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.

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