Sunday, 31 July 2011

Nobel chairman warns Europe's leaders over 'inflaming far-right sentiment'

From today's edition of The Observer:


Nobel chairman warns Europe's leaders over 'inflaming far-right sentiment'
Thorbjørn Jagland says Europe's leaders are 'playing with fire' if they use right-wing rhetoric when discussing multiculturalism
By Mark Townsend, Home Affairs Editor
Europe's leaders, including David Cameron, have been warned to adopt a more "cautious" approach when discussing multiculturalism. The Norwegian chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee has told them they risk inflaming far-right and anti-Muslim sentiment.
Thorbjørn Jagland, a former prime minister of his country, said leaders such as the British premier would be "playing with fire" if they continued to use rhetoric that could be exploited by extremists.
Four months ago in Munich, Cameron declared that state multiculturalism had failed in Britain, a view immediately praised by Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP, as "a further huge leap for our ideas into the political mainstream". Marine Le Pen, vice-president of the far-right National Front party in France, also endorsed Cameron's view of multiculturalism, claiming that it corroborated her own party's line.
Jagland's comments come in the wake of the Oslo bomb and the massacre on Utøya Island that left 77 people dead. The killer, Anders Behring Breivik, said he was inspired by the right-wing English Defence League. Breivik sent his manifesto, published online hours before the attacks, to about 250 British members of the BNP, the EDL and the Stop Islamisation of Europe group.
Jagland, who is also secretary general of the Council of Europe, told the Observer: "We have to be very careful how we are discussing these issues, what words are used.
"Political leaders have got to defend the fact that society has become more diverse. We have to defend the reality, otherwise we are going to get into a mess. I think political leaders have to send a clear message to embrace it and benefit from it.
"We should be very cautious now, we should not play with fire. Therefore I think the words we are using are very important because it can lead to much more."
Jagland has also urged leading politicians to change their terminology. He said the word "diversity" was better than multiculturalism because the latter had become defined in different ways by different groups. "We also need to stop using 'Islamic terrorism', which indicates that terrorism is about Islam. We should be saying that terrorism is terrorism and not linked to religion," said Jagland.
Over the years before his attacks, Breivik developed an ultra-radical stance that initially incorporated the forced repatriation of Muslims from Europe, but ultimately targeted Norway's centre-left government, which had encouraged multiculturalism. During his court appearance on terrorism charges, the 32-year-old said he had acted to prevent the "Muslim takeover" of Europe.
[...]
During Cameron's Munich speech, which combined a passage on terrorism with one on integration, the prime minister talked extensively about "Islamist extremism" as being the source of terrorism.
Breivik saw David Miliband, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair as worthy of assassination because, according to his 1,500-page manifesto, they had a "friendly attitude" to immigrants.
Jagland says he has sympathy with Cameron's attempt to robustly promote a shared set of British values as an alternative to multiculturalism, if not with his delivery. "We are not searching for a society where we have only different cultures. We also need to have something that holds us together, to respect common values," he said.
Jagland, who last year gave the Nobel peace prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was represented by an empty chair at the ceremony in Oslo, added that the immigration debate also needed to be less negative.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

RAMADAN MESSAGE FROM FEDERATION OF MUSLIM ORGANISATIONS

Here's the text of a press release circulated by my friend and colleague Suleman Nagdi, spokesman for the Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO).
On behalf of the Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO), I would like to extend my sincere and gracious Ramadan greetings to all. This is a time when a fifth of the world's population are united in devotion to their faith and desire to serve and develop a special bond with Alláh. Ramadan is a month of prayer, patience, reflection and generosity, the month in which the Qur’án was revealed as guidance to mankind. The journey of each Muslim during this period is an exceptionally intense, deep and emotional one as they seek to find inner peace and solitude.
Ramadan is not only a mere abstention from food and water between dawn and sunset. Refraining from material earthly desires by virtue of fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam and is mandatory for every Muslim. It is a period when we evaluate ourselves and attempt to purify our hearts and minds. It is a time to cleanse the spirit and to forgive, not only ourselves but all others. Islam preaches that we help those that are needy and Ramadan gives us an opportunity to focus our efforts on this with even more commitment. Let us pray that we take this opportunity to foster unity and brotherhood among all our different communities in our city and county. Suleman Nagdi - FMO

MINORITIES MUST NEVER BE MADE THE SCAPEGOAT

Every Saturday, the Bishop of Leicester, The Rt Revd Tim Stevens, contributes the First Person column in the Leicester Mercury. Here's the one in today's paper.

The Bishop of Leicester is  Patron of Leicester Council of Faiths. Much of what he says in this column is clearly related to other recent pieces in this blog.
Minorities must never be made the scapegoat
The Bishop of Leicester says lessons can be learned from the appalling events seen in Norway
During the last week there has been much speculation about the events leading up to the appalling mass murder in Norway. The lawyers are now arguing about whether the alleged perpetrator is insane or not. It seems to me there is a danger of labelling someone as mad if it leads us to the conclusion that his views were completely detached from reality – that he was an isolated individual who came to bizarre conclusions as a result of mental disturbance.
This could be dangerous thinking if it allows the rest of us to come to the conclusion that the perpetrator was not connected to a wider context of opinion.
It is now emerging that Anders Breivik was in touch with a number of groups including the Islamaphobic English Defence League (EDL). While it is true that the EDL have distanced themselves from him and have renounced his kind of violence, nevertheless the EDL is typical of many groups which encourage hatred of Islam and of Muslims.
So events in Norway need to be a warning to all of us. Of course there can be a proper debate about multiculturalism and about the extent to which our communities have changed as a result of immigration over the last two generations. But where this spills over into incitement to hatred or extremism either in the press or through campaigning groups, we can now see how dangerous these views can become.
As the pressure on our economy tightens and the challenge to find jobs, housing and life opportunities increases, the temptation to scapegoat minority Muslim communities is likely to increase in many parts of Europe. In cities like Leicester it is vital that we hold on with confidence to the vision of a multicultural society which has served us so well and made us a beacon of hope for many visitors from around this country and beyond.
In the last decade, much has been written about the need to root out violent extremism from Muslim communities. But the events in Norway remind us that the overwhelming majority of terror attacks in Europe in recent times have been carried out by non-Muslims. And in Britain alone, a number of recent convictions of anti-Muslim extremists has underlined that Anders Breivik is far from being an isolated case or just a Norwegian phenomenon.
So we continue to be watchful here in Leicester. And we continue to hold on to a vision of a city which will not scapegoat or target minorities and which will resist all encouragements to take action against those who enrich our society and seek nothing more than to be accepted as British citizens and who make their vital contribution to the common good.

Wheels in motion for parade

From today's Leicester Mercury:


Wheels in motion for parade
The final preparations are under way for a colourful and lively city centre procession set to attract thousands of people.
The annual Hare Krishna Festival of Chariots returns to Leicester tomorrow.
The city hosts the second biggest celebration in Europe and festival-goers will descend on Humberstone Gate, to pull three giant chariots from the Clock Tower, in the city centre, to Cossington Street park, Belgrave.
Devotees believe that if they get the honour of pulling the ropes of the giant chariots – carrying models of Lord Krishna, Lady Subhadra and Lord Balarama – they are brought closer to the Gods, and at the end of this life they will be granted a place in the spiritual world.
Organisers are busy cooking food, arranging flowers and decorating the chariots for the festival, which is expected to attract 9,000 visitors.
Krishan Mistry, who owns Loughborough wedding florist Vrinda Flowers, will be helping to make garlands and flower displays for the festival.
He said: "Flowers play a really important part of the festival and are very significant.
"Garlands are a traditional way of welcoming and showing respect for guests, so those are being made to give to VIPs on the day, and to offer to the deities.
"Flowers are significant because we feel that while you can offer gold and silver, that is a one-time offering. But flowers will wilt, so the offering can be made again and again.
"The flower side of things can be very busy, because it has to be done last minute as the flowers will wilt.
"The arrangements for the park were done on Friday and the garlands will be done today – into the late hours."
The 5,000-year-old festival came to the UK from India in the 1960s, and has since been celebrated in hundreds of cities all over the world.
This year will mark the 14th time the festival has taken place in Leicester – the second biggest celebration in Europe, after London.
The procession leaves Humberstone Gate at noon, and arrives in Cossington Park at 2.30pm.
One of the organisers, Nimai Devi Dasi, said she hoped this year would be bigger than ever.
"Last year, we had 8,000 people, and this year we are expecting 1,000 more," she said.
"It certainly grows every year. The atmosphere is very jovial and family-friendly, and we invite people from all cultures to join us and celebrate.
"The pulling of the chariots is very important and symbolises pulling God into your heart.
"There will also be lots going on at Cossington Park, too, with tents, free food and a children's area with dancing and yoga."

Stones honour war dead from around world

From today's Leicester Mercury (there's a photo in the paper, but not on their website):
Stones honour war dead from around world
By Peter Warzynski & Laura Elvin
Soldiers from around the world who fought under the British flag remembered the sacrifices of their fallen comrades at the unveiling of a war memorial last night.
An emotional ceremony marked the official opening of the International Troop War Memorial, in Peace Walk, off Victoria Park, Leicester.
The monument is dedicated to Sikh, Muslim, African, Caribbean and Hindu soldiers who fought for Britain in the first and second world wars.
More than 100 veterans and dignitaries attended the unveiling of two granite tablets.
Sergeant Aubrey Isaac, 70, fought with the Royal Montserrat Defence Force for 35 years.
He was at the event to remember the West Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the Second World War.
Aubrey, of Highfields, Leicester, said: "I wanted to show my appreciation for my countrymen who fought and died.
"It's important to remember everyone who sacrificed themselves for others."
Captain Jonathan Rice, 84, was a member of 2nd Battalion, Sikh Light Infantry, between 1945 and 1947.
He said: "I have wonderful memories. I'd just left school and it was like one big adventure.
"The men I fought alongside were tremendous and it's a fitting tribute to them."
The two stone tablets were unveiled by Lord Mayor of Leicester Robert Wann and president of the county Royal British Legion, Peter Roffey.
City councillor Culdipp Bhatti, chairman of Leicester International Troops Memorial Committee, conceived the idea for the memorial.
His father-in-law, Captain Chhajja Singh Kler, from Punjab, India, served in the British Army for almost 40 years.
Coun Bhatti said: "He entered the Army as an ordinary soldier and retired as a captain, which was a very proud thing for him.
"The memorial is to remember him and the many others who have given their lives to preserve our freedom. Without their dedication, history and our lives would be very different."
High Sheriff Resham Singh Sandhu was at yesterday's unveiling. His father, Sohel Singh, served in the British Indian Army during the First World War.
"I feel this is not only a great honour for the international soldiers but for the city of Leicester," he said.
"My father served on the Egyptian border between 1914 and 1918 on the frontline.
"He was a real hero and carried an injured colleague on his shoulder for seven miles from the front to the medical area.
"A bullet went through his ear and turban, but he survived."
Captain Bob Allen, 77, chairman of The Royal Tigers Association, said: "We salute all who are commemorated here, many of whose descendants no doubt now live in Leicester."

Friday, 29 July 2011

This week's visitors


Regular update on the number of visits from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 417
  2. United States 233
  3. Germany 45
  4. Russia 37
  5. France 53
  6. South Korea 18
  7. Canada 16
  8. Ukraine 15
  9. Estonia 11
  10. Denmark 9

This week's total: 836 (last week's: 988). 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.

Thank you Rahat!


Today Rahat finishes her six-week long internship with Leicester Council of Faiths, based at the Welcome Centre. She's been a great help in preparing the groundwork for a successful celebration of our 25th anniversary.

Rahat has done a great job and she's made a lot of friends through this short period of work, all of whom will wish her the very best for her future. I hope we'll be able to draw on her assistance with many of our activities in future. And whatever we do to celebrate our 25th anniversary, Rahat will be invited to be at the centre of it.

In the picture above, our Chair, Councillor Manjula Sood presents Rahat with an orchid as a small token of our appreciation of her work.

LEICESTER MAYOR SET TO REJECT GRANT TO HELP PREVENT TERRORISMism

This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:


Leicester mayor set to reject grant to help prevent terrorism
City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby looks set to reject a grant of £50,000 a year aimed at preventing terrorism in Leicester because it will upset Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The Home Office has identified Leicester as a place where potential terrorists could live and offered the funding for Leicester City Council to appoint a "Prevent" co-ordinator to work on community schemes to help stop people being recruited by extremists. Today, the city council's Conservative member Ross Grant blamed Sir Peter Soulsby for dragging his feet in taking up the offer.
He said: "In light of what happened in Norway last week I think this is ridiculous."
But Sir Peter said while the new post could be useful for policing the city, it might have a bigger negative effect because the Muslim community might feel there is too much focus on Islamic extremists.
He said: "As a programme, Prevent is resented by Muslims who feel they are being singled out, while other communities feel they are being left out because more money is being spent giving Muslims favourable treatment.
"I'm asking the questions we need to ask before we sign up."
A Home Office spokesman said: "The post is an optional grant local authorities can apply for."
It was announced Leicester had qualified for the Prevent scheme last month and the deadline for making a bid for funding is August 18.
Councillor Grant said: "I know there's a sense in Leicester that if you accept the money for Prevent it stigmatises the Muslim community.
"But this could be useful for combating terrorism and I don't want to see it being a missed opportunity."
Leicester Council of Faiths chairman Manjula Sood, who is one of Sir Peter's assistant mayors said most faith leaders were against the Prevent scheme.
She said: "The general view is it would harm the city after all the work we've done in bringing different faiths together.
"It's up to the city council to decide whether or not to take the funding but we don't feel comfortable about it."
Suleman Nagdi, of the Leicester Federation of Muslim Organisations, said: "The discussions about the Prevent co-ordinator have focused too much on the Muslim community.
"Even if it was done very fairly and looked at far right extremism as well, I think Muslims would still be concerned about it."
Leicester East MP Keith Vaz said he did not have enough information to comment on whether Prevent did more harm than good, but said the Home Office parliamentary select committee would be investigating its usefulness.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Two things I didn't much care for in Leicester today

A woman shouting into the face of a Sikh boy (maybe 12 years old), as they passed each othere, walking in opposite directions past Starbucks at the top of Gallowtree Gate: "You should be ashamed!" she spat out - thrusting her face into his (without breaking stride), underlining that last word. The boy was wearing a small black top knot on his head, not quite a turban, but apparently close enough to allow her to believe she had reason to bark at him. The poor fellow was visibly shaken but kept on walking. The woman was a person in considerable distress. That much was clear from the way she was walking (and the speed at which she was walking, charging up Gallowtree Gate then swinging round into Horsefair Street in the direction of the Town Hall). She was also  wearing one green gardening glove, with which she was scooping cigarette ends off the top of bins and depositing them inside. It wouldn't be the first time someone with mental health issues had lashed out at an innocent member of the public. Of course, perhaps I misread this one. I'd like to think that I did; but still ...

Shortly after that: a group of teens in Highcross, chanting "Nin-ja! Nin-ja!" when they spott two women wearing full burkas. I'd like to think that the teens were doing it more for their own amusement then with the intention of threatening anyone: but still ...

When we say that Leicester is a tolerant multicultural city, what do we mean? How do people in Leicester learn how to live that way?

AHMADIYYA BUS POSTER CAUGHT ON CAMERA


At last I manage to get a photo of one of the posters sponsored on buses in and around Leicester by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. I posted a blog entry on this subject earlier this year, following an article in the Leicester Mercury announcing the plan to have these posters displayed on buses here. Since then I've seen lots of the posters, but haven't been able to get a photo of any in the wild. I've never been able to get my iPhone out of my pocket fast enough as the bus speeds away into the distance!

This picture is of an Arriva service number 48, outside Bushloe High School in Wigston. The poster promotes a link to the Ahmadiyya website.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Dropping in on Rahat, while there's yet time

After I took the opportunity last night to speak at the full meeting of the Council of Faiths about the work that Rahat has been doing toward a successful celebration of the Council of Faiths 25th anniversary, some of the members said they'd come by the Welcome Centre to meet her, before she comes to the end of her internship on Friday.


First, Minou Cortazzi (on the right in photo above, with Rahat) popped in. Minou is immediate past Chair of the Council of Faiths (2007-09) and a representative of the city's Bahá'í community popped in. She spent an hour or so here, asking about the project and making some interesting proposals about a high level conference (with suitably high level speakers) to cap off our celebratory period.


Shortly after Minou leaves, we're visited by Alex Keller, who represents the Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation on the Council of Faiths (and is a member of the sub-group working on the 25th anniversary). Alex is on the right in the photo immediately above, with Rahat). While Alex is here, he helps me formulate a proposal to Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre for a short season of faith-related movies during National Inter Faith Week in November.

Monday, 25 July 2011

THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN


After the Council of Faiths meeting is over this evening, I lock up and leave Pilgrim House then take a little stroll around Town Hall Square. The fountain looks very pretty in the late evening light and I take a few pictures. Walking round the fountain, I spot a young chap splashing about in the water, clad only in a pair of big shorts - his shirt, socks and trainers laid out beside the low railing. He's casting about in the pool (which appears surprisingly deep). What's he doing there? Is he having a paddle? It's a warm and balmy evening - but not that warm and balmy.

I go up to him and ask if he's taking money out of the fountain. Not in an accusatory way or anything. You can ask just about anything in a Glaswegian accent and make it either threatening or pally: it's a fine line.

He tells me he that is, because he's starving and he has to get money from somewhere to buy some food. He then asks me where I'm from (see, faithful reader, the accent thing works). When I tell him that I must have thrown a fiver's worth into that fountain, he asks me if I mean just today. What becomes of the coins that folk throw into the fountain when they make a wish? Can there be any better use of them than they should help feed someone who can't buy his own food? What's the world coming to when young, able bodied men have to resort to this sort of thing, just to get enough money to buy something to eat?

I tell the lad that I admire his ingenuity and give him some change.

Council of Faiths full meeting

Full meeting of Leicester Council of Faiths at the Welcome Centre this evening. There are sixteen people here, representing six of our eight member faith communities. Among topics we discuss this evening are our upcoming Annual General Meeting, issues related to burial and cremation, and ways to mark our 25th anniversary.

Events in Norway are never far from our thoughts this evening. In recent years, Leicester has developed a relationship with the Norwegian city of Drammen. Dr John Hall, director of St Philip's Centre for Study and Engagement in a Multi-Faith Society, speaks about contact with friends in Drammen since last Friday, which brings closer to home the effects of the dreadful events that have rocked Norway and all of Europe.

Everybody out!

There's a full meeting of Leicester Council of Faiths at 1930 this evening in the Welcome Centre. This is a meeting that all members of the Council of Faiths are entitled to attend and to which they are all invited: that's about 40 potential attendees.

I usually prepare and present a written report of my activities since the last full meeting, about which the members are allowed to ask questions. I pick out highlights of those activities and speak about them, as well as giving special emphasis to anything coming up in the immediate future in which members can get involved or for which I'd like their assistance.

The main agenda item that I'll be speaking to this evening meeting is our upcoming 25th anniversary. I want to do justice to the amount of work Rahat has been doing on this, and jildy along members of the sub group that's been appointed to attend to this important matter.

I want to do a nice job speaking on this topic, so decide that it would be nice to illustrate it. Leicester City Council has offered to get behind the anniversary and support it in any way it can - short of giving us any money. There are a number of ways in which we hope the City Council can make good on that promise. For example, we could be the subject of a feature in leicesterlink, the civic magazine that it has been publishing and distributing free of charge to every home in the city for over 25 years. It is currently also available as a downloadable PDF and as an electronic file that can be read aloud by appropriate software. City Council also has a number of Adshells around the city, announcing activities and events in the city for each month. I decide it would be a good idea to go out and take photos of some of these Adshells to show at this evening's meeting. I go out just after 1515  to take some snaps. For one reason or another, I get waylaid around town and get back to the Welcome Centre after Rahat has left for the day at 1630. It's not until I get to the door that I realise that my keys are locked inside. I'm locked outside.

Ajay told me earlier that he'll be back after 1800 to set out the Welcome Centre for the meeting. That seems a long time away. It's not only my keys that are locked inside, but my money, my cash card, my iPod, my insulin - everything except my iPhone. So much for preparation!

While waiting around in Bishop Street, I'm thankful of the accidental company of Kirti Joshi (whom I taught on a course at the Writing School in Leicester Adult Education College) then Bez Kileen (Youth Worker with Leicester City Council, whom I used to work alongside when I was employed by ReMit at the Watershed Youth Centre). Both of them take pity on me and stop for lengthy chats. And I get the chance to show off our new big poster, which is nice.

Come 1830, I've never been so pleased to see Ajay. At least it wasn't raining!

Setting the scene for Rathayatra


The giant television screen on Humberstone Gate is showing this colourful promotional slide for Rathaytra - the Hindu Festival of Chariots - that will set out from here this Sunday morning. I have the kids this weekend, so I think it would be a nice thing for them to see: colourful, noisy, vibrant (the festival that is: though it should suit my kids perfectly!)

Gentlemen: start your engines!


I'm going around town this afternoon, photographing the Adshells where the City Council has put posters about local activities (as I hope we can persuade them to make some use of these for the Council of Faiths' 25th anniversary - or for National Inter Faith Week at least). Every one of the posters put up by City Council is advertising an upcoming Speedway meet.

While I'm taking this one (at the corner of Humberstone Gate and Charles Street, just under the giant television screen) I hear someone behind me ask, "I wonder what competition you're going in for?" I turn around to see a tall young fellow in a Man United change top, with his camera phone out. I ask him what competition he's going in for. Turns out that if you can find and photograph 17 of these Speedway posters around the city centre today, you can enter a draw to get two free tickets to the next event. I tell him what I'm doing - and it sounds dull in comparison.

Seventeen though: that's an odd number (quite literally). Is that every single one of them?

I loved Speedway when I was a kid. My dad used to take me to White City, on Paisley Road West, Ibrox, to watch the Glasgow Tigers. I wonder if it's the kind of thing my kids would go for now?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

KELMARSH HALL AND GARDENS


Sunday: a day off. A day out to Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire to see the house and gardens. The house is closed for a private function (a colourful and joyous Indian wedding) but the gardens beckon. Small talk with two charming, pleasant and helpful ladies volunteering on the admission desk reveals them to be medical professionals in their day jobs: Wendi, a Cardiac Physiologist based in Warwick and Corinne, who introduces herself as a recently qualified paramedic. Of course I have to ask if she works for EMAS (East Midlands Ambulance Service). When she says that she does, I tell her about some of the work I've been involved in with EMAS over the years I've been working for Leicester Council of Faiths - in particular the Community Engagement Event in Leicester hardly ten days ago. I give her my card and encourage her to read the blog. Sunday: a day off at last.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

WORSHIPPERS WELCOME INDIAN RELIGIOUS LEADER

This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Worshippers welcome Indian religious leader
Crowds gathered to welcome an Indian religious leader to Leicester for a weekend festival of worship and celebration.
His Divine Holiness Shree Dwarkeshlalji, head of the Hindu sect Pushti Marg (the Path of Grace), is in town to meet followers and lead them in prayer. He was greeted at the Sanatan Mandir, in Weymouth Street, Belgrave, yesterday, by worshippers dressed in traditional Indian dress offering garlands of flowers.
The three-day festival is to celebrate planning permission for a new temple – Shreeji Dham Haveli – and the launch of a £850,000 appeal to convert the former Royale Cars dealership building, in Melton Road.
Arvind Tanna, a director of Pushti Nidhi, the sect's UK charitable arm, said: "We are proud and blessed to receive the encouragement, support and guidance of our His Divine Holiness Shree Dwarkeshlalji.
"Pushti Marg has millions of followers throughout the world and about 1,000 here in Leicester.
"We have always dreamt of building a place of worship of our own and the dream is finally becoming a reality."
The temple will promote Pushti Marg through religious, cultural and social activities open to the whole community.
The festival concludes on Sunday. For more, e-mail: pushtinidhi@yahoo.co.uk

Friday, 22 July 2011

This week's visitors


Here's my regular update on the number of pageviews the blog has received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 445
  2. United States 208
  3. Germany 103 
  4. Russia 60
  5. France 53
  6. Ukraine 35
  7. Romania 34
  8. Latvia 29
  9. India 19
  10. Estonia 12

This week's total: 988 (last week's: 802). 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.

OUR SHOP WINDOW


At last, we're making good use of the promotional opportunity provided by the windows in the ground floor office - well, one of them anyway. These windows look out on Bishop Street and Town Hall Square, a prominent and busy city centre location. We've never taken advantage of this position. This morning, I put up this A1 laminated poster (made by Printing.com, Charles Street, Leicester) in one of our windows, which should win us some favourable attention. We're working on another poster for the other window, which should go up shortly.

Countdown to Zero


Saw Countdown to Zero at Phoenix Square film and Digital Media Centre this evening. I have to say that while there are some chilling moments (particularly footage of the 2004 Madrid train bombings at the start of the film in which we witness real people dying in terror), it's not quite as scary as I'd been led to belief by the reviews and by word of mouth. Although  what that says about the kind of world we live in today, when I'm not scared stiff by the still very likely prospect of nuclear annihilation (or what it says about me), I'll leave you to judge, faithful reader.

An extract from President John F Kennedy's address before the General Asssembly of the United Nations, 25 September 1961, provides the film's core text:
"Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slendesrest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us."

The film is in three parts of roughly equal length, looking at how nuclear weapons might be use "at any moment, by accident, miscalculation, or by madness" respectively. It also brings up incidents from history, where they were almost used for these reasons. The man conentionally regarded as the father of the atom bomb, Robert Oppenheimer (1904-67), features throughout. He's spooky and frightening (mind you, who wouldn;t be if every time you appear on film, you're shown in slo mo, then frreeze frame at the moment you look into the camera?). Near the end of the film, he is shown in later life, apparently close to tears, recalling the experience of the first successful test of a nuclear bomb:
"We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that one way or another."

This famous interview can be seen on YouTubeOppenheimer's statement is not the only overt reference to religion in the film.

Viewers of the film are invited to take action by visiting Countdown to Zero: Take Action and adding their name name to an electronic declaration, committing themselves to working toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.
WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, believe that to protect our children, our grandchildren and our civilization from the threat of nuclear catastrophe, we must eliminate all nuclear weapons globally. We therefore commit to working for a legally binding verifiable agreement, including all nations, to eliminate nuclear weapons by a date certain.

I added my name to the 405,421 who have already signed the Declaration.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

CITY AID WORKERS HEAFING FOR AFRICAN DROUGHT ZONE

This article is published in today's Leicester Mercury:




City aid workers heading for African drought zone
Two volunteers from Leicester were travelling to East Africa today to distribute food to starving families.
Shabir Sacranie and Harun Lambat will visit El Wak and Wajir, two areas in Kenya that have been badly affected by the worst drought in 60 years.
The pair, who volunteer for Highfields charity Caravan of Mercy, plan to deliver hundreds of food parcels and clean water to families in need.
They are taking £50,000 – raised in just a fortnight, mainly by Leicester's Muslim community via door-to-door collections and bucket collections outside mosques – to spend on the needy.
Father-of-two Mr Sacranie, who is taking time out from running his grocery store in the city to spend 12 days in the crisis zone, said: "People have been really generous – some have given £100, £200 at a time."
The drought affecting Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has devastated cattle and crops, leaving millions of people starving.
The price of the little food that is available – mainly in richer areas such as the Kenyan capital Nairobi – has soared.
Mr Sacranie and Mr Lambat will be accompanied by a Kenyan charity worker, who will help negotiate a fair price when they are buying food and supplies.
Mr Sacranie said: "We will have to see what the situation is when we get there, but we hope to be able to fill eight to 12 trucks with food and gallons of water."
The 43-year-old travelled to Pakistan to help victims of the floods in 2010, and also volunteered in Kenya four years ago.
He said: "What makes me happy is when you give a food parcel to someone. All the difficulty you have with getting from A to B and driving thousands of miles is worth it when you see people's faces when you hand them some food.
"I really can't describe it, just to see a little smile on their faces."
The charity's contact in Kenya is arranging a police escort to accompany them as it is likely their vehicle will be swamped when they arrive.
The volunteers will also be looking in to the cost of installing hand water pumps during their time in Kenya.
The charity is hoping to return there in mid-August.
Mr Sacranie said: "It all boils down to funds, but hopefully we can raise enough money to go again. We can't feed everybody, but we do our best."
The Leicester Mercury is calling on readers to give what money they can to help save hundreds of thousands of children facing starvation on the Horn of Africa.
Since we launched our appeal with UNICEF on Monday, a state of famine has been declared in parts of Somalia by the United Nations.
Half-a-million under fives are suffering from life-threatening malnutrition.
UNICEF will use the donations to buy food, medical aid and clean water.
To donate to our East Africa appeal fill in the form below, call 0800 316 5353 or go to: www.unicef.org.uk/leicester

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

WORLD FAITHS ADVISORY GROUP AT LEICESTER UNIVERSITY


 
At the University of Leicester's Chaplaincy Centre (The Gatehouse, University Road) where I've been invited to discuss ways of refreshing the relationship between Leicester Council of Faiths and the Chaplaincy's World Faiths Advisory Group.

I share a brief but welcome lunch with Dr Stephen Foster and Dr Ian Snaith: Coordinating Chaplain and Chair of the World Faiths Advisory Group respectively. We talk about the founding, past development and present state of the group and discuss ways in which Leicester Council of Faiths might be able to help it develop its services in future.

The Chaplaincy here is a Christian service, funded almost entirely by the Church of England. The university itself contributes a relatively small amount, funding the part-time post of International Chaplain (a position filled at present by my friend and colleague - and member of Leicester Council of Faiths - Julie-Ann Heath). This natural inclination toward Christianity can bee seen on the Chaplaincy's website, where a link for local places of worship leads to a page where every entry is for one Christian denomination or another.

The Gatehouse itself has only recently begun to be used by groups from outside the university's Christian community. A Buddhist group now meets here regularly. There is a generic "quiet room" on the first floor, into which individuals may bring items they need for prayer or meditation. Muslim students have been given their own facilities to use as a prayer room elsewhere on campus.

The World Faiths Advisory Group works with students and staff, mostly on issues of faith provision on campus. Historically, it has played the role of firefighter - called into action when there's a blaze to attend to, but asked to do little if anything in helping reduce the risk of fire in the first place. Stephen and Ian talk about some of the specific issues that the World Faiths Advisory Group has addressed, such as the clash of lecture times with the times for prayers observed by Muslim students.

The group has recently adopted a new constitution which (it is to be hoped) will allow it to function in ways more relevant to the needs and interests of the university today. It has undergone a process of mainstreaming its presence and services, to align with other relevant functions of the university, such as that of the Pro-Vice Chancellor, who is responsible for equalities across the board.

I brought the Council of Faiths exhibition (all nine pop up banners) to support the Chaplaincy stall at the International Students Fair held at the end of September last year in the O2 Academy (Percy Gee Building). I've been asked to do so again for that occasion this year. 

Stephen and Ian would like our assistance in obtaining more consistent representation at meetings from representatives of the city's faith communities. Although some of those representing these communities on the World Faiths Advisory Group are themselves members of Leicester Council of Faiths, there has not been, until now, someone on the group to represent the Council of Faiths itself. It's agreed that I will play that role from now on.

They're also asking St Philip's Centre for Study and Engagement in a Multi-Faith Society to play its part in reinvigorating the World Faiths Advisory Group.

The Chaplaincy will have access to an intern for six months from the start of the new academic year. Among that intern's tasks will be the bringing together of leading figures from the university's different student faith societies to work on matters of common interest.

We tentatively agree on proposing a fortnightly series of presentations hosted by each of the student faith societies in turn, starting early February 2012. This series would take as its theme an issue of interest to all faiths and on which they all have something interesting to say - but something deliberately non-contentious that is unlikely to lead to argument and disputation (e.g. education, family, pilgrimage). If Leicester Council of Faiths can contribute to the success of such activities, then by lending our assistance to the World Faiths Advisory Group we'll be able to demonstrate achievement of some important set us by the City Council, namely:
  • To encourage and promote the knowledge and understanding of the beliefs and practices of the various faith communities in the city.
  • To increase understanding and tolerance of religion for public benefit by bringing together members of different faith communities.
  • To organise public inter-faith events.
  • To consult and co-operate in social issues and other matters of concern.
  • To raise the profile and public awareness of faith issues within the communities of Leicester.

One hand washes the other.

After the meeting, I cross University Road to the Student Union in the Percy Gee Building and sit on the outdoor terrace at Starbucks there, to do some work on my laptop. It's not the kind of thing I'd usually do, but it's very pleasant there in the warm sun and mild breeze. The lime trees across the road in Welford Road Cemetery are blooming, filling the air with their intoxicating scent - and there are no smokers on the terrace to spoil it. When I was a postgrad student at the University of Leicester about 15 years ago (I took my Masters in "Modern Literature: Theory and Practice") there were precious few amenities or facilities for students. I found the campus quite depressing actually, especially in the winter months. It was dead in the late afternoon and early evenings (particularly noticeable on the course I took, as in the first year, classes finished at 1630 and in the second year at 1800). Cafes and restaurants (or should that be singular) on campus closed around 1630 and there were only two places to go; the library, where there was nothing to do except get your head down and read (or, occasionally, just get your head down) or the bar in the student union. The only hot food available was from a lone burger bar parked up outside the Charles Wilson Building. I wasn't vegetarian then, but still, I never did. The whole place was most unwelcoming. I never felt that I belonged to the university community then and spent as little time on campus as possible. Things here are very different now. The campus at the University of Leicester is a very attractive place. it's a pity that, with the changes in access to Higher Education that have been introduced recently, fewer people of similar background to mine will be able to experience it.

CreativeCoffee Club: goodbye to Jayne


CreativeCoffee Club at Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre this morning. This is the last of these events to be coordinated by Jayne Childs, who's done a great job steering the ship over the past two years. Jayne is responsible for the success of CreativeCoffee Club at Phoenix Square and we'll miss working under her gentle, subtle and supportive guidance. Good luck to her in all she does in the future (I'm talking as if she's going to fall off the edge of the world - she's on Facebook for goodness sake, man!)

Today marks a turning point in CreativeCoffee Club's fortunes, in more ways than one. A little bit of history might be in order here. CreativeCoffee Club was founded in 2007 by Toby Moores, CEO of Sleepydog media company, and Sue Thomas, Professor of New Media at De Montfort University. It offered something new on the local scene by providing a regular setting for business people, academics, teachers, public sector workers and managers to use emerging social media tools to network and exchange ideas, and to discuss how to foster creativity and innovation in the workplace. From autumn 2007 to the summer of 2009 CreativeCoffee Club Leicester was coordinated by Shani Lee and met at the Graduate Bar, De Montfort University, but since late 2009 it has been based at Phoenix Square in the heart of Leicester's Cultural Quarter. Under Jayne’s leadership CreativeCoffee Club has gone from strength to strength, gaining a substantial and very active membership.

We celebrate the regeneration of CreativeCoffee Club with a display of videos and photos from our past four years. There's one good shot of me in the display - from the back - and several less good ones. At least the black leather jacket looks good. Toby Moores and Sue Thomas say a few words about the origin of CreativeCoffee Club, its past and present and possible future, before they hand over their child to Phoenix Square. That's what's happening in the photo above with (left to right, stanging) Toby, Sue and Jayne - with Dean Williams @TheArtWizard conspicuously live-tweeting proceedings.

Since 2007 CreativeCoffee Club has been funded by De Montfort University as part of the NLab project, established in 2005 to help small businesses respond to the opportunities and challenges of new media. Over the years, NLab has made a major impact on local businesses via its conferences, seminars, mentoring, research and networking opportunities, the most influential of which has been CreativeCoffee Club. NLab comes to an end this month, while CreativeCoffee Club has become a valuable spin-off which has taken on a life of its own. I wonder how many of those who have been attending recent meetings would even have heard of NLab, let alone appreciate that CreativeCoffee Club is attached to it.

CreativeCoffee Club's funding from DMU also draws to a close at the end of July. But thanks to its growing popularity and regular attendance, Phoenix Square has decided to continue hosting the networking events. Management and coordination of CreativeCoffee Club will be handled by to Phoenix Square from the beginning of August 2011. Phoenix Square is already an important partner of DMU and this move is further evidence of continued collaboration.

In order to facilitate the continued hosting of CreativeCoffee, Phoenix Square is asking for a small group of people to form a voluntary committee to help coordinate the activities. Phoenix Square's representative on this committee will be one of its Assistant Operations Managers, Rebecca Harvey. Rebecca will play an active part in the planning, hosting and continued updating of the Eventbrite page, the blog and other social media. Phoenix Square is looking for volunteers who could also help CreativeCoffee Club grow and develop.  Requirements of the committee would be for the CreativeCoffee meeting to be hosted by at least one member of the committee, to actively greet, host and prompt networking, and collect attendee names and contact details; to plan and deliver networking events, special sessions and continue to communicate with attendees through the established methods. Phoenix Square will meet quarterly with the committee to discuss ideas and assist in bringing those ideas to life.

I chat today with several interesting people (as always). I'd like to give them a shout out here:

    CreativeCoffee Club will be taking a short summer break (appropriate for our short summers) and will reconvene under new management at 1000 on Wed 7 September.

    Tuesday, 19 July 2011

    DIOCESE ASKING FOR LESS MONEY AND MOST GOES ON PRIESTS' PAY

    This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
    Diocese asking for less money and most goes on priests' pay
    The Church of England in Leicestershire continues to serve the whole community through 365 local congregations that witness through worship and action.
    Last year, 1,606 people joined or returned to our congregations, well in excess of those who left.
    We have opened St Martins House at the heart of the city; refurbished Launde Abbey as a place of retreat, and only recently ordained deacons and priests who have entered their ministry with confidence and hope.This is a very different story to that depicted by John Burrows in his first person column (Mercury, July 15).
    It is not about a diocesan bureaucracy seeking more and more money, but a family of Christian congregations mutually supporting this common commitment to all people in all places, not least the poor.
    In fact, the diocese has been asking for less in real terms and most of that money is used to pay priests.
    It is a remarkable story of generosity and vision on the part of many thousands of people, often those from the wider community who value their local church.
    There are challenges, not least in places such as Humberstone, where the local church has been supported by the wider diocese so that the church can be sustained and in time once again take full responsibility for the costs of its ministry.
    Venerable Richard Atkinson – Archdeacon of Leicester; Jonathan Kerry – Chief Executive and Diocesan Secretary

    Monday, 18 July 2011

    HARE KRISHNAS LOOK TO MOVE INTO FORMER LEICESTER CITY CENTRE BANK

    From today's Leicester Mercury:


    Hare Krishnas look to move into former Leicester city centre bank
    A former bank could become a new home to Hare Krishna worshippers whose temple was destroyed in a gas explosion.
    The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has been without a permanent base since its premises in Thoresby Street, North Evington, Leicester, was wrecked in September.
    Now devotees have set their sights on the former HSBC offices in Granby Street.
    The grade II-listed building, completed in 1874, has stood empty for two-and-a-half years since the bank moved its operations to Enderby.
    The Hare Krishnas hope to breathe new life into the building.
    They have lodged a planning application to change the use of the building from a bank to a place of worship, with a vegetarian restaurant, creche, offices and bedsits.
    They also want to use the building, with its impressive hall, to host weddings.
    ISKCON spokesman Pradip Gajjar said: "It has been a pretty tough 10 months for us since the explosion but we hope that the bank will be a fairytale ending."
    More then 30 people were in or near the Thoresby Street building, when it went up in flames following the explosion on September 3, but nobody was injured.
    Since then, about 200 worshippers have been gathering on Sundays at the rented East West Community Project, in Wilberforce Road, Leicester.
    Mr Gajjar said the bank was pointed out to them as a potential home but had been unaffordable until two wealthy benefactors, who do not wish to be named, offered to buy it for them.
    He said: "These are two guys who came over to Leicester in the early 70s from East Africa and made the city their home.
    "The Lord blessed them and the city looked after and sheltered them and now they want to give something back.
    "They said that if we thought this was the right place for us they would, between them, buy it for us.
    "For a number of years we have been looking for a new place – even before the fire – and their generosity allows us to look at this really exciting possibility.
    "It is a beautiful building, architecturally stunning, that carries a lot of heritage and we think we can make very good use of it."
    Mr Gajjar did not wish to say how much it would cost.
    Stuart Bailey, chairman of Leicester Civic Society, said: "I'm all in favour of old buildings getting new uses and there was a fear that the magnificent old bank could have been left to fall into disrepair.
    "A building of that size and age brings with it a considerable responsibility in terms of maintenance but if the Krishnas are willing to take that on, I'll be pleased.
    "Changing the use from the bank is not a problem but if they want to do anything to the internal or external structure they may have a problem because of the restrictions that come with listed status."
    Mr Gajjar said the society still hoped to rebuild the Thoresby Street centre even if the HSBC plan succeeded.

    Students and teachers of Caring Professions


    A meeting at Leicester College (Abbey Park Campus) this morning, with Jen Monk and Angie Botrill: Trainer/Assessor and Workplace Administrator respectively for the college's Caring Professions courses.

    I met Jen and Angie at last week's Community Engagement Event run by East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS). I was pleasantly surprised when Jen phoned me at the Welcome Centre last Friday afternoon and asked if we could meet today and talk about ways in which Leicester Council of Faiths might be able to assist them and their students.

    Students on these Caring Professions courses have to complete a placement of 30 hours in an appropriate care or support setting. Leicester College is trying to look beyond the obvious and find a greater variety of placements. We're being asked to help open the door wider in the sense of helping the college obtain greater access to local care and support facilities owned or operated by businesses, charities or organisations with a particular faith identity, or which are specially focused on service users from within particular faith communities. This sounds like something we can do. I also hope that, through our onw networks of contacts, we can help Jan and Angie access other groups in the city dedicated to working with groups, families and individuals who might identify with other Protected Characteristics.

    Sunday, 17 July 2011

    THE POWER OF OM


    This programme was on BBC Radio 4 at 1330 today. Sadly, it's not available to listen again - though this is a pretty good summary, from the programme website itself.
    The Power of Om
    Reverend Richard Coles explores the world of spiritual sound and meditation and tries to understand what it is about certain sounds and chants which gives practitioners a sense of proximity to the Divine. He tunes into the Om, a sacred sound in several religions including Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism and its vibration is believed by many to be healing. He speaks to the Director for the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Shaunaka Rishi Das, who states that Meditation is something we all do from childhood, for example when we are focussing on something we want to buy and how to get it or when we kiss, but that it can be used for greater ends
    Richard meets neuroscientist Dr Alan Watkins of Imperial College who has worked with the Dalai Lama and his team in Tibet and found that people who meditate together showed signs of "entrainment" in their brain activity, the same phenomenon that allows flocks of birds or shoals of fish to move together. Is this the sense of "one-ness" people talk about when meditating?
    Richard speaks to the expert in comparative religion Martin Palmer who suggests that there is nothing inherently sacred about chanting, but that is a trick whose powers can be harnessed by despots as well as for good.
    Richard talks to Jem Finer of The Pogues, writer of their greatest hit The Fairytale of New York about his Longplayer project, a musical composition based on the meditative sound of Tibetan Singing Bowls and designed to play continuously for 1000 years.
    Richard also hears from the nuns at Saint Cecilia's Abbey on the Isle of Wight who sing Gregorian Chant everyday in its original form. What does the power of the Mother Note in Gregorian chant have in common with the mantra recitations of the Hindu tradition?
    Producer: Victoria Shepherd; A Juniper production for BBC Radio 4.

    A few interesting and intriguing observations (which I have to put here, faithful reader, since you can't hear it for yourself): how the very act of chanting in unison with other people alters a person's consciousness, affects brain physiology - even on the football terraces, giving one reason why supporters need a regular fix, even when the team they support is rubbish; that in theological terms, Om is analogous to the cosmic microwave background radiation, left over from early periods in the life of the universe after the Big Bang.

    Friday, 15 July 2011

    This week's visitors


    Here's my regular update on the number of pageviews the blog has received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
    1. United Kingdom 420
    2. United States 116
    3. Russia 88
    4. France 47
    5. Germany 41
    6. Romania 29
    7. Canada 25
    8. India 18
    9. Ukraine 11
    10. Italy 7

    This week's total: 802 (last week's: 847). 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.

    FLOG IT AND BLOG IT!

    A phone call late this afternoon at the Welcome Centre from Alex Price, a researcher for Flog It! (BBC Two's daytime show in which members of the public try and make money out of their antiques with the the help of experts by taking a risk at auction).

    They're filming an episode at the Jain Centre here in Leicester in the coming week (although I've been asked not to say precisely when, just in case it attracts more attendess than the Jain Centre can comfortably accomodate). Alex has rung to check on a few facts and figures about the Jain community in Leicester, Leicestershire and beyond for the scripted introduction to the venue. Nice chatting with him, I hope we have the opportunity to talk again.

    Leicester's Healthy Heart campaign

    This morning, while I’m in a meeting of REDP’s Working Group at Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL), I receive a call from Ajey Sharma, Senior Marketing Officer, Directorate of Quality, Communications and Engagement, NHS Leicester City. He tells me about a new campaign that’s been launched in Leicester encouraging people to put on their walking shoes to help live longer, healthier, happier lives by reducing their risk of heart disease. Leicester’s Healthy Heart initiative is challenging people to try and walk as many minutes as possible this summer to improve their health and fitness, and help reduce their risk of heart disease.

    By signing up to the campaign people can record all the minutes they have walked online and try to improve on their total each week. Team entries are also being encouraged, where people will be able to create or join a team to compete with friends and colleagues to walk the most minutes. Leicester’s Healthy Heart walking challenge runs until 2 September 2011, with prizes on offer to participating walkers and groups.

    People can register at any time by visiting www.leicestershealthyheart.co.uk and those without internet access can also join the challenge by registering at their local Leicester library and posting details of their walking minutes using freepost forms.

    Walking is being presented as one simple activity people can do as part of four simple steps to reduce the risk of heart disease, alongside others such as: giving up smoking; eating a healthy, balanced diet; increasing physical activity; drinking less alcohol.

    Ajey would like the Council of Faiths to help publicise this campaign among the faith communities in the city. I tell him that I’ll publicise this initiative through our blog and other means. The proposal arises later of helping organise walking groups from one place of worship in the city to another, bringing together people of different backgrounds, communities and traditions in a new way – while also doing something to improve their health. Not much time to explore that, but it definitely sounds worthwhile if we can make it happen. There’s a possibility that this might be something for which we could apply for funding from Near Neighbours.

    Thursday, 14 July 2011

    EAST MEETS WEST IN BURTON ON TRENT


    This afternoon I attend a joint meeting of the East Midlands Network on Spirituality and Mental Health and its West Midlands counterpart (or, depending on your viewpoint, the other way round) at All Saints Church, Branston Road, Burton on Trent. There's a good turnout of more than a dozen today, including faces old and new to me:

    High on our agenda today is how to make best use of our personnel and resources across the East and West Midlands. We decide that from now on, both networks will meet four times a year: independently then jointly then repeat the pattern. We'd like to encourage members to cross over between the regions in the independent meetings as well as taking part in the joint meetings.

    We enjoy three presentations today:
    • "On Common Ground / The Wounded Healer" by Peter Gilbert
    • "The Development of a Spirituality E-Learning Package" by Helen Philpott
    • "We Need to be Made to See the Elephant: Clinical Psychologists' Experience of Addressing Spirituality in Supervision" by Sam Malins

    We discuss some upcoming conferences and hope we'll be able to participate in some of them, in one way or another:
    • "Living in Hope: Spirituality and Practice in Mental Health Care", Liverpool Hope University, Thu 13 October 2011
    • "Doctors, Clergy and the Troubled Soul: Two professions, One Vocation?" St Marylebone Parish Church, London, Wed 2 November 2011
    • "Dementia and Belief systems", Staffordshire University, Fri 6 January 2012
    • "Spirituality in a Fragmented World", Highgate House, Northampton, Tue 15 - Thu 17 May 2012

    Phil Henry speaks about the proposed programme of public events at the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Derby in the autumn (and possibly into the new year) on the theme of Well Being. He gets several volunteers today willing to present sessions in the programme - including me! I fancy doing something based on the consultation about indicators for measuring national well being run by the Office for National Statistics, to which I responded for the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP) in May.

    Professor Peter Gilbert has edited a new book, Spirituality and Mental Health, which he brings to our attention today. This will be of interest and importance for everyone interested in the relationship between the two. I promise Peter I'd give the book a boost in every way I can, including here in the blog.

    This is a handbook for service users, carers and staff wishing to bring a spiritual dimension to mental health services. It contains 23 chapters on aspects of spirituality and mental health written by experts in the field. It promotes an understanding of people’s belief systems rather than a mechanistic approach to mental health services and proves the increasing importance of spirituality in health and social care.