Since we've been doing this at the local level recently (with two sessions of Sacred Spaces training at Leicester Cathedral in October 2010 - see blog entries for those occasions), it's appropriate that a national event on this topic should be held here. Attendees have come from as far afield as London, Manchester, Norwich and North Yorkshire.
The Council of Faiths exhibition is on show, giving those present the opportunity to see something of the diversity of faith communities in our city. Thanks to Rosemarie Fitton and Lalit Chhajed for putting it all up, while I conveniently had to duck outside to answer a phone call! This is the last time that Rosemarie will be shadowing me on her placement for her MA in Interreligious Relations at St Philips Centre for Study and Engagement in a Multi Faith Society (although I'm sure I haven't seen the last of her - nor is it the final time she'll be mentioned in this blog). By contrast, this is Lalit's first day as summer intern at the Jain Centre. He's come here through the same internship programme at De Montfort University through which we've recruited our intern, Rahat, who starts with us on Monday. Lalit also applied for our summer internship, but his clear and undoubted talents didn't quite fit with the post we'd advertised. Lalit is excited and inspired by social media; he's interested in helping faith organisations recognise and exploit its potential. He and I make tentative arrangements to get together soon and swap ideas about this common interest.
Sarah Lane Cawte (Chair of the Sacred Spaces Sector Partnership Group) introduces the day's programme and Smita Shah, President of Jain Samaj Europe and Treasurer of Leicester Council of Faiths, welcomes conference participants to the event, to Leicester and to the Jain Centre.
Janet Ingram, Education Officer for Leicester Diocese, kicks things off by talking about the "Faith Stories" format for visiting sacred spaces in Leicester, usually involving three different faith community places of worship and activity.
Putting that theory into practice, after a guided tour of the worship hall in the Jain centre, the group sets off for visits to the Nagarjuna Kampada Budddhist Centre in Guildhall Lane, followed by a stop at Leicester Cathedral before returning to the Jain Centre for a vegan lunch (without onions or mushrooms).
This is the time when everyone gets an opportunity to look over our exhibition and pick up some of our leaflets. I've also put out brochures for An Indian Summer, which features a strong contribution from Leicester Council of Faiths.
And in one of those recursive occlusions that social media presents so nicely, I've put the laptop on the table beside the leaflets, so that everyone can have a look at themselves (erm ...) looking at this (as it were).
After lunch, we hear short presentations by three attendees from different backgrounds about their experiences in relation to learning outside the classroom, through school visits: Alex Carlton, Education Officer at Southwark Cathedral; Jill Carr, Consultant for Leicester City Council on Religious Education, Community Cohesion, and Closing the Gap; Marilyn Bowles, Associate Tutor on the Primary PGCE course at Leicester University.
Next in the afternoon programme there are four workshops on offer:
Sharing spaces - developing collaborative learning days (Pam Elliott)
This workshop explores ways of working with other providers to maximise the learning potential of a school visit. Pam Elliott is a former Head of Religious Studies and has led the Education Department at Manchester Cathedral for the past five years. During this time she has worked with a range of Manchester institutions to create some unique learning experiences including "The Place of Peace", "A Shared Story", "Wealth and poverty Learning Days" and "Ho,man Hunt and Religious Art".
How to make meaningful contact with faith communities (Hannah Ashleigh)
This workshop considers the real value of visits and visitors and how to ensure that experiences gained from learning outside the classroom bring this personal dimension of faith to life. It looks are how to make the most of speakers who are invited to schools and how the use of stories, artifacts and photographs can make a real impact on learning about and from faith communities. Hannah Ashleigh is Education Policy and Projects Manager for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, where she is responsible for the planning, development and delivery and delivery of educational initiatives designed to promote the understanding of Jewish faith and heritage in schools and wider British society. She also works extensively in education policy, working with government and with colleagues from other faith groups on all issues that could affect faith schools and our diverse communities more broadly. she has a masters degree in Professional and Community Education and Development.
Developing an RE trail in your locality (Sharon Artley)
This workshop explores different themes for RE trails, how to set one up in your locality and look at available resources. Sharon Artley has been working in Religious Education for over 30 years - as a teacher, head of department and senior manager and (since 2003) as a consultant, lecturer, inspector and trainer. she has published articles, developed digital resources, lectured, run courses and delivered training, both locally and nationally and has a specific interest in the impact ICT can have on the delivery and outcomes of high quality RE. She is editor of the Sacred Space section of the REOnline website and jointly set up the RE trails website. she supports primary and secondary RE in the north of England and is currently working on three national RE projects. Sharon holds degrees in Theology and has a Fellowship in Holocaust Education with the Imperial War Museum.
Using a sacred space for learning and spiritual development (Diana Ives & Emma Anderton)
This workshop explores ways in which the Southwell Minster education team use the Cathedral with school groups to develop understanding of RE and give students the opportunity to gain a sense of spirituality for themselves. Diana Ives has lived in Nottingham for 20 years, teaching across the primary age range in schools in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. She lives with her husband and two daughters. Emma Anderton grew up in Nottingham and has many year's teaching experience within the primary age group. she has two grown up sons and lives in Newark with her husband and daughter. For the last seven and eight years respectively, Diana and Emma have worked as Education Officers at Southwell Minster, the Cathedral church of the Southwell and Nottingham Diocese, which hosts 9,000 schoolchildren (and 900 teachers and accompanying adults) every year, aged 18 months to Sixth Form. The role is diverse and involves family, cross-curricular and some adult learning, as well as providing RE experiences.
I'm grateful to Sarah for giving me a few minutes in the final plenary session to say something about the Council of Faiths exhibition and use of social media.