Sunday, 31 January 2010

electronic rights

Phone call this morning from friend and colleague, Maureen Sier in Glasgow. Maureen is Interfaith Development Officer for the Scottish Government (that's her speaking at the launch of National Inter Faith Week for Leicester and Leicestershire, Mon 16 Nov at County Hall, Glenfield). One of the local authorities in Scotland with which she's been working is interested in purchasing the rights to the leaflets and banners that Leicester Council of Faiths has produced and adapting it for use in their own area. We're able to sell the electronic rights to the leaflets, which allows the purchaser to adapt it to their own circumstances. We estimated the cost of the leaflets to be around £10,000 all in. We sell the eletronic rights for a mere £450. The advantages in buying these texts from the Council of Faiths is that:
  • all the research and writing has been done;
  • the treatment given to the faiths arises from questions asked of, or asked by, professional contacts;
  • the writing is in a consistent tone or voice;
  • all eight member faith communities are treated in an even-handed manner;
  • copy is provided in easily digestible chunks;
  • an equal amount of copy is devoted to each faith and to each topic;
  • the language is "outward-facing" (i.e. not for practitioners of the faiths, talking about themselves to themselves);
  • the material is focused on practical issues that might arise on a day-to-day basis;
  • it's been contributed to by practising, knowledgeable and experienced members of faith communities;
  • it's been approved by authoritative representatives of faith communities
Anyone buying the texts like this has the rights for multiple use, and is free to amend it to different purposes and circumstances without coming back to the Council of Faiths for further permission. All we ask is that the purchaser doesn't resell or gift the rights to anyone else and that they give a simple line credit to say that the items using the text are based on material orginally produced by Leicester Council of Faiths.

So far, these electronic rights have been bought by East Midlands Ambulance Service, Leicestershire Constabulary and Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust.

That slogan, "We have faith in Leicester!" is very adaptable.

Friday, 29 January 2010


This afternoon, meeting with Taiwo (Tony) Rotimi at Leicester African Caribbean Business Association (LACBA) in the Melbourne Centre, Melbourne Road, Highfields. I'm returning two manuscripts I've been copy-editing and proofreading for him over the past few months (in what I laughingly call my "spare time"). Working titles for the two scripts are "365 Tools for a Fulfilled Life" and "The Quotable Bible".

Tony (under his business identity as "Platinum Consolidated") has been commissioned by the African Caribbean Citizens Forum (ACCF) to help create a network of African heritage churches in Leicester. This is an area that the Council of Faiths has long had difficulty tapping into; hopefully, such a network would help us work alongside this important strand in the religious life of our city.

Tony introduces me to Wolde Selassie, Chair of Leicester African Caribbean Arts Forum (LACAF), who is also helping create this new network. I explain to both of them our duties as one of Leicester Partnership's Host Organisation, that we're obliged to work with faith groups that are not actual members of the Council of Faiths. I also explain to them how such a network might find representation on SACRE. I also invite them to attend the open-air prayer meeting for Haiti that the Council of Faiths is organising in Town Hall Square this Wednesday (3 February) at 1230.

My friend Flickr

This afternoon, Athea Ghani, Development Officer with Faiths Forum for the East Midlands calls, asking if she can have some photos of our National Inter Faith Week exhibition in Highcross to put into their quarterly newsletter. She needs these promptly; I'm able to direct her to our photostream on Flickr, where she can have her pick of more than 30 photos. That's one practical benefit of doing things this new way, with an enhanced electronic presence. I'm sure more benefits will become evident soon. Earlier today, I found photos from the launch event for National Inter Faith Week hosted by the Interfaith Forum for Leicestershre at County Hall. I've added those to our photostream now. Here's a photo of Athea on the podium, addressing that launch event at County Hall. She's much too modest to put this in her newsletter, so I've put it on here instead.

But seriously folks ... Athea paid me an unexpected compliment at that event, by mentioning, during her talk, the training I deliver on behalf of Leicester Council of Faiths. So I'm glad to acknowledge that here and give a little back.

Read FFEM's newsletter with our National Inter Faith Week photos (on p. 5):

Find out more about the Faiths Forum for the East Midlands:

Thursday, 28 January 2010

SACRE @ Friends Meeting House

To the Friends Meeting House, Queens Road this afternoon, for a meeting of Leicester SACRE (Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education).

This is the second SACRE meeting I've attended on behalf of Leicester Council of Faiths. The Inter Faith Network for the UK is encouraging local inter faith groups to become more closely involved with SACRE in their area. But SACREs have very particular functions and responsibilities and it can be difficult to see just how local inter faith groups fit in with that. But there's a good spirit of cooperation between the Council of Faiths and SACRE in Leicester and we're considering the best fit between us. SACRE is rewriting its constitution and an appropriate place for the Council of Faiths can be found within the new one.

This meeting is a good example of the kind of role we can play alongside or within SACRE. Leicester City Council has become concerned about the effect on school attendance of time taken off for religious observances. Such time taken off was not visible before because of the use of an "R" code in school registers. This marked days off for religious reasons and the school had discretion about whether this had to be included in the overall number of absences. In effect, a pupil could be off school for purposes of religious observance, but could be considered as being present on those days. Recent changes in recording absences in school have done away with the "R" code, so schools no longer have that discretion. Now if a pupil is off school for religious reasons, it must be shown as an absence - even if an authorised one, it still contributes to the school's record of total absences. So, all of a sudden, the number of absences has leapt for the city as a whole - from 15,858 sessions missed in 2007-08 to 45,453 session missed in 2008-09 (figures are for all schools, primary and secondary). That's a 300% increase in one year, all due to a new method of recording. The City Council is considering a range of options that would allow schools in Leicester to be more responsive to the pattern of life of the city's faith communities, thus ameliorating the effect on children’s education of missing so many sessions. Several practical (and a few impractical) options are discussed at this meeting today. One step that was agreed on was to engage leaders and representatives of the city's faith communities on this topic. The Council of Faiths recently hosted a focus group with representatives of the City Council on the current review of bereavement services (see blog entry, "staying in focus", below). We may be able to offer the City Council something similar on this issue. It's not my place to commit the Council of Faiths to doing such a thing on this occasion, but I will pass this on to our officers for them to make a decision. I gave my calling card to the two representatives of the City Council who brought their paper on this topic to this meeting and said we'd be in touch.

Noel Singh, Policy Officer with Leicestershire County Council, speaks about relations with Leicestershire SACRE and the Interfaith Forum for Leicestershire. It's gratifying to see that Noel's notes are written on REDP notepaper!

We also get an update from Jill Carr on the booklet series project, "Engaging with Faith Communities in Leicester", which I'm helping write, along with the Schools Development Support Agency (SDSA).

Find out more about Leicester SACRE:

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


This evening we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day at the University of Leicester, Fraser Noble Hall. This annual event is sponsored by Leicester Council of Faiths, the Schools Development Support Agency (SDSA), the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Gencoide Studies at the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council. It's one of the most high-profile and prestigious occasions in the Council of Faiths calendar. There are between 75 and 80 people attending this evening.

I arrive before 1830 to erect one of our banners and put out a number of our leaflets (the generic ones showcasing the Council of Faiths). I also put a monitoring form on each seat. This is the fourth time we've used these forms at our events; hopefully, we'll all get used to them before long and we won't need to make special announcements to ensure everyone fills them out. Then it's a dash across London Road for dinner at The Loaded Dog. I have the Posh Fish Finger: (relatively) fast food so I can get back over to Fraser Noble Hall just before proceedings get under way at 1930.

Cllr Manjula Sood (Deputy Lord Mayor and Chair of the Council of Faiths) opens the meeting, welcoming distinguished guests: the Lord Mayor of Leicester, Cllr Roger Blackmore; Lady Mayoress, Mrs Hilary Blackmore; the High Sheriff of Leicestershire, Mr Maurice Thompson among them.

We watch a DVD projected on the big screen, "Wasted Lives", which covers the major episodes of genocide in the twentieth century: Armenia (1915-17); Nazi-occupied Europe (1939-45) and Rwanda (1994). It also touches on events in the former Yugoslavia and in Cambodia. The sound system is a bit creaky, so some of the soundtrack was lost, but it's powerful and sobering stuff none the less.

Three students from Beauchamp College speak. One of them has been to Auschwitz, two are going next week. Then we hear two students from City of Leicester College, one of whom visited Auschwitz four years ago, the other is soon to go. Most of these young people have exams tomorrow and have given up some of their valuable revision time to be here and speak to us.

The Paul Winstone Memorial Essay competition has become a regular part of this event. This part of the proceedings is introduced by Tony Nelson and the prizes awarded by Paul Winstone's widow, Siobhan Begley. Only one of the prize winners is able to attend this evening, a ten-year old girl named Orla (aged 10) from Thomas Moore Primary School. Siobhan reads from other prize-winning essays submitted from Lancaster School for Boys.

Professor Aubrey Nemwman speaks to this year's theme, "The Legacy of Hope". Rev. David Clarke proposes the vote of thanks. We have the chance to mix and mingle with some light refrshements.

I collect in the monitoring forms, gather up leftover leaflets and pack away our banner. I was the first one in and am the last one out. I like that, as it adds to the reflective dimension for me.

This event featured strongly in a nationwide roundup of HMD commemorations published by the Jewish Chronicle (28 Jan 2010).

Read my blog entries for Holocaust Memorial Day 2009, "Stand Up to Hatred" and Holocaust Memorial Day 2011, "Untold Stories".


This afternoon I get an email responding to the calling card I left at Sansome's two days ago, asking that it be passed on to whoever is running the "Faith Discussion Group" there (see blog, Mon 24 Jan). I ask (and receive) permission to post some of the content of that email here, as it may be of interest to readers.

"Just responding to your card left at Sansomes on Queens Road. As you probably gathered form the card on the bar we hold a weekly discussion group in the upper room at sansomes discussing a wide variety of spiritual and faith topics. It has its roots from Christchurch, the local Methodist & Baptist (Local Ecumenical Project) on Clarendon Park Road though. The aim is to have a place where people can discuss issues of faith and belief, we tend to get about 12 ish people each week, some strangers and some who have become regulars."

This has been going for about nine months now, so it seems pretty well established. I'm committed elsewhere on Tuesday evenings till the middle of March, but hope I can join in after that.

Photo of Sansome's bar by Toby Savage, from his blog, Queens Road, Clarendon Park, Leicester

cathedral AM (1)

At Leicester Cathedral Visitor Centre for Cathedral AM, starting 0730. This is a bi-monthly networking event, bringing together people working in, living in, or otherwise concerned with the city centre. We get the chance to listen to a relevant guest speaker for half an hour or so, then quiz them. This morning's speaker is Chief Superintendent Rob Nixon, City BCU Commander. He speaks about the challenges facing city centre policing in the year ahead. I take the opportunity to introduce myself after he's spoken. I also meet Clare Taylor, Head of Student Welfare at the University of Leicester. She's involved in running a "World Faiths" group at the university and is keen to have input from the Council of Faiths.

After the meeting is over, Julie-Ann Heath (Workplace Chaplain - among other things - and largely responsible for running these breakfast meetings), Sarah Harrison (City Centre Director) and I go back to the Cathedral Centre for half an hour or so, share a pot of tea and a nice chat that revolves mostly around our differing experiences of having a go at writing.

Find out more about Leicester Cathedral Visitor Centre:

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

REDP involvement event: Leasingham

Today we have the third of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership's "Involvement Events" spread across the East Midlands over seven weeks. We're in the village hall at Leasingham (pictured above) just outside Sleaford, Lincolnshire. Good turn out, with eight attendees from relevant local organisations. For the third time of asking, I'm chairing the event as well as making a presentation on the Equality Bill. We've been promised a speaker from the Government Equalities Office  but they're not able to delive in the endr, so I do that bit too. There's rather too much of me in this one; I'm not happy about this and feel that I'm stretched a bit thin. I don't feel I give my best to this event and actually make an embarrassing gaffe. I announce that I wouldn't be reading the PowerPoint slides, "You're all adults, you can all read, printouts of the slideds are in your packs" etc. A few minutes later, I'm passed a note from Dee, reminding me that one of the attendees is blind. So I start reading the text of the PowerPoint slides. After the presentation, I apologise to the fellow in question, who takes it in good heart.

Monday, 25 January 2010


All over the world (even here in Leicester) all sorts of people will be celebrating Burns Night: the 251st anniversary of the birth of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns (1759–96). I've never been to a Burns Supper, the traditional way of celebrating this occasion. But then, as a teetotal vegetarian who can't stomach turnips (or "neeps" as they're called for this purpose), I might be considered a bit picky over the fare on offer at such an occasion. And I've never worn a kilt. I did manage to get a vegetarian haggis though, from Green & Pleasant on Queens Road; that will do for a celebration of my national cultural heritage, washed down with some Diet Irn Bru.

Back in 1979, when I was just 19, the Bahá'ís whom I first got to know in Glasgow often spoke about the perceived connection between the unity and solidarity of the whole human race that is expressed in Burns's poetry and the same core teaching of the Bahá'í Faith. Of course, all sorts of people and ideologies - religious, political, secular, social and more - claim ownership of Burns, or have hitched their wagon to his star. His universalism (which is but one facet of his writing) took on particular significance for me when I was working on a book about 'Abdu'l-Bahá's 1913 visit to Edinburgh. The Seven Candles of Unity (1991) by Anjam Khursheed, acknowledges the resonance that Scots Bahá'ís feel with the spirit of Burns. In that context it quotes his well-known words which foretell the inevitable overturning of prejudice and tyranny and the coming together of all the world's peoples:

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a' that
That Sense and Worth o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gree an' a' that,
For a' that an' a' that,
It's comin' yet for a' that,
That man to man, the world o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that.

I could go on, faithful reader (I usually do). But if any words should be allowed to speak for themselves, they're the words of Robert Burns.

Find out more about Robert Burns at the official Robert Burns website.

Read Scots poet Don Paterson's introduction to the poetry of Robert Burns on the Guardian website.

Mindfulness and Meditation (2)

Second session in the course on Mindfulness and Meditation offered by Christians Aware at Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road. Leading the session is Ian Grayling (backed up by his colleague, Kevin Commons) from the Serene Reflection Meditation Group.

This evening's topic is "seeing". What we understand we see is more than just what enters through the eyes. The brain's need to make sense of things allows it to be tricked into seeing things that might not be what they appear. Often we don't see what is actually there, but try to represent what we think is there - or that we believe should be there. This requires us to look closely, attentively, mindfully. We're given some practical experience in this by Beatte having us do some drawing. I used to draw quite well, but am I ever out of practice! Less overtly "spiritual" content than last week, though we still do a few exercises on our breathing.

On the way to Christchurch, I stop in at Sansome's bar on Queens Road for a coffee. They have a flyer for a "Faith Discussion Group" that meets there on Tuesday evenings. "Meet some friendly people for a spiritual based discussion followed by a curry and pub quiz" it says. Right now I have another commitment Tuesday evenings, but I leave my card with the fellow behind the bar and ask if he'll pass it on to whoever organises this event.

equal among equalities

To Loughborough this afternoon, for a meeting with Patricia Stoat, CEO of the Faiths Forum for the East Midlands. I'm there for about an hour-and-a-half during which Patricia and I focus on the role of FFEM in the context of broader equalities work; the potential for FFEM's association with the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP); the distinctive characteristics of the East Midlands (positive and negative); the relation between different kinds of equality; and those areas where faith or belief might be expeacted to clash with other "protected grounds" (e.g. sexual orientation, transgender).


At Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL) this morning, to meet with Carolyn, Kelly and Laura to debrief on REDP's first two involvement events last week, in Nottingham and Oakham and to prepare for the next two this week, in Leasingham and Market Harborough. On the whole, we're happy with how it's going, though there's always room for improvement. We rejig timings of some parts of the day. Later on, the Market Harborough event is cancelled when we decide that those who have registered can be better distributed among some of the other dates and venues. We're breaking new ground with these meetings in many ways and thinking out of the box.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Road

Off to see The Road this evening at Phoenix Square. For the past week I've been cramming the audiobook on my iPod (all 6 hours 39 minutes, unabridged, read by Tom Stechschulte), so this story has loomed large in my mind recently. For those who haven't caught up with the book (by Cormac McCarthy) or the film, here's a brief review from the online publication, Racket Magazine:
"The Road follows the journey of a man and his son as they make their way across a stark wasteland after an unnamed global apocalypse as they are faced with constant dangers and emotionally difficult decisions as they try to survive. The film is more scary, tense, and horrifying than the trailers might make it out to be. The cataclysmic earthquakes, wildfires, and extinction of all plant and wildlife on earth are merely the backdrop to a much more sinister exploration of what people are capable of doing when desperate enough.

"With this film we are given the chance to observe people confronted with the decision to face a truly bleak and hopeless future and a daily existence filled with looming threats and unspeakable horrors, or to find a way to escape it by whatever means possible. Times like those test and shatter the way people view themselves. A hungry belly and no hope can change a man into something terrible. The film shows that some choose to still hold on with furious devotion and tenacity, clinging to their sense of humanity and anything to focus hope on even as those very things threaten and complicate their survival. What is interesting is that the movie goes beyond being about a fight for survival and asks what makes people choose to live."

I think that this film raises some specially interesting questions for people of a religious and/or spiritual inlination, even if it appears to be thoroughly secular in nature. Cormac McCarthy is a brilliant author (commonly referred to these days as "America's greatest living writer"). In his writing, we're brought face-to-face with some of the essential questions of existence. In No Country for Old Men we encounter a character who may be the embodiment of evil, an avenging demon or fallen angel. McCarthy doesn't tell us whether this is so; we are left to decide. The Road asks even more central and unsettling questions, not about others but about ourselves. What are we when we're stripped down to nothing? Is "civilization" just a thin veneer covering our natural state of barbarism? Do we have any chance of survival as individuals or as a species if we can't allow otehrs into our lives? Is trust naive or essential? If there were no animals in the world, do we become animals? If nature itself is dying, can we survive? What would the world be without us?

At the heart of this story is what's become recognised as one of the most touching, profound and moving portrayals of a father and son. That relationship is an archetype for personal dynamics throughout history and across culutures of course - but especially so in religious narratives, whether allegorical, mythological or historical. I'm not going to lay out a list of father/son stories from the various faith traditions, just because there are so many of them that I'd inevitably end up leaving some out. I would just ask, faithful reader, that you consider your own belief system - whether it's one in which you've been brought up (and maybe abandoned) or one within which you live now. Such a religious dimension is shown in the story, for example, at one moment when we are told that the father, "knew only that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke."
In today's world, universal catastrophe can seem unexpectedly and depressingly close - either by our own hand, or because the planet itself will heave us off its body. The Road brings us face-to-face with our worst nightmare, collectively and individually. In the context of such destruction and despair, it says some important things about what it means to be human. It has some of the most frightening and appalling images that I've ever encountered (though the worst of these doesn't appear in the film); but it also has incrdeibly stirring and tender things to say about love, compassion, sympathy and generosity. It certainly says that if we are to be saved or redeemed in this world, it can't be through material means.

I can see how this fits inside the kind of metanarrative set up by Judeao-Christian beliefs, Baha'i too; Clare thinks it would fit in with a genrally Jain worldview - Buddhist too, by pretty much the same criteria. Would this look like the Kali Yuga - the Dark Age - that is taught in Hindu theology? I'd like to know how viewers or readers from differing belief systems would respond to this story. Do all faiths possess some kind of apocalyptic narrative, fear or expectation? Or might The Road be seen as a story peculiar to the west, something born of - and speaking to - a society that has lost touch with God? In a bigger, universal sense, is that what The Road is? An extended metaphor for a world without God, the darkness that descends on us, the transformation that comes over us when we are left to ourselves? I'm not saying it is or it isn't, I'm just asking ...

The Road rejects the cliches associated with this sort of fiction. There's no safe refuge at the end of the road (no end to the road itself, even) - no Oz, no Zion, no walled city, not even a ship at sea like at the end of Children of Men. The man doesn't encounter a woman on the way to offer releif or comfort or even doomed romance. The only hope comes with a rag-tag family - who many not even be realted to each other for all we know. But somehow at the very end of the tale, when we're left in no doubt that there's no way of putting the world back togetehr, that there is no hope, then the boy (who was born after the unidentified catastrophe so has never known a different world) turns to faith. Not in God, that's for sure (though the film and the book differ a little on this point). He doesn't know if the people with whom he falls in are good guys or bad guys - he just has to "take a shot". Some have said that's a cop-out ending: but what do they want? To see everyone dead on the page or on the screen? In this world, even the soil appears to be dying, so all they need to do is draw a straight line in their own head and they'll get there. Put The Road up against The Age of Stupid (or, Lord preserve us, 2012 - which also depends on its own father/son dynamic) and see which one has most to tell us about the end of the world.

McCarthy isn't in the business of offering tidy explanations for the mystery and unpredictability of human behaviour - the inner life of his characters may well be at odds with the evidence of the world around them, but that's what people do. Yes it's bleak, no one can deny that - but many would argue that it's anything but depressing. The book (at least) is a genuine work of art, perhaps a great one. In response to those who say it's depressing, I think it's anything but. I find it intensely spiritual, almost overwhelmingly so. It not only ask us to consider what it means to be human, but also what it takes to stay human. I think The Road is beautiful and stirring.

Coincidentally, the unnamed father and son in the story keep reassuring each other that they will survive because they are "carrying the fire"; that's the title of another book I'm reading just now, the autobiography of Michael Collins, command module pilot on Apollo 11 - the one who didn't get to set foot on the moon. On a certain level, one of the great ironies of my lifetime is that the same kind of thinking that led to the great scientific and technological achievements of the Space Age may well have contributed to the parlous state of the world today - and a perilous future for all of us.

Read an interview with actor Tom Stechschulte, who reads the audiobook version of The Road:

Friday, 22 January 2010

my management group (1)

At the Welcome Centre, lunchtime, for the first meeting of my management group since the end of October last year. The gap between meetings can be blamed on radical changes in the governance of the Council of Faiths, ushered in at the AGM in that month (and the election of a new Chair at that same meeting), the demands of the festive season and the disruption caused by the snow and ice (not least the unbearable cold in the Welcome Centre itself) have meant we've gone longer without this kind of meeting than we would have liked. But here we are at last, and it's good to get back on track.

When I took up this post, nigh on three years ago, my management group consisted of three officers of the Council of Faiths: Chair, Vice-Chair and Secretary. This group is now six-strong: two are current officers (Chair and Vice-Chair); three are former officers; five of them are Directors of the Council of Faiths. In terms of religious affiliation, members of my management group come from the Anglican, Baha'i, Hindu, Orthodox Jewish, Roman Catholic and Sikh communities. The size of the group may make it difficult to get everyone together in the same place at the same time, but the range of experience and perspective on offer to me through the variety of members is really valuable. My line manager, for day-to-day contact and ongoing oversight, is Cllr Manjula Sood, current Chair of the Council of Faiths and Leicester's Deputy Lord Mayor.

The photo shows the Town Hall Square which is just outside the Welcome Centre. It's a lovely view - and I can't help saying it's all the lovelier for the snow and ice having gone.

VCS assembly steering group (1)

At Voluntary Action Leicester (VAL) in Newarke Street this morning, for a meeting of what's being called (for want of a better name) the LeicesterShire Voluntary Sector Assembly Steering Group. Can't see that one featuring on a best-selling t-shirt - and it wouldn't exactly be my choice - but it has to be called something, right? This meeting is following up on a Development Day held at VAL at the end of October last year, when 65 delegates representing the diverse range of voluntary and community sector organisations in the city and county. That was an occasion for disemmination of information, for discussion, for networking and for workshops - all in aid of assisting in the development of a LeicesterShire Voluntary Sector Assembly. The aim of that day was to:
  • begin the process of creating a single strong voice for the Voluntary and Community Sector in the city and county;
  • enable the Voluntary and Community Sector to feed into the development and future of the Assembly;
  • Identify clear priority areas of work for the Voluntary and Community Sector in 2010-11.
At the end of that Development Day, I put my name forward as being interested in sitting on this steering group which would consider practical ways to move this project forward. I'm here on behalf of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership as much as I'm here for the Council of Faiths. Half a dozen of us from VCS organisations and three VAL staffers spend 90 minutes this morning looking at some basic issues that arose from the Development Day and that lead into possible future work.

There are no formal conclusions at this meeing: it's not that kind of group and it's still early days anyway. However, there are several general areas of agreement - most importantly that the establishment of such an Assembly would be sa good thing. We recognise a number of other important points too. While the VCS is uniquely flexible and responsive, it's become used to surviving on crumbs that fall from the table of the private and public sectors. An Assembly would have to help change that situation and advance the interests and elevate the status of the VCS. The work of any such Assembly should help sustain a thriving VCS; complement Leicester Partnership's system of "Host Organisations" and "communities of interest", rather than attempting to duplicte or rival that structure and service (which is still in its infancy); encourage, enable and support VCS's independence and robustness; facilitate and improve communication and cooperation among VCS organisations and groups.

Next time we meet, we'll have the chance to compare what we might be able to do in Leicester and Leicestershire with what's been done in other parts of the country which are comparable in some ways.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Engaging with Faith Communities in Leicester (1)

Back to Leicester from Oakham for a meeting at the Schools Development Support Agency (SDSA). They're based at 6 Bishop Street, just two doors down from the Welcome Centre. A number of us are working together on a new series of booklets entitled "Engaging with Faith Communities in Leicester". These will be for use mainly in schools and colleges, offering a clear practical guide for staff on how to understand and appreciate the distinctive qualities of the faiths in their schools and help them deal with the kind of religious and cultural issues that might arise in those settings. The booklet on Islam is well advanced in content, some of it based on the leaflet produced two years ago by the Council of Faiths. Our principle aim today was to agree on the format, which will allow the series to grow. The text on Sikhism is in development and work will start soon on one on Hinduism. It was decided that there will be an introduction written jointly by the Chair of SACRE and the Chair of the Council of Faiths.

REDP involvement event: Oakham

To Oakham this morning, for the second of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership's twelve "Involvement Events" spread across the East Midlands over seven weeks. Once again, I'm chairing the event as well as making a presentation on the Equality Bill. Interesting comparison with the first of these events, in Nottingham on Tuesday: the region's biggest city, followed by one of its market towns, a rural centre. We have attendees representing Voluntary Action Rutland, Rutland County Council, Knossington Grange School, East Midlands Ambulance Service Pacesetters programme, Faiths Forum for the East Midlands.

I lived in Rutland for 16 years, from 1987 till 2003 - all but the first six months of them in Oakham. I moved there from a pretty rough-and-ready area in the west of Scotland, was a bit of culture shock. All the more so, since the first six months was spent in a converted stable block on the grounds of Exton Hall! While the Oakham years were something of a mixed experience, I've more recently come to look on the place with some affection again (and my older son, Alastair, is based there).

Counter-intuitive as it might be, the success of these events is not being measured by the number of attendees. REDP is in the process of developing something new, an innovation where nothing of its type existed before. Engagement of new groups and individuals, planting the flag in places whcih are often neglected, going out to the people we want to meet rather than having them come to us - these aren't normal practice, but it's the way we have to do it if this project is going to work.

Ange, from the Women's Resource Centre and National Equalities Partnership is our guest speaker in the afternoon, though I'm not able to stay and hear her. I have to get back to Leicester for the meeting at SDSA.

Find out more about the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership:

Find out more about Voluntary Action Rutland:

Find out more about the Women's Resource Centre:

Find out more about the National Equalities Partnership:

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

feeling cold, cold, cold!

At last! Managed to get the heating fixed at the Welcome Centre. I haven't been able to work here for nigh on two weeks, it's been so cold. Complicated arrangements with the Just Shop (who moved out of this building before Christmas) and getting my hands on keys for the room where the boiler is kept has meant this couldn't be done till today. Everything comes to he who waits - but I really wouldn't have fancied waiting any longer!

Find out more about hypothermia:


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
£12m plans for Leicester Cathedral Square are unveiled
A £12m project to transform the area around Leicester Cathedral will help the city's economic regeneration, according to the Bishop of Leicester.
The Rt Rev Tim Stevens spoke as plans for the development, which include a public square big enough to hold concerts for a crowd of 1,500 outside St Martins, went on show to the public.
However, city councillors have cast doubt on whether the authority will be able to find the money necessary to complete the work.
The masterplan includes proposals to remove gravestones – which would be recorded and replaced with an alternative memorial – and the refurbishment of the former Leicester Grammar School buildings, which were bought by the diocese in March 2008.
Bishop Tim said: "The new Cathedral Square will make a significant contribution to the life of the city and county.
"A cathedral is traditionally what gives a place its status as a city.
"A high-quality setting for its cathedral would help put Leicester on the map and the gathering space we are creating will also contribute significantly to the city's continued economic regeneration."
A planning application has been submitted to Leicester City Council.
Project director Pete Hobson said he was hopeful a decision would be reached by the middle of February.
The plans will also need the approval of the Cathedrals' Fabric Commission for England.
The commission met last week and is understood to be in support of the plan, though it has not announced a final decision.
The development would remodel the area outside the cathedral, facing Peacock Lane.
The present fountain near St Martins East would be removed and a series of water jets installed close to the old Grammar School site.
At the heart of the design is a public square which planners hoped would be used for outdoor concerts, markets or church services.
Mr Hobson said: "There are a range of possible events and we are speaking with officers at the city council to see what would be fitting.
"We envisage things such as classical or jazz music or festival events, possibly a specialist market, open air church services and public gatherings."
The bulk of the £12m needed for the overall project would be found by the Diocese of Leicester.
Money for development of the square – is expected to cost about £1.6m – is being sought from East Midlands Development Agency and the city council.
Council cabinet member for regeneration Patrick Kitterick said he was in favour of the plans, but no money was presently available.He said: "It is an interesting plan to create high-quality public space.
"We are in ongoing discussions [over funding] but we have not identified sources of money for it at the moment."
A display of the plans is on show at the cathedral.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


To Nottingham, for the first in a series of "Involvement Events", launching the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP) into the wider world.

Train from Leicester Station at 0725 with Dennis Bradley, Community Development Officer at Leicester's LGBT Centre. Dennis is part of the Amplified Leicester project. I'm not often given to envy, but each time I speak with someone who's doing that, I can't help but wish I was on it! At Nottingham Station we meet Ian Robson, Director of the LGBT Centre and share a taxi to the venue, East Midlands Conference Centre at Nottingham University (photo above).

I'm chairing this event, Ian is leading the presentation on behalf of the Core Partners, with support from Iris Lightfoote from The Race Equality Centre (TREC). We have engaged the services of Judith and Karen, BSL interpreters. We have about a dozen people signed up for this event from the VCS sector in Nottingham, representing Nottingham Council for Voluntary Services, The Deaf Society, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham Refugee Council, and East Midlands Ambulance Service amongst others. Nice venue: food is good and plentiful but the room is really cold and seems resistant to all attempts to heat it. Even in the Gents, although the taps had that sign saying "Danger! Very Hot Water!" what came out was stone cold!

I'd like to keep to the schedule. After my general introduction and housekeeping announcements, Ian has half an hour to present a "beginners' guide" to REDP. He sprints through it and finishes in five minutes. Time to switch to decaf, Ian! We're not going to have 25 minutes of dead air, of course, and I'm not going to chuck out the timetable at this early point, so I fill - for 20 minutes. The attendees don't know that this isn't how we planned it, so as long as I can keep the ball rolling then all's well. We take a short break then go into the workshops on time. These include some very strong and positive contributions an take us through to lunchtime.

The afternoon session begins with our guest speaker: Rauf Mirza, one of some 200 ambassadors around the country promoting public appointments for the Government Equalities Office. For some little while now there's been a cross-departmental drive to increase the diversity of people sitting on boards of public bodies, with particular emphasis on women, members of ethnic minorities and disabled people. I found especially interesting the part of Rauf's talk when he focuses on the seven principles of public life as outlined by the Nolan Committee. These are: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Carolyn Pascoe, REDP's Researcher, presents her Regional Profile, looking at the facts, figures and stats illustrating various equality strands in Nottingham, and in comparison with the rest of the region and the country. I give the final presentation, which is on the Equality Bill - and we finish on the very stroke of 4 o'clock.

In summing up at the end of the day, I said that if we were a theatrical company on tour, this would have felt like a public dress rehearsal. There's a few bugs need ironing out, and many of those attending have given us helpful notes.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Mindfulness and Meditation (1)

To Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road, this evening, for the first session of the new season's Faiths Awareness programme, run by Christians Aware. I enjoyed the course they ran at the same venue in the autumn, "Exploring the Diversity of Hinduism" (see earlier blog entry, "top ten 2009: special mentions").

This new course looks right up my street: a subject in which I've long been interested, with a useful practical dimension to it. I was surprised to see that there were only two people there who had been on the Hinduism course - a dozen or so faces were new to me. I was more surprised, though, to see that the course tutor was Ian Grayling, who had taught me on the Professional Certificate in Education with Leicester University several years ago. Ian is currently Executive Director of the East Midlands Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training (EMCETT), based at South Leicestershire College. He describes himself this evening as a practising Buddhist, living a contemplative life and adhering to a set of universal values. He said that, as far as he's concerned, mindfulness could be described from the standpoint of psychology, physiology or faith and it would be the same thing from each of these perspectives.

Ian (and his colleague Kevin Commons, also attending) are members of the Serene Reflection Meditation Group.

The course will make use of a range of delivery techniques, including hands-on activities. The aim will be to promote active and reflective earning in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. More specifically, the programme seeks to enable us to:
  • use a range of mindfulness skills in daily life;
  • increase our knowledge of ourselves, and awareness of ourselves in relation to others;
  • develop a positive attitude to the simple activities of daily life;
  • value stillness.

As an ice breaker activity, we are asked to write, on a PostIt note, one thing that we would say about ourselves that helps define who we are - one think about us that we think other people wouldn't know. Then we had to fold it up tight and throw it on the floor in the middle of the room. Ian unfolded the notes, read them aloud and we had to try and guess who had written each one. Here's a few of them:
"Meditation gave me the insight to manage difficulties at work and eventually led me to move to a new job."
"Through using my senses I can love others more."
"I lead a hectic life; I may appear calm but there is always a tension in me between mental activity and inwardly closing my eyes due to God's presence."
"Love for Africa through being brought up on a farm."
"A retired insurance broker."
"I enjoy riding my bike."
"I love questions, running every morning and being loved."
"I don't think there is one thing only that I am, and being is richness."
"I am silenced by being questioned."
"Searching for inner peace and calmness."
"The fact that I'm an identical twin has affected my life in certain ways."
"I once sang 'Mary's Born Child' on stage at the age of 4 in a crowded theatre."
"I love teasing."
"I recently found out that I am half an inch taller than I thought I was."
"Quite independent."
"Born in Yorkshire and didn't leave willingly."

Can you identify mine from the list above, faithful reader? Since I only knew three people attending, I didn't have much chance. A further complication would have arisen from the fact that those who might regard themselves as introverted may have written something about their outward-facing selves and vice versa - since they are meant to be things that we thought others wouldn't know about ourselves. A bit of a double-bluff - even on ourselves!

This led us to consider together the many ways of defining who we are, what we are: by our occupation; by where we were brought up; by how we were brought up; by our social networks; by our family; by how other people treat us (especially in childhood, by teachers, parents, siblings); by our beliefs and values.

As well as being an introduction to the course, this evening's meeting is devoted to establishing ground rules for the conduct of future sessions. The weeks ahead are laid out as follows:
  • Session 2 (25 Jan) Seeing (using perception and drawing exercises)
  • Session 3 (1 Feb) Listening (using activities to explore attention and deep listening)
  • Session 4 (8 Feb) The Other Senses (using exercises related to the other senses - followed by half term week)
  • Session 5 (22 Feb) Thinking and Feeling (material about the three levels of the brain)
  • Session 6 (1 Mar) Beliefs and Values (exploring individual perspectives)
  • Session 7 (8 Mar) Pointing Beyond Thinking and Feeling (the place of meditation or contemplation)
  • Session 8 (15 Mar) The Faith Specific Context (representing all faiths and none) 

Sunday, 17 January 2010


Today (the third Sunday in January) is World Religion Day; and 2010 marks the 60th anniversary of its founding.

Established in 1950 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States, World Religion Day has been increasinghly taken up in other countries - at first by national and local Bahá'í communities in different parts of the world, although it has also become an event widely recognised and eagerly celebrated by people of other faiths too.

In the US, 16 January is now regularly observed as Religious Freedom Day, officially proclaimed each year by an annual statement by the President of the United States. Religious Freedom Day was enacted by President George H. W. Bush in 1993. I can't say whether it's more than just a happy accident that these two dates are observed so close together, but this year it will have made for a weekend in which religion will, hopefully, have been seen in a positive light. And, hopefully, a weekend in which religion itself will have been able to illumine minds and hearts with its own positive light.

While World Religion Day doesn't form part of the calendar observed by the Bahá'í community, it has become a fairly regular part of its year, and is always held on the third Sunday in January. Its purpose is  to bring together people of various faith communities, to celebrate the unifying power of religion, to promote inter faith understanding and to encourage religious leaders and adherents to acknowledge the similarities between their faiths and work together for the common good.

Illustrating the universal appeal and widespread celebration of this annual event, the Republic of Congo became the second country to issue a postage stamp for World Religion Day in 2007 (Singapore had done the same thing in 1995). The stamp from the Congo is shown at the top of this blog entry.

A comprehensive and interactive website has been created for World Religion Day, with information about the event’s history, different world religions, the golden rule, videos, as well as past and current World Religion Day event listings around the world.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


Saffron Hill Cemetery
At the Cathedral Centre, St Martins, this evening, for a different sort of meeting of Leicester Council of Faiths - well, certainly different from any I've attended during my time working for them. A focus group session involving members of the full Council of Faiths and invited guests (mainly representatives of the Muslim Burial Council for Leicestershire). We meet at the Cathedral Centre, for a presentation and discussion on Leicester City Council's Bereavement Services. Bereavement Services is undergoing its first formal review since 2003.

The presentation is led by Richard Welburn, Head of Parks and Green Spaces, Leicester City Council (with four City Councillors in attendance). Bereavement Services is part of the City Council's Parks and Green Spaces Service. It provides for burial, cremation, grounds maintenance of cemeteries and administration. It employs 25 staff and runs four cemeteries and one crematorium.

We're introduced to the historical background, facts and figures and legislative requirements currently affecting provision of bereavement services and the operational procedures determining how these services are delivered. There are four cemeteries in Leicester today:
  • Welford Road (est 1849) which is included in the Register of Historic Landscape and is closed for new burials;
  • Belgrave (est 1881) which is closed for new burials;
  • Gilroes (est 1902) which is the location of Leicester's crematorium;
  • Saffron Hill (est 1931) which is included in the Register of Historic Landscape, the Chapel Lodge and Gates of which are grade II listed.

We're told about current challenges faced by this service in the city:
  • mercury abatement (there's a statutory requirement to reduce the amount of mercury vapour emitted into the atmosphere from fillings in the teeth of those being cremated);
  • acquisition or extension of burial land (Gilroes has 3-4 years estimated capacity at current levels, Saffron Hill 5-6 years, less if proposed land extension to Gilroes doesn't proceed);
  • memorial safety (a sensitive subject since memorials remain the property of the family of the decease and their upkeep is not the City Council's responsibility);
  • systems (much information related to this service is recorded manually, it's costly to transpose large amounts of such records onto computer, large amounts of staff taken up with answering questions about historic burials that can require lengthy, complex and manual searches);
  • multi faith provision.

While many of us would probably be interested in some or all of these issues, it's this last one that concerns the Council of Faiths most - obviously. In terms of serving the diverse faith communities of Leicester, the Jewish Torah was opened at Gilroes in 1902; a Muslim Janazgah was at Saffron Hill in 1985, and Hindu, Sikh and Jain facilities were introduced at Gilroes in 1989. The biggest challenge facing the Parks and Green Spaces Service in this topic area now is the provision of additional mourner accommodation at Gilroes.

Parks and Green Spaces identifies the main risk for this review as being "that individual religious groups think independently and pursue self interest." And their solution? "By using the Council of Faiths as an intermediary, rather than meeting with individual focus groups, we hope to mitigate the likelihood of this occurring."

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Not only ... but also

I spend most of today compiling the monitoring report for the second and third quarters of 2009-10. This report covers not only our "Core Service" (which the Council of Faiths has been delivering for Leicester City Council for a number of years) but also our new duties to Leicester Partnership as one of its "Host Organisations" representing one of the city's "communities of interest" - for issues related to religion, faith and belief. To most people that will sound stupefyingly dull. Well, maybe it's a quirk of my nature, but I can find fascination just about anywhere in my line of work. Seems like a good time to do this monitoring report, so soon after writing my top ten countdown for 2009. The monitoring report allows us to gauge just what we've done and how we've done it over the year as well as what remains to be done. Striving for the sake of striving isn't very effective; if you don't get the chance to reflect then you can end up feeling like you're flailing about in deep water and losing your sense of direction. My conclusion, reflecting on our progress in these past two quarters: Leicester Council of Faiths has been punching above its weight!

Nice view of a wintery Town Hall Square there and the Town Hall, seat of Leicester City Council. The Welcome Centre, where the Council of Faiths is based, would be just left of this scene. But in this recent weather it's been too cold to work in there. Lovely view, that's for sure, but sitting at my desk, heavy leather jacket on, scarf tied up tight, I've never felt so cold indoors. In fact, I felt like I may as well have been sitting in the square with my laptop. The heating has given up the ghost: so have I. No choice but to retire gracefully (if you disregard the shivering) to work from home. *Brrr!*

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Philosophy in the Pub

Philosophy in the Pub this evening at the Swan & Rushes, Infirmary Square. Our theme is "Forgive and/or Forget", in connection with which religion, faith or belief come up often, as you can imagine faitful reader.

We make the most of things, but there are just five of us here this evening; the snow, ice and wind might not have kept people away from CreativeCoffee Club in the morning but undoubtedly they've persuaded folk to stay home tonight.

CreativeCoffee Club: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

First meeting of CreativeCoffee Club for 2010, at Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre. I thought that this morning's snow might put off potential attendees: it almost did me! But there are at least as many people here as there had been at the previous meeting, late December last year. I'm glad I've come.

I have an interesting conversation with Marie Allen, a writer and artist whom I met briefly last summer. Marie offers coaching in personal creativity. She and her husband, Doug, are active members of Transition Leicester, part of the Transition Network, which is working to prepare for a society after peak oil. She and I spoke about the relation between religious or spiritual principles and this kind of work. She's very knowledgeable about Buddhism; I spoke with her about Jainism and its relevance to our current environmental dilemma. We find we have one particular thing in common: we'd both been to audiences with the Dalai Lama - she at Nottingham Arena last year, I at Glasgow City Halls back in 1983 (an occasion so dim and distant that I can't even find any reference to it when I google it!). We both remembered one specific thing that he'd said at each of these meetings, which had stayed strongly with us both, respectively, ever since.

Also a useful chat with Ben Ravilious of Ultimate Web Design and Campaign Director of Leicester Civic Society. Ben's part of the Amplified Leicester project (which, every time I hear about it, I more thoroughly regret not having been able to enrol on it). He was musing on possible outcomes from Amplified Leicester, one being the establishment of an informal group of "ambassadors" for the city. He's just tossing this idea around just now, finding out who else might be interested. I like this and hope to talk with him more about it before long.

Monday, 4 January 2010


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Leicestershire's Muslim police officers create their own staff association
Muslim police officers have banded together to create a staff association.
The Leicestershire branch of the Association of Muslim Police, (AMP), was officially launched at the force's Enderby headquarters last month.
It is the latest faith-based staff group to be formed within the force.
Christian officers already have their own group. Temporary Chief Constable Chris Eyre told guests at the launch that the force's chief officers fully supported the group.
Suleman Nagdi, spokesman for the Leicestershire Federation of Muslim Organisations, said: "This association, with more than 60 members, demonstrates that Muslims have a strong sense of pride and belonging to this nation."