of the Leicester Partnership is important to its continued success. Much time and effort has been invested on the part of the Host organisations themselves, by the previous Chair of the Leicester Partnership, Voluntary Action LeicesterShire and by City Council officers, in establishing this relationship and in developing the role of the Community of Interest Hosts. Whilst the funding may not be available going forward, it would be our intention, as much as is possible, to continue to build on and develop this approach.

Therefore, if beyond March, as a Host organisation you feel able to continue in the absence of funding, this of course would be very much welcomed and my team will do what they reasonably can to support this albeit recognising the constraints on both parties in terms of future capacity and resources. We very much want to seek to do what we can to support a workable approach into the future, albeit with a reduced level of resources ourselves.

It is always difficult to have to stop funding activities and organisations, and take a change of direction, but I hope you can appreciate that in the current financial climate these tough choices have to be made. In writing this letter I have also been particularly mindful of the potential difficulties that the end of any contract can mean for individual organisations and hence our desire to ensure we give you sufficient notice of our decisions.

I would like to take the opportunity to formally thank you for the work you have done to date as a Host organisation for the Leicester Partnership, and will no doubt continue to do during the remaining funding period, and where possible beyond this.

I should be grateful if you would acknowledge receipt of this letter by completing and returning the attached pro-forma.

Your sincerely

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

SING CHRISTMAS


BBC Radio Leicester broadcasts a programme of Carols and Christmas readings from the city's 14th century Guildhall this evening, featuring the Choir of St Thomas's, South Wigston. My ten-year old son Harry sings soprano with them. The Guildhall is relatively small and tickets were not to be had this evening, for love nor money. While I can't, in all honesty, say that I was able to pick out his voice, still I felt right proud, listening to him gping out live over the airwaves. In the picture above, Harry can be seen in red, far right onstage (honest - it's amazing how few clues you need to recognise your own child!)

CHRISTMAS CONCERT AT ST ANNE'S


Having accepted Jill Carr's invitation to attend the Dovelands Primary School's junior pupils' Christmas Concert, at St Anne's Parish Church, Letchworth Road, we arrive there just after 1100, when things are in full swing. Jill's son is helping out with some of the musical accompaniment. The church is packed and we squeeze in at the back door, just as the children launch into their presentation of the Annunciation. The performances are lovely, everything is greeted with beaming smiles and rewarded by much clapping. The words to the songs are projected using PowerPoint on the back wall of the church, so that the children don't have to hold song sheets (or worry about forgetting anything). The audience can't see any of this unless they turn round - indeed many wouldn't know it's there (until the projectionist gets ahead of themselves and flashes through some of the slides too quickly, so that the Deputy Head has to stop the singing and ask for the slides to go back a few). At one point, the command "Groove!" appears and the children go into a hand jive! And there are few things that say "Christmas" better than a small child playing "Away in a Manger" on solo descant recorder (with obligatory squeaky notes).

Photo © Copyright Tony Ellis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

ENGAGING WITH LEICESTER'S FAITH COMMUNITIES: MUSLIMS


At Madani High School, Evington Valley Road, this morning, for a meeting to progress the Muslim text in the series, Engaging with Leicester's Faith Communities. We've recently held a similar meeting on the Christian text with representatives from different churches. Back in the summer (way back in the summer) we held what turned out to be a significant meeting at the Tigers with leading figures from each of the city's Gurdwaras (and the schools with the biggest populations of Sick pupils and students) on the Sikh text. We're in the process of arranging this kind of meeting to look over the text of the Hindu booklet, to be held early next year.

This meeting should have been held two weeks ago, but was postponed. The school was closed because the heating had broken down. It's much colder today (at one point this morning, the temperature read -8 on the top of the Leicester Mercury building) and when I arrive at Madani, the school is once again closed to pupils today because the heating has broken down. But it feels quite cosy compared to outside and our meeting is on.

There are only two others here for the meeting: Jill Carr, RE Advisor to Leicester City Council and Secretary of Leicester SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education) and Shaykh Dr Ashraf Makadam, Chair of the Federation of Muslim Organisations and Director of Madani High School.

The intention behind these booklets is that they should provide practical advice to school staff on everyday matters affecting, or affected by, the beliefs and practices of members of the school community (as well as applying guidance to topics such as holy days and festivals). One of the interesting things we explore today is how to produce a text that is useful both in the context of a Muslim faith school (like Madani) and in state schools with varying numbers of Muslims pupils, students and staff among them.

These booklets are partly in Q&A form, addressing the kind of issues that could easily cause confusion or contention in schools. For example:

  • "Is our school dress code suitable for Muslim pupils/students?"
  • "Does a beard have religious significance for older male Muslim students?"
  • "What provision should be made for after-school classes during Ramadan?"
  • "Is it alright to take part in mixed gender sports activities?"

We make good progress on the text, but there's not enough time to finish it today, so Jill will make the amendments agreed this morning and circulate the booklet one (last?) time.

On the way out, we're introduced to John Kirk, from the Gideons, who's come to the school to discuss introducing the Bible to students and the possibility of teaching a few sessions on Christianity in their RE classes. I remember being given a Gideon's Bible at school when I was 11 or 12. I still have it.

I'm also greeted by a couple of teachers from the school who helped out on the Council of Faiths exhibition in Highcross for Inter Faith Week. Nice to see them again - and they seem to have positive recollections of the event (which is nice).

Jill offers me a lift into town. As we're walking to her car, she mentions that she's been invited to Dovelands Primary School's junior pupils' Christmas Concert, at St Anne's Parish Church in Western Park. She asks me if I'd like to come - why not? Doesn't look like I'm going to get to any other Christmas concerts this year and there are few things more seasonal and cheering. I'm sure it will be a very nice way to pass an hour or so.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Christmas Aaya


High profile launch today for a multicultural, multi-faith Christmas single. The article and photo feature our very own Concillor Manjula Sood, Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths (third from left in the photo above) and Resham Singh Sandhu (second from right).
People of all faiths are coming together to launch the first Asian Christmas song, with all profits going to the victims of the Pakistan floods.

"Christmas Aaya" – Christmas is Here – is being played by radio stations across the world and is already in The Voice of Asia top ten. Record-breaking drummer King G Mall, who produced the single and appears as Father Christmas in the video, says he is aiming for a Christmas number one.

‘‘We all celebrate Christmas to some degree and I love bringing everyone together for a good cause.

"On the single we sing in both English and Punjabi and this is the first song with a video shot in four countries – UK, Holland, Canada and India."

The Curve theatre in Leicester is holding a spectacular launch party Friday December 17, hosted by Simon Ward of BBC East Midlands Today. The night features Bollywood dancers, bhangra and a fashion show with leaders of many faiths attending.

"They include Resham Singh Sandhu MBE, chair of the Sikh Welfare Cultural Society UK, Reverend Javid Iqbal, chair of the Diosesan Forum for Ethnic Minority Anglicans in Leicester, who says he is “honoured to be part of the event as it’s bringing the faith communities together and raising much needed funding to help the flood victims of Pakistan to rebuild their lives.”.

Suleman Nagdi MBE of the Federation of Muslim Organisation also pledges his support, stating that, “As a Muslim, I am extremely honoured to be part of the Christmas Aaya event as it shows how communities can work together for the mutual respect and advancement of good community relations in Leicestershire.” Also present will be councillor Manjula Sood, former Lord Mayor and chair of the Leicester Council of Faiths, Mussarat Iqbal, chair of Life Skill Project International and Pat Weller, Chief Executive of the Curve said, “We at the curve support both the local and the wider community and we are behind this fundraising event.”

The launch is supported by Curve and Pukaar News.

King G. Mall says, "It’s hardcore Bhangra based on traditional Punjabi folk music but we include a banjo and you can’t help smiling and dancing! Tourists joined in when we were filming at London Bridge and now they’re in the film, along with people from the streets of Leicester."

King G. Mall twice appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest assembled gathering of dhol players (Punjabi drummers.) Earlier this year he released "Aao Ji", the first bhangra release to feature both Asian and non-Asian artists, which received massive online attention with over two hundred and fifty thousand hits.

Artists from Canada, the UK, India, Holland and Pakistan feature in the new single, including Naomi Zaman, Sahib Sekhon, Sana Parvez Naeem John from Leicester and 12-year-old Londoner Nish.

"People say, 'What’s the crazy guy up to now?' I’m aiming to bring people of all cultures together for a good cause and to celebrate Christmas as one!"

Read the article in context on the website of Pukaar News:
http://www.pukaarnews.com/Pages/NsCaaya.html

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

sourcing the amplified crowd


At Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre this evening, for the regular monthly meeting of Amplified Leicester. A good number attending, at least two dozen, with the seats arranged in rows this time, rather than around tables, cabaret style. Though that lends a little more formality in terms of the audience, there's no sens of this being a formal sort of presentation.

Eileen Brown (photo above) is a social media consultant who works with corporates to improve perception about their brand and create vibrant communities using Social Media to amplify their message and improve the quality of the connection to their customers increasing satisfaction. She is an accomplished and well-known speaker and expert on Social Media, Online Branding, Web 2.0 and Unified Communications. She's just published her new book, Working the Crowd: Social Media Marketing for Business. In it she discusses how some organisations are shunning social media, or restricting access at the firewall. They are reluctant to embrace this new media which will harm their business. This will restrict their ability to employ new talent, respond to market forces, be agile, and grow their revenue. Eileen explains why social media is vital to continued business success and why it matters.

In a nutshell, Eileen talks about how to make sense of the wealth of information about actual and potential customers, partners, employees etc that can be scooped up from social media. We can say more about ourselves and learn more about others than ever before - but what can we actually do with it all? There's a raffle for a signed copy of Eileen's book - and Tonia wins it! She didn't even know about Amplified Leicester and social media till lunchtime today when I told her! Still, probably means I can borrow it.

I get the Flip video camera into action again at the end of the evening and do seven talking heads about Amplified Leicester - including a beaming Tonia. You can watch these videos here:
http://www.youtube.com/user/counciloffaiths?feature=mhum#g/c/A80FC7342EA6EA8A

Find out more about Amplified Leicester (and sign up!):
http://ampleic.ning.com/

Singing in the city


Walking down Gallowtree Gate, after the meeting of Leicester Council of Faiths Board of Directors, I'm attracted by the sound of singing. In the distance, I see a crowd gathered in front of the giant Christmas tree in front of the Clock Tower. As I approach I realise - it's a choir! Singing in the city centre! After ten on a weekday night! Lovely.

They're the Emmanu'-El Apostolic Gospel Academy, based at De Montfort University.

I video two songs to post on our YouTube channel. I need permission of course, so I ask a couple of men who are with the group, but not singing (one of them videos me, giving my reaction to hearing the choir singing here). They give me the name and number of Sister Ellah and advise me to phone her tomorrow to ask consent for using the videos.

Thankfully, Sister Ellah says yes. Leicester Council of Faiths doesn't have a great record of association, engagement or involvement with African heritage, black-led community churhces in the city, so I'm glad to be able to do this.

You can find the videos of the choir performing on the Council of Faiths YouTube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/counciloffaiths?feature=mhum#p/u/13/bSzyDfUiJFI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epuW0JNPZvI

Find out more about the Emmanu'-El Apostolic Gospel Academy:
http://www.el-eaga.com/

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

BOARD OF DIRECTORS: REPORT OF ACTIVITIES

At the Welcome Centre this evening, for a meeting of the Council of Faiths Board of Directors. Seven out of the eight member faith communities are represented round the table. I'm able to present a report of my activities since the last of these meetings (14 Sep), as listed below. New readers start here:

EDL/UAF demonstration & counter-demonstration
Attended VCS briefing by Leicester City Council & Leics Constabulary (Thu 23 Sep); organised LCoF contribution to Peace Vigil in Cathedral (Fri 08 Oct); wrote and circulated LCoF statement, in Chair’s name (Fri 08 Oct); acted as “single point of contact” for police and City Council on day of demo (Sat 09 Oct); organised LCoF contribution (stall & personnel) to “Celebrate One Leicester” event, Humberstone Gate (Sun 10 Oct); debriefing for members of Equality and Diversity partnership (Thu 04 Nov).

BBC Radio Leicester
Thu 07 Oct (Ben Jackson Show, recorded input, re pledge in Leicester Cathedral); Mon 11 Oct (Ben Jackson Show, live in studio, re Leicester Speaks); Fri 15 Oct (Ben Jackson Show, recorded input, re “Picnic in the Park”); Wed 01 Dec (Jonathan Lampon Show, live in studio with Dr Allan Hayes of Leicester Secular Society, re national “Not Ashamed” campaign).

Leicester Speaks - AKA Local Democracy Week
Appointed by steering group as Joint Chair (with John Coster of Citizens’ Eye Community News Agency) of this week-long event (Mon 11-Sat 16 Oct), supported by Adult Skills and Learning Service, Leicester City Council. Organised four dialogue meetings for LCoF across the week, involving each of our member faith communities (Jain/Sikh; Baha’i/Christian; Buddhist/Muslim; Hindu/Jewish) as well as planning and hosting other events across the week (particularly public launch in Humberstone Gate). Planning group met Fri 17 Sep; Fri 24 Sep;  Fri 01 Oct; Mon 04 Oct; Wed 06 Oct; Fri 08 Oct; Fri 15 Oct.

Centre for Excellence in Community Cohesion
Member of full group and working party for Leicester City Council Chief Exec’s project (met Mon 25 Oct; Tue 30 Nov).

Equality Impact Assessment on effects of Comprehensive Spending Review
Member of group working on this for Leicester City Council (met Thu 04 Nov; Mon 08 Nov; Tue 07 Dec).

Engaging with Faith Communities in Leicester
Continuing involvement with series of booklets, offering guidance for school staff. Started off with team of six doing this, now down to just two of us (met Mon 15 Nov; Mon 06 Dec; Fri 10 Dec).

Inter Faith Week
Organised and co-ordinated whole week of exhibition showcasing all eight member faith communities in Highcross, Sun 21 – Sat 27 Nov). We’re assured that there may have been as many as 500,000 footfalls over the course of the week. More than 50 people from various faith communities (some from none in particular) volunteered to help on the display, giving out material and engaging with members of the public. Highlights included front-page coverage in The Wave (young people’s supplement, 70,000 copies distributed free with Leicester Mercury, Wed 24 Nov) visit to display by Sir Peter Soulsby MP (Thu 25 Nov) and visit by City Councillor Wayne Naylor (Fri 26 Nov). And we’ve already been given tentative consent to do it again in 2011!

NHS Leicester City / Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust
Preparing ground for launch of “Faith Communities Health Champions” project, in context of Service Level Agreement (met with representatives of NHS Leicester City or Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, Wed 14 Oct; Thu 21 Oct; Fri 10 Dec).

Other notable activities, events, projects in this period:

Attended Chief Constable’s Inter-Cultural Reception, Police HQ, Enderby (Tue 28 Sep).

Contributed to Leicester Uni Chaplaincy exhibit at International Student Fair (Wed 29 Sep).

Hosted visit to Leicester by Blackpool Inter Faith Forum for Youth (Sat 02, Sun 03 Oct).

Participated in “Together” inter faith family day at Beauchamp College (Sun 03 Oct).

Organised five speakers for Philosophy Panel at St Paul’s RC School (Tue 05 Oct).

Assisted “Sacred Spaces” training, Leicester Cathedral Church House (Wed 06, Thu 07 Oct).

Participated in Action for Children Family Intervention Project Diversity Day, Oak Centre, Braunstone (Fri 22 Oct).

“One Leicester: Faith for the Future” RE conference for gifted & talented children, Holy Trinity Church, Regent Rd (Fri 29 Oct).

Continued involvement in consultation re Certificate in Religious Studies with Leicester Uni Institute of Lifelong Learning (met Thu 04 Nov; Fri 12 Nov).

Launch of Council of Faiths YouTube video channel (Fri 12 Nov).

Contributed to staff inter faith training event, Connexions, Halford House, Charles St (Thu 25 Nov).

Contributed to staff training event, Leicester City Council Adult Skills and Learning Service, Adult Education College, Wellington St (Wed 08 Dec).

Kept up involvement in local networking through involvement with Amplified Leicester, Café Creatif, Community News Café, CreativeCoffee Club, Philosophy in the Pub, To Be Creative and similar opportunities.

REDP delivery group

At Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL) this morning, for the regular weekly meeting of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership's delivery group. This is the group that carries on the work of REDP between monthly meetings of the Core Partners (LCIL; Leicester Council of Faiths; Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre; The Race Equality Centre) and quarterly meetings of the Core Reference Group (which has 25 seats, for infrastructure support groups working in the field of equalities across the East Midlands).

Among other tasks, today we're in the final stages of approving the revamped version of our Good Practice Equality and Diversity Healthcheck. I'm giving it one last look over before it gets the seal of approval. I also (at last) set up an email account into which I can forward the equality and diversity-related tweets. Each member of the delivery group has the password, so we can all access it and make us of the information, material and resources. We should be looking at the new Localism Bill that was published yesterday, but that's just too much to fit into our two hours today.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Engaging with faith communities in Leicester (7)


A meeting at Soar Valley College this afternoon (starting 1630 - on a Friday?!?) to work on the text of the Christian booklet in the series, "Engaging with Faith Communities in Leicester".

The meeting is led by Jill Carr, Secretary of SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education) and RE Adviser with Leicester City Council. this is my second meeting with Jill this week on this project. We got together to work on the Muslim text on Monday afternoon at Forest Lodge Education Centre.

Apart from Jill and me, there are seven others, all members of SACRE, representing a variety of Christian denominations. Considering we're trying to put together something on which we can all broadly agree, the meeting is pretty productive. I feel that my role today has more to do with ensuring consistency with the other titles we've been working on in this series - and to help make sure (along with Jill) that the text serves the practical purposes which the series is intended to serve.

TO THE TOWERS



To the Towers, Gypsy Lane, this afternoon, for a meeting with Abida Hussain, Equality and Human Rights Officer with Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust.

The possibility of a working relationship between Leicester Council of Faiths and the local health service was mooted at the first ever meeting of the Council of Faiths I attended after taking up this post. Back in July 2007, at that meeting where I was introduced to the members, Philip Parkinson (then Chair of the Primary Care Trust) and Tim Rideout (Chief Executive) were there to speak about recent changes in local health provision and the establishment of a Department of Equalities and Human Rights. From that time on, we’ve slowly spiralled around doing work for the Primary Care Trust (as it then was), then NHS Leicester City, and now Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. We do have a Service Level Agreement with them, but internal reorganisation and turnover of staff mean that we still haven’t really go this relationship in good order. The recent proposal of us supporting the "Faith Communities Health Champions" initiative has focused the need to straighten out our working arrangements.

At this late stage of the game, we're looking to show some quick wins, so Abida and I agree on a few pieces of work that could be done and dusted before Christmas.

I can't allow my account of this meeting to go by without saying a little bit about the Towers itself. It was founded in 1869 as the Leicester Borough Asylum, then served as the Towers Hospital (as it was rneamed in 1947) until its closure as a treatment facility in 2005. Without really knowing anything about it (or even where it was) I was aware of it from my earliest times living around here as a place with a grim reputation. Occasionally it would feature in unpleasant and unfortunate news stories in the local media. Having taught for a few years inside the mental health service, many of the clients I’ve worked with would freeze at the mention of it – whether or not they’d ever been inside it themselves.

When I came to my fist meeting here, a few years ago, the person who received me then remarked, as we walked through the long, echoing tiled corridors, that you just knew that this place was originally established as an asylum, not a hospital. Hard to put into words exactly why that was so, but it most certainly was.



For an unsual vew of the Towers, visit the Urban Exploration Forum.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

To Be Creative at LCB Depot


Though I'm able to spare only a few minutes, I pop into the latest "To Be Creative" networking session at the LCB Depot in Rutland Street, late this afternoon. Kate Cowan (Business Incubation Officer) is, as always, an exemplary hostess and I'm pleased to meet Cheryl Gill (recently appointed Enterprise Support Officer at LCB Depot and Phoenix Square) for the first time.


These "To Be Creative" sessions are a good complement to CreativeCoffee Club at Phoenix Square, demonstrating the mutually supportive way these two sites and agencies work together. You'd think it would just be the same faces at both, but it hardly ever seems to work that way. There tend to be lower numbers attending the LCB events so I hope they get a boost in support here before long.

thank you Suzie!

This afternoon, I go to the Management Suite on the third floor at Highcross with a bouquet of flowers and a card for Suzie Wood, Commercialisation Coordinator there, who was our contact and liaison for the Council of Faiths exhibition in National Inter Faith Week.

I intend to drop these items off at reception for Suzie, without wishing to hand them over to her personally. I don't want to cause a fuss or make it feel like we're trying to ingratiate ourselves with her. But when I get there, she's actually standing chatting to the woman behind the desk. So I give them to her, express our thanks and say (as it does in the card) that we're grateful to her for helping to make the week pass so painlessly and easily for us and that we're keeping our fingers crossed for coming back next year. "So it's not so much a gift as a bribe!" she says. "Isn't everything, in the end?" I reply. Suzie says, in a perfectly happy and matter-of-fact way, that she's sure Highcross can fit us in next year and that we should let her know the dates for National Inter Faith Week 2011 as soon as we can.

That's 50 weeks to go - and counting!

my management group

At the Welcome Centre this morning for a meeting with my Personnel Management Group. Although our Chair, Manjula Sood, has to offer her apologies for this meeting, still we have the benefit of a diversity of backgrounds, traditions in the members here today: Bahá'í, Christian, Jewish, Sikh. Major topics on our agenda today include: National Inter Faith Week; working relationships with Leicester City Council, Leicester Partnership and NHS Leicester City; our venture further into social media; involvement in writing the booklet series, "Engaging with Faith Communities in Leicester"; engagement in the developing Centre of Excellence in Community Cohesion. That's a lot to fit into two hours - exhaustingly so!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Leicester Partnership

At Forest Lodge Education Centre for the second time in three days - this time for a full meeting of Leicester Partnership.

The meeting is preceded by a buffet lunch in honour of Philip Parkinson, who is retiring today as Chair.

One of our duties as Host Organisation for the communities of interest of faith or belief has been to obtain the services of two representatives of that community at large, who can attend full meetings of the Partnership and act as channels of communication in both directions. For one reason or another (ill health, family support, work commitments) the two representatives who have held these positions for almost the past couple of years haven't been able to perform these tasks to the full. Today, Tony and Minou are attending, as named substitutes with full voting rights. I'm at my first meeting of the Partnership, as a substitute myself, for Dee Martin, representing the Equality and Diversity Partnership. I am entitled to attend these meetings normally, but as VCS / Host Organisation contact, with voting rights and only able to speak if asked for clarification.

The character and function of Leicester Partnership is changing. Today we are voting on acceptance of a new constitution and for the election of a new Vice Chair. The new Chair will automatically be Leader of Leicester City Council. The constitution is passed en bloc, with notes for the attention of the Partnership Executive. The new Vice Chair is Iris Lightfoote, Chief Executive of The Race Equality Centre and Chair of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP). This is a good thing for equalities in general in the city - and for the Equality and Diversity Partnership (EDP) in particular. Members of that partnership live from hand-to-mouth in an atmosphere where we never seem to be wholly welcome. We didn't even know if we'd be funded for our activities after today. The Chair assures the meeting that EDP is funded till 31 March. His further comments that the Leicester Partnership Executive will have to consider how it embeds equalities into all aspects of the Partnership's work sounds to me like a door being wedged open.

CreativeCoffee Club


After participating in the taining event for LASALS staff at the Adult Education College, I get to CreativeCoffee Club (at Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre) a bit late this morning, with only half an hour to go. It's always worthwhile no matter what time you turn up and it's good to refresh my networking chops.

I persuade a few of those attending to step in front of my Flip video camera, to speak for a minute or so about CreativeCoffee Club: Jane (who co-ordinates it), Farhanah (a veteran of sorts - though not when compared to me, of course) and Tara, Charlie and Magda (speaking as newcomers). I do a few more shots, but background noise makes them unsuitable for uploading to our YouTube channel.

Magda, whom I've only met once before, said the nicest thing to me. She's from Poland and she'd been trying to tell her friends and relatives back home what Christmas is like in Leicester. Rather than describe it, she has been directing them to the two videos I shot just the other night of the Christmas decorations in Town Hall Square and posted on YouTube :^)

training event for LASALS staff


This morning, I'm taking part in a training event for staff in Leicester Adult Skills and Learning Service (LASALS) at Leicester Adult Education College (LAEC), Wellington Street.

When I was a Basic Skills tutor at the Adult Education College (2003-05), "staff training" used to involve no more than a dozen of us, fitted snugly into the resource room on the third floor. Today's event is being held in the Hansom Hall and there are 80-odd people here.

Our route into this event is through the Council of Faiths having participated in "Leicester Speaks" (AKA Local Democracy Week) in October. Some of the groups that joined in that event are here today - most notably ourselves, Citizens' Eye Community News Agency and TouchRainbow Productions.

First speaker is Chris Minter (Head of Service), then Parmjit Basra (Project Officer) introduces Leicester Speaks and after a few minutes he hands the mic to me. I go up on the stage and speak for a quarter of an hour. I can't help but mention my own experience as a tutor in this building and the degree of a\ffection in which I hold the Adult Education College. When I started working here, it was the last few months in which the college enjoyed some degree of independence from the City Council. Coming within the system assured LAEC's continued survival and support, but it had to give up a lot in the process.


When the Leicester Speaks DVD is shown later, just before the break at 1100, I must confess to watching it beaming with pride. As soon as it's over, I nip back to Pilgrim House for a few more freebies - leaflets, flyers, keyfobs etc - for the attendees (I underestimated the number I thought might be here today).

I take advantage of the break to dash off to Phoenix Square for the last half hour of CreativeCoffee Club.

Find out more about Leicester Adult Skills and Learning Service:
http://www.lasals.co.uk/

Monday, 6 December 2010

ENGAGING WITH LEICESTER'S FAITH COMMUNITIES (6)


At Forest Lodge Education Centre this afternoon, meeting with Jill Carr (photo above), Leicester City Council's RE Adviser and Secretary of SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education). We're working on the latter stages of the text of the Muslim booklet in the series, "Engaging with Leicester's Faith Communities".

Sunday, 5 December 2010

TWEETIE PIE

I filmed a number of short video interviews with members of the Leicester Hebrew Congregation at the end of the Chanukah celebration in the Town Hall this evening. I then uploaded these videos to the Council of Faiths channel on YouTube. Since I've linked our YouTube and Twitter accounts, each time I upload a video, the fact that I have done so gets tweeted to each one of our followers. Leicester Council of Faiths has 130 followers on Twitter.

Shortly after I uploaded the first of these five videos about Chanukah (featuring Mike Jacobs), the Lord Mayor of Leicester, Cllr Colin Hall (who attended the Chanukah celebration) retweeted our announcement of its publication. For the uninitiated, "retweeting" is rather like "forwarding"; it is not done automatically, the account holder has to do it by choice. This means that the Lord Mayor chose to announce the availability of the video to his whole list of followers. The Lord Mayor of Leicester has 707 followers on Twitter - all of whom will have received his personal recommendation of this short video clips.

A few minutes later, another retweet, this time by Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent for The Times. The video she retweeted is of Rabbi Pink telling the story of the historical origin of Chanukah. Although Ruth Gledhill is a follower of the Council of Faiths twitterstream, she's never retweeted any of our posts before. Ruth Gledhill has 6,196 followers of her own on Twitter - all of whom will have received her personal recommendation of this short video clip.

Personal recommendations for material on our YouTube channel by our secular Lord Mayor and by the Religion Correspondent of The Times - I'd call that a result for Leicester Council of Faiths!

CHANUKAH LIGHTING AT TOWN HALL


To the Town Hall this evening, for the seventh annual celebration of Chanukah here. There's a good turnout and Council Chamber appears full.. Harry and Grace have come with me. There's a fairly lively 50-minute programme, introduced by Tony Nelson, who represents the Leicester Hebrew Congregation on the Council of Faiths (of which he is the current Vice Chair). There are upbeat contributions from David Parsons, Leader of Leicestershire County Council, and Cllr Colin Hall, Lord Mayor of Leicester.

We get to see two video presentations: one accompanies a rap entitled "I'm a Maccabee", performed vivaciously by two of Rabbi Pink's young sons; the other video presentation takes as its refrain the popular phrase, "Yes we can". During this one, I reflect on the nature of Chanukah as the principal occasion in the Jewish calendar when the community is encouraged to proclaim its identity and celebrate its qualities in the wider world - because they can. Made me think about how this week started, with me being asked for an inter faith response to the "Not Ashamed" campaign, led by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey.

Oh, and I'd forgotten just how much singing goes along with this event - and all the clapping too! Honestly, my hands feel like they'd had six of the best by the end of the evening.

The central feature was the lighting of the lights on the giant menorah which dominated the platform by Rabbi Pink, perched precariously on a ladder, bearing the taper lit by the Lord Mayor. A few concerend whispers about health and safety drift by my ear ...

Latkes and pastries follow, much to the children's delight.

As the evening draws to a close, I manage to carry out five video interviews for the Council of Faiths YouTube channel. Harry joins in, making audio recordings at the same time on his phone. I had to tell him afterward that he was poking his phone a bit too close into the face of his subjects. He said he thought that might be the case when the Rabbi accidentally bumped into the phone while telling the story of the historical origins of Chanukah.

Friday, 3 December 2010

AMPLIFIED LEICESTER PANEL LINEUP CONFIRMED

This is the last day on which I can confirm the line up for the panel I've been asked to curate for Amplified Leicester in March next year. My topic is "Amplified Communities of Faith or Belief". The title, my name and that of the Council of Faiths has been included on the A5 flyer promoting the programme for 2010-11, but I've been asked to firm up the panellists and a description of the kind of contributions they will be asked to make.

I get confirmation of the last member this afternoon: Richard Hopper, Secretary of Leicester Secular Society. Richard has just launched a Facebook page for the society, which currently has 50 fans. Effectively, the Secular society is dipping its toe in the waters of social media. Richard joins the other two members of the panel, Matt Hughes (IT manager at Samworth Enterprise Academy, with special responsibilities to pupils and staff in relation to social media) and Sughra Ahmed (Islamic Society of Britain, who helped organise a series of flashmob iftar meetings in Victoria Park, helping feed homeless people and destitute asylum seekers, all coordinated through Facebook).

Find out more about Amplified Leicester:
http://ampleic.ning.com/

WORLD RELIGIONS 101


At lunchtime today walking through Welford Place, I bump into Chris Minter (photo above), Head of Service for Leicester City Council Adult Skills and Learning Service (LASALS). We worked together recently on Leicester Speaks (AKA Local Democracy Week). Our quick chat (it's much too cold to stand and talk outside for long) moves from Leicester Speaks to National Inter Faith Week and our Highcross exhibition, thence to something that I've been nursing for ages: the possibility of the Council of Faiths offering a "World Religions 101" course, as part of the Adult Skills and Learning programme, in a popular venue such as the Adult Education College in Wellington Street. This wouldn't be like the sort of post-grad course offered by St Philip's Centre, or what we've been discussing at Leicester University Institute of Lifelong Learning, but a beginners' guide for interested members of the general public. I've roughed out versions of just such a course, which could be offered in 10, 16 or 32 sessions in one of my little black books. Chris likes the sound of the idea, asks me to drop him a line and he'll pass it on to his colleagues in Curriculum. Nice!

When I mention to Chris that Leicester City Council gave zero recognition or support to National Inter Faith Week just gone by, he tells me that it sounds like the sort of thing that the Adult Skills and Learning Service should be getting behind and that we should think of ways of working together to promote it in 2011.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

LIGHTEN UP ON THE DARK SIDE


Today's Leicester Mercury carries an article about financial difficulties at The Dark Side cafe. I'd like to publicise that here. I hope lots of people can help Lucie Belikova, who runs the cafe (photo above). It's great to have somewhere like this in our city centre - the venue, its staff and clientele add to Leicester's spiritual vibrancy and diversity. Come on, faithful reader: I've bought my raffle tickets - have you?
Fans fight to save cafe for "geeks"

Groups using Leicester's first "alternative cafe" are trying to raise funds to save it from going out of business.
Lucie Belikova has run the Dark Side Cafe, in the Silver Arcade, Cank Street, for the past 10 months.
It is a meeting place for role-playing gamers and science fiction fans.

Now she fears she may have to close down unless she can find another source of income.

She said: "There is nothing like this place in the city – my customers say it is a home from home."

The cafe, which includes a basement for parties and functions, can cater for around 120 people.

It is used by a mothers and children's group, craft groups, Leicester Pagan Alliance, a Dungeons and Dragons club and the Star Base Leicester fantasy and science fiction club.

Sam Eld, from Star Base Leicester, said: "Everyone is rallying to help. There's a raffle, and prizes are being donated for it. It's the only cafe in the city that makes 'geeks' and gamers welcome."

Regular customer Su Clement, an environmental health officer for Leicester City Council, said: "It is a fantastic place and it would be a great shame if Lucie had to close down."

The next fund-raising event for the cafe is a Christmas craft fair on Saturday.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

PHILOSOPHY IN PUBS


This evening I'm at PIPS - Philosophy in Pubs - which takes place on the first Wednesday of the month at the Swan & Rushes, Infirmary Square. Our discussion this time could be said to revolve around individuality and social control. The meeting is facilitated by Lezley Finch (who provides the stimulus in the form of a newspaper article), Clare is here, as is Steve (who teaches Sociology at Queen Elizabeth I and Wyggeston College) and Allan Hayes. Allan and I reflect on our radio interview with Jonathan Lampon on BBC Radio Leicester this afternoon. He's listened to it on the BBC iPlayer and seems happy enough with it.

BREAK DOWN BARRIERS

This letter is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Break down barriers
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community staged a peace symposium in Leicester bringing together people of all faiths-and-none to promote peace.
We found plenty of common ground, much that we can build upon if only we come together and break down barriers.
As Ahmadis, we follow Islam purely as a religion of peace. It is hardwired into our very constitution and every single member of our community pledges to respect other people's views and beliefs; we pledge loyalty to the country we live in and to contribute positively to the communities in which we live. For us, Islam offers a perfect model for how to live our lives wherever we may be.
It is all so different to the public perception of Islam and the way extremists and some media distort perceptions of the vast majority of peace loving Muslims. Our motto of Love for All, Hatred for None is in stark contrast to messages of hate from extremists.
By getting together, you learn that most people, regardless of their faiths, subscribe to the same values of peace and aspire to a world where, as the Koran stipulates, there is no compulsion in religion.
And far from trying to change the world, you realise that by changing yourself, and taking practical steps to building peaceful communities, you are playing a part in changing the world.
That is why my community regularly engages in charity-giving as part of the faith, in exemplifying through our behaviour and actions that we stand for peace and equity. Even though in a world ravaged by conflict, the hopes of peace lovers almost seem forlorn, I am reminded of the insurmountable odds faced by the Prophets who succeeded even though all stood against them.
Ahmadis hold interfaith peace conferences across Britain to express our understanding of Islam as an inclusive, tolerant and universal faith. This was also cited in a recent Parliamentary debate where MPs extolled the contribution that Ahmadi Muslims had made to the fabric of life in Britain. As one of the oldest Muslim communities in Britain, it was heartening to hear a succession of MPs lauding the work of the Ahmadis.
Much work has been done in Leicester to break down barriers between faiths and this paper has played a major role in building community cohesion. As our peace symposium demonstrated, there are many people who want to build better communities divested of prejudice and strife.
Together, we can work to build on the foundations of peace and tolerance that must weather the storm of hate from zealots and extremists whether they claim to be of a religious or political motivation.
Ghulam Ahmed Khadim, regional missionary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in Leicester

BBC RADIO LEICESTER: NOT ASHAMED


An unexpected phone call this morning from Jonathan Lampon, who hosts the 1200-1400 slot on BBC Radio Leicester. He leaves a message saying that he’s going to be talking about the “Not Ashamed” campaign on his show today and he’d like me to provide on inter faith response on air. Thank goodness I missed the call and he left a message because I have no idea what the “Not Ashamed” campaign is!
I call back and leave a message saying that I’d gladly speak about this – though not before I look up “Not Ashamed” online and speak to Julie-Ann Heath and Barry Naylor (my friends and contacts at the Cathedral), who give me a bit of a steer on the topic.
In the message I leave for Jonathan, I say that if I don’t hear from him by 1100, I’ll call back. I do so several times, but never get past his voicemail. But I’m not going to let thqat get in my way, faithful reader! Since BBC Radio Leicester is so close, I walk down there, arriving about 1150. I present my card at reception, introduce myself, explain why I’m there. I am shortly introduced to a couple of production staff, then ushered into the waiting room for the studio. I’m in there for 1200 and am told I’ll be on air just after 1230. Listening to the show, I’m surprised at the prominence that this topic is being given. I get the impression that religion or belief is not Jonathan’s specialist subject (he has a bit of trouble pronouncing “Bahá'í” when he’s listing religions followed locally on air – it comes out something different both times he tries. When it comes to doing the same list again later in the programme, he leaves that one out). When he emerges from the studio to introduce himself, I ask if he knows that we’ve just had National Inter Faith Week, with our exhibition in Highcross. When he says he knew nothing about it, I show him a few photos on my phone.
Jonathan helps me settle in and has me put on the studio headphones ("cans" as we call thm in the profession) to check for level. He explains that I don't have to keep them on during the broadcast, which reduces the Allan Partridge vibe I'm getting into.
Shortly after 1230, Allan Hayes (of the Secular Society) arrives. We’ll be sharing this slot. That’s appropriate, since the “Not Ashamed” campaign seems to be a response to the perceived marginalisation of Christianity on two fronts: increasing secularisation of society and the plurality of faiths in modern Britain. Allan is asked to comment on the former; I, the latter. Jonathan’s questions are fair and don’t go for the lowest common denominator, as often happens in these situations. It’s a very convivial and civilised quarter of an hour (things usually are when Allan and I meet up). There’s certainly no sense of conflict between the two of us. Hopefully, Allan and I will meet up later this evening at Philosophy in the Pub in the Swan and Rushes, Infirmary Square. I make sure that gets mentioned on air too.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Centre of Excellence in Community Cohesion (4)

At the St Philip's Centre, Evington, for the latest meeting of our sub-group working on proposals for the Centre of Excellence in Community Cohesion. The meeting is led by Jasbir Mann (Head of Learning Services, Leicester City Council). There's another four of us in this meeting: Nick Carter (Chair, Leicester Multicultural Advisory Group), John Hall (Director, St Philip's Centre), Resham Singh Sandhu (Chair, Sikh Cultural and Welfare Society) and me.

Our main tasks today: to convert a paper (already written by Jasbir and presented to the wider group working on this project at its last meeting) into a proposal with two audiences - internal and external; to make progress on mapping work already being done in this field; to decide what we mean by "community cohesion" (we might end up saying "what used to be called 'community cohesion'.")

At moments, bashing out the form of words around the table makes me imagine that we're in the dullest ever episode of The West Wing. Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff made doing all that copy amendment stuff look so cool!

Monday, 29 November 2010

FAITHS GATHER TO RESIST EXTREMISM

This article is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Faiths gather to resist extremism
Muslims held a peace event to show their commitment to the fight against extremism.
A number of different faith groups attended the Ahmadiyya Muslim community event in Braunstone Civic Centre, part of a week-long interfaith project to encourage community cohesion.
President of the city's Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, Dr Habib Akram, said: "There is so much more that unites us than divides us and it is through events like this that we build networks of friendship and solidarity against the extremists and hate-mongers."

Saturday, 27 November 2010

INTER FAITH WEEK 2010: DAY 7


This morning I'm off to teach a session of my Open University tutorial group at Nottingham Trent University (E301: "The Art of English" a third - honours - level linguistics course, if you'd like to look it up, faithful reader). At the train station, I bump into Mike Burden and Allan Hayes of Leicester Secular society, who are on their way to Birmingham for a regional meeting of the British Humanist Association. We talk for a few minutes about the event at South Leicestershire College, in South Wigston, earlier this week. Mike had been there and I'd heard reports about it from a few others who were also in attendance. "What a grim affair that was," was how he summed it up. I responded by saying that's what happens when the Council of Faiths isn't involved. We, as an institution - and I personally - wouldn't have stood for the kind of thing that was said to have been going on there that day. I don't mean we'd have been confrontational about it - but I'm sure we'd have seen that something would have been done.

Right-oh: it's the final day of our exhibition for National Inter Faith Week. I'm unable to get to Highcross till 1400. No dallying around Nottingham in Fopp today. When I do arrive, I'm delighted by what I see. Being Saturday afternoon and getting so close to Christmas, it's very busy of course, and that also means more people stopping and talking at the display. The team on duty right now is doing a great job: Ramesh Mashru (from Swaminarayan Mission) rock solid and unflappable, standing at one end of the exhibition as if commanding the tiller of a boat; Stephanie Maud (from Glenfield Bahá'ís and Chair of Leicester SACRE - the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education) and her daughter Anya chatting away amiably with members of the public; Sughra Ahmed (from the Islamic Society of Britain) in the aisles, pressing our flyer upon shoppers. Strictly speaking, we're not doing that - but Sughra is making such a fine job of it, that I can only encourage her in her efforts.

From 1600 to 1800, it's my (official) turn on the display, along with Rizwan Afzal and Riyaz Laher from the Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO). They're in the photo below.



Late in the afternoon, there's a surprise visitor on the stall: my younger son Harry. Since I'm not expecting him, I do a double-take when I turn around and see him picking off some leaflets. He's dropped by with his mum and step-dad on their way to see the new Harry Potter in the Showcase cinema, which is part of the Highcross complex.

Oops! I've made a mistake about closing time. We have to pack up and be off the premises for 1900. I thought we had another hour. Penny Jones and Stephen Woodward are the final volunteers of the week; they get to do only three-quarters of an hour. Still nice to have them though (that's them in the photo below). And they put a fews nice comments into the reflective journal.


With half an hour to go, Alastair and Rabia arrive to help me dismantle the exhibition, pack it into the drum stands and wheel it all back to Pilgrim House. As we approach through Town Hall Square, I see the front door wedged open and hear unusual sounds within. As we enter the building, there's a meeting in progress of an African heritage, black-led meeting for praise and worship: loud and vibrant, in contrast to the chilly stillness outside.

Here are the reflective journal entries made by the volunteer helpers on this final day:
"Not a great deal of interest this morning - perhaps the snow has frozen people into focusing on Xmas shopping! My earlier shift in the week brought more interest and people took away leaflets and contact details. People do look though so it is still a good way of engaging the public's attention. It is a shame more people from the Leicester Council of Faiths are not actively involved - being out there and meeting the public is an excellent way of engaging in a multi-faith society. Today found myself with the same people as last year!"
"I volunteered on the Leicester Council of Faiths' Inter Faith Week stall for a couple of hours. Although it's indoors my fingers are freezing cold as I write this so please excuse the poor handwriting! I found most people who passed by the stall seemed indifferent to religion and others were very interested because their children were learning / teaching religion or because they belonged to a faith and wanted to learn more. I spent most of my time saying 'hello' to passers by who at times replied with the same and at other times even asked how I was! A handful of people seemed to react in a negative way which is quite sad really. Having undergone this experience I now value much more the time and energy volunteers give at stalls, especially in the winter! Well done and keep up the spirits, Leicester Council of Faiths!"
"I think many people who passed read the information but seemed hesitant to approach for a leaflet. It was really amazing to watch people's faces as the read the various quotes and I think it was an unforgettable experience. The hours passed quickly. Thank you."
"Lots of people glance at it and read the display. We had some lovely encounters today, not least with fellow volunteers! A privilege to be part of it."
"As usual it is very nice to see lots of people passing by the exhibition. In reality, what we present within the restricted space is quite excellent and informative too. In order to attract more people to the exhibition I suggest if we can use some audiovisual devices if allowed or at least some volunteers holding placards with messages reading, 'Come and visit our exhibition, we are promoting trust, understanding and cooperation among the various faiths of the city.' Those really interested would spare some time and come and visit the exhibition when we can have dialogue with them about the faith topics. Keep up the spirit."
"It was good to take part, albeit very briefly and at the the end and to meet other volunteers. The displays were very colourful and literature to give out good introductions. Wondered if a higher level banner could be incorporated so the 'side on' view had an overall title. Many thanks for the hard work!"

My thanks to all those who gave their time and energy on the exhibition and to those who helped put it up or take it down: Rizwan Afzal, Sughra Ahmed, Shakil Amanji, Alastair Ballentyne, Grace Ballentyne, Samantha Birnie, Sonya Brown, Jill Carr, Ted Cassidy, Ramila Chauhan, Irfan Chhatbar, Chogma, Kevin Commons, Minou Cortazzi, Celia Cox, Ian Davies, Kiriti Doshi, Beverley Farrand, Amanda Fitton, Rosemarie Fitton, Stephen Foster, Tara Gatherer, Ian Grayling, Rita Green, Julie-Ann Heath, Angela Jagger, Penny Jones, Charlotte Jordan, Kelly Jussab, Suzanne Kelly, Marion Kennedy, Sarfraz Khan, Susthama Marion Kim, Riyaz Laher, Jan MacDonald, Scott MacDonald, Aramesh Mahboubi, Rabia Mahmood, Ramesh Majithia, Ramesh Mashru, Anya Maud, Stephanie Maud, Barry Naylor, Tony Nelson, Louise Perrier, Smita Shah, Noel Singh, Manish Sood, Manjula Sood, Carol Sourbutts, Yasmin Surti, Clive Sutton, Gursharan Thandi, Stephen Thompson, Natasha Trevadi, Simon Williams, Arthur Winner, Barbara Winner, Susan Woodward.