Tuesday, 31 August 2010


At Diversity Hub this afternoon, for a meeting to discuss them making progress with their online presence. What starts as being focused purely on their Facebook page extends to include a wider social media strategy encompassing Twitter, blogging and (maybe) Flickr. I come with Ian Davies and Chris Florance and we stay on for an hour or so after the meeting, to help set up some of these accounts.

Losing our religion

Here's an interesting article from this month's GQ:
Losing our religion
Britain has lost its faith in the Church, and Christians are calling for special privileges. But, argues our free-thinker, emptying pews show a new-found belief in equality.
By Johann Hari
And now, congregation, put your hands together and give thanks, for I come bearing Good News. Britain is now one of the most irreligious countries on earth. This island has shed superstition faster and more completely than anywhere else. According to an ICM survey, 63 per cent of us are non-believers, while 82 per cent say religion is a cause of harmful division. Now, let us stand and sing our new national hymn: "Jerusalem was dismantled here/in England's green and pleasant land."
How did it happen? For centuries, religion was insulated from criticism in Britain. First its opponents were burned, then jailed, then shunned. But once there was a free marketplace of ideas, once people could finally hear both the religious arguments and the rationalist criticisms of them, the religious lost the British people. Their case was too weak, their opposition to divorce and abortion and gay people too cruel, their evidence for their claims nonexistent. Once they had to rely on persuasion rather than intimidation, the story of British Christianity came to an end.
Now that less than seven per cent of British people regularly attend a religious service, it's only natural that we should dismantle the massive amounts of tax money and state power that are given to the religious. It's a necessary process of building a secular state, where all citizens are free to make up their own minds. Yet the opposition to this shift is becoming increasingly unhinged. The Church of England has only one explanation: Christians are being "persecuted" by a movement motivated by "Christophobia". George Carey (pictured), the former archbishop of Canterbury, says Christians are now "second-class citizens" and we are only "a small step" away from "a religious bar on any employment by Christians".
Really? Let's list some of the ways in which Christians and other religious groups are given special privileges. Start with the education system. Every British school is required by law to make its pupils engage in a daily "act of collective worship of a wholly or mainly Christian character". Yes: Britain is still a nation with enforced prayer. The religious are then handed total control of 36 per cent of state schools, in which to indoctrinate children into their faith alone.
These religious schools, paid for by you and me, are disfiguring Britain. One reason I grew up without the prejudices of some of my older relatives was because I went to school with kids from every ethnic and religious group, and I saw they were just like me. But in Britain today, that mixing is happening less and less. The children of Christians are sent to one side, Jews to another, Muslims to another still. Yet after the race riots in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley in 2001, the official investigations found that faith schools were a major cause.
So why keep them? Their defenders say these schools perform better in exams - and, at first glance, it seems to be true. On average, they get higher grades. But look again. Several studies, including one by the think-tank Civitas, have shown that faith schools systematically screen out children who will be harder to teach: children from poor families, and less bright children. Once you look at how much a school improves its pupils (the only real measure of a school's success), it turns out faith schools do less well than other schools - not surprising given they waste so much time teaching nonsense such as virgin births and Noah's Ark. The British people instinctively know all this: 65 per cent want every state school to be neutral when it comes to religion.
Special rights for the religious don't stop at the school gates. They get 26 unelected bishops in the House of Lords. Public broadcasters are legally required to give money and screen time to religious propaganda. Jews and Muslims can ignore animal cruelty laws and slit the throats of live animals without numbing them to create kosher and halal meat.
Given all this unearned privilege, how can Christians claim they are "persecuted"? Here are the cases they offer as "proof". A nurse called Shirley Chaplin turned up to work with a crucifix around her neck. Her hospital told her that they were worried elderly and confused patients could grab it, and said she could pin the crucifix to her uniform instead. That's it. That's their cause célèbre. Oh, and a registrar called Theresa Davies refused to perform civil partnerships for gay couples, so... she was moved to work on reception.
In response, Carey and the Church of England demanded Christians be allowed to break the law requiring them to treat gay people equally when providing a service to the general public, and Christians in discrimination cases should be judged by a special court of "sensitive" Christians.
If we started allowing religious people to break anti-discrimination laws, where would we stop? Until 1978, the Mormon Church said black people didn't have souls. (They only changed their mind the day this was made illegal, and God niftily appeared to their leader to say they were ensouled after all.) Would we let a Mormon registrar refuse to marry black people? Would it be "Mormonophobic" to object?
Carey has said Christians might engage in "civil unrest" if judges continued with "dangerous" rulings. His suggested exemptions were dismissed by Lord Justice Laws - a Christian himself - as "irrational, divisive, capricious and arbitrary". Carey's rageful threats made me think of a child who had been beating up gay kids for years and is finally told to stop - only to bawl that he's the one who is being picked on.
As their dusty churches crumble because nobody wants to go to them, the few remaining British Christians will only grow more angry. Let them. We can't let hysterical toy-tossing stop us turning our country into a secular democracy where everyone has the same rights, and nobody is granted special privileges just because they claim their ideas come from an invisible, supernatural being. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Holy Lamb of God to carve into kebabs - it's our new national dish. Amen, and hallelujah.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Leicester's support for Pakistan flood victims

Today's edition of BBC Radio 4's "The World This Weekend" has an item on how Leicester is helping raise money for those affected by the floods in Pakistan. The feature includes an interview with Manzoor Mogul, Chair of the Muslim Forum of Leicester and long-standing member of Leicester Council of Faiths. You can hear this edition of "The World This Weekend" on the BBC iPlayer for the next seven days by clicking the link below. The Leicester feature starts twelve minutes into the broadcast and lasts five and a half minutes.


Friday, 27 August 2010


I've been keeping an eye on a number of shoe shops in Leicester over the last week or so for first sight of the Converse All Stars on which is reproduced artwork from the 1967 Jimi Hendrix Experience album, Axis Bold as Love with its pantheon of Hindu deities and sacred figures. This product has been met with strong prtest from many sections of the Hindu community, not only in this country, but also around the world. Today, on a family trip to London, I see my first pair in the wild - in Carnaby Street, appropriately enough!


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
City parish is looking forward to renaming service
At a service of the Eucharist (Mass) on Sunday, September 5, at 4pm Bishop Christopher, Assistant Bishop of Leicester, will rename St Alban's Church, Weymouth Street, "The Church of the Resurrection" so that parish and parish church share the same dedication.
Bishop Christopher will also baptise new Christians and confirm those further along their faith journey.
This is a big and joyful day in the life of the people of the Parish of the Resurrection who seek to develop their work of Christian service throughout the parish, among all peoples without distinction, and for whom their parish church is the "power house" from which, in the growing company of Christians, they move into and among the communities that make up the parish witnessing to the love of God by active care and compassion.
For our developing Christian community this is a day and a celebration of "New Life": a confirmation of our confident looking forward in faith!
This change will not affect our community centre which will remain St Alban's Community Centre.
All friends of the parish and the parish church are welcome to join us for the celebration!
Rev Tony Coslett, team rector

Thursday, 26 August 2010


Sheila Locke, Chief Executive at Leicester City Council, has called a meeting this afternoon on the topic of community cohesion. The meeting is in the CEO's Conference Room, seventh floor of B Block in the City Council's New Walk Centre. This is the latest step in an ongoing discussion, today moving on to consider the question, "What would a Centre of Excellence for Community Cohesion Look Like?" Representatives of the City Council, Federation of Muslim Organisations, Leicestershire Constabulary, Policy Research Centre, Sikh Cultural and Welfare Society, St Philip's Centre are also attending.

All of us here today have experience of people coming from different parts of the country - from different parts of the world - to find out how we do we do in Leicester. Some of them want to learn how to make it work where they live; some of them think they can pull aside the veil and be the one to expose some kind of chicanery at work underneath. I've seen plenty of attempts at both sides in my time in this post. Leicester has a positive reputation as a model, as a beacon for managing diversity. Can the Leicester experience be bottled and marketed? Is the "centre of excellence for community cohesion" the city itself, rather than some building to be occupied or institution yet to be created? It's a short meeting, lasting just an hour, by the end of which we've appointed a working group to address some specific points:
  • to scope something that looks like a model
  • to include some research capacity
  • to take stock of major themes
  • to log work already being done
  • to list conversations ongoing across the city
  • to identify new conversations required in the city
  • to decide what could be sustained locally (existing and new work)
  • to pick out stuff that we think we should just have a go at
  • to see what we can market nationally and/or internationally
  • to propose where we could introduce some innovation

This working group (of Dilwar Hussain, Jasbir Mann, Riaz Ravat, Resham Singh Sandhu and me) will meet in a week's time at St Philip's Centre. The bigger group will meet again in a month or so, which would allow this topic to be introduced into the autumn political cycle.

Monday, 23 August 2010

preparing for REDP Core Reference Group meeting

At Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL) this afternoon, for a meeting of the Core Partners of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership. We're preparing for the upcoming meeting of REDP's Core Reference Group this Wednesday. Present today are Dee martin of LCIL (which is the lead and accountable body for REDP), Ian Robson from Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre (LLGBT), myself for Leicester Council of Faiths and Laura Horton, Project Manager for REDP. Iris Lightfoote from The Race Equality Centre (TREC) would normally be chairing this meeting, but she's unwell today and has sent her apologies.

We discuss models of communication for the Partnership (internal and external) and how to pursue filling the remaining seats on the Core Reference Group. While we're not in a hurry to fill every seat just for the sake of it (and our funders agree on this), we don't want places to go a'begging forever. We consider the general criteria for membership and look at those Protected Characteristics whose places still need to be populated (the most significant gap being for gender equality organisations). The general criteria are as follows:
Organisations represented on the Core Reference Group need to demonstrate the following:

That they include, within their regular activities, campaigning for change and making appropriate challenge.

That they have experience of, or are willing and able to, work collaboratively across the East Midlands.

That they are open, honest and respectful in their dealings with other organisations, while holding their own ideas open to change so that all participants may benefit from shared learning and good practice.

That they can make active input not only to their own particular equality area, but also support the common work across equality strands. This is necessary so that the partnership is inclusive of all equality areas and does not operate according to an assumed hierarchy of protected characteristics.

Those individuals who sit on the Core Reference Group for the member organisations should be practitioners, working on the ground on a day-to-day basis (e.g. Chief Executive Officers, Chief Operating Officers, managers) rather than those bearing honorific titles (e.g. chairs, Presidents, directors, trustees). The intention is that the Core Reference Group should be practical in its focus and be able to respond immediately to challenges and opportunities.
Each of the Protected Characteristics and related topic areas has particular criteria (for the one related to religion and belief, see blog entry entitled "Take a Seat" (Wed 18 Jul).

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Shortly before midnight I receive an email from Manjula Sood (Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths) forwarding a message from British Hindu Voice - an organisation new to me. Their message is entitled "Insult to Hindu Faith - Hindu god images on shoes". At first sight this is utterly baffling - but after a moment's investigation, all becomes clear (if weirdly so).

18 September 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix, found dead in his flat at 22 Lansdowne Terrace, London. This anniversary is being commemorated in a variety of ways. Converse has produced a range of three special editions of its All Star training shoe, celebrating Hendrix in different ways. Two of them reproduce artwork from classic Hendrix albums ("Electric Ladyland and "Axis Bold as Love" respectively) while the other shows a detail from an iconic bandsman's jacket that Hendrix wore at some of his most memorable live performances.

Converse has made other shoes in honour of rock stars past and present, including the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and The Who. None of those, however, has the associations that comes with the cover artwork of the second album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience: "Axis Bold as Love" (released in the UK, Dec 1967).

According to Wikipedia, Track records art department had independently chosen to follow the contemporary fad for all things Indian to provide the album's cover, which has a photographed copy of a mass produced religious poster of the Hindu devotional painting known as Viraat Purushan-Vishnuroopam with a small, superimposed painting of the three members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience themselves by Roger Law (from a photo portrait by Karl Ferris) blended in.

It was 1967 after all; there was a fad for all things Indian; it was all part of the psychedelic mystical mix of the time. In more than four decades that have passed, Hendrix has, of course become one of the greatest icons of that whole period, adaptable to many diverse purposes - and the cover artwork from "Axis Bold as Love" has been one of the most popular images associated not only with Hendrix himself but with that whole cultural milieu. In poster form, it has adorned innumerable bedrooms, clubs and record shops for over 40 years. I hope that no one is going to go all retroactive and think any good could come from protesting about the album artwork at this remove! From the forwarded email, I don't get the impression that the correspondent from British Hindu Voice knows either the pop historical context or the cultural status of Jimi Hendrix (or, for that matter, the economic clout of Converse). But the least that can be said is that times have changed since 1967 and I think it only proper that something should be said about the reproduction of these images from this popular Hindu devotional painting - on a shoe, of all things.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

take a seat

To Loughborough this afternoon, to meet Patrica Stoat, Chief Executive Officer of the Faiths Forum for the East Midlands. We're meeting to discuss how to fill a vacant seat for religion and belief on the Core Reference Group of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP). Each of the Protected Characteristics and related topic areas has its own particular criteria for membership. the one for religion and belief is as follows:
An inter-faith/multi-faith organisation or body with representation from a variety of faith/belief communities and not specifically identified with (or led by) one faith community.

Represented organisations should be actively involved (or willing and able to be involved) in promoting good relations

• between different communities identified with religion or belief

• between the general community identified with religion or belief and other communities of interest regarding issues of equality, diversity and human rights,

• between the wider community identified with religion or belief and society in general.
Pat and I spend a couple of hours considering who's around in the East Midlands and who might fit the bill. While we can't simply put our finger on one organisation who meets all the criteria, we come up with a proposal for filling that one remaining space that we'll put before the Core Partners at their next meeting, early September.

Local Democracy Week (2)

Following our conversation with Peter Bradley from Speakers' Corner Trust regarding Local Democracy Week (see blog entry Wed 28 Jul) there's a follow-up meeting lunchtime today at the Welcome Centre, involving a bigger group. Manjula Sood (our Chair) and Tony Nelson (our Vice Chair) who both attended the earlier meeting are here, along with former Chair Minou Cortazzi and former Secretary Angela Jagger. Ajay Aggarwal (our Co-ordinator) and I bring the Council of Faiths representation up to six. We're meeting Parmjit Basra, Leicester City Council officer who has been appointed Project Manager for the observance of Local Democracy Week in the city.

City Council has fixed the dates for Local Democracy Week in Leicester as Mon 11 - Sun 17 October. This is the week before Half Term in the city schools, which should make it possible for them to take part. Although the City Council can't offer financial support for activities in this week, it can give free use of any of its premises that are used for events. It will also create an events diary, posted online as a single resource base for the week and all organisations involved in Local Democracy Week can have their activities listed there. Parmjit told us that they'#re hoping for something more than the traditional meeting on the Town Hall steps to launch the week

A considerable number and variety of organisations, agencies and bodies around the city have been contacted and are planning their own contribution to Local Democracy Week. The Council of Faiths needs to focus on our own distinctive contribution and try to find some way of taking part that couldn't be done by anyone else and doesn't try to replicate something anyone else would try to do. A simple choice for us would be to organise dialogue meetings; perhaps we could give this a bit of a twist by organising such meetings by members of faith community groups who don't normally do dialogue together and perhaps in smaller meetings, with no more than a dozen attendees. lasting one hour at most. If we do that sort of thing, we could think about holding something small every day of the week, rather than try for one big single occasion. Maybe something like this could take place on Monday morning, Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday evening, Thursday afternoon, Friday morning. I don't know; these are just early ideas.

Ajay and I have been asked to represent the Council of Faiths on the organising committee, which meets for the first time on Wednesday 1 September.

Saturday, 14 August 2010


This letter is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Inspiration to the rest of the country
I agree with Allan Hayes' comments (First Person, August 7) about interfaith dialogue.
All should acknowledge that we are, in a non-judgmental way, trying to identify genuine theological differences in a way that is conducive to mutual respect.
A good example of one subject is the resurfacing of the subordination of women, but the biggest stumbling block must be the insight into the mystery of the Trinity.
Orthodox Jews and Muslims both believe in one eternal Creator as revealed in the Old Testament but reject Him as their Saviour, whereas Christians believe in a Triune God, three personae in one God, being the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Some religions assert vehemently that they are the only genuine religion and aim to convert the whole world. So religions and denominations must agree to differ and exercise considerable tolerance towards each other if we are to live harmoniously together.
The Council of Faiths in Leicester could be an inspiration to the rest of the country.
Patrick Trigg, Oadby

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Caribbean Carnival

It's carnival today: Leicester Caribbean Carnival, the city's biggest public multicultural event. Victoria Park was rammed and the crowd were getting high on the atmosphere, or on the music - or just getting high! BBC Leicester's website next day credits Leicestershire Constabulary with stating that "early estimates indicated about 80,000 people attended the procession and entertainment in Victoria Park." The police also stated that, "the day had passed without serious incident and no crimes had so far been reported."

The parades that took several hours to pass through town were amazing, the costumes incredible, the dancing fantastic - even from the youngest artists on stage.

This is the 25th anniversary of the Leicester Caribbean Carnival (although the event was cancelled in 2006, when sufficent funding couldn't be found). It's the biggest event of its kind outside Notting Hill and attracts visitors and participants from all over the UK and even farther afield. The past few years, the day has been hit by heavy rain. It rained a bit today, off and on - but certainly not enough to dampen the enthusiasm of all taking part.

Photo from BBC Leicester website.

Friday, 6 August 2010


Our letter published in the Leicester Mercury (Mon 2 Aug) has elicited an interesting response from Dr Allan Hayes, Secular Huamnist Chaplain to the Lord Mayor and President of the Leicester Secular Society. This is published as the "First Person" column in today's paper, quoted in full below:
Our common humanity can unify our city

Humanist Allan Hayes looks at an area of hope – and where improvement is needed

Last Saturday I received a blessing from an Anglican priest in an Anglo-Catholic service; I sang those of the hymns that I knew from my choirboy days; I shook hands with those around me as we exchanged greetings of "peace be with you"; I enjoyed food and wine, music, meeting friends, and speeches; I was moved by the exchange of vows (it was a wedding).

On Sunday I took part in a Hindu festival. Along with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, I helped pull a chariot from Humberstone Gate to a local park, where I enjoyed more hospitality and friendship, an explanation of the religion – and more food.

These were significant religious events, but I have no belief in the supernatural basis of the religions, so how could I take part? I might reply that I was at the second event as chaplain to the Lord Mayor and at the first as a friend, but there is more: as a humanist I start from a regard for humanity. The offering and receiving of goodwill is important, and religions are important to me because they are important to people. We do not need to share beliefs to share humanity, but we must certainly share humanity – we must get on together.

How can the sharing of humanity be encouraged? Mutual recognition is surely needed, and, here I have to say that we are still lacking. Councillor Sood has referred to the good work that the Council of Faiths has been doing in bringing religions together. She describes it as "fostering a climate of respect in which debate can flourish among those who are able to speak – and to listen – on behalf of their communities. Members of the Council of Faiths... respect and learn from each other's beliefs, cultures, practices and traditions. We try to find ways for all to move forward together and we aim to uphold the rights and dignity of all".

This is certainly valuable work, but those who are not in the principal religions need recognition too. An opportunity for this will come in November with the third [sic] National Interfaith Week. If humanists and secularists are to take part as they did last year then they must be more fully provided for – we had no representation or display facilities at the main public and civic events. I look forward to a reply from the Council of Faiths, which seems to have played a major part in setting things up last year.

We also need an event that brings us together as One Leicester. A celebration of the city for all to enjoy on the occasion of the election of the Lord Mayor would be a splendid combination of tradition, achievement and vision for the future – we should start planning it now.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

First Step

I was glad to attend this event this evening. I've replaced my own description of it with the article published in the Leicester Mercury, Saturday 7 August, which is reproduced in full below.
Thanks for your work, Tony

A counsellor who has helped thousands of men come to terms with sexual abuse has stepped down from the charity he founded 13 years ago.
A ceremony to acknowledge the work of Tony Magee, who set up the First Step charity, was held at Laat Saab, Narborough Road, Leicester.

More than 100 friends and co-workers celebrated over a decade of his work.

He was also joined by Lord Mayor Councillor Colin Hall, who described his years of charity work in the city as "invaluable".

Mr Magee resigned as chairman of First Step – a Leicestershire organisation which deals with male sexual abuse and rape – in July, after falling ill.

However, despite battling a lung condition, he still plans to continue promoting the charity.

He said: "I love this organisation and it's something that has been a part of my life for so long.

"I feel upset but I know it's the right thing to do because of my health. I've got a fantastic team and I've got every faith that they'll be able to take this charity to the next level.

"I'm a survivor of male sexual abuse myself, so I know how the guys who contact us feel.

"If I talk to someone who calls in, I can tell them straight away that I'm a survivor too, and most of the time it helps them open up. I remember how difficult it was, and how terrified I was, when I first told someone about it, so I try to remember that whenever I speak to someone new."

First Step was founded in 1997 and has helped 6,000 people in that time.

Linda Slawson joined the self-funded charity, which has annual running costs of £40,000, four years ago and has taken over the role as chairman.

She said: "We have to work very hard to raise the money to keep going, it's only because of people like Tony, who are so passionate about the work we do, that we've managed to keep going for so long."

The police, prisons and the probation service regularly refer cases of male sexual abuse when they arise to First Step.

Vice-chairman Julie Hewitt has spent eight years with the organisation. She said: "First Step plays a vital role in helping thousands of men open up and come to terms with some very difficult situations."

Coun Hall said: "It's tribute to Tony that so many people have come along to wish him well. The world would be a much better place with more people like Tony around."

If you would like to contact First Step, call 0116 254 8535
In the photo: Tony Magee (in the pink shirt) with colleagues, friends and supporters of First Step at the dinner in Laat Saab. Guest of Honour, the Lord Mayor of Leicester, Cllr Colin Hall, far left. Photo courtesy of Ian Davies.

Leicestershire Cares (2)

Leicestershire Cares is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and as part of the celebrations they've been holding a number of special events throughout the year. Their Homelessness Project is arranging one of these at Braunstone Leisure Centre on Thursday 2 September: "Leicestershire Cares Sport and Support Day". Clients can come along and try some of the sports and gym facilities as well as getting advice from more than 30 different city and county agencies. The event targets people who are homeless, who are in the process of becoming homeless, or are in genuine danger or fear of becoming homeless. There will also be a creche, play area, face painting etc for children, live music and entertainment throughout the day, a packed lunch provided for everyone and a prize draw. First Bus is providing free transport to and from the event.

Following initial contact with Chris Toon a number of weeks ago, this meeting today brings together a number of those supporting the Braunstone Leisure Centre event. Chris Toon thanked Councillor Paul Westley for supporting the project (although he couldn't attend this meeting today). After asking for asking everyone around the table to introduce themselves, Chris asks me to say a little about the Council of Faiths' involvement. Erica Danson, Trainee Reporter, BBC Radio Leicester with roving digital microphone, records 30 seconds or so with just about everyone here, extracts of which will be broadcast on the Breakfast Show tomorrow, to be included in an interview with Monica Kinche, Director of Leicestershire Cares. This really has grown into something that promises to be a special example of collaboration and compassion. It's going to be rather demanding to do this on the day but it sounds like it will be well worth it.

Find out more about Leicestershire Cares:

healthcheck reboot

At the LGBT Centre, Wellington Street, this morning, where Tonia Frew (Community Development Officer at the Centre) and I make progress on rebooting REDP's Good Practice Equality and Diversity Healthcheck. After a lot of time devoted to the thinking behind this instrument, we get down today to turning it into a practical tool that can be taken out and about to help "equality proof" organisations of all sorts, in the public, private or voluntary sector.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Philosophy in the Pub

At the Swan & Rushes, Infirmary Square, this evening for Philosphy in the Pub (PIPS), which takes place there on the first Wednesday of every month. Each meeting is based around a stimulus. The stimulus this time is chosen by Clare, who facilitates with a typically light and gentle touch. We're each given a photocopied page from a book by Michael Leunig, the Australian artist, cartoonist, humorist, philosopher (and much else besides). The page has six cartoons with captions (or six short texts with illustrations), prompting an hour of reflection and discussion. the main point, I'd say, is that we have a natural tendency, desire or need to join things which are possibly (or probably) disconnected - to make a big story out of smaller elements. Normally, our stimulus is text-based. It's a refreshing change to have something mostly visual. there's even discussion about having a stimulus that works with other senses at future meetings.

Of course this would all make better sense if I could reproduce the page from Michael Leunig's book here, here, but I can't, for copyright reasons. Michael Leunig is an acquired taste - but one I'm glad to have acquired. Something about his melancholic yet resilient take on life speaks very directly to me. And he makes me see, think and laugh about the most unlikely things. Much of his writing and drawing has a spiritual theme; indeed, he has published illustrated prayers, in which a cartoonist talks to God. Promotion for his books tells how, in 1989, Leunig began an experiment. Asked to produce a weekly cartoon for the Australian newspaper, Sunday Age, he wondered, "if newspapers might carry some small spiritual message of consolation as a tiny reparation for the enormous anxiety and distress they can create." Since then, two published collections, A Common Prayer and The Prayer Tree have brought his unique humour and intriguing drawings to a wide public across the world. (adapted from copy on the HarperCollins Austalia website)

If you've not encountered Micahel Leunig before, faithful reader, then I'd urge you to check him out. The early moments may be a bit bumpy, but your patient acquaintance with him will definitely be rewarded.

Find out more about Michael Leunig:

Find out more about Philosophy in Pubs all over the country:

Find out more about the Swan & Rushes:

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Citizens' Eye Community News Cafe (3)

For the second Tuesday evening in a row, I'm at Kona Blue Coffee, Highcross, for one of Citizens' Eye Community News Cafes (every Tuesday here, 0930-1030 and 1830-1930). I'm told that this morning's was very busy - this evening is quiet. Topics arising tonight: future events including Philosophy in the Pub, Local Democracy Week, Leicester City of Sanctuary AGM, Leicestershire Cares Day for the Homeless, National Inter Faith Week 2010 ... but the one vexing Simon Parker most is Leicester's celebration of National Play Day, which takes place tomorrow in Town Hall Square. He's been left in charge of the young reports from The Wave who are covering this event. Must make sure I get a good swatch at that out of my office window!

I know that this would be a much nicer blog entry if it was accompanied by a photo. I did ask folk to gather round so I could take one, but they demurred.

Find out more about Citizens' Eye Community News Agency:

Monday, 2 August 2010


To Samworth Enterprise Academy (photo above) this afternoon, for a free taster training session with Engage Multimedia. Becky Sanderson and Matt Hughes present short, bright and informative sessions on desktop publishing and social media respectively, to four of us, from different charitable organisations.

Despite the fact that I've used computers at work since the late 1980s, I've barely got past the most basic applications and have never had the chance to expand my skillset beyond fairly straightforward wordprocessing. I hope that I'll get the chance now to get a little further down the road!

I've met Becky a few times at various functions at Phoenix Square and met Matt for the first time at the most recent amplified Leicester session. As Matt is in charge of the website and other ICT functions at Samworth Academy (a Church of England school and one of the most prominent faith-led institutions in the area), I ask him if he would consider being on the panel for the session on "Amplified Communities of Faith and/or Belief" that Prof Sue Thomas has asked me to lead for Amplified Leicester in March next year. The fact that he'll be organising local projects for NetSquared (to which we were introduced by Amy Sample-Ward at the last Amplified session) will enhance his credibility for such an occasion. I am glad to say that Matt receives my request positively.

REDP delivery group

Kelly Jussab and I meet at Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL) from 1000 to 1200, continuing the work of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP) delivery group. Apologies from Chino Cabon at The Race Equality Centre (TREC) and Tonia Frew from the Leicester Lesbian, Gay, bisexual and Transgender Centre (LGBT Centre).

We make further refinements to our Good Practice Equality and Diversity Healthcheck, which, hopefully, will finally bring theory and practice together in a shorter, more effective form by the end of this week (and hopefully it'll be blessed with snappier name too!)

Council of Faiths letter in Leicester Mercury

Our letter, in response to Mr James Gore Browne's, is published in today's Leicester Mercury Mailbox. It's been edited (of course) but the point still comes across clearly, strongly and positively. I've reproduced the text below. This is our original version as sent to the paper; those parts which have been edited out of the published version are shown within brackets.

Council of Faiths is "helping to create atmosphere of mutual respect" in our city

Mr James Gore Browne’s letter (“Let’s lead the way on this issue”, Mailbox, 27 July) is an interesting and forward-looking contribution to the discussion about Muslim women wearing the burka in Britain today. In proposing possible developments on this front, he suggests a “public code of practice – not in any way legally binding” which would “show that this city is leading the way on a matter of public interest”. Mr Browne ends his letter by urging the Council of Faiths to respond. [We are glad to do so, promptly and fully.]

[We appreciate the calm tone of Mr Browne's letter, which sticks to matters of principle and seeks to advance the debate while showing regard for the opinion of others.] He makes reference to an earlier letter in the Mercury Mailbox from Mr Suleman Nagdi, writing on behalf of the Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO). [Mr Nagdi is a valued member of the Council of Faiths and brings the benefit of his professional and personal experience and knowledge to our discussions. There is certainly no disagreement between Leicester Council of Faiths and the position Mr Nagdi presents publicly for the FMO. It is interesting that] Mr Nagdi’s original letter does not connect this issue to religion or faith, but to individual freedom – and this too is where Leicester Council of Faiths would take its position.

Since 1986, Leicester Council of Faiths has been promoting mutual trust and understanding among the faith communities of the city. [It is widely, even internationally, recognised as playing a key role in establishing, maintaining and promoting Leicester as a place where one of the most diverse populations of any UK city lives together peacefully and productively. We work alongside other groups and organisations concerned with mutual respect, promotion of good relations and the encouragement of a world-embracing vision.] It is not the purpose of the Council of Faiths to make decisions for the communities which make up its membership – or for anyone else. [It would be impossible (not to mention highly undesirable) for any organisation to take to itself the right to make decisions, or even issue generalised guidelines, on matters of personal conscience.]

Where we do see ourselves as taking the lead on this issue – as has been the occasion with several other topics during our quarter century of involvement in the life of the city – is in fostering a climate of respect in which debate can flourish among those who are able to speak – and to listen – on behalf of their communities. Members of the Council of Faiths, drawn from the city’s Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, respect and learn from each others’ beliefs, cultures, practices and traditions. We try to find ways for all to move forward together and we aim to uphold the rights and dignity of all.

We defend legitimate choice for individuals and communities – of what a person eats and drinks, how they dress, how they earn their living, how they entertain themselves and how they bring up their family. Of course this is often influenced by factors such as culture, family or religion; but as long as no one is compelled to live in a particular way against their will, as long as the choices they make do not bring harm upon themselves or their fellow citizens, then they have the right to choose how they express their own identity. [A good number of Muslim women in Leicester – of different ages, backgrounds, educational attainment, jobs, languages, nationalities etc – wear some kind of clothing that covers their faces, either partially or fully. There are also many who do not. They are equally firm in believing and in stating that they do so as a matter of choice – and we would accept that to be so. Ask them why they choose to dress as they do and virtually all would respond, albeit in different languages, with a lively and reflective awareness of the implications of their choice. (Incidentally, the distinction between niqab and burka made by Mr Browne isn't as useful as might at first appear, since in public debate they tend to be used interchangeably to denote any manner in which the woman's face is fully covered.)]

Leicester – and its Council of Faiths – is indeed leading the way on this issue and others, by helping create the circumstances in which they can be discussed in an atmosphere of mutual respect, with an eye to the general happiness of the whole of our community. We’d like to think it’s the Leicester way. We’d also like to think that we’re doing our bit to help it flourish and be an example to other parts of the country – and of the wider world.

Councillor Manjula Sood
Leicester Council of Faiths
If you'd like to make a personal response to this letter, faithful reader, you can do so via this page on the Leicester Mercury website:

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Rathayatra, Festival of Chariots!

A chariot festival pulled in the crowds as thousands of people packed into Leicester to watch one of the oldest street festivals in the world.

The Hare Krishna Festival of Chariots dates back 5,000 years and the city holds the second biggest celebration in Europe.

Festival-goers descended on Humberstone Gate, pulling three giant chariots from the clock tower in the city centre to Cossington Park, Belgrave. Passers-by were entertained by dancing and singing as the 30ft painted chariots circled the clock tower at noon tailed by thousands of chanting followers.

Devotee Ishita Bhatt, 17, from North Evington was at the festival for the second year. She said: "I'm very excited to be here because this is a very important day for us.

"It's a chance for God to get out and to be with his brothers and sisters."
Devotees believe that if they get the honour of pulling the ropes of the giant chariot – carrying a model of Lord Krishna – then at the end of this life they will be granted a place in the spiritual world.

The Festival of Chariots takes place all over the world during the months of June and July, but Leicester's celebrations are the second largest in Europe.

Organisers estimated that at least 8,000 people took part in yesterday's event.

Chinese lion dancers kicked off the procession.

The head of the lion Ben Dowdeswell, from Barwell, said: "This is the first time we've done this festival but we really like the atmosphere."

The 5,000-year-old festival came to the UK from India in the 1960s, and has since been celebrated in hundreds of cities all over the world.

The procession reached Cossington Park at 2.30pm where revellers were treated to Indian dance, live music and drama.

The multi-cultural festival had face painters, henna designers and free vegetarian food on offer for all visitors.

Regular festival visitor Saraswati Patel, 62, of Glenfield, said: "A lot of people get carried away with the hustle and bustle of daily life.

"This day is a chance for us to think about what really matters in life. We can come together and celebrate love and life together and be happy."

Text of this entry from Leicester Mercury's website, photo from BBC Radio Leicester's.

I really like how this ancient Indian festival was led by a Chinese dragon, inside the head of which was a fellow called Ben from Barwell. That's very Leicester, isn't it, faithful reader?