Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Centre of Excellence in Community Cohesion (4)

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

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

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

Monday, 29 November 2010


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

Saturday, 27 November 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 26 November 2010

National Inter Faith Week: day 6

First on the display this morning, Leicester City Councillor Wayne Naylor, Ian Davies (Community Organiser in Braunstone) and Jill Carr (RE Adviser, Leicester City Council and Secretary of SACRE) - as seen l-r in the photo above.

The lunchtime slot (1200-1400) is taken by Barbara and Arthur Winner (Leicester Bahá'ís) and Noel Singh (Policy Officer for Community Cohesion, Leicestershire County Council) as seen l-r in the photo below.

It's nice to see Charlotte and Louise again. They'd been on the stall earlier in the week and it was a pleasure to welcome them back and interesting to hear their reflections after they'd been away for a couple of days.

Just before 1800, I hear that a crew from BBC East Midlands Today is in Highcross, setting up to do a live outside broadcast. I set off to find them and let them know of our presence. It doesn't take me long as they're not far away, just at the top of the escalator leading in to John Lewis, beside a Santa's North Pole display. I recognise reporter Helen Astle. When it looks like they're set up and just killing time, I introduce myself to the producer. Of course I'm not expecting them to put us on live, but I do bend his ear about possibly recording a minute or so with us afterward. He tells me that they have a tight schedule and would be dashing off as soon as they'd finished filming, but that he'd take my contact details back to his offices. Well, that's fair enough - I'm not going to gatecrash the broadcast (even I know my limits, faithful reader!)

I'm pleasantly surprised though when, about half an hour later, he pays a visit to our exhibition, compliments us on it and gives a few tips about what we would have to do to get it featured on East Midlands Today if we were to put this on again. We'd need to have an event, something visual and exciting - a multicultural group of children singing and dancing would be a surefire bet by the sound of it.

A few things to comment on from the collection of entries in the reflective journal written by those helping out on the stand, which I've transcribed below. That business of people quickly scanning round the display just to make sure their faith is mentioned was commonplace. Most did this for Christianity, but it wasn't the only one. The other is the piece about the event at South Leicestershire College. Not all inter faith encounters are positive or happy. I heard more in the days to come about this one (it's mentioned again in the entry for tomorrow).
"Footfall was huge! Lots of surreptitious glances. We had a few good conversations and gave away several keyrings. One lady stopped to check there was a banner for Christianity as she was concerned that sometimes Christianity is not properly represented. A pity we haven't got a supply of biscuits and coffee; after two hours I'm really quite cold and hungry!"

"Strange how people see the exhibition! Some seem to think you're 'selling' something! One comment from someone today was 'Just making sure Christianity is there!' I enquired further and the person obviously has some sort of agenda - other religions used as a political tool! Enjoyed the cold November day standing on cold marble floors. Good experience."

"What a great way to reach out to people, in what seems to be the new place to worship, the shopping mall. Most people just pass by, some glance at the display, but then a few do stop and ask questions."

"A very pleasurable experience, have met some wonderful people - the other volunteers as well as the public. Had a very warming discussion ten minutes ago with a young man who wasn't sure he was religious, but was looking forward to his journey of discovery! Have enjoyed my two 'shifts' this week. Well done again George & Leicester Council of Faiths!"

"One visitor said, 'The stand is more important than all the shops around it.' This is such a great opportunity to engage our community with the many faiths around it."

"At a very different event in South Leicestershire College for Inter Faith Week on Thursday. My fellow student and I witnessed something which we found quite alarming. The morning was designed so that the students of the college could come and talk to members of different faith communities and learn about them. From the perspective of students that study many religions it was fantastic to see Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Humanism coming together to inform but accept other religions. However, we were alarmed to see several members from the Christian stand repeatedly hassling the man from the Jewish stand. They tried to force their ideas upon the man by telling him he was wrong and that if he took and read the New Testament they were handing out a veil would be lifted from his eyes and he would see the truth in Christianity. This was not the point of the morning or of Inter Faith Week and we were very disappointed to see this happen. The Jewish man remained gracious throughout but he should not have had to deal with it."

"I valued the opportunity to engage with the people and had two interesting encounters. The first led to some discussion about the quality of religious education in Leicester secondary schools with a Muslim man in his late 20s, the second with a man from Switzerland (or Sweden?) here on a visit to investigate other faith networks in the UK. As I experienced last year when there are opportunities for dialogue with people it makes the time with the stand seem worthwhile. However mostly passers by appear little interested in taking information or talking to us. Despite this I am happy to be involved and glad to support Leicester Council of Faiths."

"I echo what was said by [the contributor immediately above] and would like to add that the man from Sweden (?) spoke of a Catholic church and a mosque to be in one building (I think that was amazing!). The other person who stopped said he was a pupil at Moat Community College about 18 years ago and in RE they were taught about Christianity and Islam but he'd have liked to learn about other religions too. Always a pleasure to do something for the unity of humankind!"

Thursday, 25 November 2010

inter faith training for Connexions staff

While she was at our National Inter Faith Week exhibition in Highcross yesterday afternoon, Chogma (Education Outreach Officer at the Nagarjuna Kadampa Buddhist Centre) said, "I'll see you tomorrow at the training for Connexions." I replied, "What?" She didn't have much more information than that, but I couldn't let it lie. I phone Connexions around 1600 and eventually got put through to the member of staff organising what's virtually a day-long event for the organisation's staff. Jacqui Wittingham sounds pleased to hear from me and is glad to give me a table to display our wares at the event and give me a half hour slot in the programme to introduce the Council of Faiths.

I get the Council of Faiths original pop-up banner out of mothballs, with a handful of freebies and head to Halford House in Charles Street, where the training event is being held in the basement. Staff appear and disappear, fitting visits downstairs around breaks in their work schedules. Numbers vary from 20-odd at one point to hardly more than half a dozen at another.

When I arrive, they're in the middle of a presentation on diversity in African culture. This is followed by a staff member speaking about Ibiza 24/7, a Christian prayer mission working with holiday makers in Ibiza. then we're taught a gospel song. I'm on next, and make a pretty good case (if I do say so myself) that any training or awareness-raising activity in Leicester should involve the Council of Faiths. Then I have to dash back to Highcross in time for the visit to our exhibition by Sir Peter Soulsby MP.

National Inter Faith Week: day 5

Sir Peter Soulsby MP drops in on our exhibition today for half an hour this afternoon. We take the opportunity to show him around the display, chat about some issues and ideas arising from it and some of those on the stall are able to talk with him at some length. Sir Peter expressed particular interest in how the exhibition might be put to good use around the city throughout the year. Hhe wrote this at the end of his visit:
"A wonderful display - Leicester and its faith communities at their best and, as always, at the heart of our city. Well done to the Council of Faiths - long may you continue with your excellent work successfully promoting dialogue and understanding."
Here are some of the comments left in the reflective journal by some of the volunteers who fronted the exhibition today:

"Unique exhibition and celebration of One Leicester. Thanks to all the members and volunteers of Leicester Council of Faiths for the great passion and commitment for the city of Leicester. Leicester Council of Faiths promotes trust, understanding, respect and harmony among the faith communities and no-faith communities. Inter Faith Week is a recognition of our work for the city. Faith is an integral part of Community Cohesion. Leicester is a great multi-cultural and tolerant city. Well done to all and keep up the good work."

"The exhibition went very well,. The stall raised awareness of the event and of all the different faith groups in the city. People from all backgrounds from the public took interest in the exhibition."

"Just had a chat with a young woman who hopes to study theology next year. She took all the leaflets and thanked me, so it works!"

"A young student wanted to speak to George about the Jewish religion. I said I was probably (1) qualified as a stand-in - his concern however was about Israel. We had a long discussion in which I tried to get him to see both sides but he was full of propaganda and misinformation, saying he admired Hitler! He wouldn't tell me his name or country of origin. He's a student in the university. We parted on good terms and he told me he was Ibrahim from Saudi Arabia."

"I'd been on the stall for about an hour and I was just thinking, 'I'll be a bit disappointed if I don't get to engage with anyone about the stall' when Kirti returned with a couple of homeless people she's been working with on her play (about homelessness, with homeless actors). the lady of the couple, a Spiritualist, began to inform me about a whole collection of people (from the spirit world) who apparently knew me. She told me lots of things that they were telling her about me, none of which seemed to be accurate! It was an interesting experience."

"I enjoyed my time at the multi faith stall. I came across people from all walks of life and different faiths. It was interesting as I spoke with many people. I will certainly stand on the stall again."

"A wide variety of people walked past the stand, some on their way home from work, others shopping and loaded down with Christmas present. Many people stopped to look at the boards and these included a group of young people who stood by a shop window pretending not to be reading the information before coming closer to find out more when they heard Facebook and Twitter mentioned. Others who stopped to chat included a Highcross worker who had passed the stall most of the day and a uni student studying social cohesion. A very interesting group of people to meet."

"On the face of it, not a great deal of response, i.e. few people picked up leaflets or accepted them when offered, but this in my view was because they had come to do shopping, including window shopping and several passed by more than twice. However most did glanc3 at the display, some paused while talking on a mobile phone. Highcross staff always said 'Hello' and a few did ask what we were doing. I was surprised how few (hardly any) people I knew, although many more late teens / early 20s i.e. students who would be at the universities. I would have been recognised by more people who would have stopped to chat if this exhibition was in a part of Leicester where I was better known, I also think apart from the students a lot of people come to Highcross from out of town. But very few people would have walked past and completely ignored the faith names in large capitals on the display boards."

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

CreativeCoffee Club: fit & funny

This morning, I nip across from our exhibition in Highcross to attend the regular fortnightly meeting of CreativeCoffee club at Phoenix Square Film & Digital Media Centre. Today we're all lending support to a bid by Leicester Comedy Festival to win £40,000 of Big Lottery funding. The public are being invited to cast their phone vote to decide whether the cash would go to our Comedy Fest or to the renovation of the Parish Rooms in Coventry, a venue mostly used by a local Scout group.

The Comedy Festival would spend the £40,000 on training people in performance comedy and increasing the number of comedy workshops on offer around the festival.

The bid is led by Rob Gee, who gets us all to pose for the photo above (I'm on the far right, beside the pillar).

In the end, the Parish Rooms won the public vote, by 3930 to 801. Blimey - what a skelping!


Priority this morning is to get my hands on a copy of the Leicester Mercury, to get a look at The Wave - the paper's young people's supplement, in which we've been promised front page coverage. There's a good big photo, showing Smita Shah (President of Jain Samaj Europe and Treasurer of Leicester Council of Faiths) and me, speaking with Katie (editor of The Wave) and Will (who wrote the story). The coverage is really good; I buy a dozen copies so we can show it off on the stall today.

Marion Kennedy is already at the display when I arrive around 0915. She's very apologetic about having missed her turn earlier this week (on Monday morning) when she was poorly and had to go home. She's determined to make the most of her time here this morning. I'm obliged to go off to CreativeCoffee Club just before 1000 and although I am loathe to leave her there on her own, she's quite content for that to be so.

Scott MacDonald and Aramesh Mahboubi (from Leicester Bahá'ís), Chogma (Education Outreach Officer from the Nagarjuna Kadampa Buddhist Centre), Suzanne Kelly (of Christians Aware) cover the 1400-1600 slot. Those four are in the photo below.

Speaking with one of the staff on the body care products concession that's selling products based on minerals from the Dead Sea, I ask what's happened to her colleagues from Israel, who had been speaking with us just a few days before, on Sunday. She tells me that their visas were found not to be in order, so the government has sent them home. Oh ...

In the late afternoon, a diminutive Sikh man and a big burly Christian fellow have a lively and friendly discussion about whether one has free will in matters of faith and belief or if it's no more than an accident of geography and history, determined by where and when one is born.

One woman, who introduced herself as a social worker, plucked half a dozen copies of each leaflet from our display.

Two young fellows, who later describe themselves as engineering students attending one of the city's universities, spend some time eyeing up the display on one side (the one with the later letters of the alphabet on it). After they've caught my attention, I go over and introduce myself and ask them what they think of it. They tell me that they'd like me to remove one of the banners from the display. I ask them which one, and they motion toward the Jewish one. They don't seem able to bring themselves to say the name. When I tell them that's not going to happen, they ask if I can at least move it so it's not adjacent to the Muslim banner. I tell them that's not going to happen either; we follow alphabetical order to avoid any protests at any faith community being unduly favoured over any other. After we've talked for a moment, I recognise these two chaps from a larger group who visited the exhibition earlier in the week, looked at it, appeared to speak about it among themselves, but wouldn't take any literature when offered it, or engage with anyone on the stall. (I note, later, that they've also been here earlier in the day - to judge from comments that one of the volunteers on duty earlier in the day had left in the reflective log.) This evening, the three of us spoke together for what must have been more than a quarter of an hour - and I found it all very interesting. They say that they were from Saudi Arabia and had never been outside their home country till coming here to study. They've only been in Leicester for a couple of months. Their issues with the Jewish presence in this exhibition arises from their awareness of the political and economic situation of the Palestinian people. I explain to them that the mission of Leicester Council of Faiths is to attend to relations between the faith communities in the city, and between the faith communities as a whole and the wider citizenry of Leicester. We know about the conflict between and among religions around the world - we don't hide our heads in the sand, but we also know can't resolve these conflicts. What matters to us is how we live here. To illustrate this, I describe to them what happened at Holocaust Memorial Day in Leicester, January 2009 (see blog post dated 31 Dec 2009, where I highlighted that event as my number one occasion of the year). They're still not convinced and tell me that, while their Palestinian Muslim brothers and sisters are being persecuted, there are no instances of Muslims persecuting members of other religions. I ask them to walk with me to the other side of the display and show them the Bahá'í banner. I ask them if they've heard of the Bahá'ís. They tell me that they never have. When I describe how they are being treated (how they have always been treated) in Iran, they fall silent. I put to them the question, because this is being done by Muslims to members of the religion I follow, should I take that out on Muslims in Leicester? To put it more bluntly, would it be good reason for me to punch the two of them in the face? Is it their fault this is happening? Of course it isn't - and of course I don't feel like that. but the rhetoric seems to work. At this point, they both tell me their names (they'd said earlier that they wouldn't do so) and we part on friendly terms, with firm handshakes all round. They tell me that they'll come back before the end of the week and try to talk with other people on the stall.

A young and dynamic Muslim businesswoman came to the exhibition late in the day and spent several minutes scrutinising it told me that she's opening a care home facility in Thurmaston and would be interested in obtaining training from the Council of Faiths in faith and cultural awareness for the staff she's taking on there.
"An uplifting experience. Thank you for the brilliant organisation. I've enjoyed all the conversations with 'staff' and visitors alike."
"Two Saudi Arabian students studying at DMU (engineering) were interested in the exhibition. when told about the leaflets one of the picked out Muslim, Christian, Jewish, His friend asked him why he wasn't taking one of each (I didn't hear the response). His friend took the others. We had a long chat."
"Was on exhibition from 4-8, met some interesting people and someone bought me a book to help me understand some alien concepts and approaches to spirituality."

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

National Inter Faith Week: day 3

First session on the Highcross display this morning was to be filled by Zee-Zee Heine (who has recently become a Buddhist representative on Leicester Council of Faiths) along with someone who has been entered into the Doodle online scheduler simply as “Amida student”. When I arrive at our spot, I see Susthama Marion Kim and what I take to be two “Amida students”. Zee-Zee has had to attend to a health issue with a member of her family, so Susthama has come forward in her place. Susthama has brought with her two young women, Charlotte Jordan and Louise Perrier, who are both studying for a Philosophy and Ethics degree at Bath Spa University. As part of their course, they go on a short placement with a relevant organisation – and they’re both doing theirs with the Amida Trust. I’m not able to stay long on the stall this morning as I have to attend the regular Tuesday morning meeting of REDP’s Delivery Group, but I take the opportunity to bring Charlotte and Louise to Kona Blue Coffee in Highcross, where Citizens' Eye is holding its regular Community News Café.   I leave them in the capable hands of John, Tina, Simon et al and head off to LCIL for my meeting.
I return just before the change-over at twelve noon. Susthama, Charlotte and Louise were joined after I'd left by Carol Sourbutts, whom I know through Christians Aware. (Carole, Charlotte and Louise are in the photo above). I ask our student visitors how they'd got on at the Community News Cafe; they tell me that they've been asked to write an article about their turn on our exhibition for publication on the Citizen's Eye website! For the first shift in the afternoon, the display is minded by Tara Gatherer (from Citizens' Eye) and colleagues from REDP and LCIL (Kelly Jussab and Liz Harrison in the photo below, along with Tara).

I receive an unsolicited text this morning from someone I haven't met before - Natasha Trivedi - who offers to come and help on the display later today. I ask her to meet me in Highcross at midday so she can see what she might be getting herself into. I'm delighted to meet Natasha and ask her to come back at 1400. She does terrifically well on the stall and I'm very glad she came forward. Natasha is in the photo below, along with Noel Singh (Policy Officer for Community Cohesion, Leicestershire County Council) and Ian Grayling (from the Zen Serene Meditation group).

Here are some of the comments by today's volunteers, left in the reflective journal:
"A very interesting experience, seeing all the banners in the display and people's reactions, some just passed by while taking a glance; others stopped for longer. Most, when approached, walked away quickly almost as if they wanted to look but not be associated."
"I feel that the stand has helped people in that it shows many different faiths all stood up against [sic] each other. this is good for passers by because even at a glance it leaves an image of being united."
"I have had an interesting experience at the Council of Faiths exhibition today. I spoke to a man from Immigration who was interested in finding out more about the Council of Faiths and passed on some details. I also spoke to a few other people who took some leaflets and managed to learn more myself about the different faiths and what the Council of Faiths is all about."

"Quite a few glances - some curious, some embarrassed. One or two conversations with interesting people - all supportive. Over, and above all, I was impressed by the selection of quotes on each faith-specific banner, all stating the simple and shared truth that 'love' is the only logical approach and answer to life and living."

"As above, a few interested and said we should all live by the quotes on display, 'unity' is the only way forward. Some leaflets taken but generally a very quiet time. Impressive exhibition was mentioned."

"I had an interesting experience at the exhibition today, with a plethora of views being expressed by the general public. Many people were in support of the Council of Faiths as they felt it was a strong platform from which to build greater community cohesion. Unity in diversity provides an opportunity for all."

"The experience has been very interesting and one that I have enjoyed. The exhibition is a good opportunity for the public to learn about other religions apart from their own. It's wonderful when young people pick up leaflets or information that might not be easily available to them."

"This exhibition has provided a good opportunity to people young and old to learn something about the work of the Council of Faiths. I spoke to four people this afternoon who were interested to collect leaflets from each faith and asked question about the faiths. They all state the experience is very positive. I have also met some of the other friends who were helping at this exhibition and found the conversations interesting and educational."

"Well done Leicester Council [sic] for providing a multi faith exhibition of high standard to promote a better understanding of varied faiths in the city of Leicester."

Monday, 22 November 2010

"Is Interfaith a waste of time?"

On the website of The Guardian newspaper, in the "Comment is Free" section, in the "Belief" category (*phew!*), is today's question for debate: "Is interfaith a waste of time?" Here's how it was set up:

This is national Interfaith week in Britain. But is the project anything more than another piety for polite people to observe?

Interfaith relations, like motherhood, and apple pie, are difficult to oppose. But their appeal is much more limited. Almost everyone can understand the appeal of delicious pies, and even parenthood. The appeal of listening to other people talking about their relationship with God is less obvious. Even believers generally prefer to disagree with people who are more or less the same; it's often said that the people who like interfaith relationships have more in common with each other than with other members of their own faiths.
Yet it is obvious that they are also essential. The world is too small, and faiths are too large, for everyone to persist in comfortable isolation. Even toleration may not be enough. The different religions, and even atheisms, must learn to co-operate and appreciate each others' strengths if they can. But how can this be done? How can we move from theory into practice? And even if we do find that the nice and serious people of every faith and none can respect each other, what does this do about the problem of nasty people of every faith, who are the ones that we really worry about?
I couldn't resist this of course. In fact, it's probably the closest to "a red rag to a bull" for me. So I posted my own response, late Monday evening, as follows:

22 November 2010 11:50PM
Here in Leicester, inter faith work is an essential, regular and ongoing aspect of the life of our city. Leicester has a reputation as a peaceful place, where many faith communities coexist without open conflict or contention - and even go beyond that into areas of co-operation and working together on issues of common interest and concern. For us in Leicester, inter faith work is about how we live together. Our Council of Faiths, for example, is not an academic debating chamber, nor an arena in which to test out competing truth claims. It provides a means in which, and through which, representatives of eight member faith communities (Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh) can agree to live together amicably. And as for inter faith being "another piety for polite people to observe" our contribution to National Inter Faith Week is (for the second year running) a display of mutual support through an exhibition in Highcross, the city's biggest shopping mall, for the whole of this week. This is fronted by more than 50 volunteers this year (though no more than three on duty at any time), drawn from these eight faith communities and beyond - including people with no allegiance to any particular faith, but who recognise the importance of doing something like this to keep up our good track record on community cohesion and the promotion of good relations. We're reliably informed that last year, this exhibition had up to 400,000 "footfalls" and we're hoping for even more this year, being so deep into the Christmas shopping period. We're out where people are, engaging them, presenting a positive message and model of diverse faith communities working together, talking with them about things they care about - and more than that, we're listening and trying to do something that will preserve the peace and develop the harmony of our city from all sort of challenges. We don't import conflicts from other parts of the world and we can't resolve conflicts within or between faiths - but we know the value of getting along together and we'll go a long way to ensure that works in Leicester; inter faith is one important, dynamic and meaningful way of contributing to that.
George M Ballentyne, Equality & Diversity Officer, Leicester Council of Faiths
Other readers "recommended" my response, three times. If you want to see this in context of other comments, go to:


National Inter Faith Week: day 2

Early in the day, Jan MacDonald (Secretary of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Leicester) takes a turn on the stall between 1200 and 1400. She has a long conversation (over half an hour) with a young Sikh fellow, who talks candidly about how becoming a father has changed his attitude to his culture, heritage and religion. We also enjoy a visit from Parmjit Basra, Project Officer at Leicester City Council's Adult Skills and Learning Services, who was in charge of the recent Leicester Speaks event. (That's Parmjit talking to Jan in the photo above). Also on the stall at this time is Clive Sutton, from Leicester Quakers (the fellow in the dark jacket on the left of the photo below).

Early in the afternoon, John Florance pops in at the display to tell me that he'd given the exhibition a mention on his Sunday morning show yesterday on BBC Radio Leicester. This time last year, Noel Singh, Shaykh Ibrahim Moghrah and I appeared live on John's show to talk about the first National Inter Faith Week.

The undoubted highlight of this second day of our exhibition is the visit from The Wave (a supplement for young people, by young people distributed free with the Leicester Mercury). Katie Stewart (Editor), and reporter Will Sturgess arrive at the exhibition just after four, accompanied by John Coster and Tina Barton of Citizens’ Eye community news agency. On the display at that time with me are Ramila Chauhan and Smita Shah. Will interviews Smita and me and photos are taken of us in front of the Jain banner (Smita is President of Jain Samaj Europe as well as being Treasurer of Leicester Council of Faiths).
There’s a plan brewing between The Wave, Citizens’ Eye and Leicestershire Constabulary for an activity they’re calling “Speed Faithing”, in which young reporters will dash around the city to see how many places of worship – and how many meaningful encounters they can fit in with the people there – in one day. The Council of Faiths has latterly become involved in this.
In the last shift of the day, from 1800-200, I share duties on the exhibition with Sarfraz Khan, who works as Administrator for the Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO). I've long been keen to get greater involvement of Muslim friends in Amplified Leicester, CreativeCoffee Club and other networking activities, so I take advantage of the moment to try and sell their usefulness to Sarfraz. I hope I sounded convincing, rather than just some mad old bloke riding his own hobby horse!
Here are a few of the comments that some of the volunteers who helped out on the exhibition today committed to our reflective journal:
"In the lunch hour there were a lot of people keen to hurry by and only a few who would allow me to catch their eye. One, from Thailand, wanted to see what the Council of Faiths had to say about Buddhism (he works in a casino here). Another, in a wheel chair, was glad of someone to take notice and chat. Others went by. A man at the next stand, trying to capture subscribers for Sky TV, said that he found this arcade a very difficult place and he found it hard to engage people, most of whom were heading for the clothes shops. A young clean-shaven Sikh showed interest, as did a visitor to Leicester whose girlfriend is a Buddhist chaplain in the NHS. Good interest from two Turkish Muslim engineering students"

"Some people had specifically come to have a look at the stand because they had heard it was here. Others were curious and asked, some took leaflets when they didn't have time to talk. Generally, the people who spoke were very positive and encouraging."

"Interesting experience. A lot of people passing by. Young ones are also stopping and taking interest. Quite interesting that a few we spoke to hadn't heard of Jains or Jainism. Not sure that it being going home time meant overall less people stopped by. Strange interaction but very enjoyable and some interesting questions get asked."

Sunday, 21 November 2010


A busy day today, this first day of Inter Faith Week. Having just got home from the exhibition in Highcross, I speedily change into my suit then straight back out: to Braunstone Civic Centre, to attend a Peace Symposium and dinner, hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association.

Once seated at our tables, we are first treated to a DVD presentation, introducing the Ahmadiyya community - illustrating both its history and its current activities and filled with testimonies to the beneficial influence of the community from notable academics, parliamentarians and humanitarians. Following that, we hear a variety of speakers give short talks: Ven. Richard Atkinson, Archdeacon of Leicester; Chief Inspector Rich Keenan, Leicestershire Constabulary; Maqsood Ahmed, Faiths Adviser to the Department of Communities and Local Government; Prof Malcolm Shaw QC, Faculty of Law at the University of Leicester; Liz Kendall MP for Leicester West and Shadow Health Minister. Several words of praise were aimed at the council of Faith; our Chair, Councillor Manjula Sood, was seated at the top table among other guests of honour. Finally, we heard from the keynote speaker, Syed Mansoor Shah, one of four national vice Presidents of the Ahamdiyya Muslim Association.

The guiding principle of the Ahmadiyya - "Love for all, hatred for none" - was writ large on the wall, above and behind the top table.

This was a pleasant evening of fellowship, hospitality and inspiration - and my first formal encounter with the Ahmadiyya community of Leicester. when I started on inter faith work in Glasgow, over 30 years ago, the Ahmadiyya there were the only Muslim group whiling to take part in the Sharing of Faiths. My first real encounter with Muslims, at the age of 19, was with Ahmadiyya Muslims - so I don't need to be persuaded of their virtues.


Alastair, Gracie and I bring the exhibition materials down from Pilgrim House to Highcross, leaving there just before 1030. All the banners fit into two “drum stands” which have wheels on the bottom and just about everything else can be carried in one big shopping bag. The three of us trundle down Gallowtree Gate and into Highcross through the entrance on Church Street. Having used the exhibition (in whole or in part) several times over the last year, it takes next to no time for me to assemble it now. And it’s worn very well! Some of the bags that the banners go in have suffered a bit, but on the whole, the exhibition itself looks as good now as when we first used it for this event last year. However, there’s a gaping hole where one of the banners should be – one that I’d taken out to show to members of Christians Aware when I visited their meeting in Christchurch on Monday and I hadn’t put it back with the others. So I have to ask Alastair to jump in a taxi back to the house, pick up the banner from there and dash back here with it. Despite this setback, we’re fully operational by 11:15.

There are some young Israeli people running a promotional stall near our display, selling skincare products based on Dead Sea minerals. One of them comes to us to ask about contacting the local Jewish community. On our display right then is Tony Nelson, Vice Chair of the Council of Faiths, on which he represents the Leicester Hebrew Congregation, so they came at just the right time.
Later in the day, Gursharan Thandi, of the Sikh Cultural and Welfare Society, spends some considerable time speaking with a group of young Christian women, who invite her to their church (that's them in the photos). Today is the celebration of the Birthday of Guru Nanak. I appreciate the fact that Gursharan has come here to help out on the exhibition at a time when celebrations of this holy day are in full swing at the city’s gurdwaras.

The last shift of the day comprises a Christian, a Muslim and someone whose religion I don’t know – don’t even know if she has one. But she’s a person interested in community cohesion and is more than willing to play a full part in the event. After giving them the briefest of briefings, I’m off for the day. but not before potting football commentary legend Ray Stubbs pass by the exhibition. I won't say he stopped and looked - but I'd like to think he notices it.

Following on from last year’s practice, we’re keeping a reflective journal and asking those who volunteer their services on the exhibition to leave a few comments. Here are some of the things that people helping out today had to say:
“A couple of schoolchildren recognised some of the religious symbols on display so I gave them a keyring and leaflet.”

“Religion is like a garden and all the different faiths are like flowers in that garden, No one flower is better than any other” (quote from a passer-by)

“Had some discussion with people about what religion means to them. Learnt a lot too! Interesting to see so many people Christmas shopping and lovely to see so many people of different faith, race etc. – brings the spirit of One Leicester.”

Thursday, 18 November 2010


At the Peepul Centre this afternoon, for a half-day conference commissioned by the European Multicultural Foundation, supported by Vivitas Resourcing, UNISON and Leicester City Council. This is the third and final meeting of its kind which has been held across the East Midlands, the earlier ones having been in Nottingham and Northampton.

The meeting is chaired by Dr Mohammed Aslam, Senior Partner with Vivitas Resourcing. He introduces th speakers: Dr Tara Mukherjee (Chair, European Multicultural Foundation); Patrick Devine (Chief Officer, Telford Race, Equality and Diversity Partnership): Councillor Abdul Osman (Cabinet Lead for Regeneration, Leicester City Council); and Helen Black (Regional Secretary for the East Midlands, UNISON). Each of these gives an individual presentation, then joins in a panel at the end. There are about 50 attendees, many of them representing groups and organisations that I haven't seen before at this sort of event.

One thing said today (by Dr Aslam) sticks in my mind, expressing something with which I've struggled recently myself, about the difference between equality and diversity: "Diversity stands out there on its own, with or without support of legislation."

Photo of the Peepul Centre by Ned Trifle (used with permission)

super-quick at super networking!

It's one of those days when I really need to be in two places at once: I pop into a "super networking" session at Phoenix Square, the product of combined effort by Creative Coffee Club and Cafe Creatif (which meets at LCB Depot). I go in just long enough to drop off a clutch of our new flyer, with details of our enhanced social media presence. Well, just long enough to do that and to chat with Rosemarie Fitton, whose company, Heterarchy, is designing the interior for the new Swami Narayan temple in Leicester. We tentatively agree to meet to see if she can help out with our exhibition in Highcross next week.

Sorry to be missing this one. Then it's off to the Peepul Centre!

Find out more about Heterarchy:

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

staking out Highcross

This afternoon, I meet with Suzie Wood, Commercialisation Co-ordinator at Highcross. She was the person who oversaw our exhibition there during National Inter Faith Week last year, and I'm speaking to her in advance of our return to Highcross this weekend. After meeting in her office on the third floor, we head down to the Lower West Mall so she can show me the spot where we'll be located this time.

As we walk further along mall and come closer to the outer doors, my heart sinks. When Suzie stops and shows me the place we've been given, I have to ask her ot reconsider. I've been staking out the possible site since we heard a few weeks ago that we'd be doing this again and this is the very spot I was hoping we wouldn't get. It's just too windy here - our banners would be unstable, and be in danger of blowing over. They'd become a safety hazard here. Furthermore, the bannes aren't waterproof and they'll catch some rain in this position. Suzie doesn't need much convincing and we head back up to her office to check availability of other areas during the week.

While I waif in the reception area for her to come back out from her office, Julie-Ann Heath enters. She has a meeting scheduled with someone else for three, but of course I want her to be in on this one. Julie-Ann was mainly responsible for getting the Council of Faiths this gig last year. We couldn't have done it without her - honestly. It's nice to have Julie-Ann there when Suzie re-emerges and is able to tell us that the space we had last year on the Lower West Mall is available, so we can go there. Result!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

coming out, crossing over

After the meeting of the Equality and Diversity Partnership at the LGBT Centre, Ian Robson, Director of the Centre asks if I can hang on for a few minutes so we can talk about something we've been trying to fit in for several weeks now.

We've been tentatively discussing how to bridge the perceived gap between our respective "protected characteristics": religion or belief and sexual orientation. It's assumed by many people that these two areas are - even that they should - be mutually antagonistic. Since we started working together through EDP and REDP, Ian and I have taken every opportunity to puncture that myth. It is true, though, that there are people in both camps who don't think before they speak and cause offence for no good reason. We acknowledge that unfortunate fact but also acknowledge our mutual wish to transcend it. We can't change doctrine, but we might make a dent in dogma and at least work toward a situation where we accept that getting along together is more important than scoring political or religious points off each other.

Ian tells me that the LGBT Centre has been receiving an increasing number of enquiries from people from a variety of faith backgrounds, concerned about coming out (or about family members coming out) and how that might be received in the communities to which they belong.

We have a wide-ranging and open conversation on this and commit ourselves to helping build up greater trust and understanding on both sides. I remind Ian of how these two equality areas work together in Glasgow, as I saw on a recent visit to the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. A programme of public meetings was being held addressing the crossover between religion or belief and sexual orientation, involving organisations such as Affirmation Scotland, Imaan and Sarbat. It's no surprise if I see Glasgow, my birthplace, as being in the lead on issues scuh as this, but similarly it should come as no suprise that I would like to see my adopted home town of Leicester catching up!


At the Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Centre for the regular monthly meeting of the Equality and Diversity Partnership (EDP). Iris Lightfoote, from The Race Equlity Centre (TREC) and I come across from the REDP meeting just ended at LCIL, along with Laura Horton, Project Manager of REDP, here representing Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL). There are also representatives from Leicester City Council (Irene Kszyk, Corporate Equalities Manager), Leicestershire Constabulary (Lynne Woodward, Diversity Manager) and NHS Leicester City (Abida Hussain, Equality Officer).

Two major items on the agenda today: Leicester City Council's upcoming Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) on the effects of the Comprehensive Spending Review and Emergency Budget on the city; debriefing on the recent English Defence League (EDL) demonstration.

REDP monthly meeting

At Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL) this morning, for the regular monthly meeting of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP). Of the four Core Partners of REDP, only Iris Lightfoote from The Race Equality Centre (TREC) and I can make the meeting today. Apologies from Dee martin (of LCIL) and Ian Robson from the Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Centre. Our meetings have always been on the first Tuesday of the month, but we've had to let that slip a bit in the last couple of months, due different members being pulled every which way with all sorts of other commitments (as you can imagine).

One of the regular features of these monthly meetings is the presentation of "Partner Updates", where each of the Core Partners is asked to prepare a brief description of relevant activities in the month since our last meeting. I rather surprise myself when I have to put this list together, how much I've actually done!

Monday, 15 November 2010

at Christians Aware

At Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road this evening, visiting friends attending the regular Monday evening meeting of Christians Aware. It's the last session in a series focusing on spirituality and the visual arts, run by my neighbour, Beatta. I've attended two of these Monday evening courses at Christchurch, "Exploring the Diversity of Hinduism" and "Mindfulness") and spoken at one of them (on the Bahá'í Faith and environmental responsibility) all of which have been featured in this blog but I've been unable to attend any sessions of this present course, sad to say.

I'm here to drum up some support for our exhibition in Highcross during National Inter Faith Week. Members of Christians Aware gave strong support to the event last year and I'm hoping to draw on the same this time. As this is the last meeting for this term, the attendees are sharing a communal meal rather than having a formal meal. Between the savouries and the sweet, Barbara Butler asks me to speak about the exhibition. I've brought along one of the banners, chosen at random (it's the Jewish one) and put it up at the end of the table. It attracts many positive comments (naturally). There's general support and just about everyone here promises to consult their diaries then see if they can commit themselves to helping out at one or more slots.


Today, this blog is one year old. I started it on (Sunday) 15 November 2009, the first day of the first Inter Faith Week in England, just so we'd have a record of that event. I took that as an excuse to reboot the Council of Faiths website, launch our fan page on Facebook and start our Twitterstream all on the same day. Here we are, one year on and they're all still going strong. The stats counter for this blog tell me that I've posted 365 entries on it (this one will be 366) making an average of precisely one a day; I couldn't have made it work out better if I'd tried!


I read, with interest, an article in today's Leicester Mercury about the appointment of Resham Singh Sandhu (photo above)  to the post of High Sheriff of Leicestershire. Resham is a stalwart of Leicester Council of Faiths, having served for several years as its Chair. He continues to be one of the strongest supporters of its work and an influential figure in the city of Leicester, the county of Leicestershire and beyond on issues to do with community cohesion and  good relations.
There's a new High Sheriff in the County

The new High Sheriff of Leicestershire has been selected at a ceremony in the High Court.

Resham Singh Sandhu, of Oadby, will become the local holder of the oldest continuous secular office under the Crown in Britain..

The High Sheriff is a volunteer, unpaid and in office for one year, and is the Queen's representative for law and order in the county.

The Office of High Sheriff is the oldest secular office in the UK after the Crown, and Leicestershire has had High Sheriffs since 1172.

Historically, responsibilities included tax collection, conscription and maintaining law and order, but today the role is chiefly attending royal visits and acting as returning officer in parliamentary elections.

Before the High Sheriffs take up office next March, a second ceremony will take place at the Privy Council in London.

There, the Queen, using a silver bodkin in a practice dating back to the reign of Queen Victoria, will prick their names on a parchment list to give their appointments the royal seal of approval.

A couple of days later, the Mercury published a bigger feature on this subject, with a couple of very nice photos, but it wasn't uploaded to the paper's website. In this later article, it states that Resham will be the first turban-wearing Sikh High Sheriff in the country.

Engaging with faith communities in Leicester (5)

Meeting Jill Carr, RE Adviser to Leicester City Council and Secretary of SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education) in Costa Coffee, Waterstone's, Market Street. We're discussing the texts for the series, "Engaging with Leicester's Faith Communities". We began working on these since January. Back then, there were five of us involved. Along the way, for one reason or another, RE Today Services, St Philip's Centre, the Schools Development Support Agency (SDSA) have dropped out and now it's just the two of us.

A meeting was held recently with representatives of the Muslim community, so that they could respond to the text that we've come up with to date. I wasn't able to attend that meeting. so Jill fills me in on the work we have to do tho bring that text up to date. We should have held a similar meeting focusing on the Christian text, but that was postponed due to lack of support.

Jill recommends that I send information about the Highcross exhibition in National Inter Faith Week to SACRE so that it can be circulated around membrs.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Birthday of Bahá’u’lláh celebrated in Glenfield

To the Parish Council Hall in Glenfield, Leicestershire, this evening, to join city and county Bahá'ís in celebrating the Birthday of Bahá’u’lláh, founder and central figure of the Bahá'í Faith. We're not quite sure where we're going and neither is the taxi driver. Having driven the length of Stamford Street once, then turning round at the bottom only to drive all the way back up again,we ask him to stop and let us out so that we can ask directions in one of the shops. After several minutes up hill and down dale, we find the venue, which is set well back from the main road and not terribly well lit or signed. We arrive just as the devotional part of the meeting is ending.

This is the first outing for the Flip video camera and I'm at a bit of a loss what to film at first. I settle on the format of talking heads, interviewing five of the friends here - Aramesh, Jan, Khaze, Mateen, Rita - about this occasion (with some of them, I use the Council of Faiths Bahá'í banner as a backdrop). This seems promising; an adaptable format, in which being rough and ready will look live a virtue (I hope). I might be better at cinema verite than aiming at something more polished. Back at home, I launch a YouTube channel for Leicester Council of Faiths, with these five being the first things uploaded to it.

See these first videos posted to the Council of Faiths YouTube channel:


In the post at Pilgrim House this morning, I receive a number of cards from Seamus Seamus O'Looskan, Chaplain at St Paul's Roman Catholic School, one for each of the participants in the Philosophy Panel held there on 5 October (see blog entry for that date).
"Thank you for all your hard work on the Philosophy Panel; it was a remarkable success and an incredible learning experience for the students. They found it very interesting to hear people's beliefs. We hope to repeat this event next year and we would greatly appreciate your involvement in the future."

Thursday, 11 November 2010


Popped in this morning at the Community News Café held in Coffee Republic, Granby Street. It's Community Media Week (8-13 November) and Citizens' Eye Community New Agency has been holding Community News Cafés in different locations around the city, several of them each day during this special week.

In the process of riffing on some ideas to do with young people in the city, we come up with "speedfaithing" (not my title for it!) - which would involve a minibus full of young people dashing round the city fitting in visits to as many places of worship in a fixed period of time. We also make tentative plans for the young people involved in production of The Wave to come and see our exhibition in Highcross during Inter Faith Week and write it up for their paper.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Creative Introductions at CreativeCoffee

This text has been lifted wholesale from the CreativeCoffee Club blog, written by Jayne Childs. Read how she accuses me, in the most casual manner, of "shameless self promotion"! Oh, as if such a thing could ever be true, faithful reader ...

Anyway, here's Jane's account of this very positive and interesting meeting. I have not made any changesd to her blog entry, resisiting the temptation to alter her spelling, punctuation and grammar, even if it is patently incorrect occassionally:

This week's widely trailed Intros Round saw 20 CreativeCoffee members given two minutes to introduce themselves. This was more daunting for some than others, especially those who are doing lots of different things! You'll see that there was a lot of passion in the air this time!

I gave myself the unenviable task of both timing the intros and starting things off. I didn't get much time to note down what was said, so I'm sorry because I know I missed some things. If you'd like to add or amend anything, please leave a comment! 

For once, I introduced a creative project I am working on- making Nottingham Lace from original lace drawings. I followed a tip learned from George Ballentyne, and gave out a snippet of lace to everyone! Shameless self promotion http://www.jcmiddlebrook.co.uk/

Emily Keal is a young designer from rural Leicestershire who also works for SME Marketing (Who were well represented, having recently moved into new offices in Phoenix Square!) She has a new project selling countrycrafts and items for shooting (not the guns I assume!) which satisfies her creative urge and her entrepreneurial spirit! Westrell Country Products Limited

Vicky Dean and Sian Savage work for  new Phoenix Square residents, SME Marketing www.smemarketing.com. Not only do they deliver excellent Search Engine Optimisation, Social Media and Pay Per Click campaigns, they also teach companies how to do it for themselves. SME are currently working on Facebook Fan Pages which are delivering excellent payback.
Vicky is also Alpha Design, and organising a Craft Fair on 27th Nov at Rockafellas Bar on High St Leicester.

New member Holly Yanez is a woman with a vision. She is passionate about recycling and style, and is combining these in new project Venus Cow . The day job which pays for this is Wilson Purviss recruitment, a company who helps people find their perfect job, so they never 'work' again!

Sukhjit Singh is a individual who loves film, not being in front of the camera, but behind it and in production. He is looking to make contact with other film makers.

Lee Tomes  is another film maker and producer, working with Twist and Shout publications. Also working with Ross McMinn from Twist and Shout on a new project. http://twitter.com/findenlake

Samantha Birnie is also a new member of CreativeCoffee, she is working with Citizen's Eye and getting back into her true love, which is writing. She is particularly interested in writing about Women's issues and stories.

Helen Varley also has a passion. She loves... finance...yes you heard right! She travels all over the world training businesses how to think about their finances in order to communicate them better to staff, keep ahead of the competition and not get lost in a sea of numbers. We love people who are creative with numbers, in a good way of course! http://www.financetalking.com/

Rebekah Harriman is a creative woman, helping creative businesses get on with the job of beig creative by providing back office solutions and doing all the mundane tasks for you! As well as runnin her company R&R VA  http://www.rrva.co.uk/, she runs local Mums the Boss networking groups.

Rob Weale is an academic at De Montfort University running the CPulse programme to help creative people from across the East Midlands get themselves heard by hosting a showcase of creative content!

Ian Davies is a 'Network Weaver' working with De Montfort University and a number of charities. His passion is photography and poetry. http://twitter.com/@iandai

Trevor Locke is the Editor of Arts in Leicestershire webazine. He and a team of volunteers reveiw arts and music across the county. They also put on shows. Check out the website http://www.artsinleicestershire.co.uk/

Farhana Shaik filled her two minutes telling us about her recent publication, her new company Dahlia Publishing Ltd, the Asian Writer website and filming for a documentary. http://theasianwriter.co.uk/

Shovan Sarganum is SME Marketing web designer, although he also told us about the 'Getting British Business Online' project he is working on with BT, whereby businesses can registerand host a domain for free! http://www.gbbo.co.uk/

George Ballentyne is Equality and Diversity Officer for Leicester Council of Faiths. He is putting on a showcase in the HighCross centre for LCF and is looking for volunteers!  He is the longest serving member of CreativeCoffee Club, was the first to be interviewed by Farhana for her documentary, and also blogs and tweets about his activities http://equalitydiversityofficer.blogspot.com/

Lorraine Turnpenny speaks with enthusualsm about health and personal wellbeing. Luckily for her, she has turned her passion into a job with Forever Living health products. http://www.lorraine.myforever.biz/store

Nick Rawle is a photographer. His business focusses (!) on corporate photography but Nick works with Citizens Eye to offer photojournalism and events photography. He is currently planning an exciting project with designer makers in traditional East Midlands crafts. http://www.nickrphotography.com/

Tara Gatherer joined us for a very short time, but enough time to tell us about her work writing for Citizen's Eye and working in video production.

So there you have it folks, sign up for next time on Eventbrite and comment any amendments!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Comprehensive Spending Review: equality impact (2)

Second meeting in as many working days of members of the Equality and Diversity Partnership (EDP) at Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL), discussing the effects on Leicester of the Comprehensive Spending Review. EDP's role in this is to provide quality assurance, to affirm that Leicester City Council's Equality Officers' approach is sufficiently robust - that it's accurate enough to be used in an Equality Impact Assessment of the effects of the cuts on those covered by the various protected characteristics (i.e. age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, transgender). Leicester City Council wants our assistance to ensure that the second level of cuts that they'll be compelled to implement won't come as a double-whammy to those already hit by welfare and benefit cuts announced in the Emergency Budget in June.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
15,000 Sikhs in celebration
A rainbow of colours brightened the streets of Leicester yesterday as thousands of Sikhs celebrated the birthday of the religion's founder.
Floats led a parade of up to 15,000 worshippers from the Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurdwara, in East Park Road, to the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, at Holy Bones, near St Nicholas Circle.
The Nagar Kirtan event, which has been held in Leicester for more than 20 years, marks the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
After prayers and hymns at the Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurdwara, the procession took three hours to snake its way through the city.
Worshippers continued the celebration with more prayers and food at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara.
Sukhwinder Kaur, 44, of the East Park Road area, followed the procession with friends.
"I've been in Leicester for 26 years and every year we celebrate," he said. "We all feel proud to take part."
Friend Raman Kaur, of Evington, was there with her ten-year-old son, Onkar Singh.
Onkar said: "I like to walk with everyone and I like the nice food too."
Nagar Kirtan is the second of two religious processions by members of the Sikh community in Leicester every year.
The first is Vaisakhi, the religion's new year, which takes place in April.
Sisters Sonia and Kiran Punia, of Rushey Mead, were among those enjoying the celebrations. Sonia, 23, said: "It's just about celebrating the day and everyone coming together as a community.
"You get a real sense of pride walking through the city with so many people."
Kiran, 24, added: "We do this after the service at the temple in the morning. It's a big celebration all day."
Mohinder Sangha, the former president of the Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurdwara, also took part in the parade.
He said: "We get people not just from all over Leicester but from outside as well participating in this procession. It is a big celebration."
Ajmer Singh, education secretary at the Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurdwara, took part in the parade alongside dozens of children from the Khalsa Education Centre Punjabi School, which is based there.
Mr Singh said: "This is about involving all the community in Leicester regardless of religion, it's about celebrating."
Student Jagjit Kaur, 13, from Oadby, said: "It's about celebrating and the food is really nice. You get nice chocolate bars."

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Comprehensive Spending Review: equality impact (1)

Meeting this morning of members of the Equality and Diversity Partnership (EDP) at Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL). We're focusing on the Comprehensive Spending Review and its likely impacts on those people who would be classed as belonging to the various protected characteristics (i.e. age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, transgender).

We're told that Leicester City Council is preparing to carry out a thorough Equality Impact Assessment of the effects of the CSR and Emergency Budget, drawing on reports and commentary by the Trades Union Congress, the Fawcett Society, Institute of Fiscal Studies amongst others to inform its approach.

The City Council will be taking as its baseline the economic impact on families in terms of poverty, then considering the proportionality of the people affected within the different protected characteristics. This has been made the priority of the council's Equality Officers, to be completed for presentation to Cabinet on 26 November.

Members of EDP from the Voluntary and Community Sector need to provide up-to-date information about which (and how many) groups, projects and so on within their respective protected characteristics are likely to be negatively affected. Of course, there are disabled people (for example) in the various faith communities, of different ages, sexual orientation etc, so there are cross-cutting issues to consider too. More proof that we're all in this together!