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.