Thursday, 30 June 2011


At Nottingham Conference Centre for "The Equality Act 2010 and its Duties: How do you use yours?" a conference for Voluntary and Community Sector organisations in the East Midlands, offered by the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP).

Rahat Ahmed comes along today, since part of our arrangement for her summer internship with Leicester council of Faiths is that I'd help her get as rounded a picture of our work as possible - and give her the chance to join in our networking opportunities. Rosemarie Fitton is also here, since she was persuaded to act as a scribe at one fo the workshops when she was shadowing me at an REDP Core Partners meeting during he short placement with the Council of Faiths.

Here's a list of the organisation represented at the conference. Most of these are live links to their website (in the East Midlands, if one is available). A small number don't appear to have any online presence, local, regional or national.

We have a large room that we use for exhibitions and promotional materials for organisations which are members of REDP's Core Reference Group. It's a varied and interesting display, which shows the diversity of our partnership in a more concrete form than I've ever seen it before.

REDP's new set of leaflets is on show; they attract a lot of interest and several compliments. The idea of making one leaflet for each protected characteristic came as a last-minute proposal after some of the team saw the leaflet i'd done for the Council of Faiths. The Council of Faiths leaflet, though, has been left in the office today. Oh, the irony! I think I might have moved the box the other day, when I took out some sample copies.

In the morning, we have three speakers:
Katrina Lidbetter, Deputy Head of Strategy, Government Equalities Office: The Government's view: The New Direction for Equality and Diversity" 
Amanda Arris, Chief Executive, Equality and Diversity Forum: "The Equality Act 2010 in detail and the implications for NGOs"
Andrew Hogan, Barrister, Ropewalk Chambers: "What can be done when the Equality Act 2010 has been breached"

In the afternoon, we have four 50-minute workshops, each of which is delivered twice:
Crown Prosecution Service East Midlands
Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership
Strategic Health Authority
Unity Law

Grace Moronfolu (Equality and Diversity manager, East Midlands) &  Adele Clarke (Area business Manager, East Midlands) who led the workshops for the CPS
I'm chairing the Crown Prosecution Service workshops (Rosemarie Fitton is official note taker).

The four Core Partners of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership are all heavily and actively involved today: Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre, Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living and The Race Equality Centre. Members of staff from REDP and LCIL do a great job (Carolyn, Kelly, Laura, Liz, Sophie and her ever-lovely hair) as do our volunteers today (Natalie and Sunny).

Follow Nottingham Conference Centre on Facebook and Twitter (@TheNCC).

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


Leicester SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education) meets this afternoon at the Quaker Meeting House, Queens Road. A speedy taxi ride gets me here from Global Education Leicester-Shire's strawberry tea at Southfields Library, just as the meeting starts at 1645.

One of the main purposes of Leicester SACRE is to receive requests for "Determinations" from city schools. If the headteacher of a school feels that the provision of collective worship within the broadest interpretation of the law is not suitable for that particular school, then the headteacher should consider whether it might be appropriate to ask SACRE to grant a "determination" in accordance with the law. A determination is the decision of SACRE whether it's appropriate to lift the requirement for wholly or mainly broadly Christian collective worship to be provided for the school, or any class or description of pupils at the school, having regard to any circumstances relating to the family background of the pupils for which the determination is requested. The SACRE must review the determination if the school so requests and, in any event, within five years of the date when the determination was made or last reviewed. Members of SACRE discuss such requests in fixed blocks, reflecting their own interests and associations before voting on whether or not to grant the determination. Today we hear a Determination application from the Head Teacher of Catherine Junior School, supported by the Chair of the school's governors.

Leicester Council of Faiths attends meetings of SACRE as an invited observer; we have the right to speak and query, and can get involved in all sorts of activities and projects, but we don't vote on determinations or any other processes.

Among the activites that consitute the "Core Service" that Leicester Council of Faiths delivers for the City, we are requested to "Contribute fully to the SACRE". One of the ways that we've been doing this recently is by helping develop a set of booklets with the series title, "Engaging with Faith Communities in Leicester". Today we see how these booklets have progressed from their paper form, as Ben Robinson from Leicester City Council gives a quick introduction to how they will appear in their electronic format.

Following on from that, I've been asked to give a short presentation about the features and benefits of creating and developing a blog for Leicester SACRE. Some members have been talking about having a freer sort of online area where they can share ideas, seek and give support in their teaching activities etc. It's neither possible nor permissible to do this on the regular SACRE page hosted by the City Council, so a blog might be part of the answer to this perceived need. I'm going to give it a try - starting with an entry for this very meeting!

Linda Bradshaw, ACT (Advanced Skills Teacher) at Rushey Mead School gets us up out of our seats, responding to questions that she's stuck on the walls around the room. these demonstrated ways that students are being encouraged to distinguish between opinion and evidence in RE and learning the complementary (or sometimes contradictory) ways that they can be used in studying the subject.

The last item of business is feedback from two members who attended the recent Beaumanor Partnership RE conference. Being from two very different traditions and representing two very different points of view, their reports made for a stimulating contrast!

We end this the last SACRE meeting of the academic year with some time for eating together and socialising. The pleasant gardens of the Quaker Meeting House on this warm and sunny evening provide a lovely setting for this.


Claire Plumb (GELS Co-ordinator), Nilesh Chauhan (Curriculum Enrichment Officer with Leicester City Council), Clare Carr (GELS Co-ordinator)
To Southfields Library this afternoon, where Global Education Leicester-Shire (GELS) is holding an informal meeting and social get together to give long-standing members a chance to reconnect, and to welcome people who have joined the network recently. Borrowing a lovely idea from Whitehall Primary School, GELS plays host to a "Strawberry Tea".

This is a very enjoyable interlude in a very busy day for me. I'm due to attend the meeting of Leicester SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education) at the Friends' Meeting House, Queens Road, which starts at 1630. So I'm only able to stay for half an hour - long enough for a quick cuppa, a few spoonfuls of Eton Mess and a scone ("Me? A scone? Go on!") But I wouldn't have missed giving my support to the old team today. ("Less of the 'old' if you don't mind!" says Clare C.)

I'm glad to hear, later in the day, that reinforcements turn up after I have to leave. Just as well: there was quite a pile of strawberries to get through!


The Coalition has set up a website called Red Tape Challenge. This has become quite controversial for a number of reasons, that I probably don't need to go into here. The Coalition has put the Equality Act 2010 on this website, asking for comments on whether the Act should be retained in full, amended in part or scrapped altogether.

The seven paragraphs immediately below are copied directly from the Red Tape Challenge website, explaining its purpose. Following that, you'll see the response by Leicester Council of Faiths to the consultation on the Equality Act 2010 as part of the Red Tape Challenge.
Good regulation is a good thing. It protects consumers, employees and the environment, it helps build a more fair society and can even save lives. But over the years, regulations – and the inspections and bureaucracy that go with them – have piled up and up. This has hurt business, doing real damage to our economy. And it’s done harm to our society too. When people are confronted by a raft of regulations whenever they try to volunteer or play a bigger part in their neighbourhood, they begin to think they shouldn’t bother.
If we want to reverse this trend and encourage greater responsibility in our society, then we have got to trust people and give them more freedom to do the right thing. So this government has set a clear aim: to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation. With more than 21,000 regulations active in the UK today, this won’t be an easy task – but we’re determined to cut red tape.
To do that, we need your help. You have to deal with these rules day-in, day-out. This website is for you to tell us which regulations are working and which are not; what should be scrapped, what should be saved and what should be simplified.
Every few weeks we’re publishing the regulations affecting one specific sector or industry – from retail to hospitality to construction. And throughout the process we’re publishing the general regulations that cut across all sectors – from rules on equality to those on employment. All these regulations will be open for your comments. So if you own a shop, if you’re running a small business, if you’re a volunteer who is fed up with pointless or outdated rules – get online and tell us.
Once you’ve had your say, Ministers will have three months to work out which regulations they want to keep and why. But here’s the most important bit – the default presumption will be that burdensome regulations will go. If Ministers want to keep them, they have to make a very good case for them to stay.
So get involved. If you’ve been frustrated by red tape for years, tell us about it. Together we can fight back – and free up business and society from the burden of excessive regulation.
This site is designed to promote open discussion of ways in which the aims of existing regulation can be fulfilled in the least burdensome way possible. The presence of a particular regulation or law on this website should not be read as implying any intention on the part of the Government to remove that regulation or law from the statute book. The purpose of this exercise is to open government up to the public.
Leicester Council of Faiths supports fully the retention of the Equality Act 2010 in its entirety. We are firmly opposed to the removal or reduction of any of its provisions. Indeed, the act has already been weakened needlessly by (for example) the failure to implement the Socio-Economic Duty and the provision for Dual Discrimination.
The Equality Act 2010 updates, replaces and unifies earlier legislation, built up over the last 40 years and more. If the Act were to be scrapped, what legislation would remain to protect and safeguard the rights of some of the most vulnerable members of society?
We have a special interest in the sections of the Equality Act 2010 related to religion or belief. We re pleased that this Act rewards the considerable effort that has been expended by individuals and organisations over many year to accord religion or belief the equivalent status to the other “protected characteristics”. We also acknowledge and applaud the fact that the Act in its totality recognises, for the first time in legislation, that individuals, families and communities are, more often than not, a bundle of differing characteristics. People for whom religion or belief has a central part in their lives can also be old or young, disabled, male or female (or be involved in gender reassignment), show certain characteristics identifiable with any racial or ethnic community, be gay, lesbian or transsexual. The approach taken in the Equality Act 2010 helps show how these characteristics can be reconciled and harmonised, rather than being seen as competing in a hierarchy of equalities. This aspect of the Act directly links equality with diversity, which is a positive factor in our present and future society.
Leicester Council of Faiths does not accept the assertion that someone is automatically disadvantaged or vulnerable simply because they possess or belong to one of the “protected characteristics”. The nature of these characteristics differs widely. Some have a positive influence on people’s lives, rather than a debilitating one. For example, we would not accept that being born into a tradition characterised by religion or belief, or being a member of a community identified with a religion or belief, is necessarily something to be compensated for by legislation. We are not arguing for special privileges for any group or community determined by religion or belief or any culture or identity associated with or determined by those factors. But we do believe that in twenty-first century Britain, we should be able to build a society where all people can live free of the threat of religion (either its presence or absence) being used as an excuse to discriminate against them.
Hopefully, the placing of the Equality Act 2010 on the Red Tape Challenge website will inspire those who care about equality, diversity, fairness and justice to find their voices and speak up in its favour. Reduction in the protection this Act affords would be a backward step and reprehensible in the extreme – not only for Britain today, but for future generations too.

Read our response on the Red Tape Challenge website. The Council of Faiths is currently sitting at the top of a total of 302 replies on this page.

REDP: stand by for action!

At Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL) this morning, where REDP's Core Partners are meeting, in preparation for our conference at Nottingham Conference Centre tomorrow.

The conference is on the theme, "The Equality Act 2010 and its Duties". We've had a rush of registrations at the last minute (as we were sure we would) and have good strong numbers).

I get first sight of the new leaflets that I helped produce at the end of last week - and mighty fine things they are too. Everyone seems pleased with them, I'm glad to say. There's one for just about each of the Protected Characteristics: Age; Disability; Gender Reassignment; Race; Religion or Belief; Sex; Sexual Orientation (as well as a generic one we've called "Brief Definitions"). In the end, we didn't have time to do leaflets on the remaining two protected Characteristics: Marriage and Civil Partnership; and Maternity and Pregnancy. We've got a new leaflet for Leicester Council of Faiths entitled "Religion or Belief: A Protected Characteristic in the Equality Act 2010" (Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living and the Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre also have new promotional material linking them to their Protected Characteristics in the Equality Act).

Monday, 27 June 2011


A farewell party early this evening at St Philip's Church, Evington, for Alan Race. More than a hundred people turn out to express their good wishes to someone who has been an influential figure in inter faith work, not only in Leicester but also far beyond, for more than a quarter of a century.

Rev Canon Dr Alan Race has been Priest-in-Charge at St Philip's since July 2007. He helped develop a new outlook for St Philip's, which had become a church for a minority community among residents in the parish who are affiliated to other faiths. He has also been Dean of Postgraduate Studies next door at St Philip's Centre for Study and Engagement in a Multi-Faith Society. Alan is an Executive Member of the World Congress of Faiths and has for many years been editor of its journal,

Alan moved to Leicester in 1983, around the time when he was beginning to stand out as one among a small but persuasive number of scholars and practitioners extending the vision and experience of Christians to acknowledge and engage with the world views of other faiths. Leicester provided Alan with fertile ground to strengthen and deepen his studies and writings on this theme.

Alan chaired a conference at Leicester University's Stamford Hall, 5-8 August 2001 entitled "Multi-Ethnic Britain: What Future?", which took its lead from the Parekh Report, which had been published the year before. I attended that conference, which was in itself a very interesting occasion - although, as you can imagine faithful reader, whatever we may have said and done there was somewhat overtaken by events in New York and Washington hardly one month later.

Alan was on the panel of three (along with Angela Jagger and Tony Nelson) who interviewed me for my initial post with Leicester Council of Faiths, back in May 2007. Alan was Treasurer of the Council of Faiths then.

Alan is leaving Leicester to become Rector of St Margaret's Church in Lee, South London. He's sold me on the idea of going down there to visit him once he's settled, with his description of St Margaret's as part church, part art gallery.

Among his many published books (either solely or with others) are: Interfaith Encounter: The Twin Tracks of Theology and Dialogue (SCM Press, 2001) and Christian Approaches to Other Faiths (joint ed., with Paul Hedges, SCM Press, 2008). He is also editor of the intermationally renowned journal Interreligious Insight (previously called World Faiths Encounter). In 2008, Alan wrote a pithy piece for the Guardian on the topic, Should Religions Compete?

The cake served this evening was one of those ones that has a photograph reproduced in the icing. I got a piece that had Alan's head on it. I hoped that upon eating it, I would feel my IQ or my wisdom or something shoot up like a sugar rush. Sadly, it was not to be.

In the photo above, Alan Race (right) shares a joke with Resham Singh Sandhu at his leaving do, St Philip's Church this evening (Ramesh Majithia is in the background, between them). You could hardly get a more inter-faith photo about Leicester if you tried.


The Core Partners of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership have been conducting "peer evaluations" of each other's role in the project. Leicester Council of Faiths has carried out a peer evaluation of the Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre and they have done the same for us. Here's the evaluation of how we've performed with REDP to date:

1.  What do you identify as the benefit of being involved in REDP? 
Involvement in REDP has helped our organisation establish Religion or Belief (as one of the new kids on the block, in terms of equality legislation) as a serious “Protected Characteristic”. We hope that it has helped show those who may be said to adhere to an old-fashioned hierarchy of equalities that no Protected Characteristic can be treated as more or less important than any of the others. 

Involvement in REDP has helped contextualise Religion or Belief as one amongst a specifically identified number of “Protected Characteristics”. We hope that this has helped show those who would make special claims for the significance of Religion or Belief that equalities fit together and that they cannot do good in society if they are in competition for top spot. 

Involvement in REDP has been the single most significant factor in making the post of our Equality and Diversity Officer sustainable. Without the income obtained through work done for REDP, it is highly likely that this post would not now exist. Consequently, our organisation has been able to do many things made possible only by the contribution of REDP toward sustainability of this post.

2.  How do you represent REDP reports to your Governing Body?
A Personnel Management Group, comprising senior officers of the organisation, past and present, receives regular updates on work done for / with REDP, directly from our Equality and Diversity Officer in writing and face-t-face in regular meetings.

Our Equality and Diversity Officer reports, verbally and in writing, to regular meetings of our Board of Directors and of the full membership.

Updates on issues related to REDP are posted on our Equality and Diversity Officer’s blog and by him on our organisation’s Twitter feed. Members of our governing body are at liberty to read and comment these and to ask any questions about them that they consider appropriate or necessary.

3.  How do you include REDP principles in the general work of your organisation?
Leicester Council of Faiths is a user-led organisation, representing the major faith communities in the city. It is our policy and practice to move forward together, rather than favour the interests of one or other particular community. We recognise the place of the Protected Characteristics in relation to religion and to the faith communities represented. A person’s faith – or the absence of it – is one part of their identity. For some it may be the most important part in terms of how they see themselves or want to be seen; in others it will be of lesser significance. This may vary any particular person at different times in their lives as their circumstances and fortunes change. There are older Baha’is, disabled Buddhists, gay Christians, Hindus with learning difficulties, Jains with mental health issues, Jews in civil partnerships, Muslims of different racial or ethnic background, Sikhs who are pregnant or in the early stages of parenthood. Being a person of faith, or being affiliated to any particular religion, does not balance, cancel out or confer immunity from any of the other Protected Characteristics. Our organisation acknowledges this and we work to raise similar awareness among our members and the communities they represent and with whom they work of the cross-cutting nature of equalities, as they affect individuals, families, communities and society.

4.  What is the percentage of time spent on REDP business as an overall percentage of your business
In terms of the work of our Equality and Diversity Officer, at last 50% of the working week.

5.  In what way has your involvement enabled you to develop your organisation?
Involvement in REDP has established a new sense and practice of partnership between Leicester and Council of Faiths and the three other Core Partners and, to a lesser extent, with the organisations who comprise the wider membership of the Core Reference Group.

Involvement in REDP has helped our organisation develop skills and knowledge, through collaborative working with the other Core Partners, which have, to differing degrees filled the role of mentors to us in this work.

It has also enabled and empowered us to appear in arenas and forums of debate and discussion where a more strictly constrained inter-faith organisation might find it difficult to be included or invited.

6.  What skills, knowledge and experience have you been able to bring to REDP
First and foremost, specialist knowledge and experience of religion or belief as a Protected Characteristic.

As an organisation, Leicester Council of Faiths brings to the table a quarter of a century of shared experience working with the diversity of the faith communities in the city and beyond. Many of our members occupy prominent and influential positions in their own – and the wider – community. The organisation’s good name and positive reputation shouldn’t be underestimated as a strong, positive contribution to REDP.

As an individual, our Equality and Diversity Officer (who does virtually all the work on behalf of Leicester Council of Faiths for / with REDP) has been able to draw on lengthy experience in adult education (including a period of specialist teaching inside the mental health service), in the world of publishing, as a copy-writer, editor and proof-reader, and many years working in multicultural, multi-faith settings (this last since as far back as 1979).

7.  How have you been able to use the information you have gained from REDP to benefit your stakeholders?
By helping ensure a more accurate, up-to-date and realistic knowledge and understanding of the facts and implications of legislation.

By subtly yet assertively challenging some of the lingering prejudices against individuals and groups associated with other Protected Characteristics (e.g. disabled people, people identifying with LGBT issues).

8.  As a Core Member, how have you been able to influence the direction of REDP?
Regular input at monthly meetings of Core Partners and to the business carried on between them.

Frequent contribution to comments and criticism of documents related to our areas of interest. Our organisation has led on some of these (e.g. Celebrating Civil Partnerships on Religious Premises; Developing Indicators to Measure National Well-Being; Worklessness and Benefit Dependency

Commitment to and development of use of social media (blogging, Facebook, Twitter) to help promote the work of REDP. Our organisation has been leading on this since May 2011.

Involvement in planning and execution of briefings, conferences, seminars and similar events.

9.  How has your involvement ensured that milestones are achieved?
See response to 8 above and 10 below.

Also, as one of the Core Partners, Leicester Council of Faiths has contributed to the design and refinement of milestones for the project.

10. How have you been able to interact with the Core Reference Group?
Regular input at meetings of Core Reference Group and to its business carried on between them.

Frequent contribution to comments and criticism of documents related to its areas of interest.

Researching, identifying and recommending potential members of the Core Reference Group to fill seats for different Protected Characteristics.

11. In considering the evaluation of the first year what changes did you make in the way that you worked with REDP?
Equality and Diversity Officer sought to obtain more direct and personal “buy in” from Directors of our organisation, assisting commitment and appreciation of the organisation to REDP.

12. What changes if any do you feel REDP needs to undertake to be sustainable in the future?
We need to develop a brighter, more dynamic and attractive virtual presence, making us easier to find – and more attractive and appealing when people do find us!

We need to exploit every opportunity to ensure that our name and mission is known everywhere and by everyone whom we want to know about us. We have done very little to promote ourselves in the media for example; we should certainly do more of this.

We have to be – and appear to be – more inclusive. I’m afraid that sometimes we may appear to be following an old-fashioned agenda that looks more 20th century than 21st. Sometimes we can be perceived as more backward-glancing than forward-looking.

I don’t believe we’re making the most of the Diversity aspect of our name, our opportunities or our work. We can appear too legalistic, which I fear is putting off some of those we could be helping – and who could be helping us.

As a group, we’ve developed particular strengths in the planning and hosting of events. We should capitalise on this.

We need to establish ourselves as a brand encompassing all that goes with that in terms of expectation, identity, loyalty, reputation. When the topic of Equality and Diversity comes up, REDP should be the first name on the team sheet!

Sunday, 26 June 2011


Went to see The Way this evening at Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre. The film stars Martin Sheen as Tom, a middle-aged widower, who travels from California to Europe to collect the body of his son, Daniel (played in flashback by Sheen's real life son, Emilio Estevez, who also wrote, produced and directed the film) who has died in the Pyrenees while walking the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. This is "The Way of Saint James". Driven by his profound sadness and his desire to understand his son better, Tom decides to embark on The Way himself, leaving his "California bubble life" behind.

I first thought of seeing this as a companion piece to Apocalypse Now (which I'd seen in a newly released digital print at Phoenix Square a couple of weeks before). They have a superficial, if spooky, feel of being bookends, since both have Martin Sheen undertake a perilous journey of self-discovery, meeting with a mix of bizarre characters on the way. But whereas Apocalypse Now notoriously features helicopters strafing Vietnamese villagers to the sound of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyrie, The Way's greatest moment of peril has Sheen jump into a fast-flowing stream to rescue his rucksack as it is swept away downstream. But in the context of this moving, personal story, there's nothing trivial about that. The rucksack contains the MacGuffin of this story: his son Daniel's ashes. While Captain Kilgore revels in the smell of napalm in the morning, Tom and his fellow pilgrms more ofthen than not awake to the smell of fresh brewed coffee and new baked bread in one of the hostelries devoted to hosting the travellers. But there are privations and sacrifices of other, deeper sorts that have to be made along The Way.

Martin Sheen has ascended to the position of an icon of decency and righteousness, the way earlier stars like Glenn Ford or Jimmy Stewart were looked on by earlier generations. I loved him as President Bartlett in The West Wing (1999-2006). Who didn't? Nobel Laureate Jed Bartlett was infinitely preferable to the real incumbent in the White House. I came late to the show, never having watched a single episode on TV but troughing it on DVD (although it still took more than a couple of years for me to get through all 154 episodes).

I found this an unexpectedly beautiful film, full of genuinely moving little touches that set the ancient rituals of pilgrimage firmly in the modern world. Their journey progresses over idyllic Spanish countryside towards the Cathedral in Santiago where it is believed the remains of the apostle St James are held. Most pilgrims on The Way choose to carry a scallop shell with them to symbolised their journey in honour of St James. According to legend, scallop shells covered the body of St James after it was found on the shore of the Galician coast. Some of the pilgrims that the film shows on this ancient route have iPods and mobiles, the skyline is punctuated by spinning wind turbines and on the last night of walking the route, Tom maxes out his credit cards on one night of luxury in a swanky hotel for the ill-assorted quartet of travellers who have come together on The Way. the three whom Tom meets and walks with are among those who seek physical or spiritual healing for themselves or others, penance, enlightenment (these lofty aims are occasionally accompanied by, or disguised by, more mundane desires such as quitting smoking or losing weight).

I don't think I've heard so many tearful sniffles at a movie, nor so many gasps at relatively low-key incidents (though I probably don't go to films where the audience is meant to gasp or cry). One member of the audience sat weeping through the end credits and almost had to be escorted from the theatre by staff. That's how moving this film was.

This one definitely goes on the list of movies to be proposed for a short season at Phoenix Square during National Inter Faith Week later this year.

Friday, 24 June 2011


Update on the number of pageviews the blog has received from different parts of the world in the week just ending - in the week that we exceeded 30,000.
  1. United Kingdom 610
  2. United States 207
  3. Ukraine 116
  4. Iran 49
  5. Germany 47
  6. France 38
  7. Australia 35
  8. Denmark 22
  9. Russia 18
  10. Spain 15

This week's total: 1,157 (last week's: 1,249). For the second week in a row, the blog has received more than a thousand pageviews. These are aggregates of figures from the top ten countries only. Blogger's stats software doesn't show me numbers of pageviews below the tenth-ranking country.

The world map at the top of this post is the graphic that I see on the stats page. The darker the green, the more pageviews from that country. I can see different versions of this map for "now" (whenever that is), today, this week, this month and "all time" (which seems to mean the last 12 months). They're updated each time I look at that them. 

Thursday, 23 June 2011


At the launch of a new exhibition and website for Nottingham Inter Faith Council. This is taking place at The Space, in Nottingham Contemporary: a striking venue for the event. I'm particularly impressed by the big screen, lowered from the high ceiling, on which screenshots from the website are projected.

In the photo above, my Nottingham counterpart (and fellow Glaswegian to boot), John Murray, who invited me this evening. John and I had spoken at length about this new exhibition, as Nottingham gained some advantage from our use of these pop-up banners for the last couple of years.

There's more content in this new exhibition than there is in ours. This one's more like a set of leaflets on legs. "Faiths in Nottingham" showcases the nine communities on the city's Inter-Faith Council (Bahá'í, Brahma Kumaris, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Quaker, Sikh). Each of the banners contains sections on what members of each faith believe and what they do as well as a variety of illustrations.

There's a nice complementary set of leaflets, which have the same text as is on each of the banners, plus information about local contacts for follow up enquiries.

There's a strong turnout: about 75-80 people by my reckoning. I meet a few old Bahá'í friends whom I haven't seen for several years. Some of them take a moment to recognise me until I start to speak; have I changed that much in recent times? I should just be thankful for having a distinctive voice!

Civil partnerships on religious premises

As part of my work with the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP), I've been leading on our response to a document from the Government Equalities Office entitled, "Civil partnerships on religious premises: A consultation". The consultation period closed this afternoon and I've just sent in a completed version of the response template. Read "Civil partnerships on religious premises: A consultation" for yourself and see what you think of it.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


At Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre this morning for the fortnightly meeting of CreativeCoffee Club. I've asked Rahmat Ahmed, our summer intern, to come along. I hope she'll get the chance to meet some of the people who might be involved in the celebration and promotion of our 25th anniversary.

A few of us talked briefly today about some of the other CreativeCoffee Clubs we'd heard of, which started starting up during the time we've been doing this (in Cardiff, Liverpool and London, among other places). As far as any of us know, they've all folded and we're the only one still on the go!

There's a nice mix of new faces and old hands. I'd like to give a bit of a puff to some of the people I spoke with here today:

I'd given Jiten Anand a pile of our glossy social media flyers for distribution at An Indian Summer at the Phoenix, on the weekend just gone. These are now available alongside all the other brochures and leaflets that can be picked up by customers and visitors. We've never been able to get any of our promotional material put out on display in Phoenix Square before, so I was chuffed to see this.

In the photo above: Jayne Childs, co-ordinator of CreativeCoffee Club (and Amplified Leicester) silhoutted against a display of her own textile work on the digital screen in Phoenis Square cafe bar.

Monday, 20 June 2011


Monday evenings wouldn't be Monday evenings without doing something with my friends in Christians Aware. This term, Christians Aware has organised a series of visits to various places of worship around Leicester. This one is to the Jain Centre in Oxford Street.

There are nine of us in the group and (as is the way at Christians Aware events) four of the party are new to me. In the photograph, on the left is Satesh Shah, our host at the Jain Centre and guide to its riches this evening.


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Charting the decline of Christianity
While on the one hand I applaud the magnificent and biggest Hindu Temple in the Midlands, on the other, I wonder if the people of Leicester notice the demise of Christianity in our city.
This is not, repeat not, a racist view as many of my friends are Leicester Asians, but a statement of fact.
I was born and bred in Leicester and brought up in a Church of England School, Saint Barnabas, whose church is soon to be sold. I was married at St Alban's Church, in Weymouth Street, thankfully saved at the moment, but whose sister churches, St Gabriel's and St Peter's, Belgrave, full of history, are up for sale.
Add St Saviour's Church and that makes four churches up for sale, which I feel is only the thin end of the wedge.
The writing is on the wall for Leicester obviously sooner than later. Maybe even now we have more temples and mosques than churches and we Christians will be the minority.
After living here all my life, I now feel a total foreigner in my own city and am considering moving out!
G L Astill, Leicester


This article is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Hundreds enjoy faith event
By Gemma Peplow
Hundreds of worshippers took to the streets for a holy celebration yesterday.
Members of the Jain Centre, in the city centre, were joined by other followers from all over the country for a procession.
With many worshippers banging drums and others sprinkling holy water, they paraded outside the centre, in Oxford Street, and around part of the nearby De Montfort University campus.
Organisers said up to 700 people took part in the day's celebrations, which included prayers and a meal inside the centre after the procession in honour of Mantuga-Suri, a monk who wrote the religion's most famous prayer.
Neeta Kothari, 47, and her sister-in-law Smita, 45, were among the centre members taking part.
Neeta, who lives in the Abbey Lane area of the city, said: "This is a holy ceremony and it is very special for us. People have come from all over the country to take part.
"This is a day when you are not thinking about anyone else apart from God."
Smita, who lives in Hamilton, Leicester, said: "We're proud to be taking part. We're volunteering as well so we are helping out."
Rajesh Mehta, 57, travelled from Birmingham to join the celebrations.
He said: "I think this is a very good way of celebrating. It's a very proud day."
Mitesh Shah, 35, travelled from Solihull and was taking part in the procession with several family members, including his two daughters Tvara, nine, and Kavya, four.
"It's an important day where you meet people and worship God," he said.
Divyesh and Rina Shah, of Stoneygate, Leicester, also took part.
Rina, 45, said: "It's a very religious and spiritual event."
Jainism is an Indian religion which promotes pacifism.
Yesterday's event was being held in Leicester for the first time.
According to legend, Mantuga-Suri was chained and imprisoned by a king.
He composed the prayer, the Bhaktamara Stotra, in prison. With the completion of each verse, a chain broke, and he was free when all the verses were finished.
Jain Centre president Smita Shah said: "We have had hundreds of people here.
"It's been a wonderful day. It's very important to have people coming together, with everybody taking part, from elderly people to children.
"I would like to thank everyone who has been involved to make the day a huge success."
She said the event was expected to raise about £10,000 in donations, with some of the proceeds being given to a charity for disabled people.
George Ballentyne, of the Leicester Council of Faiths, said: "It's a great event. The Council of Faiths is really glad to see the range of diversity in the city."


Today is the first day in post for our summer intern, Rahat Ahmed. She'll be with us for six weeks (till the end of July) helping to co-ordinate our 25th anniversary celebrations. Hence her title: "Silver Jubilee Promotions Assistant".

Rahat has come to us through an internship scheme promoted by De Montfort University, where she graduated in Psychology. Among other experience, Rahat has worked with Leicester City Council as Communications and Research Officer in the Corporate Equalities Team; with LeicestHERday Trust as an interviewer on the Alice Hawkins Project; and as a Student Sexual Health Advisor at De Montfort University.

I'm looking forward to working with Rahat during this short period. I'm confident that she'll help us make the most of the opportunities that present themselves to Leicester Council of Faiths in our Silver Jubilee year.


This article is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Worshippers in first big festival since blast
Hare Krishna worshippers have held their first major public display following an explosion at their temple.
Dancers and singers from all over the world entertained the crowds in Humberstone Gate, in the city centre, at the event on Saturday.
The Leicester Hare Krishna devotees were left devastated after an explosion destroyed their temple in Thoresby Street, North Evington, in September.
The explosion and subsequent fire left some people homeless, as they lived at the temple.
The worshippers, who have been holding weekly gatherings in rented premises ever since, were finally ready for their free festival, which included Bengali drum displays, Hare Krishna chanting and the Leicester Afro Kubanza drummers, at the weekend.
Dancer Anapayini Jakupko, who grew up in Leicester but moved to America 12 years ago, travelled back to perform with the headline act, the Bhakti Dance Seva Ensemble.
Anapayini said: "Leicester is very close to my heart, as I was raised in the Iskcon (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) community here.
"My father was instrumental in starting the temple about 20 years ago, and now we feel honoured to be able to offer our help."

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Avenue Community Church at Clarendon Park Summer Fair

I spend a pleasant hour or so this afternoon at the Clarendon Park Summer Fair. The photo above is of one of a number and variety of displays that lined both sides of Queens Road. This one is the Avenue Community Church stall, where I stopped for a few minutes and spoke to a very nice young woman called Gillian, who is from Kansas (and, yes, I made the obvious joke - and Gillian had the good grace to smile at it). I gave her my card and she gave me some information about the church's activities: most notably "Sunday in the Park", a week today (26 June, 1400-1700). Bearing in mind the title of that Stephen Sondheim musical, how can I refuse such an invitation?

Avenue Community Church was "planted" from Knighton Evangelical Free Church in 2005. They describe themselves as being made up of a variety of people, from toddlers to students to grandparents. They meet together on Sunday mornings (1030-1200) at Avenue Primary School for an informal time including singing, prayer, a talk based on a passage from the Bible, children's activities, creche, refreshments and chat. They aim to be family-friendly and accessible to visitors.


Leicester's Jain community came out onto the streets today (well, into Magazine Square, to be precise) to celebrate Bhaktamara Stotra Poojan. This is the first time they've done this in public. I arrive not long before the end of the acitivity, but am glad I see at least some of it.

There's a young woman standing on the sidelines with a reporter's notepad. It strikes me that she might be a reporter. I go up to her and ask, "Are you a reporter by any chance?" At first she seems a wee bit wary of me (who wouldn't be, to be fair?) but when i give her my card, she gives me hers in exchange and asks if I'd give a comment for the Leicester Mercury. Happy to be asked, I do so.

I also give my card to the Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, who's in attendance, standing between the two Doctors Mehta. it's not that I don't think the Mayor can't find me when he needs to - but I'd like to direct him toward our social media, so that he (or at least someone on his team) to follow our activities on a frequent and regular basis.

This is a joyous, uplfting occasion - with colourful costumes, uplifting music and vibrant dancing. I hope that the Jain community will feel emboldened to do more of such things in public. Harry and Grace are here with me - and they seem to love it (particularly an old chap in a colourfully decorated mobility scooter).

Saturday, 18 June 2011


Early this evening I get to make a  humble contribution to the lavish event that is An Indian Summer at Phoenix Square. I'm giving a talk entitled, "How diverse is Leicester?" This is described ambitiously in the brochure (photo above of the printed edition - with our logo prominent on the recto - and online) as "A new way of looking at links between Leicester's diverse communities and the cultures of India. An exploration of the two ways of life in different parts of the world."

We're in the Screen Room, the smallest of the three projection areas. It usually holds 30 people at most. With a table out front, there's not much room to move. We were originally booked into the much larger ETC Suite upstairs (where the Amplified Leicester meetings are held) but at the last minute we've been swapped over with the Laughter Yoga session. It takes a while for everyone to settle and to get the tech working. There's no clear indication on the room, or the corridor leading to it, what's going on in here so a few people come to the door, peer in, hesitate, then back out. At least two people decide the're in the wrong meeting as soon as I start speaking. By the time we get underway there are just over 20 people in the room.

To paraphrase Hot Chocolate: "It started with a quiz". Before asking "How diverse is Leicester?" I get everyone there to go through a short exercise entitled, "How diverse are you?" as a small sample of the local population. Gracie passes sheets out to everyone, on which they're asked to speak to other people in the room and tick a box for each person they meet here who ...
  • Was born into a mixed faith family
  • Attended a "faith school"
  • Has visited a place of worship of a faith other than their own
  • Thinks the world would be a better place without religion
  • Has visited a place of pilgrimage overseas while on holiday
  • Has changed their religion
  • Has a religious symbol of some sort in their car
  • Burns incense at home
  • Is godparent to someone else's child
  • Has taken part in a religious activity of some sort within the last week
  • Reads some kind of scripture every day
  • Meditates
  • Has taken part in a pilgrimage
  • Has a partner or spouse who practises a religion different from them
  • Considers religion essential in their life
  • Has given up altogether the religion they were born into
  • Has protested in some way against "faith schools"
  • Follows their religion because it's what their family has always done

In terms of keeping things tight and running to schedule, it would be better to have asked them to fill in the questions for themselves; but the point of it is to get them talking to each other and interacting, keeping the session from being a one-way transmission of information. It works well in that sense - some of them don't get any further than just the first few questions, they're so busy talking to each other about what the questions raise!

The audience isn't shy at asking questions of their own. There's some positive interaction - between them and me (and the kids!) and among themselves. All we're able to do is skim the surface of the topic - but I encourage them to keep thinking about it (and keep talking about it) after the session is over.

Harry operates the PowerPoint with precision, surely and steadily; Gracie distributes leaflets, keyrings, greetings cards etc. We may appear under-rehearsed, but only a right curmudgeon would begrudge what the children bring to the session - and I'm not going to be that person.

I'd intended to use two websites in the presentation, but am unable to get round to them. I'll give the links to you here, faithful reader, so that you can follow them up yourself.

The first, Online India, is a website describing the population of India by religion. It has figures for the number and percentage of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Muslims and Sikhs.

The second is a virtual tour of the Bahá'í House of Worship in New Delhi - a place that many people of Indian origin in Leicester have visited and which is also celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.