Wednesday, 29 February 2012


At the Midland Hotel, Bradford, today for Big Society: The Good,The Bad & The Unequal. This national conference is hosted by JUSTWest Yorkshire and is jointly sponsored by them, Runnymede TrustJoseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

We're welcomed by Ratna Lachman, Chief Exec of JUST West Yorkshire and Maureen Grant from Joseph Rowntree charitable Trust, who set the tone for the rest of the day. The conference focuses on four main areas:

  • What does "fairness" mean in the context of Big Society?
  • Can Big Society deliver racial justice?
  • Does Big Society privilege the South over the North?
  • Is Big Society a cover for big cuts?

This event also marks the publication of a new book (with the same title as the conference), to help inform discourse regarding Big Society, to interrogate Big Society agenda, particularly as it affects VCS organisations, practitioners and service users. The book provides systematic, intelligent critique, provides an alternate narrative rather than one of grudging acquiescence and makes no bones about the necessity of speaking truth to power.

There are three plenary presentations (all of which you can access, faithful reader, by clicking on the title below):

After lunch, we also see a young people's video presentation on Big Society.

This is a very different affair from the conference I attended in London a month ago (see blog, Monday 30 January). That one was led by organisations who've obtained contracts and funding to deliver Big Society initiatives and projects, with speakers addressing many in the audience from organisations threatened by the Coalition's austerity regime - as well as by the plain and simple fact that those making decisions about development of the Voluntary and Community Sector just don't "get it". There was an undercurrent of anger and resentment at that event. It would be true to say that here, there's no undercurrent. Quite the opposite: it's more of a rallying cry. From a straw poll, I reckon I'm the only one who attended both conferences - and take it from me, there's quite a difference between the two!


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Suitable phrase
I am surprised that Alan Hayes was miffed at the Bishop's "tale told by an idiot" phrase.
Did he miss the reference?
Macbeth facing his comeuppance says:
"Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/ And then is heard no more: it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing."
As a summary of their creed, to what in it could a sec-atheist possibly object?
F J Gallagher, Leicester

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


David Johnson's First Person column appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Faith is still the warp and weft of our society
David Johnson considers how the legacy of religion still affects our lives in many ways
During a recent visit to Canterbury I saw Antony Gormley's new sculpture, Transport. Shaped in the form of a human body, it is made entirely of old nails removed from the cathedral roof during restoration.
Suspended in the crypt over the site of Thomas Becket's first tomb, Gormley's "body" represents a transitory place briefly housing the spirit for the duration of earthly life. For me it made an optimistic statement, looking both backwards to the many lives the cathedral has touched over 1,000 years, and forwards to life in another place.
It is just one modern example of religion's influence upon society over 2,000 years. Just think how Christianity has shaped the English language and literary heritage, our artistic, architectural and musical treasures. The church was promoting education, social well-being and charitable endeavour long before the welfare state, and the interplay between church and people has in large part created our national identity.
Of course over the centuries religion has had its less glorious moments. But the role of faith changes with time. So the Queen has chosen to interpret her role in the 21st century as not merely head of a sectarian Church of England, but to promote tolerance as protector of the free expression of all faiths in Britain.
To appreciate this you don't have to be a practising member of a faith. But there is danger in enjoying the fruit without looking after the roots. For if you do abandon the rituals, ceremonies and prayers, then where do you find inspiration or moral guidance? The secularists and atheists too often adopt an illiberal and negative stance. It is easy to destroy what is precious, but hard to replace it.
As Gormley says of his new sculpture: "We are all the temporary inhabitants of a body. It is our house, instrument and medium. Through it, all impressions of the world come and from it all our acts, thoughts and feelings are communicated." It is a reminder that there is more to life than just us.
And while I hold no particular brief for prayers before council meetings, I can think of nothing so sublime as attending cathedral evensong where voices, organ and prayer mingle together amid the soaring arches and pillars. This outpouring of devotion happens daily in cathedrals up and down the country; attendance is free, requires no participation and is massively under-appreciated. Yet it is invariably an uplifting and mystical experience. It may not be heaven in a literal sense, but for me it is very close nonetheless.

David Johnson is an honorary fellow of the School of Historical Studies, University of Leicester


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Too many schools in church hands?
In a recent letter I made some remarks about the Church of England which Archdeacon David Newman (Mailbox, February 13) says were misleading.
But, before replying to this, I would like to take up his statement that "there is no such thing as a 'neutral' school in terms of ethos".What does he mean by "ethos" and by "neutral"? Do community schools have an ethos? We are diverse in beliefs but one in humanity.
It seems to me that the appropriate ethos for our schools would be one that starts from people and our common humanity; one that, through respect for people, respects their religions and beliefs and welcomes the contributions that they can make – a school ethos that brings children together.
What is his position on this?
Now, back to those remarks about the Church of England. I accept that most Church of England schools do not select pupils by religion. But the Church insists on its schools having the power to do this, and its Dearing report recommends having a "substantial core" of Christian pupils and teachers.
I accept that most Church schools do not directly seek to convert children.
But what should we make of those Dearing recommendations along the lines: tie the parish church, clergy and school as close together as possible; have a meaningful act of Christian worship every day; proclaim the school as CofE by external notice board, by displays of symbols inside and outside the school (the Samworth Academy includes a new parish church).
The Church of England is using state-funded schools to proclaim its own religion, not infrequently to children for whom its school is the only convenient one.
On expansion plans: last year the Bishop of Oxford, chair of the Church's National Board of Education, said that the past decade has seen "the most significant expansion of places" in the past 200 years; and the Archbishop of Canterbury remarked last September on the prospect of the Church becoming the largest "provider" of secondary education and with post offices, libraries, citizens advice centres in its schools.
David Newman himself tells us that the Church sees itself providing services to non-church schools. This expansion is from a base of one quarter of all state schools in 2001.
Is this not too great a concentration in the hands of one body?
Allan Hayes, Leicester


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Cash grants will repair churches
Some of the county's oldest churches will share more than half a million pounds of lottery cash for urgent repairs.
The 12th Century church of St Mary de Castro, the city's parish church, will receive £187,000 to fix stonework and look at ways to mend its crumbling spire, which has been shifting slightly, causing cracks.
Deputy churchwarden Michael Hay said: "This will make a very big difference. The church's council couldn't have raised the money itself.
"The spire is 500 years old and the stone is of pretty poor quality and has been weathered badly. It hasn't been repaired for nearly 100 years."
Most of the money will fund an investigation to find the best way to fix the spire.
Once that is complete a larger, more expensive repair project will begin.
Mr Hay said: "For the main job we'll be launching a county-wide fund-raising appeal once we know the full costs. We're expecting something in the order of £500,000 but it could be more."
St Peter's in Kirby Bellars, near Melton, will get £145,000 for masonry work on the tower and spire, which are crumbling so badly the church bells have not been rung in more than a year for fear of causing more damage.
Vicar, the Rev Peter Collins said: "I want to get the tower and spire restored so the bells can ring down the Wreake valley again, so this is absolutely terrific news."
Another church benefiting from the Heritage Lottery Fund cash will be All Saints Church in Seagrave, Charnwood, which will receive £66,000 to replace copper roofing and timber.
St Martin's in Stapleton, near Hinckley, will receive £31,000 to repair the spire, St Peter's in Redmile, near Bottesford, will get £47,000 to fix the roof and St Peter's in Tilton on the Hill, near Leicester, got £59,000 for tower repairs.
The money comes from the National Lottery and is given out by English Heritage. Places of worship for all faiths and denominations can get grants of up to £250,000.
Emma Sayer, head of Heritage Lottery Fund in the East Midlands, said: "Historic places of worship are an irreplaceable part of our heritage.
"In the past 10 years, the Heritage Lottery Fund has invested £155 million into these wonderful buildings."
For more information, visit:

Monday, 27 February 2012


At Christchurch, Clarendon Park, for the penultimate session in the course, "Mindfulness & Wisdom", offered by Christians Aware as part of their Faith Awareness programme. The eight-week course has been devised by Ian Grayling and Kevin Commons from the Leicester Serene Reflection Meditation Group.

Our topic this evening: "The Place of Wisdom in the Humanist Tradition", presented by Dr Allan Hayes.

Allan discusses the wisdom of Proverbs and of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and makes a case for their value as human-created, human-centred sources of wisdom, without the need to appeal to supernatural origin. When asked to clarify what he means by "supernatural", Allan defines it (without recourse to any text) as "an agency with intention, acting with its own purpose, that is outside the normal discourse of science." 

Allan references two books, published within a year of each other, which illustrate opposite ends of the spectrum of belief: Don Cupitt's Jesus and Philosophy (London: SCM Press, 2009), in which the author presents Jesus as a radical humanist and John Shelby Spong's Jesus for the Non-Religious (New York: HarperOne, 2008), in which the author argues that Jesus is such an extraordinary figure, he must be divine.


At the Peepul Centre today, for the Equality Delivery System (EDS) Grading Group, sponsored by the Integrated Equalities Service for Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust and Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland PCTs, working in partnership with University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

This event is being held to allow participants to review the information NHS organisations have published and evidenced as part of their EDS self-assessment work and decide whether the proposed grade is appropriate.

The Equality Delivery System (EDS) is a new structured method designed by the NHS to assist its organisations in meeting the Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010, covering all nine protected characteristics. In order to get an accurate and comprehensive perspective NHS organisations using the EDS are encouraged to work with staff-side groups, community organisations and local interest groups in tackling inequalities in their areas. The EDS is broken down into four structured goals over:
  • Better health outcomes for all
  • Improved patient access and experience
  • Empowered, engaged and well-supported staff
  • Inclusive leadership at all levels

This has been planned and promoted as a two-day event: day one looking at the first two goals with the focus on patient services and experiences; day two looking at the last two goals with a focus on employment, staff support and the organisation’s leadership. Each day is scheduled to run from 1200-2015.

But it doesn't quite work out tha way. Attendees voice concerns about the kind of information evidenced (and that which has not been evidenced) and their competence to comment on what's been put before them. There's recognition of conflation between what's interesting and useful to the organisation and what's interesting and useful to service users and the kind of organisations represented here today. So during an impromptu break, the organisers rejig the whole event, cancelling tomorrow's session, bringing forward the close of today's session to 1700 and setting us the collective task of spending the next few hours discussing, devising and deciding upon the kind of evidence that would work for all of us.

I say good on them, for listening to what attendees were saying today and responding to it as a matter of urgency. I haven't seen that done very often at this kind of event. As I said to Christina Marriot, Manager of the Integrated Equalities Service, if they (and particularly she) don't get a gold star on the evaluation forms today for thinking on their feet, then there's no justice in the room!


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Bishop guilty of three errors
The Bishop, in asking whether we would be more fulfilled "if there was no monarch to act as head of the Established Church" (First Person, February 18), gets three things wrong.
The first is grammatical; when we ask hypothetical questions we use the subjunctive mood, so what he should have said is "if there were no monarch".
The second is constitutional. Since the days of Elizabeth I the monarch has been styled "the supreme governor". And to get that wrong is, far more seriously, to get Christian belief wrong.The Head of the church, of any church, is Christ.
This understanding goes back to a momentous passage in the Epistle to the Colossians, when the author says of Christ: "He is the head of the body, the church" (1:18).
Richard Gill, Leicester


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Anti-English discrimination
On behalf of the English Community Group (Leicester) I wish to thank Nick Knight for his letter regarding our community organisation and asking for evidence concerning how the British state systematically discriminates against the English (Mailbox, February 10).
I wish to list just a few examples:
English ethnicity is excluded in the Census and also from ethnic monitoring forms, essential if the English as an ethnic group are to receive appropriate levels of government funding and policies.The label "White British" not only disenfranchises the English from its legal identity but as an identity based purely on skin colour it provides far less legal protection.
The English have no official bank holiday patron saint's day; no English Parliament; no specific English anthem; no English passport; there is no consultation of the English regarding our inclusion in the European Union and of mass immigration into England.
There is no English Olympic team; English flags are being taken down by councils; local English food produce not marked as English; no original Old English language, history and culture is taught in schools.
English university students are forced to pay full fees while Scottish students receive it free.
The English have higher airport taxes; a health apartheid where English patients are charged for prescriptions while Scottish patients receive theirs free; no English community centres, and where thousands of charities and community groups exist for ethnic minorities, there is only one charity, the Steadfast Trust, for the English.
Finally, to reassure Nick that we are ideologically separate from the English Defence League (EDL), we are focussed entirely upon the needs and concerns of the English community, as opposed to the EDL which is concerned solely with militant Islam.
The EDL does not recognise English ethnicity, preferring to hide behind a false British identity and encompassing a multicultural approach to its movement.
The English Community Group (Leicester) remains a community-orientated and ethnic-specific organisation totally distinct from the EDL.
Clive Potter, chairman, English Community Group (Leicester)


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Sikh community plans free school
Sikh leaders plan to set up a free school in the city.
They have applied to the Government for permission to create a free school and are in talks with the local authority over where it could be located.
Free schools are part of the Government's flagship new policies which allow parents, charities and faith groups, among others, to set them up.
They are funded directly by the Government and do not have to follow the national curriculum, but must provide a broad and balanced education.
Indy Panesar is president of Ramgarhia Sikh Temple in Maynell Road, off Uppingham Road, Leicester, and is one of the nine temple leaders in Leicester behind the application.
He said: "A lot of parents have approached us about setting up a school and after consulting with them and seeing that there's a demand, we have put together a business case for the Government to look at.
"There is a huge Sikh community in Leicester and parents would like the option of sending their child to a school which has a background in the faith so after considering it for some time we have decided to go ahead with this application.
"As such the school will be vegetarian and if we get the go-ahead it's hoped we can have it up and running by September 2013.
"Although the school's ethos will be from the Sikh faith, it will teach the national curriculum with 50 per cent of pupils coming from all backgrounds and religions."
A number of potential locations are currently under consideration, among them Ellesmere College in Braunstone.
The college is relocating to the former Riverside Community College site in Rowley Fields. The new Sikh school would be known as Leicester Sikh School.
Mr Panesar said: "It will be for children aged four to 11 with a reception class and year one class of 30 children in each during its first year with numbers growing thereafter.
"We're keen to work with the local authority to become one of the city's family of schools."
Initial set up costs for the school are paid for by the Government. Councillor Vi Dempster, Leicester City Council's spokeswoman for children, young people and schools, said: "We're always keen to work with partners to help ensure our school provision meets the needs of our communities."
Free schools were created by the Government to give parents more choice about the types of schools they send their children to.


To hardline atheists, it is now unreasonable and “dramatically peculiar” to argue that religion is not altogether evil. How did such intolerance become acceptable to rational minds?

Saturday, 25 February 2012


This is the first day of Ayyám-i-Há, the "Intercalary Days" observed by Bahá'ís everywhere. Here's some information about Ayyám-i-Há: where it comes from, what it means and how it's celebrated (much of it adapted from relevant entries in Wikipedia):

The Báb (first of the three Central Figures of the Bahá'í Faith, historically speaking) instituted the Badí' ("wondrous", "unique") Calendar in 1847-8. He divided the year into 19 months of 19 days each, with a number intercalary days (normally four, five in a leap year) to allow the calendar to be a solar one, rather than follow the lunar format of the Islamic calendar. The Báb did not, however, specify where in the year these intercalary days should fall. Bahá'u'lláh confirmed and adopted the Badí' calendar in his Most Holy Book in 1873. He fixed the place of the intercalary days between the 18th (penultimate) and 19th (final) months of the calendar from 26 February (technically, from sunset on 25 February) to (sunset on) 1 March. It was Bahá'u'lláh who gave the intercalary days the name "Ayyám-i-Há" or "Days of Há".

The nineteen months of the Badí' Calendar (now more commonly known as the Bahá'í Calendar) are named after an attribute of God (e.g. Splendour, Glory, Beauty, Grandeur, Light, Mercy, Words, Perfection, Names, Might, Will, Knowledge, Power, Speech, Questions, Honour, Sovereignty, Dominion, Loftiness). Ayyám-i-Há symbolises the transcendence of God over these very attributes. "Há" (the Arabic letter corresponding to the English "H") has been used in Bahá'í scripture to represent the unknowable essence of God. Under the Arabic abjad system, the letter Há has the numerical value of five, equal to the maximum number of days in Ayyám-i-Há.

During Ayyám-i-Há, Bahá'ís are especially encouraged to celebrate the unity of God by showing and sharing fellowship. Bahá'ís often give and receive gifts at this time, although there are no set rules about this. It is also a time of charity and goodwill, when Bahá'ís often participate in various projects of a humanitarian nature. It's not as if Bahá'ís are meant to leave off doing such things the rest of the year, but at this time they are spurred on to make special efforts in doing so.

As is the case with virtually every aspect of the Bahá'í teachings and writings, there are levels of deeper mystical and symbolic significance to Ayyám-i-Há, some of which are described or alluded to here. But you don't have to apprehend all the meanings of Ayyám-i-Há in order to understand it or, more importantly, to join in and enjoy it.

Find out more about how Bahá'ís around the world celebrate Ayyám-i-Há on the website of the Bahá'í International Community.

The photo above is from the Garden of Ridván, a place of pilgrimage at the Bahá'í World Centre in the Holy Land. I have a photo of me, from my pilgrimage there in February 1988. It was so cold and windy that day that all the water is coming out only one side of the fountain!

Friday, 24 February 2012


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 916
  2. United States 422
  3. Germany 206
  4. France 83
  5. Russia 67
  6. India 53
  7. Canada 37
  8. Slovenia 28
  9. Latvia 21
  10. Romania 20
  11. Poland 17

This week's total: 1,855 (last week: 2,331). 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" (i.e. in the last two hours), "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.


At Bradgate Mental Health UnitGlenfield 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, Equality and Human Rights Officer in the Integrated Equality Service for LPT and the city and county Primary Care Trust (PCT) cluster, as we continue the process of briefing those most likely to use this resource.

We’re here specifically to meet staff at Beaumont Ward. It's the second time we've come to this ward. On our first visit to the Bradgate Mental Health Unit (see blog entry for Friday 13 January) we were booked to visit five wards in one afternoon. We met staff in Ashby Ward, Aston Ward and Heather Ward and were also booked to see staff on Beaumont Ward (and Belvoir Intensive Care Unit for that matter) but Beaumont was almost entirely bank staff that day, so we rescheduled this visit.


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Misrepresenting secularism
Bishop Tim (First Person, February 18 ) suggests that this is an opportunity to "make those who are secular feel at home".
I would welcome that: for I did not feel welcome when he kept me from speaking in the civic service as chaplain to the Lord Mayor, nor when he wrote in these pages that my beliefs were a "tale told by an idiot", nor when the Lord Mayor, Lady Mayoress and I found ourselves listening to a psalm in which the psalmist grieves about "the ungodly" prospering but is reassured knowing that they will "consume: perish and come to a fearful end!".
I do not feel welcome when he insinuates that I would get rid of spires, churches, gurdwaras and temples – he did this several years ago in correspondence over setting up the Samworth Academy – he has had ample time to learn otherwise.
And as for wanting "a secular state from which all signs of human believing have been removed" – it is very difficult to engage with fantasies.
These may be personal matters, but when we come to Baroness Warsi's Vatican Speech, we are getting to serious issues important to us all.
We have a senior figure in our government who seems not to have the first idea of political and religious history, who lacks breadth of vision, who is dangerously intoxicated and naively enthusiastic.
Her smearing and demonising of secularism is frighteningly like the demonising of Islam that she and I would both condemn – it is never plain "secularism", but always "militant and deeply intolerant secularism", "aggressive secularism imposed by stealth", "totalitarian secularism that denies people the right to religious identity", "secularism that attempts to remove all trace of religion from culture, history and public discourse".
How did she get these ideas? Not by growing up in Leicester.Humanists and secularists do not ask people to give up or diminish their faith or dumb down – we ask them to look more deeply into them and share what they can with us.
We fully recognise that religion has a role to play and that it is central to the lives of many – we have always defended and will always defend freedom of religion.
We share with the Pope the view that "the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief... need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilisation".
We share with caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib: "Every man is your brother... either your brother in faith or your brother in humanity."
We share with Sayeeda Warsi the view that "the cultures we've created, the values we hold and the things we fight for stem from something we've argued over, dissented from, discussed and built up" – but does she have any idea what these things are? We share humanity with everyone.
Allan Hayes, Leicester Secular Society

It's ironic that, when I read Allan's letter on the Mercury website, two of the three "Ads by Google" listed immediately below it were: "How to convert to Islam" (become a Muslim with Live Help chat) and "Loft Conversion Experts".


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Compulsory worship is what we are opposed to
The Bishop of Leicester writes that "No-one is forced to worship against their own conscience" ("This is not the time to build a secular state", First Person, February 18).
He appears to overlook the fact that the Church of England lobbied for (and continues to oppose any changes to) the current law requiring acts of collective worship in state schools, the majority of which, in any given school term, should be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character".
The law gives parents the right to have a child excused from worship, but no such rights are recognised for school pupils, even those above school-leaving age.
Leicester Secular Society has been campaigning against this meaningless concept of "compulsory worship" for decades, but to date the Bishop, and his colleagues in the House of Lords, have strongly opposed allowing children to follow their conscience. I hope the Bishop's words mark a change of policy by the Church of England.At present the requirement for Christian worship is divisive, making it more difficult for schools to promote a cohesive community.
As to "it raises the question, what would a secular culture look like?", I would suggest that he looks at a the secular government of the USA where all forms of religion are much stronger than in the UK.
Secularists can be of all faiths and none, and some work to help preserve local churches. Secularists don't want to demolish places of worship any more than they would want to demolish golf club houses.
Secularists want to protect the freedom to practise religion (or not) and to pray, including in public. What we do object to is prayer being involved with the process of government, which should be completely agnostic with regard to religion.
John Catt, Loughborough

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


At Bradgate Mental Health UnitGlenfield 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, Equality and Human Rights Officer in the Integrated Equality Service for LPT and the city and county Primary Care Trust (PCT) cluster, as we continue the process of briefing those most likely to use this resource.

We’re here specifically to meet ward staff in the Belvoir Intensive Care Unit. This is the second time we've come to Belvoir ICU. On our first visit to the Bradgate Mental Health Unit (see blog entry for Friday 13 January) we were booked to visit five wards, including Belvoir ICU (and Beaumont Ward, for that matter) in one afternoon. However, there had been some miscommunication and our visit wasn't in Belvoir ICU's diary, so we couldn't get staff together and deliver the briefing that day. Today we pop in an hour before our visit proper (scheduled at 1400) just to make sure that the briefing is in the  diary this time: it isn't. Rather than reschedule again, we agree to come back at 1400, even if only to speak to a couple of staff members.

After half an hour or so spent in the Involvement Centre, we come back to Belvoir ICU, where we deliver our briefing to three members of staff, who receive us warmly and listen to the briefing with interest.


Abida Hussain and I fetch up at the Bradgate Mental Health Unit, Glenfield Hospital an hour or so before our appointment at the Belvoir Intensive Care Unit, where we're scheduled to deliver one of our briefings on the NHS Staff Multi-Faith Resource this afternoon.

This is the second time we've been booked to visit Belvoir ICU. On our first visit (13 January) there had been some miscommunication and our visit hadn't been entered in the ward diary, so we couldn't deliver the briefing. We thought we should call in early this time, to make sure that we're in the diary for today. We're not. Faced with rescheduling again, we decide to come back at 1400, the time we'd booked, even if it means we'll only be speaking to a couple of staff members today.

In the meantime, we head for the Involvement Centre, to get a coffee and kill some time till our meeting at Belvoir ICU. This turns out to be serendipitous. On entering the Involvement Centre, I'm pleased to see Grant Paton (photo above, at his post), whom I've known for years now, from my time at Network for Change, who is volunteering here. He sits with us and talks about the Involvement Centre, with lots of enthusiasm. We're joined by Louise Maine, member of staff in charge of the centre. Over the next 20 minutes or so, we agree that we'll come in and do one of our briefings on the NHS Staff Multi-Faith Resource for the volunteers in the Involvement Centre (actually, two such sessions in the next few weeks). We also float the possibility of us providing briefings for the groups and organsiations who support the Involvement Centre, such as Genesis and LAMPdirect.

I promised Grant that I'd big up the Involvement Centre on the blog, so here it is:
Who is the Involvement Centre for? Everyone.
What is it? A place where people can meet and work in partnership with LPT to improve services.
Where is it? At the Bradgate Unit site.
Why have one? Because service users, carers and local groups asked for an involvement centre.
What's in it? Coffee shop, desk space, meeting tables, wi-fi access, information on services and all issues that people may want to know about who are seeking care and treatment.
Who will be there? Volunteers, service users, carers, local groups.
What will it offer? PALS (Patients Advice and Liaison Services), meet the manager, gather people's thoughts and opinions.
Do I have to go to the centre? It's up to you. It's not a day care centre or a drop in centre. It's only the second in the country.
Yes, but what does it do?
  • it provides a dedicated space where the service user and carer groups can book space, meet, network and use shared facilities.
  • it will support commissioned service user and carer groups to develop in-reach and out-reach services
  • it will support the development of social enterprise groups and provide opportunities to network
  • recruit people to become Foundation Trust Members
  • recruit people to become volunteers
  • offer opportunities for people to engage in arts and sports
  • provide access to Patients Advice and Liaison Services
  • provide access to Welfare Rights and benefits services
  • provide access to Spiritual and Pastoral Care services
  • provide access to advocacy services
  • provide access to employment facilitators
  • provide information on local groups, services, education, employment
  • provide information for people's health and well-being and host "Let's Talk About Health" events
  • signposting people to available groups and support that may need to be language, faith, age, culture and sexuality specific
  • work with service users and carers to develop and undertake questionnaires, surveys and research projects which will serve to improve care services
  • provide a variety of ways for people to express their views, e.g. electronic, 1-1, meetings, groups, advocates, PALS, "Listening and Working Together" events


At a meeting with members of the Spiritual and Pastoral Care Team for Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT) this morning, I'm given a copy of their Spiritual Needs Assessment Tool, recently developed for use with patients in ward settings. It's a fairly simple and straightforward questionnaire, which I've copied out below.
Spiritual and Pastoral Care
Chaplains from the Spiritual and Pastoral Care Team are available to visit on wards to provide spiritual and pastoral care for those of any faith or none. You do not need to be religious to use our service.
If you would like support from the team please could you fill in the form and return to use. Thank you. [Then, after space for Name, Ward and Date]:
  1. Do you follow any faith or religion?
  2. If so, which one?
  3. Do you wish to practise whilst in hospital? (If "No", go to Q4)
  4. What do you need to do this?
  5. Would you like pastoral or spiritual support from the team?
  6. Is there anything that gives you a sense of meaning or purpose?
  7. What are the sources of hope, strength, comfort and peace for you?
  8. What keeps you going in difficult times?
  9. What or who helps you most when you feel anxious or need help?
  10. What are your fears about the future?
  11. Have you had any major losses recently?


I'm at the Chaplaincy Centre, Daisy Peake Building at The Towers on Gipsy Lane this morning with Abida Hussain, Equality and Human Rights Officer, Integrated Equality Service, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT).

We're briefing members of the Spiritual and Pastoral Care Team on the NHS Staff Multi-Faith Resource. Four of their six-member team are here this morning:
  • Revd Sally Martin, Lead Chaplain;
  • Revd Frances Ballantyne (no relation), Christian Chaplain who covers Ashby, Coalville, Hinckley and Loughborough community hospitals as well as one afternoon per week at the Bradgate Unit;
  • Revd Rowenna Bass, Christian Chaplain who covers Lutterworth, Market Harborough, Melton Mowbray, Oakham community hospitals;
  • Imam Fazlur Diwan, Muslim Chaplain who covers the Bradgate Unit, Arnold Lodge, and also works with Community Teams.

Sally was helpful in the development of the resource, which contains appropriate information about the services of the Spiritual and Pastoral Care Team.

Abida and I have done a number of briefings on the resource to ward staff at various hospitals over the past few months (see blog entries passim). These tend to be brief (though, hopefully not rushed), catching staff at the times of handover between shifts. This morning, it's good to be able to speak longer and to discuss the content and use of the resource in greater depth.

We also talk about the Prayer Room at Lakeside, LPT’s new company headquarters. I offer a copy of the dossier compiled by Rosemarie Fitton when we were working with Highcross on their Prayer Room, so that LPT can benefit from its collection of examples of good (and bad) practice, not only for this facility at Lakeside, but for Prayer Rooms operating at its other sites.

We discuss the proposed Staff Inter-Faith Forum, which is still in embryonic form. We talk about how use of social media (particularly podcasting) can play its part in making this project a success.


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
In defence of secularism
Bishop Tim Stevens worries about the erosion of Christianity from public life and suggests that secularism – the separation of the church and state – threatens the whole fabric of the church. However, one only has to take a look across the pond to America to realise that a secular constitution will not impede the practice of religion, in fact, quite the reverse!
As the bishop mentions in his article, the ruling on council prayers will not prohibit groups of people from praying before council meetings, if they so wish. The ruling just upholds the right of individuals in office not to be forced to take part in religious practices. Personally, I would not dream of forcing my own ideology upon others.
I suspect that the real reason for advocating keeping the church and state together is that this arrangement best suits the interests of the church, as the religious customs of the state help to promote the church's message and give it credibility it would otherwise not enjoy.
The bishop's position is, therefore, not motivated out of fairness for other religions and beliefs but purely out of interest for his own church.
It is true that the constitutional arrangement between church and state is a long established part of our history. However, so was public hanging. Simply because an arrangement has been present for centuries does not mean it is fit for the 21st century.
Secularism is not about getting rid of Christianity. In fact, secularism serves to protect all religions equally and to defend the right of people to practise whatever faith/belief they wish. What secularists are against are the privileges the church enjoys, which are purely down to an accident of history, rather than anything else.
Richard Hopper, Braunstone


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Take the train, Bishop!
I refer to the article by the Bishop of Leicester, "This is not the time to build a secular state" (First Person, February 18) in which he asks, "what would a secular state look like?"
In fact, if he takes the train from St Pancras to Paris he will be in one, for France is a secular state. Otherwise he can travel to Mexico or Turkey, which are both countries with serious problems, but in the latter case are partly caused by a religious party trying to get its hands on the reins of government.
However, instead of taking a trip on Eurostar, he paints a fantasy-picture of what he thinks life would be like.
In fact, his statement that there would be "no great public services" really is nonsense.
The churches can have their services as much as they wish, except that they should stand on their own two feet and not expect the rest of us to support their bishops in the House of Lords, their subsidised chaplains in the armed forces and in hospitals (costing the taxpayer nearly £30 million a year).
He sees cathedrals, churches, gurdwaras and mosques being razed to the ground.
Perhaps he is thinking of the period of the formation of his own schismatic church, which destroyed and plundered the great monastery buildings, such as Leicester Abbey at the time of the Reformation.
He falls back on the statement that the CofE has shaped and coloured our national life; however that is not an unqualified good. Can he not see that the non CofE members of Bideford Council may find it insulting to have their time wasted by having to kowtow to prayers from a religion to which they do not subscribe? He should take the Eurostar.
Michael Gerard, president, Leicester Secular Society

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


A statement to the House of Commons today, by the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:
I am today publishing “Creating the Conditions for Integration”, the Government’s approach to enabling and encouraging integration in communities throughout England.
“Creating the Conditions” sets out how integration is achieved when neighbourhoods, families and individuals come together on issues that matter to them. It is based around five key factors:
I. Common ground—Shared aspirations and values, and a focus on what we have in common rather than on difference
II. Responsibility—Promoting a strong sense of mutual commitment and obligation.
III. Social mobility—People able to realise their potential to get on in life.
IV. Participation and empowerment—People have the opportunities to take part and take decisions in local and national life.
V. Challenge to intolerance and extremism—A robust response to threats which deepen division and increase tensions. 

Most people from different backgrounds get on well together, feel they belong to their neighbourhood and to this country, and have a sense of pride in the place where they live, but challenges remain in particular places. Building a more integrated society requires collective action across a wide range of issues, at national and local levels, by public bodies, private companies, voluntary and community organisations and, above all, communities and individuals. “Creating the Conditions” sets out the Government’s views and our role in this process. 
We recognise that integration is a vital local issue. We will ensure that the integration benefits of national programmes and projects are recognised and supported. All Government Departments have an important role in tackling barriers to integration, in particular those relating to long-term social and economic challenges.
Beyond this, integration requires a local response and we strongly encourage local partners such as local authorities, police forces and other statutory bodies to work together to drive action and to learn from each other. To support this we will use tools such as the Localism Act 2011 to give people the power to come together to take action. We will seek opportunities to support projects that are sustainable through community or business support and which exemplify positive activities or pioneer new approaches. We are committed to outflanking and challenging extremism and intolerance and we will take the necessary action to do so.
Together, these are fundamental changes to how Government Departments and the rest of the public sector work in this area. This approach will make integration the everyday business of public services, the private sector and wider civic society, while ensuring local responsibility and the opportunity for everyone to contribute.


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
The role of church schools
There are a number of misleading ideas in Allan Hayes' letter "A divided society looms" (Mailbox, February 13).
Contrary to the implication of the letter, most Church of England schools do not "select pupils by their religion" and have very inclusive admission policies which are open to people of any religion or none. What is on offer is a Christian ethos in terms of the values and practices of the school and the approach to education.
This, however, is not exceptional. There is no such thing as a "neutral" school in terms of ethos and a secular-humanist outlook is just as much a faith stance as a religious one.
Of course, it would be natural for Anglicans to want the next generation to understand and experience the Christian faith at school, but the idea of the church "using schools more systematically to evangelise" is again misleading, and church schools would understand the distinction between education and ethos on the one hand and any attempt to convert on the other.
Finally, saying that "the church is offering to take the place of local authorities in providing assistance" and "looking to be the biggest 'provider' of education in the country" makes it sound as if the church has initiated big expansionist plans.
The fact is that the Government has introduced the academies initiative and the provision of the local authority in the county is diminishing fast.
Leicester diocese's board of education is very committed to support its 97 church schools, many of which are small and are very vulnerable in this new era. Consequently clustering with other schools is one way to ensure that they continue to have access to good quality services.
Sometimes it will make sense to partner with non church schools too.
However, the purpose of that would not be to make them become church schools, but to benefit from shared support and resources.
So I would have no quarrel with Allan Hayes' conclusion – "We must work together" – a commitment to the best education for our children demands that.
However, misleading statements about the nature and purpose of church schools is only going to increase division and defensiveness, when in reality they are as committed to an inclusive vision for education as anyone.
David Newman, Archdeacon of Loughborough and chair of the Board of Education for Leicester Diocese


Last week, I posted an article lifted from the Leicester Mercury about a forthcoming exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of the Asian community from Uganda. This morning, I found out some more information about this on the website for New Walk Museum and ArtGallery.
40 years: The Ugandan Asian Story
New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester
14th July - 30th September 2012 
Leicester Arts & Museums are planning an exhibition at New Walk Museum & Art Gallery to mark the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, and for some of them, a subsequent move to Leicester.
The exhibition will focus on the 40 years since the expulsion and the impact the Ugandan Asian community has had on Leicester and the way the community has adapted to life in the UK.
As part of the development of the exhibition we are looking to work with the Ugandan Asian community to record memorable stories by interviewing people, scanning photographs and recording objects. We are particularly interested in memories and objects from the early years of moving to and living in Leicester.
Please come along to our event day in March to share your memories and stories as well as to learn more about the events that unfolded over 90 days in 1972.
40 years: The Ugandan Asian Story - Event Day
Saturday 10th March 2012, 11.00am - 4.00pm
Belgrave Neighbourhood Centre, Rothley Street, LE4 6LF
If you would like to find out more about the exhibition or event day please contact: Philip French on 0116 225 4980 /