Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Human Rights & Equalities Charnwood AGM

At Loughborough Town Hall this evening, in the Council Chamber, for the AGM of Human Rights & Equalities Charnwood. Here I run into some of those whom I see at various events and occasions around the region, whom I've come to consider dependable colleagues.

Speaker for the evening is Dave Thomas, Headteacher at Ashmount School, Loughborough, which serves students with special educational needs. He makes a special feature of the use of "Keep Safe" cards, which have helped young people with special learning needs in the local area (and in various parts throughout the country, where the scheme has been trialled) become more confident in social situations that they might otherwise have found tricky and which have previously resulted in police involvement. Nice to see something that works and makes a positive difference.

I was hoping to put up a banner for the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership, but it wouldn't have been appropriate in this setting. It's not nice if it looks like you're crashing someone else's party. But of course I do get the chance to talk with several people about REDP, including Councillor Jill Vincent, Mayor of Charnwood. She was at the AGM of the Faiths Forum for the East Midlands in Loughborough University last week, but I didn't have the opportunity to speak with her then. Before leaving for the train back to Leicester, I get the chance to talk openly to all attending about the possibilities of joined up working between REDP and HR&EC, especially around the topic of Hate Crime.

Find out more about Equalities & Human Rights Charnwood:

Find out more about Ashmount School:


The Guardian's Comment is Free - belief website runs a weekly feature called The Question, posing one at the start of the week, then publishing commissioned responses on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday following (along with the facility for readers to post responses of their own). This week's question is, "Should Religions Compete?"

Here's today's response, from Rev Canon Dr Alan Race: Priest-in-Charge at St Philip's Church, Evington; Dean of Postgraduate Studies at St Philip's Centre for Engagement and Study in a Multi-Faith Society; and stalwart member of Leicester Council of Faiths.
Conversation demands mutual respect
Without trust we cannot talk about God, but to build trust we must avoid trying to convert or lecture people
Any great religion worth its salt exists to offer its believers a comprehensive view of life – a vision of transcendent reality combined with an accompanying pathway of transformation for the human condition. It is this comprehensibility which leads many to assume that the religions are inevitably locked into fierce competition with one another over the battle for souls. But how inevitable is "inevitable"? The successful development of the world-wide interfaith dialogue movement over the last fifty years suggests that we can expect something different from religious adherence in the future. It is a movement which is becoming embedded all over Britain.
Of course if we come across something which lifts our spirits to new heights we will want to communicate this to others, and this is natural. It is the witness which faiths bear to one another. But that is wholly different from insisting that the good, true and beautiful which has been glimpsed through my lens must become the basis too of your seeing and that any seeing of your own will necessarily be deficient. If evangelising means bottom-up telling the story and recounting the experience, then all well and good. But if it strays into the top-down accusation that "your" comprehensibility can never match "mine" then we will have overstepped what we can possibly know, as well as betray that sense of humaneness about religious commitment which we want others to see.
I minister in an Anglican Parish Church and Centre whose surrounding area is 85% people of faiths other than my own, mainly Muslim, but also Hindu and Sikh. When we meet for dialogue or work together on a practical project I do not seek to convert my neighbours. This is not out of cowardice but out of respect for the sake of building trust. Without trust there is no meaningful meeting between us and therefore also no discerning of "God" within either of us. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we disagree – on many matters, theological as well as social and political. We do not know enough about one another to make judgements about which is best and it is wise if we set them aside. As it is, we are likely, unconsciously, to compare the best of our own with the worst of the others, and yet what good can that do?
From a Christian point of view the permission for dialogue which the churches gave themselves fifty years ago has begun to bear fruit. The moral goodness, faithfulness, and intellectual keenness of my 'other religious' neighbours leads me to question any simple assumption that my way has got to be the way willy-nilly for everyone else too. What I understand of "God" seems to be at work among them and is plain to see. This brings a tension between dialogue and evangelism, which is the subject matter of the recent Anglican Report, Sharing the Gospel of Salvation.  The report, like all other church denominational reports on the subject, struggles to square the circle. Dialogue is yielding fruits – of shared spiritual questing, mutual learning, and common actions for local and national good – and these are reflected in the projects and case studies which the Report presents. Interestingly, it acknowledges that none of them are explicit about evangelising as their goal, and this is not counted against them. Meanwhile, the theological sections continue to affirm the traditional categories of Christian uniqueness which begins less and less to correspond to what is being learned through experience on the ground.
The only new thing in this report, from previous church accounts, is the recording of maturing encounters and dialogues which are taking on lives of their own and which act as a challenging feedback to the dogmatic tradition. It seems that theological theory has yet to catch up with changing Christian practice.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Global Education LeicesterShire Summer Showcase

Southfields Library (commonly known as "Pork Pie Library") is the venue for an event celebrating the work of Global Education LeicesterShire (GELS) and of the city and county schools it has supported. The aims of today's event are:
to celebrate the achievements of pupils, staff and partners involved in developing and delivering projects under the GELS banner;
to share content and learning from GELS funded projects with other members of the network; 
to highlight the quality and breadth of work undertaken by the network to key personnel within the two local authorities (Leicester and Leicestershire).
The event was officially opened by the Lord Mayor of Leicester. I arrive about 1300, hotfoot from the REDP delivery group meeting, just in time to see the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress leave - but also just in time to catch the children from various schools taking part in the Salsa Workshop run by Maggie Munoz. The library has a great little (and little-used) theatre which makes a superb venue for this sort of event. It's fondly remembered locally as a place where dances and concerts were held during WWII for local people and US and British servicemen from the nearby barracks. I'm not convinced it's been put to much use since then - but today it certainly is!

There's a really good turnout of teachers, pupils, students, supporters and fans of GELS. We enjoy presentations on the Food for Thought Project (by Whitehall Primary School, Leicester), on their Community Cohesion Project (by Castle Rock High School and Newbridge High School, Coalville), on an Archaeological Evidence and Identity Project (by Rushey Mead Secondary School) and on a South African Fair Trade Enterprise Project (by Brocks Hill Primary School, Oadby). There's also a chance to explore the GELS Resource Centre.

Leicester Council of Faiths has always actively supported Global Education LeicesterShire, which in turn has given us an appropriate platform for our work with teachers, pupils and teachers. I'm wholeheartedly committed to their cause and today, our current Chair, Councillor Manjula Sood, and our immediate past Chair, Minou Cortazzi, are here.

The future of GELS is uncertain, to put it mildly. Its current source of funding, from the Department for International Development (DfID) runs out at the end of August and nothing has been found to replace it - yet. Leicester Council of Faiths has been actively involved in the work of GELS since I came into my post. I would feel very disappointed if it were forced to wrap up its services. Global Education LeicesterShire is run by its Joint Co-Ordinators, Clare Carr and Claire Plumb (photo above). They are two dedicated, imaginative, resourceful people who have been of great assistance, support - of inspiration even - to me, personally and professionally. Thre's no one in or around the city better suited to doing this work. I'd like to think that they'll still be actively involved in the months and years to come (if that's alright with them, of course).

You can read the Lord Mayor of Leicester's blog entry for this event:

There's a fullsome report of this event on the website of Citizens' Eye Community News Agency - which contains a link back to this blog entry. Don't click on that link unless you want to risk triggering a recursive occlusion!

REDP delivery group (3)

At Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre this morning, for the third weekly meeting of our delivery group for the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP). There are six of us here today: Chino Cabon (The Race Equality Centre - TREC), Tonia Frew (Community Development Officer, LGBT Centre), Liz Harrison (Equality Officer, LCIL/REDP), Kelly Jusab (REDP) and Carolyn Pasco (Researcher, REDP) and me. Our attention today is mostly on the first meeting of REDP's Core Reference Group (to be held at Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living on Wed 14 July) and on developing and refining our training offer based on the Equality Act 2010.

Monday, 28 June 2010

our exhibition @ Southfields Library

The Council of Faiths nine banners are up at Southfields Library. I've put them there in support of the Global Education LeicesterShire Summer Showcase, which is on there tomorrow (Tue 29) but hopefully, they can stay up a little longer than that. The space they're occupying seems tailor-made: eight doors, a banner standing in front of each one and the general banner near the front entrance of the library.

Religions should not compete for power

The Guardian's Comment is Free - belief website runs a weekly feature called The Question, posing one at the start of the week, then publishing commissioend responses on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday following (along with the facility for readers to post responses of their own). This week's question is, "Should Religions compete?" Here's today's response, from Maggi Dawn, a fellow and chaplain of Robinson College, Cambridge.
Religions should not compete for power
The call for peace at the heart of most religions contrasts with the way they behave as competing communities
The question: Should Religions Compete?
Throughout history religious factions have competed with each other, and their reasons are often dressed up as being for the good of the people, or for the honour of God. In truth, though, competition is usually about gaining or maintaining power for the purpose of the survival and growth of a community. Religions have therefore competed for land, for money, for sacred sites, for political power, and for the loyalty of their communities.
If you take their ideals and doctrines at face value, though, most of the world's religions call their followers to live in peace, to love God and love one another. So for one religion to compete against another, or for any religious adherent to use force or bullying tactics to persuade others into their particular kingdom, would seem anathema to what the religion itself stands for. Some form of the Golden Rule appears in a number of different religions, as does a call to hospitality for the stranger, so to indulge in any kind of pressure that dehumanises the other cannot be said to be the practice of true religion.
At heart the Christian gospel in its earliest form was the precise opposite of a bid for power: its central message was one of laying down power for the benefit of the other. Christ himself represented this ideal; St Paul wrote that Christ voluntarily laid down his right to equality with God in order to assume humanity, for the purpose of being the servant of the human race. Christ's acts of self-giving were the model for his followers, and the Golden Rule as it appears in Christianity is a call to Christians to lay down their own lives for one another, as Jesus had done for them. So although common sense suggests that a group that doesn't fight for its own survival may die out, when a religious group does begin to compete for power, it begins to compromise the heart of its own message.
Even in the twenty first century there's a surprising number of genuinely good people who, for the love of God, really do lay down their own interests to serve others (not, of course, that you have to be religious to be good, but for some it is a central motivation). Such ordinary saints rarely make the headlines, and when religion hits the news its usually because of its failures, not its virtues. By contrast, the kind of religious infighting that is visible in the public sphere seems to have little to do with true religion, and it often seems that the world would be a better place without it.
On balance, then, it seems to me that you can only follow a religion if you lay down the wish to compete for power. But that doesn't mean becoming a doormat, or giving up any discussion or disagreement on opinion, doctrine or ethics. Aiming to live in a self-giving way doesn't mean becoming passive and opinion-free, and to dismiss religious difference by saying that all religions are basically the same is to ignore the fact that they really are not the same at all. Their histories, their doctrines and scriptures, and their ways of reading and interpreting the world are profoundly different from each other. The most rewarding religious conversation occurs when people of different traditions listen with genuine respect to another's views, to learn what it means, standing in someone else's shoes, to be human.
I must say I'm disappointed that the three published responses to this question are two Christian and one Muslim, even if in one of these responses (Alan Race's, of course) inter faith issues are foregrounded). I also find it disappointing that there's little talk about cooperation instead of competition. I should put my money where my mouth is and chip in my own comment then!

The Question: Should religions compete?

The Guardian's Comment is Free - belief website runs a weekly feature called The Question, posing one at the start of the week, then publishing commissioend responses on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday following (along with the facility for readers to post responses of their own). This week's question is, "Should Religions compete?"

Mormon missionaries make a house visit in Ulaan Baator, Mongolia, 8 July 2005. Photograph: Elizabeth Dalziel/AP
Should religions compete?
Would the world be a better place if religions concerned themselves only with the crimes and follies of their own?
Almost all monotheisms are missionary religions. It is not enough to worship one God: it must be the right one, and in the right way. The Church of England last week released a report saying that of course it was right to try to convert unbelievers – what else could it say? – and many Muslim missionary organisations are active in this country. Atheists are constantly trying to prove believers wrong; Jews may not proselytise much in the outside world but they are happy to convert each other. But is this wrong?
Does all this activity leave anyone wiser or better, or closer to the truth? Everyone knows how off-putting it is to be the victim of conversion attempts. And where does pointing out the folly of certain ideas shade into pointing out that the people who hold them are fools? The clash of ideas and of values is a central part of the modern liberal vision of a good society. It is meant to be one of the things that makes societies worth living in. But is it possible to carry things too far? And how do we stop arguments about ideas from becoming tribal? Would the world be a better place if religions concerned themselves only with the crimes and follies of their own: if Catholics only told other Catholics what to do, and atheists only lectured atheists?


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Churches close
Two city churches were set to close their doors for the last time today.
St Peter's Church, off Thurcaston Road, Belgrave, and St Gabriel's, in Kerrysdale Avenue, off Gipsy Lane, were set to close today.
The two churches form the Parish of the Resurrection, which also includes St Alban's, in Weymouth Street.
A decision to shut both St Peter's and St Gabriel's was taken by the Church of England because of dwindling congregations and costly heating and repair bills.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


At Holy Trinity Church, Regent Road this afternoon, for the Annual General Meeting of Leicester SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education). The meeting is being held upstairs, in what appears to be the church's Sunday School.

Linda Bradshaw, Advanced Skills Teacher at Rushey Mead School, gives a presentation on "Training: What is a Secondary AST?" There are quite a lot of people in a very small room on a very warm day. I'm beginning to feel the effects of the heat at this point, and start gonking in the front row. Very disrespectful, of course, so I nip out for a few minutes to try and wake up a little, with some coffee in the room where refreshments were being served before the meeting started. I can follow Linda's presentation, which so am trying not to miss anything. As I pace the room slowly, listening to Linda's talk which comes through from the next room loud and clear, my eye is caught by some of the prayers by children from the Sunday School, which have been put up on the wall. Some are in the child's own hand, some written down by adults. Many of them are asking for health and healing for family members or friends. Some ask help directly: "Dear God, Please heal my baby tooth"; "Dear God, Please make my snot stop"; "Dear God, Please help me to find a friend at playtime". Some of the prayers are quite touching.

I get to make a small contribution when we discuss developments on our booklet project, "Engaging with Leicester's Faith Communities", especially in relation to our meeting at Leicester Tigers with representatives of the city's gurdwaras.

Stephanie Maud (who teaches at Leicester College) is elected Chair. I've known Stephanie for over 20 years and I'm sure she'll do a fine job in this position. A vote of thanks is proposed for Rosemary Stokes, who stands down as Chair.

my management group

Meeting in the Welcome Centre, 1400-1600, it's my management group. Five members (all of whom are able to be present today), members of the Council of Faiths who represent the local Bahá'í, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh communities. It's always a lively meeting - and that's not a euphemism for bad tempered or contentious. My post generates a lot of discussion and the members of my management group contribute to it with strength and feeling. I really appreciate the diversity of experience and views that they bring to this meeting and that they lend to me and my work. Their input and support is crucial for keeping my post moving forward.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Diversity, difference and sexuality

An event in the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Derby this evening co-hosted by Derbyshire Friend and Forum of Faiths for Derby. It's entitled "Diversity, Difference & Sexuality". We're welcomed by Stephen Greasley (Chair of Forum of Faiths for Derby and minister of Peartree Baptist Church) and Melvin Harris (Trustee, Derbyshire Friend). There are a dozen of us here this evening. We split into two groups (the one I'm in is chaired by Stephen, the other by Melvin) and consider these questions:
"Over issues of sexuality there are often very marked differences of opinion within faith communities and the the LGBT communities. There are also differences between the faith communities and the LGBT communities over issues of sexuality. How can we hold differing viewpoints and uphold mutual respect for those differing views at the same time?"

"How do we dispel myths and stereotypes, and spread understanding and education within and between faith communities and the LGBT community?"

"What core values might we all be able to agree upon, that come from our different communities? What would a just and fair society look like?"
I told Stephen about the current year's Faith to Faith programme of public meetings at the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow, much of which focuses on faith communities and LGBT issues. He asks me to come forward and say a bit about this to help inform our discussion.

The Multi-Faith Centre has, for the past five years, been working on a Europe-wide project in training and education on faith issues in relation to other topics. Currently they're developing material on "Religion, Gender and Sexuality" - and would like to pilot this with the kind of people who are here tonight.

This is the first event I've attended at the Multi-Faith Centre, although I've been here once before just for a look-around. We're in a lovely tall, airy room and the door is open onto a grassy slope; we can hear kids playing football outside ("Jumpers for goalposts" and all that!)

My iPhone ran out of charge hours ago. I've become over-reliant on it and I haven't bothered to check the train timetables since I couldn't do it on my National Rails app. I ask for a lift to the railway station, without having any idea what times the trains will run. I arrive too late to catch a direct train to Leicester - a trip that can take only 22 minutes on a good day. but tonight I have to travel via Nottingham, with an hour-long wait there, so I don't get home till the stroke of midnight.

I found this a very interesting meeting, not only from the perspective of Leicester Council of Faiths, but also from that of the Regional Equality and Divesity Partnership (REDP). Something like this, which crosses the streams (if you don't mind the Ghostbusters allusion) is right up REDP's street.

East Midlands regional event: Knowledge, Impact & Success

At the Riverside Centre, Pride Park, Derby, for a conference jointly sponsored by the Big Lottery Fund, Capacity Builders and One East Midlands. The title of this regional event, "Knowledge, Impact and Success" offers an upbeat face when much of the sector is unsettled in the light of changes, cuts and contractions threatened by the new economic regime of the Coalition Government. But there's actually no doubting that there is a generally upbeat air about the proceedings here today. The Voluntary and Community Sector has never been comfortable and safe, never really felt at ease with its political masters, never been able to look to the future with security and certainty. Things may look unsettled and grim all round, but many people are saying, "Well, what's new?" Oh, what is new is that it seems that we're not the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) now, we've been dubbed "Civil Society Organisations" (CSO). I spent a fair bit of time yesterday, going through some of REDP's texts, making it read consistently, "Voluntary and Community Sector" and "VCS". Does this mean I need to go back through all that and change them all again?

Be that as it may, it's another worthwhile trip out of Leicester. Laura Horton, Project Manager of REDP, and I are here to make contacts and make an impression. I'd like to think we manage to do both. In the afternoon, we conduct three "speed dating" workshops, where we both sit at a table while someone comes and sits with us for up to 20 minutes and quizzes us about our organisation and its work. I'd been asked to write a short  piece about REDP's work for Insight, the One East Midlands magazine, which is in delegates' packs today. We were a bit anxious about this when we saw the proofs a week or so ago, and were unable to make some alterations that we thought necessary - but seeing the finished product, I'm glad to say that it's turned out just fine.

The event finishes at three o'clock, to allow everyone to follow the England v Slovakia match at the World Cup. I end up watching it in a big hall behind where we've had our conference, sitting with the centre staff, who've been given a few free hours in the afternoon to cheer on Rooney & Co. I enter into the spirit of things with a great big chip butty. But then I reveal my true nature by putting mayo on my chips, rather than ketchup. Mind you, it could have been worse. I could have really given myself away by asking for a can of Irn Bru!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


To Loughborough University early this evening, for the Annual General Meeting of Faiths Forum for the East Midlands (FFEM). The meeting is being held in the university's Faith and Spirituality Centre - a facility I've not visited before. We're welcomed by Simon Harrison, Director of the Centre, which will become fully operational for students and staff at the university come the new term in September. Councillor Jill Vincent, Mayor of Charnwood, is the special guest.

I'm wearing two hats this evening: one for Leicester Council of Faiths, the other for the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP). Faiths Forum for the East Midlands is one of the few organisations focusing on one of the "protected characteristics" that has a remit to operate across the region. It's a natural partner for REDP and some of its personnel have given solid support at a number of REDP's Involvement Events in different parts of the East Midlands over recent months. CEO Patrica Stoat highlights FFEM's association with REDP when presenting her annual report. I was asked to write a short piece about REDP's work for inclusion in the latest edition of FFEM's newsletter, which is distributed to attendees this evening.

Leicester Council of Faiths is a constituent member of FFEM. Our former Chair, Resham Singh Sandhu, is a Trustee of FFEM, representing Leicester Council of Faiths. Our Coordinator, Ajay Aggarwal, is also a Trustee.

I get to chat with some members of the local congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (AKA Mormons). Their counterparts in Leicester wrote recently to our Council of Faiths, making initial enquiries about obtaining representation. I explain to them that while no decision has been made about their request at any recent meeting, the Council of Faiths is obliged, by the terms of our status as Host Organisation for Leicester Partnership on issues to do with religion, faith and belief, to establish good working relations with as many of the city's faith communities as possible. This doesn't mean that we're compelled to increase our membership, but it's against the spirit of our arrangement with the Local Strategic Partnership to allow anyone to feel left out.

Speaker this evening is Sandra Herbert on "Faith and the Media". Sandra has considerable knowledge and lengthy experience of this topic, having worked as a producer with BBC Radio Leicester and trained people from various faith backgrounds in media skills. lengthyShe gives a lively, amusing and inspiring presentation. She makes lovely jam too. Lots of people make jam, but this is none of your amateurish, kitchen table homemade stuff. Very professional, with some unusual combinations - her pear and chocolate one is my kids' favourite. The one she's showing off this evening is gooseberry and strawberry - just the one pot. I buy it from her.

In response to Sandra's presentation, I get a chance to plug Leicester Council of Faiths' foray into social media: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and (of course) this blog.

It's an auspicious time to be discussing this topic as Channel 4 has just announced the introduction of a new daily religious slot entitled 4thought (can you see what they've done there?). This will to be broadcast immediately following their main news, just before eight o'clock. Channel 4's head of specialist factual, Ralph Lee, said contributors to the slot will be "as diverse as the views expressed". They will include members of minority religions, such as Bahá'í and Zoroastrianism.

Today's trivia: four people sharing a taxi from Loughborough to Leicester works out cheaper for each individual than buying a single on the train - even though Loughborough and Leicester are one stop apart and the train journey takes just ten minutes.

REDP delivery group (2)

At Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL) this morning, for the second weekly meeting of our delivery group for the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP). Six of us are together here: REDP Chair Iris Lightfoote (The Race Equality Centre - TREC), Laura Horton (REDP Project manager), Liz Harrison (Equality Officer, LCIL/REDP), Kelly Jusab (REDP) and Carolyn Pasco (Researcher, REDP) and me. Today we focus on:

expanding our use of Twitter, in particular increasing the number of other "twitterers" whom REDP is following. This will improve our facility to retweet relevant information to those who are following us.

seeing how we could make as speedy as possible a response to provisions affecting our field of work in the Chancellor's Emergency budget, being announced today.

developing a one-page guide to the Equality Act 2010.

considering suitable areas of work in which to offer our distinctive services.
There are a number of events taking place in the East Midlands over the next few weeks in which we've been asked to be involved, so we're also talking about what we can do at those.

As we often do, we spend some time refining REDP's aims and objectives etc. We do this regularly, to keep abreast of the shifting political, economic and social landscape, while remaining true to the content of our original business plan. I do enjoy the cut'n'thrust of this kind of discussion, as we try to concentrate our various meanings and interpretations into the best form of words. I'm reminded today especially of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's statement that, "The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions." (or, as we used to put it in Glasgow, "... only after the clash of differing heads"!)

Monday, 21 June 2010

"To me!", "To you!"

A bit of lifting and shifting this morning, with the assistance of Tony Stokes, from the Methodist Church next door. He and I clear the downstairs office of the last of the display materials that had previously been used by the Just shop. We get them out of the door at Pilgrim House, then in the next one at the church. These various bits and pieces have been taking up space in the downstairs office since Just moved out near the end of 2009. Some of the bits have been blocking the window, concealing that there's an empty room in such a public and vulnerable situation. But we have a pair of nice magnolia-coloured venetian blinds now - although when viewed from outside, the blinds reveal the previously unnoticed fact that one of the windows is tinted; so they look more like a coffee and cream combination than being two of the same colour.

Carpet cleaners coming today. Then the place will be in a pretty decent state to start functioning as my working office. Well, clean carpets and new blinds are definitely steps in the right direction!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

escape to safety

Refugee Week (14-20 June) is a nationwide programme of arts, cultural and educational events, celebrating the contribution of refugees to the UK and encouraging a better understanding between communities. Among many events for this special week in Leicester, Newarke Houses Museum is playing host to Escape to Safety - an interactive exhibition that takes you on a simulated journey, during which you walk through 8 stations inside a 40ft trailer. You are accompanied by the voices of refugees from Rwanda, Afghanistan and Palestine, and live through their experiences as they cope with border guards and immigration officials. You witness their treatment at the hands of the media. Escape to Safety is open beyond the end of the official national observance of Refugee Week - until Friday 25 June.

I caught my first glimpse of the trailer as I walked through the Newarke this evening and took a few photos of it. Impressive, isn't it? I even climbed up on a window sill at DMU's engineering building to get some shots.

Find out more about Escape to Safety:

Find out more about Refugee Week:

Friday, 18 June 2010


A group of Rotarians from South Carolina, USA, are on an exchange visit to the East Midlands. At lunchtime today, they're visiting the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Holy Bones. Mrs Surinder Sandhu has asked me to come to the gurdwara and be part of the small group receiving the visitors there.

The Guru Nanak Sikh Museum, which occupies the first floor of the building, was the first Sikh Museum in Europe. It opened in 1992 and its tenth anniversary was marked by a visit from the Queen – her first visit to any gurdwara on British soil. The museum recounts the narrative of Sikh history and the most important and influential figures in that narrative, mostly through paintings and photographs. So many people in these pictures, all of them important to the people here – and I know nothing about them. Humbling, really, to recognise such a big blank in my own knowledge; rather the way I felt when I saw the Fluying Sikhs documentary.

Also on display are models of The Golden Temple at Amritsar, Nankana Sahib (birthplace of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism) and five other distinguished Sikh shrines in different parts of India, known as Takhats (Seaats of Authority). The photographic gallery displays photographs dating from as early as the 1840s of those people who took part in the struggles faced by the Sikh Nation and also commemorates the role played by Sikh servicemen in both World Wars and in the struggle for India's freedom. A selection of Panjabi handcraft (Phulkaris), ancient Sikh coins, hand-written manuscripts and more are also on show.

Surinder has asked for me to provide copies of the leaflets on the Sikhs which have been produced by Leicester Council of Faiths. I also bring along the banner from our (newish) exhibition, which I get to put up in the gurdwara (and leave on show over the weekend).

I'm honoured to be asked to be present for this visit, although the visitors don't get to stay very long and don't have the chance for much interaction. We receive langar together; a table is set out for our American friends, who dine together, separate from their hosts, most of whom sit on the floor to eat. I'm not very good at sitting on the floor, so I take the chance to push in (politely) and chat with a few of our guests over the vegetarian meal. I discover that they represent six Rotary Clubs from different districts around the state of South Carolina. I ask if they're aware of a Sikh community in their own neck of the woods. They rell me that there's a gurdwara or Sikh centre in the state capital, Columbia (later, I google this and find a very interesting link, that I've included below – as well as the picture above, reproduced from the website of the the Pluralism Project at Harvard University).

I get the feeling that our visitors today are rather disoriented. On tours like this, a lot gets crammed in, but the few I speak to – it really seems like their heads are spinning! Or maybe that's just Leicester ...

Today, for the first time, I get to meet a couple who are frequently namechecked at places I go to or events I attend. Freda Hussain, MBE, former High Sheriff of Leicestershire and retired Principal of Moat Community College in Leicester, is here. The itinerary for this group of visitors has been organised by her husband, Asaf Hussain, Chair of the Scoeity for Interculutural Understanding in Leicester. He's calling this programme a "safari". I don't know how our paths haven't crossed before, but I'm glad to meet them both here today.

Find out more about Sikhs in South Carolina (and in the US in general).

Thursday, 17 June 2010

stamp it out!

To Leicestershire Constabulary HQ in Enderby this morning, for the launch of "Stamp It Out!" This is a community led partnership bringing together different groups and organisations all committed to challenging, tackling and stamping out hate within Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.

In today’s Britain no one should ever feel under threat of verbal or physical violence just of their disability, transgender (gender identity), race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation. The risk of being attacked or abused on the street, at work or in their own home just because of who they are remains and everyday reality for many people. If hate incidents go unreported this fear will increase and affects people’s ability to live open and happy lives.

According to Leicestershire Police, 1,150 people were victims of racist crimes last year, 133 were targeted because of their religion, while 70 disabled people and around 200 people were targeted because of their sexuality. Leicester council of Faiths obviously has a stake in there being more accurate recording and monitoring of religious hate crime - and the fostering of an environment where victims of such crime feel more confident that the police will take their concerns seriously and will deal with incidents and their perpetrators promptly, efficiently and consistently.

On arrival at Police HQ in Enderby, I'm a little unsure just where I am meant to be going. I've visited the site a couple of times before, but it's always been to one particular building. So I stop the first official-looking person I meet, to ask where the meeting might be. And who should be the first "official-looking" person I see? None other than the newly-appointed Chief Constable, Simon Cole. Of course I take the opportunity to introduce myself and the Council of Faiths and give him my card as he directs me to the right place. After he's done so and he walks on, I realise I stopped him just in front of a blooming big sign with an arrow on it! Still, let's say that it's a little moment of serendipitty.

In his opening remarks to the audience, the Chief Constable tells us that "Stamping out hate crime and the kind of vulnerabilities it creates is the reason why I joined the police." Several community organisations have expressed their support already for Stamp It Out! I'm asked here today if the Council of Faiths would do the same. That kind of decision is above my pay grade obviously, but I'll be passing the request on to the officers of the Council of Faiths.
Find out more about Stamp It Out!

Here's how the launch was covered on the Leicester Mercury website:

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Amplified Leicester: Songlines

It's the fortnightly meeting of Amplified Leicester this morning at Phoenix Square Digital Film and Media Centre. Prof Martin Rieser (photo above) presents "Songlines - An Experiment in Social Media Mapping".
Songlines is a communal mapping project based on GPS technologies, collectively creating updated routes across Leicester for walkers and cyclists based on local knowledge. It is supported by the DMU transport group and Leicester City Council. The maps can be accessed and updated on mobile phones. A second phase of the project will place user-generated artworks on routes,designed to be consumed while walking or riding and related to the landscape (poetry, music etc). They will be triggered by user location.

Professor Rieser has always been fascinated by the possibility of creating fragmentary narrative structures and interactive stories using digital technology. This has led him into explorations using mobile sensing and large-scale interactive video experiences. His art practice has been seen around the world including Cannes , Paris; Vienna, Thessaloniki, London, Belfast, Milan and Melbourne. Author of numerous essays on digital art including New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative (BFI/ZKM, 2002), he has recently edited The Mobile Audience, a book on locative art due out this year from Rodopi. He is Joint research Professor between the Institute of Creative Technologies and The Faculty of Art and Design at De Montfort.

Text and photo on this blog entry taken from Amplified Leicester's ning.

Find out more about Amplified Leicester:

Find out more about Songlines:

inspiration postponed

Phone call from Ramila Chauhan, who has been my main contact with the organising team behind Get Inspired 2010, the Hindu-focused festival planned for the middle of August this year at Leicester Racecourse. She tells me that they've decided to postpone the event by twelve months, because the more work they've done on it, the more opportunities have opened to them to hold a bigger and better event but they they wouldn't be able to do justice to all those new kinds of input if they were to go ahead on the dates as planned. I think this is a good decision and shows real vision and forward thinking on the part of the organisers. I'm going to stay involved and ensure that the people I've introduced to the project and the organising team stay in the loop.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

focus group for Durham University

Phone call around 1530, asking if I could help out with an event at St Philip's Centre early this evening. Some kind of focus group, from which a couple of people have unexpectedly dropped out; can I help fill those spaces? The event starts in just two hours. A bit short notice to pull in anyone else, but I offer to go myself.

I'm not awfully sure what this is, or what I'm supposed to do to help; I think that my mild confusion might come across when I arrive at the St Philip's Centre. But it doesn't take long to catch on. This is part of a research project being carried out, in various sites around the country, by the University of Durham. The purpose of the research is to find out what sort of effect "anti-terror" legislation has had on the public image (and our private perception) of the Muslim community. This meeting in Leicester this evening is the only focus groups which are not exclusively Muslim. There are six of us in the meeting room; another group of the same size is ushered into the library. Our 90-minute (digitally recorded) discussion is facilitated by Sugra Ahmed, research fellow at the Islamic Foundation. Do my ears deceive me, or does she really greet me with "Hello Georgie" as she arrives?

Here are some of the questions that Sughra asks us (starting with some general ones about our feelings on crime and disorder, before moving on to ones more related to anti-terror legislation and its effects):

"What are your main concerns about crime and disorder in your neighbourhood?"

"How likely are you to report a crime to the police?"

"Have any of you reported a crime in the past year?"

"How much of a threat do you feel there is to the country at the moment from terrorism?"

"Do you think that any particular legislation or policy has had an impact on your neighbourhood or on you personally?"

"Does this kind of 'anti-terror' legislation make you feel differently about other people in your neighbourhood or city?"

"How do you feel about other people in your neighbourhood or city in the light of this kind of legislation?"

"How do you feel about people in your own community (however you want to define that) in the light of this kind of legislation?"

"Are there any changes that you'd like to see in this kind of legislation or policy?"

REDP delivery group (1)

At Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL) this morning, for the revivified delivery group of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP). As well as me, there's Chino Cabon (The Race Equality Centre - TREC), Tonia Frew (Community Development Officer, LGBT Centre), Liz Harrison (Equality Officer, LCIL/REDP), Kelly Jusab (REDP) and Carolyn Pasco (Researcher, REDP). We work on main items in particular: a response to the East Midlands Ambulance Service Community Engagement Strategy; a programme of training based on the Equality Act 2010; and the latest statistical-based research on issues of equality, diversity and human rights in the region, carried out by Carolyn.

After lunch, we swap Chino for Iris Lightfoote, Carolyn for Laura Horton - and we concentrate on Terms of Reference, Code of Conduct and Criteria for Membership of REDP's Core Reference Group.

Monday, 14 June 2010

faith in the planet

Back at Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road, this evening. I attended - and thoroughly enjoyed - the courses that were run here by Christians Aware, "Celebrating the Diversity of Hinduism" (autumn 2009) and "Mindfulness" (spring this year). The course this time is entitled "Faith in the Planet". I've not been able to attend this one, much to my regret, but I am here tonight as speaker. My topic is printed in the programme as "The Bahá'í Green Movement". Strictly speaking, there's no such thing of course. While it would be ridiculous to claim that whatever we might call "the green movement" originated in the Bahá'í teachings, it would be fair to say that it's been integral to the Bahá'í way of thinking and acting since day one. I would find it hard to see how anyone seriously could claim to be Bahá'í and not be green. Those who know Bahá'ís well enough get the fact that there aren't really any "movements" within the Bahá'í  Faith and that Bahá'ís themselves take great care that no one gets the impression there are any significant divisions within their community. When I was asked to speak on this topic, my title was given as "Bahá'ís and the Green Movement" which makes a wee bit more sense.

Speakers in this series before me have been: Andrew Reeves from Transition Leicester; Barbara Butler ("A Gandhian Approach"); Ziyaa Lorgat from Earth Guardians ("Green Movement in Islam"); Caroline Brazier ("Green Buddhism"); Allen Hayes from Leicester Secular Society ("A Humanist View"). Next week, Alan Stead of Christchurch will speak on "An Eco-Congregation".

A small group tonight (of seven) but a lovely supportive atmosphere. I begin with some extracts from the book Sacred Earth: The spiritual nature of our material world. This compilation of extracts from the writings and traditions of many religions was produced to accompany a reception at Canada House, Traflagar Square, London in May 2001, honouring the life of Madame Ruhiyyih Rabbani, preeminent international dignitary of the Baha'i Faith at the time of her passing. In attendance at the event, organised by the Arts for Nature, were some 150 prominent people, including HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. I want to give a name check here to my old mucker, Pete Maguire, who worked long into many nights to design this book. I know this because on most of those nights, I was sitting beside him, working on the text! The book has a haunting, ethereal quality which readers have always remarked upon, and they do so, even tonight.

After allowing the extracts to set the tone, I present my talk, built around a series of quotations, as laid out below. We read these together then discuss them as a group.

"We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions." (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, 1933)
"Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world." (From the writings of Bahá’u’lláh)

"Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. There can be no doubt that whoever is cognisant of this truth, is cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory." (From the writings of Bahá’u’lláh)

"The vast forces of science and technology must be harnessed to serve the material, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs of the entire human family. This will require that all peoples be involved in generating scientific knowledge and determining its applications. As participation increases, technologies which have tended to desensitize and alienate, to make satisfying work and crafts redundant, to destroy the environment, and to cause sickness, infirmity or death, will, no doubt, be reconsidered, redesigned or abandoned."  (Bahá'í International Community, Sustainable Communities in an Integrating World - 1997)

"The changes required to reorient the world toward a sustainable future imply degrees of sacrifice, social integration, selfless action, and unity of purpose rarely achieved in human history. These qualities have reached their highest degree of development through the power of religion. Therefore, the world's religious communities have a major role to play in inspiring these qualities in their members, releasing latent capacities of the human spirit and empowering individuals to act on behalf of the planet, its peoples, and future generations." (Bahá'í International Community, Earth Charter - 1997)
Here's a link to the archives of the Bahá'í World News Service, reporting the special occasion at Canada House in 2001 for which the book Sacred Earth was produced:

Find out more about Christians Aware:

community media week

John Coster, of Citizens' Eye Community News Agency, pops into the Welcome Centre for a chat about Community Media Week in November. We agree jointly to facilitate, during that week, a workshop on "How to Start Your Own Newsletter" at the Unitarian Church, for faith groups across the city and county.

Friday, 11 June 2010


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
"Women-friendly" mosques praised
Two mosques have been included in a UK directory of "women-friendly" Islamic places of worship.
Both in the Highfields area of the city, they were highlighted in a report published yesterday by Faith Matters, a national group which aims to build bridges between faith groups and to improve the position of women in Islam.
The group's researchers asked mosques across the country whether they provided space for women to pray, services such as childcare, access to an imam or female scholar, a role in decision-making and positions within the mosque's governing committee.
The Islamic and Community Centre, in Conduit Street received the maximum five-star grading because it satisfied all five criteria.
The Leicester Mosque and Islamic Centre in Sutherland Street was awarded four stars, dropping down a grade because it did not have any females on its governing body.
The report author stressed the list was only a guide to "good practice" because only around 500 of the UK's estimated 4,500 mosques were asked to take part in the research.
Fiyaz Mughal, founder of Faith Matters, said: "Such is the nature of the work, some individuals will be unhappy that their mosque wasn't included.
"It's not to say these are the only 100, but that they provide a snapshot of the ones who are providing these core areas.
"The long-term view is for other mosques and religious institutions to see the need for good service delivery and, within that, the importance of serving half of the population in the best possible way."
Sughra Ahmed, a research fellow in the policy research centre at the Islamic Foundation, in Markfield, said: "Reports like this are a good start in exploring the whole area of mosques. It's good to see mosques being appreciated for the work they are doing, but there is more work to be done."
Suleman Nagdi, spokesman for the Leicestershire Federation of Muslim Organisations, which represents the majority of mosques in the city and county, said: "There are more than two in Leicester which would satisfy these criteria and I have never come across any mosque that says 'we should exclude women'.
"Some places of worship have restrictions on space because of the size of the building, for example, but overall this is still a good debate to have."
The Faith Matters research was supported by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Equality Act 2010 event

REDP's event at Walkers Stadium. Great attendance, good contributions, positive and supportive atmosphere. For the first time in REDP's public events this year, I take a back seat. I facilitate on tables in the two afternoon workshops, but otherwise get a fairly quiet time of it today - which means that I get lunch this time, unlike the last day REDP hosted at this venue!

My particular function today, though, is to keep feeding REDP's twitterstream throughout the event. Our twitter name, for those who would like to follow us, is @REDPartnership.

Here's how we've described the event, for publication in the local media:

City takes lead on new Equality Act
Leicester City’s Walkers Stadium was the venue for a high-profile regional conference promoting the new Equality Act.

The Act, which became law just before Parliament was dissolved for the General Election, protects people from discrimination on grounds of age, disability, gender and gender identity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.

Around a hundred people attended the conference, drawn mostly from the Voluntary and Community Sector and the Public Sector from right across the East Midlands.

The event was hosted by the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership, which works across the East Midlands to strengthen the voice of the Voluntary Sector on these important issues. REDP has grown out of a successful collaboration of a number of Leicester-based organisations that have worked together in a variety of combinations over the past decade.

Sheila Lock, Chief Executive of Leicester City Council, officially opened the day, welcoming delegates to the event and to the city. She said that it was right for the conference to be happening in Leicester as the city is widely celebrated for its diversity and has a history of speaking up for equality. Sheila further said, “The Third Sector has been instrumental in bringing about improvements in equalities. … colleagues [in the public sector] have much to learn from the experiences of colleagues in the voluntary sector when it comes to challenging established systems and practices. I welcome that challenge, it is what helps people improve.”

A trio of nationally prominent speakers addressed the morning session , each one speaking about one important aspect of the new Act: Alison Pritchard (Head of Strategy at the Government Equalities Office), Amanda Ariss (Chief Executive at the Equality and Diversity Forum) and Anthony Robinson (Director of Casework and Litigation at the Equality and Human Rights Commission). The speakers also took part in panel discussions; workshop sessions in the afternoon helped attendees focus on major issues that affect them now and that will arise in the future.

Iris Lightfoote, Chair of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership, said, “The number of people that felt this event was important enough to attend demonstrates the continuing significance of work to bring about equality of outcomes across the East Midlands. The profile of the contributors demonstrated the support that REDP is able to bring to this work and, hosting it in Leicester shows how much the voluntary sector’s contribution to this work should be valued.”
Sad to report though that the Leicester Mercury didn't publish anything about this event.

Find out more about the Equality Act 2010:

Find out more about the Equality & Diversity Forum:

Find out more about the Equality and Human Rights Commission:

Find out more about the Government Equalities Office:

Find oput more about the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership:


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Two churches to close in Leicester this month over costs
Two churches will close this month because the diocese can no longer afford to keep them open.
St Peter's, off Thurcaston Road, Belgrave, Leicester, and the nearby St Gabriel's, in Kerrysdale Avenue, will hold their final services on Sunday, June 27.
A day later, both buildings will be officially shut.
The decision was taken after a long consultation about their future and an unsuccessful campaign to save the 11th century St Peter's.
From next month, St Alban's, in Weymouth Street, will be the only church serving Belgrave.
Father Tony Coslett, team rector for the parish, said: "This is not about failure. It is not about retreat. It is about re-grouping. When a church closes it is remarkably sad. I am gutted.
"St Alban's will now become a powerhouse of the parish.
"We look forward to serving the community from this church.
"The Church of England is still committed to this area. We will still have a lot going on."
He said the closures were not solely for financial reasons.
However, the parish has faced a drop in numbers at services, dwindling collections and escalating bills, meaning it could only afford to keep one church open.
The parish chose St Alban's because it said it had better facilities and was cheaper to run.
A public consultation prompted 135 letters of protest at the plans, most concerning the closure of St Peter's. Despite that, in February, the Church of England upheld the parish's proposals to decommission the buildings.
Church Commissioners said the parish only needed one building. Ian Bewley-Parker, 71, who worshipped at St Peter's for most of his life and used to be churchwarden, said the decision to close the churches was "stupid".
Janet Lucas, who lives near the church, said: "They have shot themselves in the foot.
"I do not think they are going to get the people in St Alban's."
She said she hoped the churches would have a public open day before their doors were bolted, for the benefit of the community as well as the congregations.
St Peter's is a grade II-listed building with a history dating back to 1082.
St Gabriel's was built in the mid-1960s.
It has not been decided what will happen to the buildings after they close.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Leicester said following the closures on June 28 the management of the churches would be handed from the parochial church council to the diocese's board of finance.
He said: "There will be a series of meetings and discussions between interested parties about the future of the buildings.
"These could include talks between people including the city council and English Heritage. It will be an ongoing process."
The final services on June 27 will get under way at St Peter's at 3pm and at St Gabriel's at 6.30pm.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

community cohesion charter

A one-hour briefing session at Voluntary Action Leicester (12 noon, then repeated later today, starting 1800), for those bodies appointed Host Organisations for communities of interest in the city and for those individuals appointed representatives for those communities. Within this structure, Leicester Council of Faiths is the Host Organisation for issues of religion and belief. Our two representatives are unwell today, so I'm holding the fort. Other Host Organisations and their representatives are here for the other communities of interest: age (different organisations for young people and old people), disability, gender (i.e. women),  race, sexual orientation.

This briefing is in preparation for a meeting of Leicester Partnership on 23 June. Today we get sight of paperwork for that meeting and have the opportunity to comment on it if need be. One such document is the "Community Cohesion Charter for Leicester and Leicestershire", the text of which is set out in full below. This version will be signed by representatives of the city and county and of the Strategic Partnerships covering them both; a shorter version is to be signed by city and country organisations involved in those partnerships.

"We, the people who live and work in Leicester and Leicestershire are proud of our city and our county, our history and traditions, and value the diversity of our people and communities.

"We are committed to the development of Leicester and Leicestershire as a thriving and cohesive society of many faiths and cultures and we will work together for its continued success for ourselves, our children and for future generations. We all have an equal stake in our future.

"We believe in the importance of peaceful, harmonious and creative relations between our diverse communities. WE are committed to creating a positive and productive environment where difference is valued and celebrated and we ill take every opportunity to work to improve those relations and encourage greater understanding and contact between people and communities.

"We cherish and will uphold our long tradition of welcoming and respecting visitors and newcomers to Leicester and Leicestershire and those who seek refuge in our community.

"We recognise the need to remain vigilant to any threats or challenges to good community relations and will guard against complacency. We have a moral responsibility to speak out, to show visible leadership, and to respond to challenges to the peace and harmony of Leicester and Leicestershire.

"We, therefore, make the following commitments:

"We reaffirm what we have in common and what unites us, a wish to live in peace and security together, to be free from poverty, to have a decent standard of living and a fair share of resources, to have equal chances in life and enjoy good health.

"We celebrate all that is good about Leicester and Leicestershire, our wonderful heritage, our many cultures and beliefs our unique neighbourhoods and the energy, character and diversity of our people.

"We recognise and support the equal rights of everyone in Leicester and Leicestershire.

"We reject any form of discrimination, prejudice, harassment or violence.

"We will work to build bridges of understanding, friendship, cooperation and mutual respect between all the people and communities who belong to Leicester and Leicestershire."

It should be said that this is not necessarily the final form of words. Nor has it been agreed that there should be two different versions for signature by different organisations. There may yet be some debate over just what this should say in the end.

CreativeCoffee Club (6)

It's the fortnightly meeting of CreativeCoffee Club at Phoenix Square Digital Film and Media Centre. No speaker, no particular topic this morning, but a little more formal and structured than our last meeting two weeks ago. We've moved out of the Screen Lounge cafe bar into one of the education suites upstairs. Or perhaps we have been moved out - there's a suggestion that last time there were so many of us that we took up too much space and encroached on a meeting of the University of the Third Age (U3A), who gather in the Scfreen Lounge cafe bar before going into a special showing of a film just for them. Last time they were waiting to see Stanley Kubrick's 2001, A Space Odyssey. Well, that shows that they've got stamina. They should put that on a double bill with Kubrick's Spartacus, with a break in between in case anyone needs to shave.

Some of the core members are here (Ben, Farhanah, Ian, Mel - who all cross over with Amplified Leicester) but there are another dozen or so, for whom  it's their first time here. We've got two minutes each to introduce ourselves and pitch our business, service, whatever it is we bring to the table. Jayne keep time with the stopwatch on her iPhone. When it's my turn, I take the opportunity to hand round bookmarks, postcards, flyers and my business card for the Council of Faiths. How come I'm the only one to do that today? I'd have thought stuff like that would be Networking 101.

After all the intros, we can move back downstairs to the cafe bar, as the U3A people have cleared the space. Not much time to get into conversation today, as I have to dash off to my next appointment at Voluntary Action Leicester, starting 12 noon.

I should mention that this morning I've taken the opportunity to collect some signatures on the Heart Link petition to support the continuation of children's surgery and cardiac services at Glenfield Hospital.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

volunteering strategy working group (1)

A quick dash across the road from Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL) to Voluntary Action Leicester (VAL) for the first meeting of a small group working on bashing out a strategy for volunteering that will work in both city and county. This follows on from a paper presented by Jim McCallum of VAL at the most recent meeting of the Stronger Communities Partnership (see blog entry, 08 Apr). Since I gained some experience in this area when helping with Volunteering England's "Volunteering and Faith Communities" project last year, I put myself forward to be on this group. Although Jim had a copy of the report of that project to hand when he presented that paper in April, I wasn't convinced that the benefits of that project had been included in the proposed strategy, an omission that I wanted to help put right (particularly in relation to the rich experience and potential of Leicester's faith communities).

There are five of us round the table, for this one-hour meeting: two from VAL (including Jim who leads the discussion), Jai Parmar, Project Officer from the Equality and Diversity Partnership (EDP), Jade Walsh (Volunteer Coordinator at Vista), Suna Tilley (Side-by-Side Service Manager at the Alzheimer's Society), and David Smith from Connexions.

We take one topic and brainstorm it: How to inspire people in Leicester and Leicestershire to volunteer. WE come up with 20 or more idea worth noting. They'll be written up, shared with the group, then each of us can circulate them within our own "hinterland" (as Jim put it) and come back for another meeting, to brainstorm another of the strategy's five principles in our second meeting next month. We're hoping to finalise the strategy by October at the latest.

EDP monthly meeting

We get hardly a quarter of an hour after the REDP meeting finishes at 1230 then we're into the regular monthly meeting of the Equality and Diversity Partnership. For this expanded meeting we're joined by Saeed Malek, representing Age Concern, as well as colleagues from the public sector Leicester City Council (Irene Kyszk, Head of Equalities), Leicestershire Constabulary (Lynne Woodward, Head of Diversity), Leicester City NHS (Abida Hussein, Diversity Officer). Our main topic of conversation is the expansion (in role and, possibly, in the membership) of EDP in its work with Leicester City Council and the Local Strategic Partnership. Jai Parmar and I have to leave early to make our way over to Voluntary Action Leicester to join in the first session of a working party to help formulate a volunteering strategy for the city and county.

REDP monthly meeting

At Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living, Upper Brown Street this morning, for the regular monthly meeting of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP). More people round the table than usual this morning. We welcome to their first meeting Liz Harrison, newly employed Equality Officer with LCIL/REDP, and Tonya Frew, recently appointed Community Development Officer at the LGBT Centre. With these new guys on board, there's a sense that the team is complete. Capitalising on this feeling, we reinstate the weekly working meetings for REDP, which will now be on Tuesday mornings.

Much of our discussion focuses on the upcoming event on the Equality Act 2010, at Walkers Stadium later this week (Thu 10). Last month, we were considering the penalties of cancelling or postponing this. Now the list is full, with over 20 people on reserve. We discuss whether we need to amend the programme in the light of Laura and I having attended the Equality and Diversity Forum event in Birmingham yesterday. Some minor adjustments are felt to be in order.

One major development that takes place today is a change in our Chair. As the project is about to enter its second year, Dee hands over to Iris from The Race Equality Centre (TREC). I'm all in favour of this. The plan is that the four Core Partners will take turns at chairing REDP. I am the baby of the group. Having been involved in this sort of work for the past three years. I defer to Dee and Iris and am conscious of still being under their tutelage in many ways. Sometime in the initial three-year life of REDP, when the time is right, I'll do it. But in this early phase, and in the increasingly difficult economic, political and social climate, it's right for someone of Iris's experience and expertise to take the helm. I'm not "kick ass" enough - not yet anyways.

The Coalition Government is in the process of virtually abolishing the regional tier of government throughout the country. Many of the bodies which have been the big players on that scene are disappearing, almost overnight. As long as our funding stays secure (and we're confident about that), then REDP may turn out to be last man standing in the East Midlands. Tthat would give us an extraordinary prominence and a much more influential role than we could have predicted.

Monday, 7 June 2010

get (still more) inspired

This evening I'm at Shree Jalaram Prarthana Mandal community centre, Narborough Road, for a meeting of the group planning "Get Inspired 2010", to be held at Leicester Raceourse, Sat 14 and Sun 15 August.

Find out more about Get Inspired 2010:


In Birmingham today, for an event sponsored by the Equality and Diversity Forum (EDF), entitled "How to Use the Equality Act 2010". The Equality and Diversity Forum is a network of national organisations committed to equal opportunities, social justice, good community relations and respect for human rights. Its objectives are:
  • To promote equality and in particular the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, gender, gender identity, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or any combination thereof;
  • To promote Human Rights;
  • To promote for the public benefit the efficiency and effectiveness of Voluntary Sector Providers working in the areas of age, disability, gender, gender identity, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation and Human Rights or any combination thereof;
  • The advancement of conflict resolution or reconciliation between competing strands of equality and diversity.

This event sports some high level speakers:
  • Jonathan Rees, Director General of the Government Equalities Office: "Key Features of the 2010 Equality Act"
  • Amanda Ariss, CEO of the Equality and Diversity Forum, "How NGOs might use the Equality Act in Their Work"
  • Peter Reading, Acting Director of Legal Policy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, "EHRC's Role in Implementing the Act"
After lunch, I take part in two workshops. the first of these is "Equality Impact Assessments" (presented by Janine Garel, Citizens Advice), the second, "The Public Sector Equality Duty" (presented by Ali Harris, Citizens Advice and Ewan Kennedy, ROTA).

The venue for this event, Maple House on Corporation Street is very good. Central, close to Birmingham New Street rail station, with friendly staff and good food. But what I like most about it are the names of the meeting rooms. They're called "Accelerate!", "Forward!", "Hasten!", "Proceed!" and "Propel!". They sound like team names from The Apprentice. All they're missing is an exclamation mark at the end of each one - so I've added them here for good measure!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

riverside festival: Sunday

Saturday was bright, clear and sunny - indeed, it was the hottest day of the year so far. Early on Sunday, though, it's raining so heavily that it sets off car alarms in our street! I don't envy anyone who's setting up for the day at the Riverside Festival.

We finally get back into the swing of things late morning. Highlight of the day is a Pub Quiz (I'm sure they mean "Pop Quiz", since it's not actually in a pub) hosted by Presence. Harry, Grace and I win! Our prize is a small garden gnome, which Harry names "Steve" (photo above)

While the kids occupy themselves with various bits of colouring and so on, I talk to people on the Presence stall and find out more about them. They describe themselves as offering a fresh approach to church in Leicester mainly for postmodern young adults, people in apartments and students living along the waterfront and the edge of the city centre. They've been mandated by Bishop Tim to be a church in every sense, except having a church!

Find out more about Presence:

Facebook users can visit Presence's Facebook page here:!/pages/Leicester-United-Kingdom/Presence-Leicester/148297528902?ref=ts&ajaxpipe=1&__a=15

Saturday, 5 June 2010

riverside festival: Saturday

A two-day family festival of music and fun on the banks of the River Soar. The annual Riverside Festival has grown into one of the city’s biggest free events, bringing live music, family activities and workshops and all the fun of the waterways to the heart of the city. The festival takes place on the mile straight of the river, Western Boulevard and in Bede Park. It is run by Leicester City Council and sponsored by local social landlord Riverside and ECHG.

I really like this event, not least because it's all just round the corner from where I've lived for the past four years, in a part of the ciity I pass through every day. I love the transformation, and for this fairly ordinary part of the city - my part of the city - to be the focus of attention for a couple of days.

Along the riverside, on Western Boulevard and in Bede Park, there are performers and entertainers of various kinds entertain, falconry displays, art workshops and a street market, as well as BMX displays, a mini cinema, puppet shows, a mobile petting zoo, circus skills workshops and arts and crafts on show. Some of Leicester's top bands perform on a temporary stage. For the first time, From Dusk2Dawn magazine hosts a fringe festival bringing three nights of live music to venues along Braunstone Gate.

Brightly decorated narrowboats take pride of place along the river (we can vote for our favourite). Decorated boats parade along the river, accompanied by live traditional jazz, and there are also activities involving boats ranging from coracles and canoes to a floating tea shop. One popular activity on the water is the lantern parade. There's a stall on which we can decorate a paper lantern, which will be put into the water, with a tea light, just as it gets dark around 2100. People colour their lanterns and write dedications on them. There must be about a hundred of them in the water later. Trouble is, though, it's not exactly a fast-flowing stretch of water so there's very little movement in the lantern parade. Some folk go out in a couple of rowing boats to try and generate some movement in the water, using their oars. The lanterns certainly move at this prompting, but the trouble is, they're paper lanterns, with tea lights inside them - tea lights, with their little naked flames. Well, after moving for only a few yards, the lanterns bunch up, some of the tea lights fall over inside the lanterns and suddenly there's a conflagration on the river. Now the oars that have been responsible for this catastrophe are pressed into service to save the situation, being used to chuck water on the flames. This, as I'm sure you can imagine faithful reader, rather spoils the occasion. The final use of the oars this evening - as far as the lanterns are concerned - is to scoop up the limp and lifeless paper and drop it all into the bottom of the boats to be brought back to the bank for dismal disposal.