Thursday, 30 September 2010

Flash! (Ah-ah!)

At the Pavilion in Victoria Park this evening, with some Muslim friends for a flashmob meal. This is a follow-up to the Flashmob Iftar, three of which were held recently on this same spot during Ramadan. Iftar is the collective meal breaking the fast each evening during that holy month for Muslims. Despite my good intentions, I never made it to any of those, so I'm glad to have got to this one.

There are about two dozen people here, a mix of young Muslims and some other people who don't normally have the chance for a decent feed. Not all of the food that's been brought to the event is eaten here. Some is transported to local hostels for the homeless.

This series of events, coordinated and publicised mostly through Facebook, is the kind of thing I'd like to feature in the panel I'll be presenting for Amplified Leicester in March next year on "Amplified Communities of Faith and/or Belief".

I meet (for the first time) Yasmin Surti, whom my friend Sughra Ahmed (also here) has recommended as the Muslim participant in the Council of Faiths dialogue sessions during Local Democracy Week (AKA Leicester Speaks). We get a few minutes to go over what's expected to happen at that meeting, at which Yasmin will be in dialogue with someone representing the Jain community. Their topic will be "What our community brings to Leicester". I'm confident she'll make a very good contribution.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS FAIR AT LEICESTER UNIVERSITY


At the University of Leicester this afternoon, for its International Student Fair. This is being held in the new O2 Academy in the Percy Gee Building (at the Students' Union). Julie-Ann Heath, from the University's International Chaplaincy, has asked me to bring all nine banners in our exhibition.

In terms of our reason for being here, we're sort of piggybacking on to the Chaplaincy's display, but in terms of the visuals, our banners rather dominate things. But they are not overwhelming, which I feared was the case when we used the whole exhibition at the Leicestershire Cares event at the start of this month (see blog entry, Thursday 2 September). In fact, the banners look bloomin' lovely here today!

As well as providing information about the diverse faith communities in Leicester, we're offering a more personal service today, by helping students newly arrived in the city to find an appropriate community with which to become involved. I've brought with me our list of places of worship in Leicester and it helps us find the right places for a score or so students from abroad. As well as those looking for the right church, gurdwarara, mandir or mosque, there's one student who is hoping to make contact with any local Pagans. She's sure I won't be able to help her but I'm delighted to be able to point her in the direction of the Dark Side cafe on Cank Street, where she'll be able to meet all the Pagans and Wiccans she could want. Mustn't forget to mention that there are also a (smaller) number of students asking how they might contact local Buddhist or Jain communities.

Some of the folk from the Chaplaincy are so impressed with the Council of Faiths display that they ask if I can bring it back on Monday, for the start of Freshers' Fair. I'd gladly do that, but Julie-Ann isn't sure there will be room this time to accommodate everything. She'll figure it out and let me know by Monday morning.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

CHIEF CONSTABLE'S INTER-CULTURAL RECEPTION


To the HQ of Leicestershire Constabulary this evening, for the annual Chief Constable's Inter-Cultural Reception. We've a new Chief Constable this year, Simon Cole, and as soon as I arrive, I can see he's doing things differently. My first thought would be to say that this year, there's more police and less reception, but that would be unfair. A considerable number of displays have been set up for we guests, illustrating and explaining many aspects of the work of the Police. That's new - and welcome too. I pass round these, stopping for a chat at a few of them, before having longer conversations with Yassin Desai (of the Association of Muslim Police) and Amarjit Singh Sanghera (of the Association of Sikh Police -photo above).

After the Chief Constable welcomes everyone with a short speech, Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths, Cllr Manjula Sood, responds.

This is the fourth time I've attended this function. While our hosts may be a little more sparing on the hospitality this year (as befits the financial climate) tonight's event is all the more vital because of the approaching demonstration by the English Defence League (EDL) and counter-demonstration by Unite Against Fascism (UAF) which will be held in the city on Saturday 9 October. What have certainly been fine words in the past (in terms of relations between the Police and the faith/cultural communities) are now being more directly expressed in action.

stay away from protest, urge city's faith leaders

Here's how today's Leicester Mercury reports the Faiths Leaders Forum meeting which took place last night at Bishop's Lodge, in the context of ongoing overall preparations for Saturday 9 October:

Stay away from protest, urge city's faith leaders
by Ciaran Fagan, Social Affairs Correspondent

A united call has gone out urging people to stay away from protests by the English Defence League and its opponents.

Police, Leicester City Council and faith leaders, including the Federation of Muslim Organisations, hope to minimise the potential for public disorder when the English Defence League (EDL) stages a protest on Saturday, October 9.

Groups opposed to the EDL, including Leicester Unite Against Fascism, are planning counter protests.

Together, it is thought, the demonstrations could attract several thousand people.

A peace vigil is being planned for the Friday night before the protest, while a "celebration" of the city is being lined up for the Sunday.

However, police and council officials have stressed the city centre will be open for business on the day.

The timings and location of the protests have not been agreed yet.

Leicestershire's chief constable Simon Cole and the city council have asked the Home Secretary to ban all marches on the day.

The authorities are powerless to prevent static protests. Instead, they are only able to impose conditions on the location, size and duration of static demonstrations.

Deputy chief constable Gordon Fraser said: "We would like people to not take part on Saturday and to join the festivities on Friday and Sunday.

"Our advice is to not be tempted to come into the city centre on that day to take part in these events."

Sheila Lock, chief executive of Leicester City Council, said: "If people want to protest about what the EDL stands for, we would ask them to make their protest on the Friday or the Sunday.

"On occasions like this people can get caught up in events in a way they wouldn't if they had time to reflect.

"We have spoken to the retailers and, by and large, it will be business as usual.

"We are waiting to hear from the Home Secretary. Even if we get the ban on the march, we do not have powers to ban a static protest."

Faith leaders last night spelled out their opposition to the EDL.

In a joint statement, leaders of the city's Faith Leaders Forum, whose members include the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Jewish faiths as well as others, said: "We condemn all who seek to divide and sow the seeds of distrust between our communities.

"In particular, we condemn, in the strongest terms, the activities of the English Defence League."

The Leicestershire Federation of Muslim Organisations, which represents almost 200 mosques and community groups, also urged people to stay away.

Spokesman Suleman Nagdi said: "Our strong advice is that people stay away from the EDL protest and any counter demonstration and rallies that may take place.

"We believe any counter protest will only serve to undermine the image of Muslims as a law-abiding and peaceful people.

"We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from Muslim communities in other parts of the country.

"We in Leicester appreciate this greatly but would urge our fellow brothers and sisters from around the UK not to travel to Leicester and participate in any counter demonstrations."

Councillor Manjula Sood, Chair of the Council of Faiths, takes objection to the way in which the Mercury doesn't name all the faith communities involved. So do I.

I note with interest the following comment beneath this story on the Mercury's website: "The comments facility has been turned off on this story as a minority of posters have been abusing the facility."

Monday, 27 September 2010

19 Day Feast

I'm with my local Bahá'í friends this evening, celebrating the 19 Day Feast at the home of Aramesh Mahboubi in Rushey Mead.

Minou Cortazzi, stalwart of the Leicester Bahá'í community and former Chair of the Council of Faiths, joins the meeting late, having attended the Faith Leaders Forum earlier in the evening. This meeting, convened by the Bishop of Leicester, focused on the issue of the demonstrations next month by the English Defence League (EDL) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF). Minou talks to us about the meeting, what was decided and what is to be done.

In the devotional part of the Feast (which comes at the start of the meeting), I'm asked to read aloud an extract from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh that strike me as being appropriate to the mood that many are feeling at the close approach of these demonstrations in Leicester:

Say: O people of God! Beware lest the powers of the earth alarm you, or the might of the nations weaken you, or the tumult of the people of discord deter you, or the exponents of earthly glory sadden you. Be ye as a mountain in the Cause of your Lord, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the Unconstrained.

coming to you live

Having been asked on Friday afternoon by BBC Radio Leicester to provide someone involved in both the Council of Faiths and the Faiths Leaders Forum to be interviewed live on air just after eight this morning - and having circulated this request among the likely candidates on Friday - I still don't know for certain who (if anyone) will appear on the airwaves. I'm sure that someone is going to do it, otherwise the BBC would have called me - wouldn't they? The consensus was that our Chair, Manjula Sood, should be the one, but she thought it might be a little too early for her. After the news at eight, I'm glad to hear she's in the studio, taking questions from presenter Ben Jackson about the forthcoming dual protests in the city by the English Defence League (EDL) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF). She's impassioned, persuasive and reasonable - as I'd expect her to be - and doesn't buy into that convention where the host apparently has to ask the kind of questions that only the dumbest and least informed listener would think of.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Federation of Muslim Organisations press release

The Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO) has today issued a press release, outlining its position in relation to the proposed demonstration by the English Defence League scheduled to take place in Leicester on Saturday 9 October. While I had nothing to do with its creation and lay myself being open to the accusation of having gathered a garland of other men's flowers, I want to reproduce it in full here. The Federation of Muslim Organisations is an infrasturcture body, representing the interests and speaking on behalf of a large number of mosques, community associations, centres and groups from within the Muslim community of Leicester and Leicestershire. It is itself a member body represented on Leicester Council of Faiths.

PRESS RELEASE
POSITION IN RELATION TO ENGLISH DEFENCE LEAGUE PROTEST
24th September 2010

The Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO) held an open meeting with significant numbers of its affiliates, Imams, Councillors and community members at the Highfields Community Centre on Thursday 23rd September 2010. Following this consultation, the FMO issues this initial guidance with regards to the forthcoming anti-Islamic protest by the English Defence League (EDL) scheduled to take place in Leicester on Saturday October 9th 2010.

1.    We respectfully and humbly inform all of our 186 affiliates, comprising of Mosques, Charities and other Muslim Organisations that the EDL intends to hold a demonstration on Saturday 9th October. Our strong advice is that people stay away from the EDL protest and any counter demonstration and rallies that may take place in the city. At this stage we have not been informed about the location of the EDL protest but it is likely to be in the city centre. Having listened to a variety of opinions within the community, the decision is based on ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our community. People must stay away from any potential violence and do their utmost to keep family and friends away from the city centre on the day. Please note that Muslims and indeed others may become innocent victims of violence and so we have a duty as Muslims to ensure the safety of all communities. We believe that any counter protest will only serve to undermine the image of Muslims as a law-abiding and peaceful people particularly in the media.

2.    We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from Muslim communities in other parts of the country. We in Leicester appreciate this greatly but would urge our fellow brothers and sisters from around the UK not to travel to Leicester and participate in any counter demonstrations. The FMO thanks everyone who is involved in opposing the vitriolic campaign that the EDL have waged on the British Muslim population. Whilst Muslims up and down the country work hard to build stronger relationships with all communities, the EDL represents the ugly face of society. Our fear is that this could lead to serious community tensions in the city. Islamophobia (hatred against Muslims) is as unacceptable as any other form of discrimination. It divides and weakens our society by making scapegoats of one single community.

3.    The FMO extends its gratitude to other faith communities and key community groups that have shown their solidarity with the Muslim community by contacting us and assuring us of their support. Though the FMO’s agreed position is not to counter demonstrate, we understand that many organisations and individuals will counter demonstrate. We plead to them that they do so in a peaceful manner and be mindful that if there are any negative incidents, then the respected Muslim community and elected bodies such as the FMO will be left to pick up the pieces and are likely to be blamed.

4.    We call upon the media and politicians to make responsible and informed statements about Islam, its teachings and values, which would help to decrease the anti-Islamic climate, which groups such as the EDL thrive upon.

5.    We call upon Muslims to challenge any anti-Islamic reporting, collectively and individually, in an intelligent manner by discussing with and writing to elected officials, editors of newspapers and senior police officers that such anti-Islamic propaganda should be taken seriously as they damage good community relations and impact on community cohesion.

6.    We are all reminded to take examples from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that at times of trials and tribulations; we must exercise wisdom and patience whilst continuing in our supplications to our creator Allah (SWT) in the pursuance of peace in our country.

We are drawing up further guidelines in liaison with the local authority and the Police which will be distributed shortly to our affiliates which we anticipate will be subsequently circulated throughout the Muslim community.

Find out more about the Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO):
http://www.fmo.org.uk/

Saturday, 25 September 2010

POLICE FEAR PROTESTORS PLAN TO ATTACK LEICESTER MOSQUE

This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Police fear protestors plan to attack Leicester mosque
Police fear protesters plan to attack a city mosque before marching into the heart of Leicester's Muslim community.
Concerns were voiced by Chief Constable Simon Cole in a report to Leicester City Council about the planned march by the English Defence League on October 9.
The Chief Constable said that an intelligence and threat assessment indicated a "major threat" to public order.
His report said: "Intelligence dated September 8, 2010, indicated that the EDL intend to come to Leicester and attack a mosque before marching into the Highfields area, which represents the highest resident population of the Muslim community.
"This reflects previous intentions of EDL processions, such as that within Leicester, where actions were targeted to cause disruption to the Muslim community by provoking serious public disorder."
Leicester City Cabinet yesterday agreed to apply to the Home Office to ban the planned procession under the Public Order Act 1986.
However, the EDL, in a statement, rejected the police claims.
EDL event organiser Guramit Singh said: "We are coming to Leicester to peacefully demonstrate and we denounce attacks on any mosques.
We are here to fight militant Islam, not moderate Islam. The intelligence provided by the police is incorrect."
The EDL submitted an application to march through the city to police this week. United Against Fascism has applied to hold a counter-demonstration on the same day.
Up to 5,000 people could take part in the rival protests.
If the Home Office agrees to ban the EDL march, the group could still hold a static protest, which the authorities would be powerless to prevent taking place.
Muslim groups said they were concerned by the police intelligence reports.
Suleman Nagdi, chairman of the Federation of Muslim Organisations, said: "An attack on a place of worship is an attack on us all, the relationship and resilience among Leicester's faith communities is very strong and we are confident that this will not break our unity."
Ibrahim Mogra, associate Imam at Evington Muslim Centre, said: "The news of a planned attack is very worrying. There have been a number of mosques up and down the country that have suffered attacks at the hands of far-right groups. Everything possible needs to be done to prevent that."
Speaking after the meeting, city council leader Veejay Patel said the council was determined to secure a ban on the march.
He said: "The evidence we are now able to put to the Home Secretary shows overwhelmingly that this march will bring massive disruption – and possibly violence – to Leicester, and therefore it should not be allowed to take place."
The city's three MPs, who were present at yesterday's meeting, said in a joint statement: "The EDL cannot and will not affect Leicester's long and proud history of community cohesion which the city council, voluntary, community and faith groups, local public services and businesses have all worked hard to build and maintain."
After the meeting, Leicester East MP Keith Vaz said: "I have directly contacted the Home Secretary Theresa May to emphasise the strength of feeling here in our city. All three Leicester MPs will be lobbying her directly on this issue."
Leicester West MP Liz Kendall said: "It is a massive decision to attempt to ban a group's right to protest, but it's the only option available."
In a report on the proposed English Defence League march in Thursday's Leicester Mercury, we reported that campaign group Hope Not Hate was planning a counter demonstration.
We have been asked to point out that Hope Not Hate is, in fact, hoping to hold a peace vigil the night before the proposed EDL protest and is not planning a counter demonstration.
It is also involved in plans for a celebration of the city, which is scheduled to take place a day after the EDL event on Saturday, October 9. We are happy to clarify the situation.

Friday, 24 September 2010

BBC Radio Leicester calling

A phone call this afternoon from BBC Raio Leicester, asking if we can provide someone for a live interview on Monday morning, just after the 8 o'clcok news, on the topic of the forhtcoming demonstrations in the city by the English Defence League (EDL) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF). They'd like someone in the studio, I'm told, as there are going to be a number of interviews by telephone that morning. I circulate the request among the likely candidates and await a definite response. I've been given the name and number of someone to contact at BBC Radio Leicester over the weekend should we come unstuck. I'm sure we'll come up with the goods though.

Leicester Speaks (3)

At Leicester Adult Education College this morning, for the latest weekly meeting of the steering group for Leicester Speaks (AKA Local Democracy Week). Our group today consists of Bipin Anand (TouchRainbow Productions), Parmjit Basra (Project Officer, Leicester City Council Adult Skills and Learning Services), Max Boden (Leicestershire Chamber of Commerce), Peter Bradley (Speakers' Corner Trust), John Coster (Citizens' Eye Community News Agency), Bez Kileen (Active Involvement Youth Worker, Leicester City Council), Irene Kszyk (Head of Equalities, Leicester City Council), Chris Minter (Head of Leicester City Council Adult Skills and Learning Services), Alison Taylor (Drugs and Alcohol Team, Safer Leicester Partnership).

Our discussions have been lent a new urgency, reflecting local concern over the demonstrations by the English Defence League (EDL) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF), which are hardly more than a fortnight away now. We're already talking, in practical terms, about the legacy of this week-long event and about continuing the Leicester Speaks initiative beyond Local Democracy Week.

One of the items on today's agenda is appointment of a Chair for the event. Much to my surprise, Parmjit proposes me! I can't accept this in good faith, as I won't be in Leicester for the final two days. When I say I'd love to be Chair, but ... I'm asked if I'll be Chair on a joint basis with John Coster. We're glad to assent to this proposal.

Find out more about Leicester Speaks:
http://www.leicesterspeaks.org/

Thursday, 23 September 2010

EDL/UAF briefing for Voluntary & Community Sector


To Leicester Town Hall this evening, for a briefing session jointly hosted by the City Council and Leicestershire Constabulary, updating us on preparations for the visit of the English Defence League, as well as the proposed counter-demonstration by Unite Against Fascism, on Saturday 9 October. There are a dozen or so attendees, specifically invited, representing a variety of Voluntary and Community Sector organisations, working across the city or based and operating in specific parts or with specific communities. I'm accompanied by Gursharan Thandi, who (as well as sitting on the Board of Directors of Leicester Council of Faiths) is also one of two representatives for communities of interest in terms of religion and belief on Leicester Partnership.

Below is a copy of the presentation we were given this evening, word-for-word. My occasional interpolations are in brackets.

An overview of the proposed march and counter-demonstration

Briefing for Voluntary and Community Sector Stakeholders
Leicestershire Constabulary, Leicester City Council

Agenda
·      Introduction: Councillor Veejay Patel [Leader, Leicester City Council]
·      Overview Briefing: Sheila Lock [Chief Executive, Leicester City Council], [Chief Superintendent] Rob Nixon [City Commander]
·      Q&A
·      Summary of main action points

Who are we talking to?
·      Four Levels
·      The community stakeholder groups
·      Key partners in the public sector
·      The media
·      The EDL themselves and any counter protest groups

Objectives
·      Reassurance that we are working together
·      Let you know what we know
·      Make you aware of the legal position
·      Tell you what the police and council are doing
·      Inform you of what the police role is
·      Inform you of what the council role is
·      Explore what your role could be
·      Discuss next steps in relation to this event
·      Discuss how we as a city “move on” after this event

What we know
·      An early indication of an intent to march in September that came to nothing – through informal routes
·      Indication to the police from the English Defence League (EDL) that they intend to stage a march in Leicester city centre on Saturday October 9
·      The EDL formed in June 2009 – not legally defined as an extreme right wing group – previous events in the country have attracted those with strong right wing views
·      Indication from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) that they wish to hold a counter-demonstration
·      Application received on 15 September by UAF
·      Busy day for City – open day for universities (7000 international visitors), Somali event (smaller event), National Trade Union Conference, Navratri, Saturday morning Cathedral Service (600 people) – following day, Leicester Marathon [Option simply to close everything down for the day was considered, but it was decided in the end to go for “business as usual” – although taking this route requires that there be a strong plan in place.]

Legal position
·      Any ban for a march has to be made by the Council to the Home Secretary.  Supported by evidence that can demonstrate significant risk of disorder and risk to cohesion
·      Even if ban is applied for and is successful does not prevent static demonstrations taking place.  EDL can still come to Leicester
·      No legal powers to prevent a lawful peaceful protest
·      Legislative changes since BNP ban in 2001

What are Police and Council doing?
·      We take our community leadership role very seriously
·      Working with partnership agencies to jointly plan and manage the response to the event and any issues that arise before or after
·      Learning the lessons from other areas who have had similar events [good practice and bad]
·      Police and council engaging and listening to all communities
·      Police are in dialogue with groups who may seek to protest/counter demonstrate on the day
·      Exploring all our legal powers [e.g. ban on sale of alcohol in city centre on the day, management of public transport network]
·      Planning will continue in the weeks ahead – continued liaison
·      Police and council have considerable experience in planning events
·      Dealing with this in an objective way that is professional, to do otherwise leaves the city open to challenge and potential further risk

Police role
·      Facilitate peaceful protest and comply with duty under Human Rights Act
·      If anyone commits a criminal offence will be dealt with fairly but firmly
·      We will not tolerate damage to the city or acts of violence
·      Anyone involved in violence, disorder or racist behaviour which is unlawful will be liable to prosecution
·      Celebrate diversity and be proud of our city

Council Role
·      To exercise its community leadership role for the city – in partnership with others
·      To follow a lawful decision making process that considers objectively all the available advice and views
·      To make an application on behalf of the city to the Secretary of State if that is the outcome following the lawful process
·      Actively working with the Police to enhance security and traffic management
·      Clear united leadership [not a party issue; everyone putting political differences aside to work together for the good of the city, both Leadership and Opposition]

As community leaders: your role
·      Conveying the strength of feeling in Leicester is important, but so is conveying it in the right way
·      Support for non confrontational means
·      Getting out the message re consultation and alternative events
·      Helping to identify “vulnerable” groups and individuals [and sites] and providing diversionary activity

The message to the community
·      If you feel strongly about what is happening, express those views to your local councillor, trade union branch, community or faith leader or to the council chief executive so that your view can be fed into the decision making process.
·      If you are concerned please speak to your local police.
·      The police and council want to reassure and support all communities and encourage them not to be provoked into reacting to the protests [need to be sensitive to changes in mood as the day approaches]
·      We don’t want people coming into the city intent on confronting any protestors.  Please let the police handle events.
·      We would ask that you don’t get drawn into inflammatory dialogue on social networking sites.
·      If you want to come to Leicester to shop/normal business expect some disruption.  Busy but wish to see business as usual.
·      Celebrate in City event. [to take place on Sunday 10, the day following the march and counter-demonstration]

What next?
·      We will promise to keep you informed as the situation develops
·      To help us we really need a two-way conversation – tell us your concerns or any information you think we need to know.
·      [email only opened at start of this week, but already more than 500 posts received]
·      If you don’t want to speak to the police or council speak to a community leader who will speak to us on your behalf.
·      Any questions?

Several minutes are given over to questions, answers and comments at the end, in which all those attending (including Gursharan and I) take the opportunity to chip in. Our Chair, Manjula Sood, had been to a similar breifing held in the same place the night before. She called me this afternoon and asked me to make sure that I'd speak here this evening. I said that, if the opportunity arose – "Don't wait for opportunity", she told me, "You should speak!" This evening's proceedings are being webcast; comments made here will form part of the body of evidence required for the City Council when making its decision whether to apply to the Home Office for an order to ban the march at its emergency Cabinet meeting tomorrow. Manjula doesn't want the meeting to go on record without something being heard from the Council of Faiths – and quite right too.

Well I've never exactly been backward at coming forward, so: several times this evening, Sheila has mentioned a meeting of the Faiths Leaders Forum this coming Monday, at which those present will agree a joint statment expressing a united view about 9 October. So I take the floor briefly to explain the distinction between the Faith Leaders Forum and the Council of Faiths, and the different functions they perform, saying how each supports and complements the other. While I'm on, I say that one of our objectives at the Council of Faiths is to collate and disseminate accurate infomation, as a way of building up confidence and playing down fears. We don't want our members or those they represent to be influenced by rumour. When I say that I'll be putting the text of the PowerPoint presentation on our blog, Sheila responds over the mic by saying, "That's just what we were hoping for" and giving me a double thumbs-up.

As the meeting nears its end, Gursharan expresses her heartfelt view that, as difficult as this issue is, it presents us with the opportunity to do the right thing by our city and its people and how we’ll be judged by our actions on 9 October and on the days leading up to it and following it. As she's speaking, what comes to mind is the recent meetings that Sheila Lock has convened on promoting Leicester as a centre of excellence in community cohesion - at which we're discussing how to bottle "essence of Leicester" and promote it around the country and further afield. The coming weeks will test out whether we really can walk the walk here or do we just talk the talk. Is our unity in diversity genuine or will it crumble at the first real challenge?

Gursharan's words nicely set up Councillor Mohammed Dawood, Cabinet Lead for Community Cohesion, who sums up the meeting and signs off on a positive and upbeat note.

Converse reverse: Axis axed!

Well, I hold my hands up ...

I really didn't think this would happen, but Converse have bowed to Hindu complaints and withdrawn their Jimi Hendrix commemorative All-Star shoe based on cover artwork from the album, "Axis Bold as Love". This had caused much unhappiness because the artwork used images from a popular Hindu devotional poster on which a number of deities and sacred figures are represented.

When I saw that local Hindus had got the show removed from sale at one shop here in Leicester, I was surprised at that! So this development has really bowled me over.

It's not entirely clear whether the recall only applies in the USA, but I can't imagine that the company would do this in their biggest market, then leave themselves open to further attack in other parts of the world.

Read the story on "Hindu Blog":
http://www.hindu-blog.com/2010/09/converse-withdraws-shoes-carrying.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+hindublog+%28Hindu+blog%29&utm_content=Yahoo%21+Mail

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

how to be an amplified individual


At Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre this evening, for the first session in a new season of Amplified Leicester. The presentation this evening is by Sue Thomas, Professor of New Media at De Montfort University. Sue is the guiding spirit of Amplified Leicester and her session this evening is entitled, "How to be an Amplified Individual".

The Leicester Mercury had carried a "First Person" piece by Sue about Amplified Leicester, inviting people to come to the talk, just two days ago. Perhaps that did the trick as there's a very good turnout: plenty of new faces among the two dozen people attending and the room is just about full. Everyone seems pleased at a strong and positive start to this new season!

Here's the link to the PowerPoint presentation Sue gave this evening:
http://ampleic.ning.com/forum/attachment/download?id=3909254%3AUploadedFile%3A1855

Take the test, "How Amplified are You?"
http://api.ning.com/files/0rgVzFjfX965Gg-IMW*2NoEdToN5z78kIi76NCttB0nS8TR4X24Buar0*XThXEgP0WtR7-m3a-u1C19*C9G6dT7AervMcVdt/AmplifiedTest.pdf

LAUNCH OF ANSAAR'S EMPLOY-ABILITY PROJECT


At very short notice, an invitation arrives for our Chair, Manjula Sood, to attend the launch of the Employ-Ability Project, a new social enterprise initiative run by Ansaar. Ansaar is a Leicester-based charity which since 2003 has been working with adults who have mild or moderate learning disabilities and their carers, improving their opportunities, choices and quality of support. Ansaar is also tackling issues regarding disability of all kinds within the Asian and BME community, by making a practical difference to the lives of its service users and proving that they can participate actively in life. "Ansaar", in Arabic, means "helper".

The invitation only arrives this morning and the launch is at lunchtime today in the Highfields Centre. Manjula is out of the city (she's in Nottingham attending a Sport England event) but she has asked me to go in her place, to support what she calls "a great organisation". I give Manjula's apologies to those I meet there (and pass on her "great organisation" comment) - but when they show a DVD about Ansaar's work, she's in it, giving them her glowing testimony!

Research shows that only one in ten people with a learning disability are in employment. People with learning disabilities are the most excluded from the workplace, more so than any other category of disabled people. Ansaar hopes that its Employ-Ability initiative will create opportunities for people with learning disabilities to obtain voluntary or paid work. It will be selling services and goods to the private, voluntary and public sector, including mailouts, leaflet distribution, event management and learning disability awareness training.

I'm very impressed with combination of touching personal stories and professional approach by staff and volunteers. The Lord Mayor of Leicester, Councillor Colin Hall, is here but before he makes his contribution I have to leave - for a dental appointment, of all things (and when I travel out to Saffron Lane for that appointment, I'm told that my dentist has had to take the day off, so I have to go back tomorrow. Honestly, I despair sometimes!)

This organisation is surely one of the best that Leicester has to offer; you can only hope that it gets the recognition and support it so richly deserves.

Cathedral AM (5)

To Leicester Cathedral Visitor Centre this morning for Cathedral AM. This bi-monthly networking breakfast brings together people working in, living in, or otherwise concerned with Leicester city centre. When I lived in the West End, barely a ten minute walk from the Cathedral, I hardly ever made it here in time for breakfast. Now I live halfway across the city, I arrive half an hour early and have to park myself in Cafe Nerro with a cappuccino and the morning paper!

The scheduled speaker for this morning (Deb Watson, Director of Public Health and Health Improvement, NHS Leicester City) has called in sick. Into the breach steps Police Sergeant Nick Westwood, Deputy Local Policing Unit Commander, based at Mansfield House Police Station, Belgrave Gate. He was going to speak this morning for five minutes about the forthcoming demonstrations by the English Defence League (EDL) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) in Leicester on Saturday 9 October - so now he has the floor for longer.

Nick speaks about the preparations that the Police are making, in association with Leicester City Council, to ensure that the day passes off as peacefully as possible. He asks thqat we take this information back to our own communites, groups or organisations, so that as many people as possible might have confidence in what is being done to ensure that they are kept safe and that normal life can go on. He tell us that a large number of officers from other forces around the country are being drafted in for what will be the biggest policing operation that Leicester has seen in 25 years. Police will be patrolling not just the city centre, but will be visible and available in all parts of the city. There will be more officers on duty (on and around the day) specialising in public order and in hate crime. Police will be visiting locations, premises and sites that are considered vulnerable and speaking to local shops and businesses well in advance of the day. The routes of the two demonstrations have not yet been declared. This is one of the areas with which Leicestershire Police are negotiating with both the EDL and UAF.

There will be a prayer vigil in Leicester Cathedral on the Friday evening before the demonstrations. The cathedral is busy with prearranged activities on the Saturday, otherwise it would be publicised as a safe haven for anyone in the city centre who feels threatened (as was done with the Cathedral in Bradford). Canon Barry Naylor expressed the hope that some other church in the city centre might be able to fulfil this role.

Both Leicester University and De Montfort University have open days on Saturday 9 October, when potential students and their parents, many of whom will never have seen the city before, will be coming to Leicester. Both those institutions are understandably anxious about what kind of impression visitors will get about Leicester that day.

Sarah Levitt, Head of Leicester Arts and Museums, tells us that on Sunday 10 October, the day after the two demonstrations, there's going to be a big, positive public event around the gaint TV screen in Humberstone Gate. "Celebrate One Leicester" will allow the people of Leicester to show how much we love the diversity and harmony of the city. Details will be announced soon.

On other matters, I get to speak to John Florance of BBC Radio Leicester, about Leicester Speaks (AKA Local Democracy Week). He expressed interest in his Sunday morning show covering the Council of Faiths contribution to the week's events.

I also get to meet Jaz Mann (and his Signer, Adam). Jaz works with Action Deafness, where he is Lead Development Officer on the HearNow Project. He's looking for opportunities to promote this project within the faith communities. We discuss ways in which the Council of Faiths may be able to help him.

Find out more about Action Deafness:
http://www.actiondeafness.org.uk/

Monday, 20 September 2010

there's more to amplification than just noise

I sign up this afternoon for the first in the new season of Amplified Leicester events at Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre. This coming Wednesday, Prof. Sue Thomas is speaking on "How to be an Amplified Individual". In today's Leicester Mercury Sue has the "First Person" column. Here's the text from today's paper:

Prof Sue Thomas, of the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University, goes in search of superheroes

For some, amplifying yourself is just about getting louder, but according to Californian thinktank, The Institute for the Future, there's a lot more to amplification than making noise.

According to The Institute, "New technologies of cooperation are combining to create a generation of 'amplified individuals' - workplace superheroes. In some cases, they will compete with traditional organisational models; in others they will amplify capabilities of organisations where they already work.''

So how do you become a workplace superhero? Or are you one already? It seems that the amplified workers of the future share several important characteristics: They are very social people, who don't just share what they know, but are also not afraid to ask for information, help and advice when they need it. They might do this the modern way, via the people they know on Facebook and Twitter, or perhaps they simply adopt the time-honoured methods of personal networks across businesses and communities.

They work well in groups and collaborate with partners online and offline. And they know how to improvise when necessary, creating relationships and infrastructures quickly and on the fly when the situation demands rapid action.

Lastly, they are not afraid to extend their abilities with tools that help them stay in touch with their networks and sources of knowledge, so that they can quickly access and process information. The Institute for the Future is deeply embedded in Silicon Valley culture and it takes some perseverance to get past some of the West Coast language in its research, but it's worth the effort because there are real insights to be found in the list of skills required of an 'amplified individual'. These are skills you probably already have, but have not recognised in quite this way.

For example, how is your "Cooperation Radar"? Are you one of those people who can sense intuitively which of your colleagues would work together best on a particular task?

And how would you rate your "Ping Quotient'"? Are you quick to respond when people contact you? Are you comfortable in many different kinds of social and business milieus, and do you adopt different communication styles appropriate to differing situations? These different ways to understand what many of us already do well can be useful in the workplace where such skills are increasingly important. Earlier this year, 30 Leicester citizens participated in the Amplified Leicester project at Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre. Involvement in the first stage was by application only, but now Amplified Leicester is hosting a series of talks and conversations which are free and open to the public. The first meeting looks at 'How to be an Amplified Individual'. Its at 7pm this Wednesday, September 22 in the Etc Suite at Phoenix Square. It's free to attend but please register via http://www.amplifiedleicester.com/.

Find out more about Amplified Leicester (and sign up if you like the look of it - you don't need to be in, or anywhere near, Leicester)
http://ampleic.ning.com/

Nagarjuna Buddhist Centre revisited

A brief meeting at Nagarjuna Buddhist Centre early this afternoon with Kadam Chris Heyes (Resident Teacher) and Chogma (Education Officer). We're following up on initial contact made yesterday at the Centre's Open Day. We spoke about common interests and ways in which their community and the Council of Faiths might be able to work alongside each other. I show them the blog entry I wrote yesterday about their Open Day; they're pleased with it, though I have to correct a few misspelled names! I look forward to adding some photos to that entry too.

Find out more about Nagarjuna Kampada Buddhist Centre in Leicester:
http://www.meditateinleicester.org/

Sunday, 19 September 2010

NAGARJUNA KADAMPA BUDDHIST CENTRE OPEN DAY


At the newly opened Nagarjuna Kadampa Buddhist Centre, Guildhall Lane for their Open Day, 1100-1600. I've been familiar with the name of this group in through the centre they run in Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire, but wasn't aware that they have a long association with Leicester, dating back some 18 years, when they had a centre in the Knighton district of the city.

The premises are certainly impressive, with a big, open and bright reception area leading into a cafe of the highest professional standard (with an imaginative and impressive vegetarian menu) that's open to the public 1000-1600 Monday to Saturday and a book and gift shop on the ground floor. I join a 15-minute tour of the building, starting in the meditation room which would easily seat over 60 people and is adorned with statues and images, the significance of which are explained to us by our guide. Then we go upstairs to a large meeting hall, where (for today only) there are various fund-raising stalls (tombola, cakes, retro clothing and bric-a-brac) and an art demonstration. I get a veggie hot dog with onions and mustard and enjoy a brief chat with Lekmo, a nun who lives at the centre.

St Katharine's Building, where the Centre is located, used to be part of the complex of properties belonging to Leicester Grammar School before it moved out to its new site in Great Glen. A visual record of the transformation of the building for its present use (in a slide series on show in the cafe today) testifies to the amount of work they've put into making it this good. We're told that the big blue door which serves as the entrance to the Centre had been sealed up on the inside and hadn't been used for twenty years.

As well as the fine premises, friendly people, warm and professional welcome, I have to give a nod to the Centre's full and imaginative programme of activities. They're running lunchtime meditation sessions every day of the week; more in-depth weekly classes on Monday evenings; day courses (topics including "Experience Inner Peace", "The Art of Enlightenment", "Finding Stillness", "The Kind Heart"); and weekend meditation retreats. I particularly fancy what they're calling, "Stop the Week ... Start the Weekend" - a relaxation meditation followed by a three-course vegetarian meal. The Centre is being promoted as an island of calm in the middle of the city - and a jolly good thing that'll be too!

I'm going back tomorrow at noon, to have a talk with Kadam Chris Heyes, Resident Teacher at the Centre. There are a few ways in which we might be able to work together, such as during the week-long Leicester Speaks event (October) and during National Inter Faith Week in November. Barry Naylor (the Urban Canon) and I have also discussed making some sort of "Spirituality Trail" through the city centre, taking in Leicester Cathedral, the Jain Centre, the Dark Side Cafe in Cank Street (meeting place for local Pagans) and this new Buddhist Centre. In particular I mention the next meeting of Cathedral AM this Wednesday (21 October). The Nagarjuna Kadampa Buddhist Centre would appear to fit right in with the kind of organisations that attend that event so I'll obtain an invitation for them.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

PROUD TO LIVE IN A CITY WHERE FAITH IS RESPECTED

This is Bishop Tim Steven's First Person column, published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Proud to live in a city where faith is respected
After a US pastor threatens to burn the Qur'an, the Bishop of Leicester speaks up for religious tolerance
This week was the ninth anniversary of 9/11. The occasion was overshadowed by the furore surrounding the threat by a hitherto anonymous pastor called Terry Jones to burn 200 copies of the Qur'an.
Pastor Jones is the head of a small evangelical Christian church in Florida called the Dove Center and his threats were in response to the plan to build a mosque close to where the Twin Towers once stood. The poet Andrew Motion said that "book-burning is first and foremost a monumental manifestation of intolerance". Pastor Jones' threatened book burning and lack of tolerance has resulted in inflamed emotions and heightened tension across the globe. His actions have been widely condemned by leading Americans from President Obama downwards.
This week's events in America are a far cry from the mood of the nation during President Obama's inauguration in January 2009, the theme of which was 'Hope'. In his augural speech, President Obama urged Americans to acknowledge the power of faith and its diversity as a positive rather than a negative force in shaping people's lives.
This theme was reflected in a statement issued this week by Christians and Muslims in Leicester in response to Pastor Jones' threats. In a joint statement, faith leaders committed themselves to continuing to build strong interfaith relations in the city and county and urged Muslims and Christians to work alongside each other to overcome bigotry and prejudice.
Suleman Nagdi, of the Federation of Muslim Organisations, said that "the burning of any religious scripture is a degrading act which all of us must speak out against''.
This week, civic leaders in Leicester and Leicestershire also committed themselves to 'unity of purpose' when they signed a new charter which expresses a wish for a society where all people can live together in peace and prosperity. By signing the charter, the leaders have committed themselves to the development of "a thriving and cohesive society of many communities, cultures, faiths and beliefs, working together for its continued success for ourselves, our children and for future generations''.
The planned actions of the pastor of the Dove Center do not reflect the true values and beliefs of Christianity whose greatest commandment is that "we love one another''.
I am proud to live and work in a city where faith is respected and where we as Christians are able to live in peace with our friends from other faiths. I hope and pray that in Leicester and Leicestershire we will continue to stand together against hatred and violence and promote harmony in our common life.

JESUS LOVES LEICESTERSHIRE


A big musical performance by a big band on a big stage this morning, in front of the big TV on Humberstone Gate. The LED above the performers says "Jesus loves Leicestershire": I do hope so!

Friday, 17 September 2010

LEICESTER SPEAKS: 2

At Leicester Adult Education College, Wellington Street, this morning for the latest meeting of the group planning Leicester Speaks - our city's iteration of Local Democracy Week. This morning we're concentrating on the Big Launch and promotion of the event. Smaller number today, but everyone has something strong and positive to contribute. As well as Parmjit Basra, from Leicester City Council Adult Skills and Learning Service, who is leading the project, there's Jiten Anand and Shakti Sharma (TouchRainbow Productions), Ted Cassidy (Head of Partnerships, De Montfort University; Chair, Phoenix Square Film & Digital Media Centre), Bez Killeen (Active Involvement Youth Worker, Leicester City Council) and Kate Merrett (Office and Projects Manager, LeicestHer Day Trust)

The website is well advanced (though will be getting a major overhaul in the week ahead), a brochure has been designed (which will bear the Council of Faiths logo alongside those of other stakeholders and partners) and we discussed some other promotional materials to reach as wide a range of people as possible. We talked about a launch event too, though I won't spill the beans on that right now. Suffice to say that our launch would come on the third day in a row that the city centre will have been used as the site for some public event (proposed demonstration by the English Defence League on Saturday 9, Leicester Marathon on Sunday 10).

All I'll say just now is that the launch of Leicester Speaks will surely be the smallest of these and should cause much less disruption.

National Inter Faith Week 2010: aims

Lots of time this morning for thinking about the forthcoming National Inter Faith Week, following yesterday's welcome news that we'll be exhibiting in Highcross again. I look back over the blog to remind myself of the aims for the week, as declared by the Inter Faith Network UK:

  • to strengthen good inter faith relations at all levels;
  • to increase awareness of the different and distinct faith communities in the UK, in particular celebrating and building on the contribution which their members make to their neighbourhoods and to wider society;
  • and to increase understanding between people of religious and non-religious belief.

Nine weeks to go - not forgetting that there's the Council of Faiths contribution to "Leicester Speaks" (AKA Local Democracy Week) to organise in the meantime!

Papal visit: how's it playing in Leicester?

Up much too early (the paper is delivered here at 0430 each morning, which combines with the occasional touch of night time hypoglaecemia to keep me out of bed), I read with interest The Guardian's coverage of the visit of Pope Benedict. I'm wryly surprised to see two of our local worthies commenting on the speech given by the Supreme Pontiff at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Suleman Nagdi, for the Federation of Muslim Organisations, and Allan Hayes, President of the Leicester Secular Society and the first humanist chaplain to the city's Lord Mayor, feature in an article entitled, "Papal visit: Linking the godless to a lack of values is wrong, say critics: Humanists, Christians, Jews and Muslims speak out for the 'common good' after pope's speech to Queen at Holyrood". As well as quoting both men at length, the article has positive things to say about them, the organisations they represent and Leicester in general.

Read the article here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/16/papal-visit-linking-godless-lack-values-wrong

Thursday, 16 September 2010

To Be Creative autumn social

To the LCB Depot, Rutland Street early evening, for the autumn social gathering, "To Be Creative". A lot of "creatives" (some of them distinctly quirky - and a few who have written their areas of specialisation on their sticky badges are beyond quirky) meet to enjoy a free drink (first one only) and to discuss possible areas of collaboration. There's a decent turn out and it's nice to see some weel kent faces (as well as some nice new ones too). Kate, Claire, Lucia et al put a lot of time and effort into occasions like this and they deserve all the props going.

I stay only an hour and slink off just as the more formal presentations begin. Much as I enjoy networking, I'm now in that phase where I need to do the work that has arisen out of my earlier networking efforts!

INTER FAITH WEEK: RETURN TO HIGHCROSS


We receive confirmation from Highcross this afternoon that they're willing and able to accommodate our exhibition for a second year during Inter Faith Week (Sun 21 - Sat 27 November). Once again we'll be in the Lower Mall but near the escalators in front of John Lewis this time. What with being a week later than last year and that bit closer to the great outdoors, it's going to be that colder; but I am very glad - and rather relieved - that Highcross has said yes to our request that they put us on show a second time.

In 2009 I had little notice to get everything ready for this event: that included commissioning the exhibition; finding a designer; writing copy for the banners, a new leaflet and rebooted website; raising funds to pay for it all, getting the exhibition and supporting material produced on time; doing the necessary paperwork for Highcross; obtaining the services of volunteers to front the display; publicise the event among the faith communities and in the media... Hopefully this time round, there won't be such a rush! The main exhibition is ready, we know what kind of giveaway material worked last time and I've got contact details for those who were good with the public (and each other) last time and who (hopefully) will want to do it again.

Oh, I can hardly wait! And I mean that most sincerely folks, I really do!

my management group

Meeting of my management group this morning at the Welcome Centre. Full complement of members today, representing five of the eight religions which are members of Leicester Council of Faiths. Among the matters we consider today: the Jimi Hendrix Converse shoe controversy; our "Faiths Trail" event on the weekend just gone by; our relationship with NHS Leicester City, Leicester Partnership and the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership; our involvement in Local Democracy Week (or "Leicester Speaks" as it's been rebranded in the local setting) and National Inter Faith Week; and the process of decamping to my new office downstairs. I've got the work space nice and tidy so I can show it off to the members of my management group today, but I can't help wondering if (unconsciously) I've worked too hard to turn it into a more efficient version of what I struggled to create at home for the better part of four years. Same colour carpet, same colour walls, same IKEA Billy bookshelf (same books for the most part). No sofa bed though - I certainly wouldn't fancy sleeping in it!