Wednesday, 30 November 2011


The Multi-Faith Prayer Room at Highcross: not yet open for public use as of this date, but check out the logo! It's nicely printed on plastic and cut to shape. As soon as I saw that, I thought that we could do with a few of these - and already someone has sent me a tweet asking where he can get one!


At Cathedral AM this morning (the first one I've been able to attend in quite a while). The advertised speaker is Mayor of Leicester City, Sir Peter Soulsby, but his place is taken today by Assistant Mayor Councillor Ted Cassidy.

Our hosts are this morning, as at every one of these gatherings, are Julie Ann Heath (left, in photo above) and Barry Naylor (right). I'm always glad to see Barry, fine fellow that he is, but I'm especially pleased to see Julie Ann, so shortly after our exhibition in Highcross during Inter Faith Week. It as Julie Ann who first got us into Highcross and I still think of that as being her baby. She was unable to come and see the exhibition last week and we were both sorry about that.

We're meeting not in the usual venue of the Cathedral Visitor Centre, but in the neighbouring St Martins House. I've not yet been beyond the reception area of St Martins House before, so it's nice to get a little further into the building today. It's also nice to be able to mix and mingle without every conversation feeling like a promotion for Inter Faith Week!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


From today's Leicester Mercury:
Students taught on variety of religions at roadshow 
Students and volunteers got together to take part in a faith roadshow. 
More than 1,300 young people from Gateway College met with religious representatives from eight faiths at the Religion and Belief Roadshow. 
It was aimed at teaching students about a variety of religions including Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, Humanism and Islam. 
The event was organised at the college, in Colin Grundy Drive, Leicester, by the St Phillip's Centre, based in Stoughton Drive North, in Evington. 
Riaz Ravat, from the St Phillip's Centre, said: "The Religion and Belief Roadshow is an important part of our Inter Faith Week programme because it will reach hundreds of young people. 
"Students saw several world views all interacting with one another and spreading inter faith messages of compassion, respect and peace. 
"This is a powerful statement which they can use as an example to tackle intolerance and promote peace."

In photo above: Carrie Potter, of Gateway College, Buddhist the Venerable Amitha and Gateway students Anil Chohan, 18, during the religion and belief roadshow

Monday, 28 November 2011


Our banner has been on display in the foyer at Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre for exactly a month now, lending support to their Faiths Film Festival during Inter Faith Week. It's been in a prominent position at the Reception, clearly visible to anyone and everyone entering the venue and buying tickets. Now that it's all over, it's time to pack it away and take it home.

I'm really grateful to the staff at Phoenix Square for having the banner displayed so prominently all this time. It was a genuinely unexpected bonus. I'm particularly grateful to Programme Manager Andy Jones, who suggested that we have it there for this extended period.

Friday, 25 November 2011


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 1,034
  2. United States 243
  3. Russia 62
  4. Germany 56
  5. India 47
  6. Ukraine 31
  7. France 40
  8. Romania 20
  9. Canada 18
  10. Poland 17

This week's total: 1,548 (last week's: 1,509). 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 that 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 them.


Day six of our week-long exhibition in Highcross, showcasing the eight communities represented on Leicester Council of Faiths: Bahá'ísBuddhistsChristiansHindusJainsJewsMuslims and Sikhs.

All week long I've been in the process of setting up a visit to the exhibition by Jon Ashworth MP (Labour, Leicester South). Jon's been supportive of the Council of Faiths and our work on several occasions and I was pleased to be asked to set up an informal meeting between him and members of some of our member faith communities. That's Jon in the photo above (3rd from left), with (from left to right) Minou Cortazzi (Bahá'í representative), Gursharan Thandi (Sikh representative), Cllr Manjula Sood (Hindu - and Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths), Cllr Inderjit Gugnani (Sikh representative), Ajay Aggarwal (Co-ordinator at Leicester Council of Faiths), Father John Lally (Christian representative). Jon is able to visit for about an hour. There's enough room within the display area to make a circle of chairs for him to sit and talk with the group there.

Early today, I share a couple of hours on the display with Dr Ruth Young, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Leicester and one of the principals behind the "Mapping Faith and Place" project which has led to the Faith Trail walking map in Leicester city centre. We've borrowed the pop-up banners and booklets for these, to help smarten up our exhibition here.

Other visitors and volunteers on the exhibition today include Rev. Sally Martin (Lead Chaplain for the Pastoral and Spiritual Care Team at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust) and Anjala Farmah (to the right and left, respectively of Cllr Manjula Sood in the photo above). We also receive a visit, late this afternoon,  from Cllr Ted Cassidy MBE, Assistant Mayor and Cabinet Lead for Economic Development, Culture and Tourism (in photo below, along with Beverley Farrand, from Leicester Cathedral and Shane Bordoli, from Nagarjuna Kadampa Buddhist Centre). I delivered handwritten invitiations to the exhibition for the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and all Cabinet members to the Town Hall on Tuesday morning; Ted tells me that he only received his through the internal mail this morning!


This article is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Meet the anti-capitalists who have pitched up in High Street, Leicester
A thoroughly modern protest: The anti-capitalists have pitched up in the high street - literally. Lee Marlow went along to try to make sense of it all
It's the fag end of November. The expensively slabbed streets of Leicester are paved with rain and litter and there's little here to suggest here, on a wet weekday dinner time, with the city shrouded in grey, that the season of goodwill is nearly upon us.The temperature gauge is beginning to drop. Cold winds are coming in from the east, threatening more rain and possibly snow. This is no time to set up a little tented village in the middle of the city centre.
And yet, as you may know, this is precisely what is happening. A little commune of tent-dwelling protestors is sprouting up along High Street.
This is Occupy Leicester. You might have seen them. If you haven't seen them here, chances are you've seen others in your newspaper or on your TV screens in London or New York.
Well, this is our version of that, says well-spoken protester Anthony Farrow, 22, a student at De Montfort University and part-time worker at Boots.
New York. London. Nottingham. Leicester. Leeds. Edinburgh. Newcastle. Camps like this are now established in 2,500 cities around the world.
It's global, he says. Change is coming. It has to, to save us from ourselves. This, says Anthony and his pals Kieran and David, is where it begins: a row of damp tents outside HMV.
So what are they there for? It's hardly the Arctic tundra, this bit of grey pavement along the bottom end of High Street, but it's surely an inhospitable new home for anyone used to even the most modest of home comforts.
"We're here because want to take a stand against corporate greed," says Kieran Murray, 22, who set up the camp last week after a quick recce from the Nottingham camp. He's based there, really, he says.
Kieran is a call centre manager. How does he fit it all in, the protesting and the call centre managing?
"It's not so bad," he says. "With internet wi-fi and smart phones."
Still, it's nice to sit down in a warm office now and then, he admits. Work is easy next to this wintry protesting lark.
Kieran isn't just here because he wants to take a stand against corporate greed.
He also wants to take a stand against corrupt governments and the corrosive and all-powerful monetary system which is destroying the fabric of our society and threatening the future of millions of normal, everyday folk.
Meanwhile, the richest two or three per cent grow ever richer. "How can that ever be right?" he says.
David Jordan, 24, nods along. David works full time at a well-known American firm in the Highcross, which he'd prefer me not to mention. He comes along when he can.
But could a little camp outside HMV in Leicester's High Street really bring the wheels of the capitalism machine grinding to a halt? Will anyone actually notice?
"Well, that's what it's about," says Anthony. "All we want is to make people sit up and take notice. We don't really want to foist our opinions on people. We just want people to look at what we're doing, come and have a chat. Turn off your TV sets. Switch off X Factor. Look at what is happening around you."
It's going well so far, says Anthony.
Most people, he says, are supportive. They come along and stick their thumbs up, sign their petitions and nod when Anthony or Kieran or David get onto the topic of banks.
It's only a minority, says Anthony, that are troublesome; the drunks, the Saturday night lager boys full of beer and belligerence.
"We take it in turns to sleep," says Anthony. "We have a rota, but we're quite strict about that on weekend nights."
I'm in no position to question Anthony's version of events but, for the time I was there at least, it wouldn't be quite right to say that 90 per cent of people were supportive.
Instead, 90 per cent of people merely walk on by, most utterly unmoved by it, some shaking their heads in a "what is the world coming to" kind of way.
About five per cent stop and chat, or put their thumbs up and sign petitions and say how proud they are of them. Keep up the good work, and so on.
The other five per cent swing in for a bit of a row.
Megan Sullivan, a 14-year-old student, falls into the latter camp.
Megan is a proud capitalist and nihilist, she says, matter-of-factly, as if this is what most 14-year-old girls are into, capitalism and nihilism, rather than One Direction and Rihanna.
"Don't you think this would all be better if you had rules?" says Megan.
But we do have rules, says Anthony.
"We're not anarchists. We're not proposing revolution, the overthrow of the state," he says. "We just want things to be better."
"I don't think this is the way forward," continues Megan. "I don't think things are as bad as some people say. The situation has been exaggerated."
Megan thinks there will always be inequality, rich and poor, a pecking order. It's life. We need to get over it. They agree to disagree and Megan walks away, unconvinced. That's ok, says David.
"At least she came over, at least she has views," he says. "I sometimes think it's worse that a lot of people don't."
Some people have asked them to do more, as if the site of some pitched tents in Leicester city centre should be a one-stop shop for the city's aggrieved.
They've had people asking them to take a stand against the police. But the police have been great with them, says Anthony.
The city's mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, came down the other day. He was great, too.
There are nine tents here today. Two are used for food and cooking equipment – they have their own gas stoves – and the rest are used for sleeping.
The tents are sited on pallets and insulated with cardboard.
More are coming, says Kieran. They've been told they can go from one end of High Street to the other. Imagine that, says Anthony. A long line of them. That would be brilliant.
The day starts here in High Street at 6am, as the first tranche of street cleaners arrive. It's like an inner city alarm call, says Anthony. He's lucky. He can sleep through more or less anything. Some of the others are not so fortunate.
Anthony has a girlfriend. She's Italian and lovely, he says. She doesn't really want to get involved, but she's happy for him to do it. She comes over, now and again, bringing food and warm words.
His parents are supportive, too. They think it's good that he's making a stand.
In fact, all of the protestors' parents and families are supportive, he says. It would be hard to do it if they weren't.
"One of them, Isaac, is planning to have his Christmas dinner here. He's getting his mum to drop it off for him."
Will Anthony be here at Christmas?
"I'll be here on Christmas Eve, then I'm going home for Christmas. I'm quite family- orientated so it wouldn't really be fair on my parents if I was here."
It transpires that although he's here today, Anthony wasn't here last night. He won't be here tonight, either.
"I'm at home tonight," he says. "I've been here a fair bit, the past few days."
He has a presentation tomorrow, he says. So he'll sleep at home.
I'm bemused as to how this works. I thought they were out all night, every night, all of them, whatever the weather, hardcore, tent-living protesting.
But they have a rota, a shift pattern, if you like; three or so nights on, one night back at home. It's the best way, they agree.
Except David. He has his job at the Highcross. He sleeps at home.
"I like to spend as much time as I can here, though," he adds.
Anthony lives about 10 minutes away, "so I nip home for a shower or to change my underwear," he says.
Some of the other lads live in London Road. They also nip home for provisions or a shower. This protesting lark, it seems, is not always what you think.
Anthony looks perturbed. He doesn't want me to think it's a cushy number, bringing down the capitalist system. It isn't. Take Adam Smith.
"Adam was one of the first people here," says Anthony. "He was here night after night. He collapsed the other day, he was so tired and cold."
Adam spent his first night at home after that.
Anthony, it transpires, has a lot of toothpaste. Lots of free samples, a perk of the job. They clean their teeth with the free toothpaste over a nearby drain.
They use the toilets at the Showcase, McDonald's or the Highcross for their ablutions. A man from a pub in Churchgate comes over most mornings with a pan of boiling water.
"We have to use these facilities," says Anthony. "I know some people might criticise us for it, but we have to use what we have, to use it from the inside. I think that's justifiable."
"I don't think people can question our commitment," says David. "I'm committed to this."
But David works in the Highcross, the very altar of conspicuous consumption, for a company he forbids me to name, that pays his wages and is a well-known cog in this capitalist machine.
That's a tricky circle to square, isn't it?
David says it isn't. "This is a cause I believe in, but inevitably you have to prioritise," he says. "I can't just stop living my life and do this. It's not practical. We do what we can do. You can't chose the system you're protesting in. You just have to use those circumstances to your advantage.
"Besides, where do you draw the line? Should I not be wearing clothes?"
Anthony nods along and takes up his thread. They're using the system to bring about change, he says. Nothing wrong with that.
Except, he won't use McDonald's, he says defiantly. That would be a step too far.
And, then, in the very next breath, he admits he went to McDonald's this morning.
"Yeah, I had to really," he says. "We had an interview. I had to use their toilets and we had a bit of food while we were there."
Ah. I see. What did you have?
"Just a hash brown," he says, a face etched with shame.
How was it?
"It was greasy," he says. "I didn't like it."

Thursday, 24 November 2011


Fifth day five of our week-long exhibition in Highcross to celebrate Inter Faith Week, showcasing the eight communities represented on Leicester Council of Faiths.

Yesterday was a relatively quiet day compared to this one: it's very media-intensive today, in three distinctly different ways. Around 0945, Bharat Patel arrives with a crew of two, to film some material for Pukaar News. He does some straight-to-camera stuff inside the display area, interviews Fayyaz Suleman, our Vice Chair, for 20 minutes or so, then records a few minutes with me. After they're finished filming at Highcross, they head off for the City Council buildings on New Walk, to film an interview with our Chair, Cllr Manjula Sood.

Early this afternoon, Rebecca Bryers, Production Assistant on John Florance's Sunday morning show on BBC Radio Leicester, arrives on the scene to record an interview with Jo Tallack, General Manager at Highcross and with me - first about our presence there during Inter Faith Week, then about the Multi-Faith Prayer Room. I took the above photo when the three of us were inside the prayer room. It's just about ready to go into use, but today the piped music was still playing in there. Rebecca's interview with Jo will have Dionne Warwick's "All the Love in the World" all over it when it's broadcast this coming Sunday.

Around 1600, we have our long awaited "speedfaithing" event that we seem to have waited the best part of a year for. However, a number of factors conspire to make it something of an anticlimax. I was hoping we'd have at least half a dozen people of different backgrounds of religion or belief here but there's only three of us (Noel Singh, Martin Stern and myself). Several of those whom I hoped would be joining in are out at Gateway College doing the Religion and Belief Roadshow organised by St Philip's Centre and there's no chance of them making it back here in time. There's a similarly small number of young reporters (Holly, Christina and Vickie in the photo above) and I'm not sure all of them took part in the "pre" event at Phoenix Square during Leicester Speaks. We make the most of it though - and the girls certainly seem to get something positive out of it - but I wouldn't call it our greatest moment.

Here are some of comments entered in the reflective log by volunteers on the exhibition today:
“Spirituality or shopping? Seems this morning consumerism and the offer of sales is winning!”
“Lots of people glanced at the displays and wider literature. A few read with greater attention and one picked up lots of leaflets to help with her educational consultancy work. So the stall is doing its work in many ways including giving us volunteers the opportunity of meeting across the faith boundaries.”
“I found that it was an interesting experience being able to find out myself about other faiths and being able to talk to other volunteers. I realised it is hard to grab the attention of passers-by to invite them into the space to talk about interfaith week but didn’t want to feel as if I was pestering them. A few people took occasional glances as they walked past, but only a couple stopped. I feel the space would benefit from a more interactive environment which would encourage people to enter the space and not feel afraid of talking to people with the aid of hands-on experience / interactivity rather than just leaflets and banners. The Highcross although deemed an ideal location to gather large quantities of people, at the time of year in particular you find that people are rushing around the shops and don’t have time to stop.”
“I enjoyed volunteering at the Interfaith stand. I learnt more about religion and found it very interesting. Although quite a few people looked at the stand from afar, there wasn’t actually many people who wanted to come up and talk. However I did speak to a couple of people who were quite excited when I told them about the film festival. Although the stand in Highcross meant more people knew about interfaith week, I think it would be a good idea to hold an interfaith festival in one of the parks which would attract lots of attention.”
“It has undoubtedly been a wonderful experience visiting and volunteering at the interfaith stand."


At 1500 we’ve scheduled the eighth of ten public meetings for Inter Faith Week, under the series title, "Communities of Faith or Belief in Leicester". We're putting on two talks per day in the Adult Education College (or, more precisely, in the Leicester People's Photographic Gallery which is attached to the Adult Education College).

This was to have been a Beginners' Guide to Islam - or Islam 101 - but despite a vigorous search and what I thought were firm promises, the speaker I was hoping would be here hasn't turned up. Thankfully, no one has turned up to listen to the talk either, so there's no need to make apologies this time.

The photo above is one of two images representing the Muslim community included in the Favourite Faiths Photo exhibition launched this week at the People's Photographic Gallery. The picture was taken at an Imams vs Vicars cricket match held at Grace Road, home of Leicestershire County Cricket Club. Just to ramp up the inter faith quotient, the picture includes Hindu and Jewish umpires.


At the Daisy Peake Building, the Towers, this afternoon, promoting the NHS Staff Multi-Faith Resource that Leicester Council of Faiths has helped produce for Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT).

I'm here with Abida Hussain, Equalities and Human Rights Officer in LPT's Integrated Equality Service and Revd. Sally Martin, Lead Chaplain of LPT's Spiritual and Pastoral Care Team, as we continue the process of briefing members of LPT staff most likely to use this resource.

This is the last of three lunchtime briefings this week which we (and LPT) are counting as part of our respective activities for Inter Faith Week.


At 1200 today we have number seven in a series of ten public meetings for Inter Faith Week. These hour-long introductions to “Communities of Faith or Belief in Leicester" are being held in Leicester Adult Education College (or, more precisely, in Leicester People's Photographic Gallery, which is part of the Adult Ed College). Leicester Council of Faiths is hosting these meetings in association with Leicester Adult Skills and Learning Service (LASALS).

The speaker for this Beginners’ Guide to Judaism – or Judaism 101 - is Dr Martin Stern, of Leicester Hebrew Congregation.

The photo above is one of two images representing the Jewish community in the Favourite Faiths Photo exhibition, launched at Leicester People's Photographic Gallery during Inter Faith Week. The picture shows a detail of the Town Hall Square Fountain, a gift to the people of Leicester in 1878 from Sir Israel Hart (1835-1911), prominent member of the city's Jewish community and four times Mayor of Leicester (photo sourced from Kiran Parmar, with permission).

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Fourth day of our week-long exhibition in Highcross to celebrate Inter Faith Week, showcasing the eight communities represented on Leicester Council of Faiths.

Halfway through the day, I refresh the layout of the pop-up banners (for "refresh", read "fiddle about with"). For the first half of the week, I've laid them out in alphabetical order: Bahá'ís backing on to Buddhists; Christians backing on to Hindus; Jains backing on to Jews; Muslims backing on to Sikhs. I'm always saying that the alphabet is God's gift to even-handedness and that's what we usually follow, to avoid any disputes about who goes first or last and why this one goes next to that one. But it strikes me today that we could lay out the banners so that, when approaching them from one direction, one would see the Abrahamic faiths lined up in historical sequence (Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bahá'ís) and if approaching from the other direction see the Dharmic faiths lined up in historical sequence (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh). Not that I believe anyone will notice particularly (although I do make it my business to tell those whom I think will be interested). I guess I'm just one of life's inveterate fiddlers!

Here are some comments entered in the reflective log by volunteers on the exhibition today (none of which mention the order of the pop-up banners):
“Good number of individuals passing by to read the banners and some taking literature from faith communities. One young man left his card to be invited to panel discussions on faiths in future. The same person engaged in a useful conversation with us.”
“It’s so wonderful to be in the presence of individuals who are so committed in bringing goodness to others. I feel humbled in taking part.”
“Few people approached us. The one who did knew already something about the activities of the Council of Faiths and collected leaflets to distribute around. All in all it has been a positive experience for me. I have met interesting people. I wish the wonderful job that the Council of Faiths does could be more appreciated.”
“So glad to be part of this – to be able to talk to a few people about the importance of faith and how different faiths can and do work together. Wonderful for me to reflect more on the beliefs of others, my interactions with those of other faiths and how actually our care values are shared – the difference between ‘faith’ and ‘religion’!”
“It was good to be the small space of relaxation and interest within the bustle surrounding the exhibition. So many glances, a few good conversations and questions. The whole exhibition speaks to those who pass by. Very worthwhile.”
“I’ve met some very friendly and interesting people. I’ve also learned things about other faiths and cultures that I didn't know before. To be part of something that encourages people to live side-by-side in harmony regardless of their beliefs makes me feel proud to live in Leicester.” 
“Many people simply looking – but the sheer presence of a Christian and a Sikh standing together in unity was an incarnated message in itself. Wonderful.”
“Most of the people just look around, pick up the leaflets on different faiths and go. But some like to talk. One young man called Ross asked about euthanasia and Sikh belief. I had to take his details to let him know because I have no idea. Another lady wanted to know about Sikh faith and she was from Buddhist faith.”


At Evington Valley Primary School, Evington Valley Road, this afternoon for the scheduled meeting of Leicester SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education).

Today we have a new feature of these regular meetings, in which members will take a quarter of an hour or so to present some basic information about their religion or belief for the benefit of the rest of the members. For a kick-off, Anne Fishenden, Vice Chair of SACRE, gives an introduction to Quaker history, beliefs and practices.

The main part of today's meeting is given over to hearing the request for a determination by our host today, Evington Valley Primary School.

I'm also able to get a few minutes at the end of the meeting to speak a little about Inter Faith Week.


At 1500 we have the sixth of ten public meetings scheduled for Inter Faith Week, under the series title, "Communities of Faith or Belief in Leicester". We're putting on two talks per day in the Adult Education College (or, more precisely, in the Leicester People's Photographic Gallery which is attached to the Adult Education College).

The speaker for this Beginners' Guide to Jainism - or Jainism 101 - is Mehta Pradip, Vice-President of Jain Samaj Europe.

There are no takers today, so Mehta and I sit together for half an hour or so, chatting usefully about the Council of Faiths, Inter Faith Week and the place of the Jain Centre and community in both.

The photo above is one of two Jain images included in the Favourite Faiths Photo exhibition launched this week at the People's Photographic Gallery. The picture shows worshippers in the Jain Centre, Oxford Street, with the Centre's staned glass windows on show. This is believed to be the only Jain place of worship in the world featuring this short of display, which blends something of the previous use of the building with its current purpose.


At Mansion House, Glenfield Hospital this afternoon, promoting the NHS Staff Multi-Faith Resource (or "Multisave" as its billed on the whiteboard in reception) that Leicester Council of Faiths has helped produce for Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT).

I'm here with Abida Hussain, Equalities and Human Rights Officer in LPT's Integrated Equality Service, as we continue the process of briefing members of LPT staff most likely to use this resource.

This is the second of three lunchtime briefings this week which we (and LPT) are counting as part of our respective activities for Inter Faith Week.


At 1200 today we've scheduled the fifth of ten public meetings for Inter Faith Week, “Communities of Faith or Belief in Leicester" at Leicester Adult Education College (or, more precisely, in the Leicester People's Photographic Gallery, which is part of the Adult Education College).

The speaker for this Beginners’ Guide to Humanism – or Humanism 101 - is Dr Allan Hayes, Director of Leicester Secular Society.

Unfortunately, due to ill-coordinated information about the venue, Allan is unable to deliver the talk. Through no fault of his, he's not directed to the right place, where at least a couple of people are waiting to listen to him. I'm sorry about this and offer our apologies for a good opportunity having been missed. This is especially regrettable as Humanists are not one of the communities of religion or belief represented on Leicester Council of Faiths and they have not taken part in any of the activities that we've organised for this annual event in previous years. I had deliberately put this public meeting in this year's programme of activities to help rectify this and to help bridge the gap between us - and Alla was the first speaker to commit to the talk out of all ten scheduled.


You may be wondering, faithful reader, what's become of the Favourite Faiths Photo Exhibition at the Leicester People's Photographic Gallery. This is part of our fourfold presentation for Inter Faith Week (and the gallery is also the venue for the afternoon introductory talks that we're presenting in association with Leicester Adult Skills and Learning Service under the banner, "Discover Communities of Religion or Belief in Leicester").

Due to a technical hitch or two, it's taken longer to get the photos printed than we'd hoped. Then Ian Davies, Director of the Leicester People's Photographic Gallery, was rushed into hospital by ambulance on Monday afternoon with sever chest pains. That threw everything out of kilter at the gallery, including our display. So I'm glad (indeed, relieved) to get a message this morning from our contact at John E Wright (the digital printing company which produces everything displayed in the gallery) that our pictures are ready and have been delivered to the gallery. I ask Arthur Winner (who's come along to help out at the exhibition in Highcross) to come up to the gallery and cast his professional photographers' eye over the pictures. I haven't decided on how the photos are going to be displayed, which ones should go together and so on. But after th ten minute walk up to the gallery, we're greeted by Rob Howden, who tells us that the photos haven't shown up there. So Arthur and I take another ten minute walk over to John E Wright in Marble Street, only to be told that the pictures aren't there, that they were definitely delivered to the Adult Education College this morning. Ah, right so ... this is part of the problem with this new venue. No one knows what it's really called (or what it's supposed to be called, since no one wants to refer to it as the Old Central Lending Library - which is the way you end up describing it when you have to accept that no one knows where it is or what you're talking about!). So Arthur and I head over to the Adult Education College in Wellington Street where - lo and behold - our photos are sitting waiting for us, protected by the biggest swathe of bubble wrap I've ever seen *POP!*

We carry the collected 16 photos (printed on board which is rather too big and unwieldy to carry through the streets) up to the gallery, unwrap them and lay them out along one of the walls, so we can judge how they can be displayed (as in the photo above). I have to say that I'm disappointed in how a few of them have turned out. I'd hoped for better results to be honest (Arthur describes the colour in some of them as "punchy" - I'm not sure what that means, but it doesn't sound positive). In the end, I leave decisions about the order of display in the capable hands of fellow Scot John Toye.

When I come back round to the gallery later this afternoon (to meet the speaker for the Jain slot at 1500), John has been trying to hang the pictures, but tells me that all but one of the larger ones just don't fit! Rather than the whole area of the photo plus white space around it being A2, the picture alone has been printed A2 then additional white space added around. This makes them too big to fit in any of the allotted spaces at the gallery. This is strange and somewhat inexplicable, as the printer (John E Wright) does all the production of these prints for the gallery and should have been working to a set standard. John asks me to leave it with him to contact the printer and talk it over. By the end of the afternoon, John E Wright has committed to printing again the anomalous pictures, to the right size this time, at no extra cost to us. Since the bigger versions are now going spare, I take them down to the exhibition at Highcross, where we can use them to add a splash of colour to the display.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


Third day of our week-long exhibition in Highcross to celebrate Inter Faith Week, showcasing the eight communities represented on Leicester Council of Faiths.

I call in at the Welcome Centre first thing and write out invitations to visit the exhibition for the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Assistant Mayors I hand them in at Town Hall for distribution through the City Council's internal mail service.

Ben Jackson of BBC Radio Leicester pays an unannounced visit to the display this morning, where he records interviews with Anne Fishenden, local Quaker and Vice Chair of Leicester SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education), Amy Marsh (of the student team from University of Leicester, School of Archaeology and Ancient History which created the Faith Trail) and me. This is for a segment of Ben's breakfast show that will be broadcast on Friday morning.

Bharat Patel, of Pukaar News, contacts me by phone, to ask if he and a camera crew can visit the stall tomorrow to film an interview with our Chair, Cllr Manjula Sood, and our Vice Chair, Fayyaz Suleman. To make sure that all goes well, I immediately seek written permission for this from Highcross management - which I promptly receive, glad to say.

In the afternoon, we receive a brief visit from City Councillors Sundip Meghani and Barbara Potter. Sundip has encountered the Council of Faiths on more than one occasion, but I've never met Barbara before. Sundip sends out a supportive tweet to his 1,423 followers:
Just visited the excellent Leicester @counciloffaiths Inter Faith Week exhibition at the Highcross shopping centre. Well worth a visit!
Follow Councillor Sundip Meghani on Twitter: @Sundip

Final volunteers on the stall this evening are Yasmin Surti and Deirdre O'Sullivan (in photo above). This reflective log entry was made by one of them (I'm not saying which one, but she's not sitting on the right):
"Another cold and dark evening lightened by George's 'sense of humour' - looking forward to the next round."

I like how "sense of humour" is in "inverted commas". I find that very "reassuring" - wouldn't you, "faithful reader"?


At 1500 we've scheduled the fourth of ten public meetings for Inter Faith Week, under the series title, "Communities of Faith or Belief in Leicester". We're putting on two talks per day in the Adult Education College (or, more precisely, in the Leicester People's Photographic Gallery, which is part of the Adult Ed College).

This should have been a Beginners' Guide to Hinduism - or Hinduism 101 - but our scheduled speaker pulled out and we've been unable to secure a substitute. Were it not for the fact that I'm speaker for the occasion. I go up to the College / Gallery to see if anyone has turned up to listen to the talk. The stalwart Marion Kennedy has, so I advise her that it's not on and apologise.

The photo above is one of two images representing the Hindu community in the Favourite Faiths Photo exhibition, launched this week at the People's Photographic Gallery. The picture is from the celebration of Annakut at Shree Sanatan Mandir, Weymouth Street  (sourced from Kiran Parmar, reproduced with permission).


At the Brandon Unit, Leicester General Hospital this afternoon, promoting the NHS Staff Multi-Faith Resource that Leicester Council of Faiths has helped produce for Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT).

I'm here with Abida Hussain (photo above), Equalities and Human Rights Officer in LPT's Integrated Equality Service and Revd. Sally Martin, Lead Chaplain of LPT's Spiritual and Pastoral Care Team, as we start the process of briefing members of LPT staff most likely to use this resource.

This is the first of three lunchtime briefings this week which we (and LPT) are counting as part of our respective activities for Inter Faith Week.


At 1200 we have the third of ten public meetings for Inter Faith Week, under the series title, “Communities of Faith or Belief in Leicester". These hour-long introductions are being held in Leicester Adult Education College (or, more precisely, in Leicester People's Photographic Gallery, which is part of the Adult Ed College).

Leicester Council of Faiths is hosting these meetings in association with Leicester Adult Skills and Learning Service (LASALS). Chris Minter, Head of Service at LASALS, expressed an interest in supporting Inter Faith Week this year and we agreed that this would be an appropriate way for LASALS to do so, by allowing free use of its venue and facilities.

The speaker for this Beginners’ Guide to Christianity – or Christianity 101 – is Revd David Dean, from St Philip’s Centre for Study and Engagement in a Multi-Faith Society.

The photo above is one of two Christian images included in the Favourite Faiths Photo exhibition launched at Leicester People's Photographic Gallery during Inter Faith Week. The picture shows a scene from Christ in the Centre - the Passion Play enacted in Leicester city centre each Good Friday (sourced from Kiran Parmar, reproduced with permission).


From today's Leicester Mercury:
Celebrating diversity of religions
A week-long series of events celebrating the diversity of religious faiths is under way.
Inter Faith Week 2011 runs until Saturday. Staged by the city's council of faiths, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, it features exhibitions, talks and films.
Manjula Sood, chairman of the council, said: "Leicester has a diverse range of faiths and this is a wonderful opportunity for people to find out more about this fascinating subject.
"Learning more about the beliefs of others is a key part of increasing understanding between people of all faiths, which in turn benefits relationships in communities across the city."
An exhibition is taking place throughout the week at Highcross shopping centre. There is a film festival at Phoenix Square.Leicester People's Photographic Gallery, in Belvoir Street, is featuring an exhibition of images showcasing holy places and sacred sites.
For more information on events, call 0116 254 6868.

Monday, 21 November 2011


Second day of our week-long exhibition in Highcross to celebrate Inter Faith Week, showcasing the eight communities represented on Leicester Council of Faiths.

The dynamic of the exhibition is beginning to become clear. The new location and layout mean that we're shifting more of free literature than in previous years. While it might seem that, on the other hand, fewer people are stopping to talk this time round, I don't think that's so. In terms of people approaching the stall, the arrangement of the banners is definitely more appealing and effective than before (and we're able to rotate them every so often, to keep it fresh). Putting the free literature on the trestle tables at the sides of the display space allows people to approach and take what they want in relative safety from the volunteers inside the display. You never know how it's going to work out until you see it in action. The dark semi-circle on the floor that marks the outer edge of the display space marks a safe boundary for the public. If you're brave enough to cross that line, then you're fair game!

There's some discussion with members of the public today about the content of the University of Leicester Faiths Trail, the banner and booklet for which are included in our exhibition here. A woman queries (strongly and at length) why the Cathedral was passed over in favour of St Mary de Castro, while a man objects to the omission of Neve Shalom, the Leicester Progressive Synagogue on Avenue Road. The simple answer to the former is that St Mary de Castro is older and has a more interesting history as a building, especially its relation with the Castle (and, after all, the team who compiled the information and created the trail are second year undergraduate students in the University's School of Archaeology and Ancient History). The answer to the latter is that Neve Shalom wouldn't fit into the schedule of a walking tour - although it may well have to in future, given that the Orthdox Synagogue on Highfield Street is up for sale.

I have gentler chats with Marlene from the Salvation Army and David from the local Eckankar group (whom I first met at the launch event for Leicester Speaks last month in Humberstone Gate).

Here are some comments entered in the reflective log by volunteers on the exhibition today:

“I found it particularly difficult to convince the cynics that true interfaith co-operation can be achieved regardless of the political situation. Also a lot of people had issues with the Faith Trail especially the synagogue which is for sale and Orthodox Jewish community in reduction and also the fact that the Mandir has moved. Otherwise a pleasant experience as I enjoy being a social butterfly!” 

“Even though it was early and Monday morning, several people came and took leaflets and brochures; some of them were very keen to get involved and discuss their personal experiences regarding both individual faiths and the wider religious community, Some very useful comments and suggestions were received from the members of the Jewish and Christian communities.” 

“Several people paused and glanced at the display. A couple or three stopped and chatted. There seemed to be a general acceptance of the display.” 

“Many people have passed by. Some have taken an interest. Leaflets have been taken. Wanting to know about neighbour’s religion. Interesting talking amongst ourselves on the subject of spirituality.” 

“I have rather enjoyed talking with the other volunteers. I get a sense of other space within the little enclave that is made from the tables with flyers and the tall boards showing each faith. A smallish sense of discontent from the retail world around us. And that sense disappears as I go and get coffee. I like that just by my presence I help to show others that there are joyful relations between the faiths.” 

“Some very interesting discussions with three separate individuals, related to faith communities generally and in once case personal experience of the journey to having a full time spiritual life. The siting of the display seemed much better this year in terms of the ease it provides for engaging with passers-by – a sense of it being less intrusive and offering a range of different encounters.”


Here are the programme notes I put together for A Serious Man, showing this evening at Phoenix Square as part of the Faiths Film Festival, celebrating Inter Faith Week and helping mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of Leicester Council of Faiths. At least they're drawn from more than one source, which is an improvement on the notes I "put together" for Little Buddha last night.

Directors Ethan Coen, Joel Coen 
Writers Joel Coen, Ethan Coe
106 min 
Cast Michael Stuhlbarg, Rixchard Kind, Sari Lenick

Plot summary (from Internet Movie Database)
Bloomington, Minnesota, 1967: Jewish physics lecturer Larry Gopnik is a serious and a very put-upon man. His daughter is stealing from him to save up for a nose job,his pot-head son, who gets stoned at his own bar-mitzvah, only wants him round to fix the T.V. aerial and his useless brother Arthur is an unwelcome house guest. But both Arthur and Larry get turfed out into a motel when Larry's wife Judy, who wants a divorce, moves her lover, Sy, into the house and even after Sy's death in a car crash they are still there. With lawyers' bills mounting for his divorce, Arthur's criminal court appearances and a land feud with a neighbour Larry is tempted to take the bribe offered by a student to give him an illegal exam pass mark. And the rabbis he visits for advice only dole out platitudes. Still God moves in mysterious - and not always pleasant - ways, as Larry and his family will find out.

A Serious Man: Coens change tack with masterly fable of a crumbling life (Andrew Pulver, The Guardian, 28 October 2009) 
The Coen brothers may just have made their masterpiece with this, their 14th feature and yet another hairpin-bend change of direction, which has been their trademark for their entire career. 
Two films back they were prowling the Texas badlands in a gruesome tale of blood and revenge in No Country for Old Men; then they turned to weightless farce in the entertaining Burn After Reading.Here they are heading to the suburbia of 1960s midwestern America for an elaborate, slippery, fable that feels, strange as it may sound, like a novel that Saul Bellow or Bernard Malamud never quite got around to writing. 
A Serious Man starts off odd, and gets odder. The first five minutes is entirely in Yiddish, a Coenised version of a shtetl folk-horror tale featuring a bearded old man who may or may not be a dybbuk (wandering spirit). Suffice to say, the Coens don't muck about when it comes to the use of stabbing weapons. 
Then we flip forward from the old country to the new world, to where our protagonist, Larry Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) is your archetypal harassed and neurotic Jewish-American college professor.His apparently unimpeachable lifestyle is crumbling rapidly: one of his students is trying to bribe his way through exams, his application for tenure is being undermined by ­ anonymous threatening letters, his deadbeat brother is sleeping on the sofa and attracting the attention of the police, and – this is the killer – his wife is planning to leave him for another man, one of those swinging middle-aged types who embraced the permissive culture with desperate fervency.To offset this Gopnik goes looking for answers from his religion, but unlike Judah Rosenthal in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, he does not come up against the blank wall of a  Godless universe; what he encounters are perplexing rabbis telling him baffling parables that just leave him feeling more and more confused. 
It's this refusal to neatly resolve their narrative that gives A Serious Man its distinctive flavour; it has the same open-ended spirit of The Graduate, an authentic classic of late 60s Jewish-American culture. (A Serious Man could easily have been conceived as a sequel to that film, with Gopnik as a grown-up Benjamin Braddock.) 
The Coens, though, don't quite do deeply felt alienation like anyone else. Despite the opaque story line, their film is a glittering, perfectly honed artifice; but what pushes it into the Coen premier league is the sense that, as with Fargo, there's something very personal going on here. 
It's not autobiographical exactly, but the Minnesota setting is the Coens' own childhood universe, and they revved up for their barmitzvahs at pretty much the same time as Gopnik's son, Danny. The Coens, so normally elusive, have let the mask slip a bit. It's  paid wonderful dividends.

A Serious Man is being shown as part of Phoenix Square’s short season of films with themes or subject matter of religion or belief as part of Inter Faith Week 2011 (being held throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Sunday 20 – Saturday 26 November). Our Faiths Film Festival is being promoted in association with Leicester Council of Faiths, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary during this period.
George M Ballentyne, Equality & Diversity Officer, Leicester Council of Faiths

Number of paying customers for A Serious Man this evening: 28