Monday, 30 April 2012


This lunchtime half a dozen of us gather at the offices of Christians Aware in Saxby Street, to review the Faith Awareness course offered in the last spring term ("Mindfulness and Wisdom") and discuss what might be offered in that slot starting January 2013.

We settle on the title, “Going on Beyond: Meditation and Mysticism in the World Faiths”.

It was agreed that this course focus less on theory and more on practice than previous courses and not be so academically inclined.

The course will start (as is customary) with a couple of introductory sessions led by Ian Grayling and Kevin Commons which will set out the faith neutral background:
  • Fowler’s higher stages of Faith - going beyond the limits of the rational mind
  • Zohar & Marshall on numinous and mystical experience
  • Possibly some material from Alister Hardy’s religious experience research unit
  • Meditation or contemplative prayer as an aid to going on beyond
  • Introduction to meditation practice – focusing on physical posture and the breath

A series of inputs from speakers representing a selection of the main world faiths who will:
  • Set out the practice of meditation or contemplative prayer in their own tradition
  • Provide a brief story of a revered person from their own tradition as an exemplar of the particular practice
  • Provide instruction on the form of meditation or contemplative prayer used in their own tradition
  • Lead a 15 minute exercise based on the practice
  • Answer questions from the audience arising from their own brief experience of the practice that evening

A final round-up session will take an overview of the whole course and will promote the interfaith meditation group hosted by the Buddhist group at Leicester University.

Chairs will be available for the formal meditation session.  People wishing to sit on the floor will be asked to bring along their own meditation equipment if necessary.

Friday, 27 April 2012


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 966
  2. United States 662
  3. Russia 262
  4. France 84
  5. India 70
  6. Ireland 68
  7. Germany 59
  8. Canada 27
  9. Ukraine 26
  10. Netherlands 16

This week's total: 2,240 (last week: 1,917). 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.


In recent months, Leicester Council of Faiths has been working with Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust on a few interesting projects.

One we're working on now is called "Faith Community Health Champions". This project is intended to help local NHS staff understand how the religion or belief of individuals impact on their experience of health, illness and well-being and how it influences their access and attitude to health care services locally.

This is being done by means of short video interviews, which will be used for internal training purposes.

Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust has asked me to film a number of these video interviews with individuals from a variety of religions or beliefs living in Leicester, Leicestershire or Rutland. That includes Secular Humanists and people of no particular beliefs.

We're not necessarily looking for dramatic, life-threatening medical conditions. While that would be interesting of course, we're also keen to talk with those living with conditions such as insomnia, gastric reflux, flat feet - the kind of everyday niggling things that don't grab the headlines but can still make life miserable. They are all of interest in this project. If you have any kind of medical condition, have experienced illness or are in recovery from a medical procedure, then you could help.

The interview should last no more than ten minutes. The whole experience should take no longer than half an hour. Respondents are asked to sign a Release Form, giving Leicestershire NHS Partnership Trust permission to use the video interview for internal training purposes.

There's a set of seven simple questions which everyone will be asked. Nothing personal or confidential is involved:

  1. What’s your name?
  2. Do you identify with any particular religion or belief?
  3. Do you have any kind of medical condition?
  4. How does your religion or belief impact on your health needs and how you access health care services?
  5. Would you like to say something about your experiences with the local health service (good or bad)?
  6. Has anything happened to you with the local health service that you found either frustrating or supportive?
  7. If you could change one thing in your relationship with the local health service, what would that be?

Abida Hussain and I film the first of these interviews with one of our respondents this afternoon. We're hoping to do a dozen or so within the next two weeks. Any offers from volunteers will be gratefully considered.

Thursday, 26 April 2012


At De Montfort University, Hugh Aston Building this evening, for Sue Thomas's Professorial Lecture, The Future of Cyberspace. This is my second visit to Hugh Aston today. I was here this afternoon for the launch of the new PhD internship scheme, jointly offered by De Montfort University and the University of Leicester.

Now, before talking about the lecture itself, I have to start by crediting Prof Sue Thomas as having been one of the biggest influences on my post – though without her intending it, or knowing it. As founder and guiding spirit of Amplified Leicester and CreativeCoffee Club (for the years it was funded by DMU), she's helped create many opportunities to meet, connect with and get to know interesting people, many of whom were interested in me and my work for Leicester Council of Faiths. I've come to rely on many of these people as part of my professional support network. Some are my friends. Sue didn't do this deliberately of course, nor did she do so deliberately for me. Undoubtedly there are many people able to say similar things about how they've benefited from Professor Sue's work. It was largely through situations and networks she established and into which I was welcomed that I came to see how my work (and the institution I work for) could be located within varied, often surprising, strands of the wider cultural life in the city of Leicester - and beyond. Significantly, it was also through these networks that I became aware of the affordances of social media and how I might exploit them in my work. My involvement with CreativeCoffee Club and Amplified Leicester helped set the tone for the last four years and more of my work. For good or ill, faithful reader, you could call Prof Sue Thomas the Godmother of this blog! After all, I'm a big fan of giving credit where it's due.

In the earliest days of my post when I was a bit clueless about how to get off the ground, I attended the second-ever meeting of CreativeCoffee Club, back in the days when it took place at DMU Graduate Bar every other Wednesday morning (handy for me, since I lived only ten minutes walk from there at that time). Some folk wondered what, as an employee of a faith-based organisation, I was doing there. There were times when I wondered that myself! But this was the first such group I was able to tap into - and the beginning of serious networking on my part over the last five years.

I wasn't part of the first, formal iteration of Amplified Leicester (which was essentially a course) though I wish I had been. I reckon I was not only the first person to apply to be on it, but also the first to withdraw my name. I just couldn't make that kind of regular weekly commitment fit my unpredictable work pattern at that time. So I could have been a peripheral figure as far as Amplified Leicester was concerned, but I wasn't content to let that happen either. I still got as much as possible out of that, even if I had to do so as a twelfth man.

Both CreativeCoffee Club and Amplified Leicester feature extensively throughout this blog (see, for example, the post on Amplified Communities of Faith or Belief, a panel presentation that Sue asked me to convene at Phoenix Square Film & Digital Media Centre, Wednesday 23 March 2011).

Well, as far as this evening is concerned: it starts off typically, for a Sue Thomas event, when we're asked to ensure that our phones are turned on, so we can tweet throughout, using the hashtag #technobiophilia. Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace is the title of Sue’s forthcoming book, due out in 2013. Find out more about it here. I'm unable to do much tweeting, as there's no service for O2 in the lecture theatre.

Here's Sue's own synopsis of the main themes of her lecture, taken from her website:
The act of entering cyberspace was, along with the entering of outer space, one of the most profound experiences of the twentieth century. In 1969, humans landed first "on" the moon (July), and then "in" cyberspace (September) with the connection of the first two nodes of the internet. Today the mountains of the Moon remain neglected and unexplored, but cyberspace has evolved into a deeply familiar habitat whose geography has been shaped by those who built and used it. This lecture will explore the evolution of the landscape of cyberspace from its creation as an unpopulated wilderness through its exploration, colonisation, cultivation, settlement and growth, and offers some predictions for the future of this most exotic place.

Rather than paraphrase or summarise the whole lecture (succinct as it was, lasting hardly more than 35 minutes), I advise you to follow this link to the slides. I'll pick up on a few things that were of special interest to me though.

It's hardly possible to discuss the future of cyberspace without reviewing its past and considering how it’s come to its present situation. To this end, we kick off with a fascinating video, The Internet of Things. In her review of the past and present of cyberspace (the realm we enter when we connect to the internet), Sue pays special attention to its relationship with nature. As the lecture progresses, this becomes her central concern. There’s long been an assumption that one is opposed to the other, that the virtual world and the natural world are mutually exclusive – an assumption Sue tests out in different ways at various points this evening.

Sue highlights how the metaphors we use to talk about cyberspace (and our experience of it) are so frequently drawn from nature. This is of special interest to me as it connects with Lackoff & Johnson's Metaphors We Live By (1980) a book that I've long found influential. But natural things don’t naturally belong in cyberspace. We put them there because we want them to be there - and this is a function of biophilia (definition: “The innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes” E.O. Wilson, 1984).

Biophilia is not just aesthetically pleasing. It soothes us in cyberspace. Sue extends Wilson's definition to the new term, technobiophilia: “The innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes as they appear in cyberspace.

Sue leaves us with a vision of the future of cyberspace involving, at the very least, not seeing it as being oppositional to nature. Being connected to one doesn’t necessarily mean being disconnected from the other - indeed the only viable future for both involves reinforcing that relationship, which might take us down some unusual and unpredictable roads. This is illustrated with a weird and wonderful video, Philip Beesley's Hylozoic Ground. This term, hylozoism, is a new one to me: the philosophical point of view that all matter (including the universe as a whole) is in some sense alive. Now there’s food for thought!


At De Montfort University, Hugh Aston Building, this lunchtime for the launch of a new PhD internship scheme, jointly offered by De Montfort University and the University of Leicester.

For six weeks in the summer of 2011, Leicester Council of Faiths had the services of a graduate intern provided by De Montfort University. Rahat Ahmed gave a lot to our organisation in that short time and on the basis of that experience we'd back this kind of scheme. We hope we can take advantage of this new internship scheme, either through the Council of Faiths or through the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP's Researcher, Carolyn Pascoe, is here with me). We're the only ones representing the Voluntary and Community Sector as potential employers. There are nine other organisations represented at this launch, from the private and public sectors. 

PhD students are recruited from the best quality graduates and spend three or more years researching into a specific area, analysing their findings and generating solutions. They are self-motivated and disciplined individuals who are accustomed to working alone to come up with solutions to problems.  Because of this quality, they will require minimal supervision throughout the project. Although some PhD students subsequently carry on into an academic career, over 50% of doctoral graduates leave university to enter business or public service. In recognition of this, all research students receive extensive key-skills training in areas such as communication, project-management, information technology, etc. The PhD Internship scheme is intended to give research students an opportunity to gain first-hand experience in the workplace, using their skills to address critical issues of commercial or social importance. PhD interns may bring directly relevant knowledge and skills to the area of work, or they may be able to apply portable skills that are relevant and useful across a variety of disciplines and topics.  

Between them the two universities have over 2,000 PhD students. This new PhD internship scheme will have a relatively low-key start, with six internships in the first year, doubling in number in the following year. Any internships starting this year should be completed by 31 December 2012.

The cost to an organisation taking on a PhD student as an intern is £600, which covers 20 days of the PhD intern’s time.  This money will be used to pay travel expenses for the student and any other incidental costs associated with the project as well as the University’s administration costs. The 20 working days can be spread over a period not exceeding six months as agreed between the organisation and the intern.

Seven PhD students who'll be taking part in the internship scheme attended the launch today. They're all in the photo above. Back row, left to right: 
Valasia Sawvidou, University of Leicester, Department of Politics & International Relations. PhD title: The immigration issue and the effect it has on voting in national and European Parliament elections
Joba Akinjo, University of Leicester, Department of Toxicology. PhD title: Side effects of chemicals on male reproductive system
Gemma Mitchell, University of Leicester, Department of Sociology. PhD title: How experts navigate and translate risk knowledges in the "risk society": a case study of social workers
Shujaul Khan, Leicester University, Department of Biology. PhD title: Plant communities classification and vegetation ecosystem services of the Western Himalayas
Front row, left to right:
Eleanor MacKillop, De Montfort University, Department of Politics & Local Government. PhD title: Change in local government understanding of commissioning
Mohamed Maricar, De Montfort University, Department of Electronic Engineering. PhD title: Design of circuit to enhance the performance of high frequency Planar Gunn diode
Ammar Abdulwahab Noorwali, De Montfort University, Faculty of Technology. PhD title: Reducing variability levels in food processing industry

This is the first of two visits to Hugh Aston today. I'll be back later for Sue Thomas's Professorial Lecture, The Future of Cyberspace.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


At the University of Leicester, Bennett Building, Department of Geography, this morning for the latest seminar in the University's Mapping Faith and Place project. Mapping Faith and Place is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) within their funding stream, "Care for the Future: Thinking Forward Through the Past".

The core aim of the project is explore the significance of South Asian religions and cultural heritage in Leicester's urban landscape. The wider context for this work, of course, includes the other aspects of religious and cultural identity and life in the city. There's more to the diversity of Leicester in terms of faith and belief than just the South Asian representation - as the project acknowledges, both in these workshops and in its print and online publications.

This is the last of three seminars for this project. You can read earlier blog posts for the launch event (Friday 7 October 2011), first seminar (Tuesday 18 October 2011) and second seminar (Monday 16 January 2012). These seminars will be followed by a final conference in the summer, although it's hoped that the project will continue beyond that period of initial funding.

Leicester Council of Faiths has lent a hand at various stages of this project (although if we'd grasped how significant Mapping Faith and Place is, we'd surely have done more to help). We borrowed the two pop-up banners for our display at Highcross during Inter Faith Week a couple of months ago, when we also distributed many copies of the Leicester Faith Trail booklet. Members of staff (Deirdre O'Sullivan and Dr Ruth Young - both of whom are here today) and students from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History took part in that exhibition.

The first seminar focused on built sacred spaces in a stricter architectural sense: whether new-built or taken over from other, earlier uses, expressing a break from, or continuity with the past. The second concentrated on sense of place: how people construct stories around geographical sites and personal identities. Today we're looking at new media, the transformative nature of digital technology to affect identity and project it into the world.

I was concerned that we’d have an unmanageably small turnout this morning, given torrential rain and the relatively difficult access to the venue. But there are a dozen of us here, which is more than enough to make it work.

First order of business is the uploading, copying or scanning of resources related to places of worship or faith trails that each of us have been asked to bring today. I've brought three digital photographs taken on the Holi Yatra Walk, Saturday 10 March. Others have brought sound clips, video and solid artefacts.

Dr Claire Jarvis, Senior Lecturer in Geographical Information, gives a fascinating PowerPoint presentation, "Representing Faith and Place". She shows and discusses some ancient maps which may be said to tell us more about the people who made them rather than the places they were intended to describe. She speaks of how we are becoming "prosumers" (a hybrid of producer / consumer) in this geospatial digital age; prosumers of a vast quantity of maps, which are being created and used in greater numbers than ever before, and in increasingly imaginative and idiosyncratic ways. Maps are being increasingly used to reflect lived experience, to tell stories about ourselves as individuals and communities. We see some examples of this kind of map too, which say something more nuanced than just where something is located or how to find a place. I'm especially struck by this quotation in her presentation, from Miguel Helft, in the New York Times, 27 July 2007:

With the help of simple tools introduced by Internet companies recently, millions of people are trying their hand at cartography, drawing on digital maps and annotating them with text, images, sound and videos.
In the process, they are reshaping the world of mapmaking and collectively creating a new kind of atlas that is likely to be both richer and messier than any other.

Incidentally, this concept of being a "prosumer" reminds me of the theory and practice of Co-Production, which was the topic of a meeting at County Hall on Monday morning.

Claire leads us through the process of creating our own maps, each of us at a work station, using mscape maker. I get to add my first digital image but no more, as I have to leave early for a Funding Fair at Voluntary Action LeicesterShire. I'm sorry I don't get to stay for the rest of this seminar, as I've found what we've done so far utterly fascinating and would love to learn and practise more. I hope to be able to follow up in my own time.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

St George puts dragon to the sword in city celebrations
St George, England's patron saint, slew the evil dragon as shoppers cheered in Leicester market place.
The scene was re-enacted by city group Crusade, which has links with the University of Leicester, as part of the city's St George's Day celebrations.
Apart from the re-enactment of the St George legend, there were displays of medieval crafts and weaponry.
Tony Linthwaite, of Crusade, said: "We re-enact various scenes and battles from the 12th century onwards.
"We were delighted to be invited to stage the story of St George rescuing the damsel in distress from the dragon."
The four hours of re-enactments and displays in the market brought to a close a weekend of events which included parades and music.
St George, a Roman soldier executed in the fourth century for refusing to give up his Christian faith, is also the patron saint of Russia, Portugal, Georgia and Ethiopia and the cities of Barcelona and Moscow.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Budget cuts would throw doubt on carnival future
The boss of Leicester's Caribbean Carnival says a city council proposal to cut its funding by £40,000 could jeopardise its future.
Dennis Christopher also claimed the carnival was bearing the brunt of funding reductions because Leicester City Council was "too scared" to cut cash which goes towards festivals such as Diwali.
The carnival costs about £200,000 to stage and is part-funded with £100,000 from the city council – a figure which is now under review.
Mr Christopher said: "This is one of the most popular carnivals in the country. Such a large cut to our funding could potentially see us have to cancel it in future years.
"This is a direct hit on the Caribbean community of Leicester. I understand the council needs to review its spending on carnivals but I feel it is focusing on this because it is too scared to cut funding for events like Diwali in case it offends some communities."
The carnival, which is in its 28th year, attracts more than 80,000 spectators.
Other festivals and events also face cuts. Under the proposals, payments supporting the Castle Park Festival will be scrapped, funding for the Hindu festival of Dashera will be halved, while the Humberstone Park bonfire will lose all its financial support.
Geoff Carr, 42, of Uppingham Road, Leicester, said: "I take the wife and kids to the bonfire at Humberstone Park every year. It would be sad if it had to stop."
Mary Carter, 56, of Aylestone, said: "I'm not Hindu but I think it's great we celebrate Dashera here. It adds to city culture and I'd hate for us to lose it."
City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: "It is important to stress we are not proposing cuts to the overall festival budget. That budget of £365,000 will stay the same.
"Instead, we're looking at whether our priorities are right, and that each festival or event is being given a suitable amount of money."
Funding for the Leicester Comedy Festival, Belgrave Mela, Riverside Festival and the Christmas light switch-on is protected under the proposals.
Abbey Park bonfire, the St George's Day festival, the Diwali celebrations and the Spark Children's Arts Festival, would also receive the same amount of cash.
A consultation on the proposals is under way until July. Views gathered will go to the city mayor and his cabinet for consideration before final decisions are made in the autumn.
City residents are also being asked for ideas for a new festival.The mayor said an event similar to the City of Leicester Show was a possibility.
The event, held in Abbey Park until the mid-1990s, featured acrobatic events, military displays, show jumping, bands and more.To have your say, FestivalsandEventsConsultation

Monday, 23 April 2012


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Thousands of Sikhs on streets of Leicester for Vaisakhi
Thousands of worshippers took to the streets to celebrate one of the most important holidays in the Sikh calendar.
The festival of Vaisakhi brought a splash of colour to the city as dozens of brightly-coloured floats filled with singers and drummers led a procession.
The parade started at Guru Nanak Gurdwara, in Holy Bones, at noon.Thousands of people – many in orange turbans, scarves and robes – followed the procession, and handed out sweets and treats to onlookers.
For 10-year-old Ruben Benning it was a chance to spend time with friends and family.
The youngster, from Bushby, said: "Mostly I like it because I get to see lots of my friends along the way. It is a lot of fun.
"Also, the free food is really good."
Mum Ami, 41, said: "It is such a lovely, peaceful celebration and a chance to share our religion with each other and the rest of the city – one of the best in the world when it comes to celebrating and accepting other cultures.
"It makes me so happy when I see people from other cultures walking with us."
For Sikhs, Vaisakhi commemorates the founding in 1699 of the Sikh community, the Khalsa.
It is also observed by Hindus, who celebrate it as a harvest festival.
Hardeep Kaur, took part with her mother Amarjit, 52, and sons Dylan, eight, and Aaron, five.
Mrs Kaur, 33, from Evington, Leicester, said: "It is really important for me to bring my boys along to learn about their roots. If they do not get involved now, they won't when they are older.
"It is nice to walk around our city, too."
Dylan only had one thing on his mind. "I love the food," he said.
"That's my favourite part. It keeps me going on the long walk."
For De Montfort University students Mani Dhillon and Serina Devi, the festival was a chance to feel at home.
Serina, 19, said: "We like to come along to think about our families.
"The food does remind you of what you are missing from home, though."
Mani, 20, said: "It is also a chance to show we are proud of our values and beliefs."
The procession took several hours to reach Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurdwara, in East Park Road, Highfields.
There, many worshippers spent the rest of the day eating, celebrating and praying.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Free school plan by Sikhs is another step nearer reality
Proposals by Sikh leaders to set up a free school have moved a step closer.
The Department for Education has given them approval to progress to the next and final stage following the submission of their business case.
They join another successful bid in the city from a group which is hoping to set up a post-16 school for sporting excellence with support from Leicester Tigers.
Free schools are part of the Government's flagship policy which allows 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, the president of Ramgarhia Sikh Temple, in Meynell Road, off Uppingham Road, Leicester, is one of the nine temple leaders behind the bid.
He said: "This is very positive news and we're cautiously confident."However, we still have a big hurdle to cross."
Sikh leaders now have to attend an interview with free school experts from the Government to discuss their plans.
This is scheduled for May 17, but a final decision is not expected until the summer.
A number of locations are being considered as a potential site for the school, which would take pupils from four to 11 years and be known as Leicester Sikh School.
Among them is Ellesmere College in Braunstone, which is relocating to the former Riverside Community College site in Rowley Fields. Mr Panesar said: "We are still considering sites and no firm decisions have been taken if we are given the go-ahead.
The school's ethos would be based on the Sikh faith, but must offer half of the places to non-Sikh children.
It would serve only vegetarian food and take a reception and year one class with 30 children in each, during its first year, with numbers growing thereafter.
If plans are allowed to progress it should be open in time for September 2013.
Initial set-up costs for the school are paid for by the Government.
Councillor Vi Dempster, the city council spokeswoman for children, young people and schools, said: "I met with Sikh community leaders and I'm pleased to hear they have got through to the next stage.
"They have given their commitment to work with the local authority as part of its family of schools if they're successful.
"Given the rise in the primary school population, this won't affect the stability of any schools in the city."
Free schools were created by the Government to give parents more choice.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Four Leicester festivals facing funding cuts
Funding for four Leicester city festivals could be reduced or cut entirely.
A series of proposals has been put forward by city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby after a review of how much money Leicester City Council spent on festivals was carried out.
Under the plans the Caribbean Carnival would see funding reduced by £40,000 over the next three years.
Payments to the Castle Park Festival would be scrapped, with the idea of developing a new weekend heritage and arts festival to focus on Leicester's historic core. The proposals also include halving funding for the Hindu religious festival Dashera and the Humberstone Park bonfire losing its support entirely.
Sir Peter said: "Leicester's festivals give us the chance to celebrate together, make our city a vibrant and exciting place to be and boost the local economy.
"The aim of this review has been to make sure that public funding of our celebrations is used in the most efficient way and the events we offer are as appealing as possible, to as many people as possible."
Funding for Leicester Comedy Festival, Belgrave Mela, Riverside Festival and the Christmas lights switch-on are all protected under the proposals.
Abbey Park bonfire, the St George's Day festival, Diwali celebrations and Spark Children's Arts Festival, would also continue.
Sir Peter also revealed that he would like to see a new festival created.
He said: "Personally, I would like to see a new festival that brings together people from our many different communities and celebrates city life. I would be very interested to hear what other suggestions people may have."
The council's budget to support festivals is £365,000.
Only festivals and events to which the council gives £5,000 or more are under review, meaning funding for Leicester Gay Pride, Leicester Horticultural Show, St Patrick's Day celebrations and Braunstone Carnival is not threatened.
All of the proposals and a questionnaire are on the council's website at the address below.
The consultation will run until 6pm on Friday, July 27.
Views gathered will go to the city mayor and his cabinet for consideration before final decisions are made in the autumn.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Crowds enjoy patriot games at St George's Day celebrations
Knights, princesses and a court jester kept the crowds entertained as the county celebrated St George's Day.
Hundreds of families headed to Orton Square, Leicester, to join in crafts activities, take maypole dancing lessons, and see a kings and queens-themed fancy dress parade.
For three-year-old Olivia Miller, of Rothley, it was all about the morris dancers.
"I liked it when they danced with the bells, and I thought they were really funny," she said. "The man's hat fell off and it made me laugh, and I like the sticks they carry."
Mum Ruth Ingram, 45, said: "I think this is brilliant. Things like this are a great opportunity for Olivia to get out and see different things.
"We should really celebrate getting out and enjoying the streets of Leicester."
Drawings of dragons were hidden around the cultural quarter. Oumnia Abounovar, seven, was determined to find them all and mark them on her map. "I've come here to find the dragons," she said.
Mum Rachel, 46, from the city centre, added: "We came to support a friend who is playing in the band, but with the weather being dry for the moment it's a good opportunity to get out and make use of this lovely space here."
Curve theatre hosted Makers Mart, a craft and design fair, while Phoenix Square ran arts and crafts workshops, followed by a screening of the film How to Train Your Dragon.
In Loughborough, all-girl morris dancing group Bare Bones painted their faces before entertaining the crowds.
Councillor Paul Harley, cabinet member for leisure and culture, said: "I think St George's Day is a thoroughly under-celebrated event.
"St Patrick's Day, Burn's Night and St David's Day are always popular so it's great to mark St George's Day, too."
Street theatre performances featuring St George and his dragon, a Punch and Judy show and a zumba session kept Hinckley town centre busy on Saturday.
In Coalville, St George, his dragon and a damsel in distress visited Belvoir shopping centre, while Leicestershire Co-op Brass Band played traditional tunes.
The rain poured down on hundreds of Beavers, Cubs and Scouts, during their annual St George's Day parade on Sunday.
Youngsters braved the weather, many carrying flags and banners representing their groups, as brass bands and drummers set the pace.
The groups split as they left the market, one heading for Leicester Cathedral and the other for Bishop Street church.
Dan Harrison, seven, of the 53rd Leicester Birstall Beavers, said: "We've come to do a walk around the city and that. It is because of a dragon and St George."
Beaver Joseph Hallet, eight, said: "I like Beavers because we get to do lots of different things, like this walk, but also loads of games and activities."
The celebrations were due to continue today at Leicester Market, from 11am, where there was to be a knight tournament, medieval craft demonstrations and games to play.
There was also to be a re-enactment of St George rescuing a damsel in distress from the clutches of a dragon at 12.15pm and 2pm.

Saturday, 21 April 2012


At Quaker Meeting House, Queens Road, this afternoon, where local Bahá'ís are gathering to celebrate the First Day of Ridván.

Ridván is designated the most sacred period in the Bahá'í year (21 April to 2 May inclusive). The first, ninth and twelfth days are Holy Days on which work and study should be suspended. Bahá'í communities usually hold events to celebrate one or more of these days.

We hear a brief account of the life of Bahá'u'lláh (1817-92), founder of the Bahá'í Faith, concentrating on the twelve days he spent in the Najibiyyih Garden on the banks of the Tigris, before he left Baghdad after ten years in that city, moving on to Constantinople, the next stage in his 40-year exile. This is the period that is commemorated in the Festival of Ridván. It is particularly significant for Bahá'ís as it was during this time that Bahá'u'lláh revealed to his closest family and friends his station as the Manifestation of God in our time. The site of this declaration is known among Bahá'ís as the Garden of Ridván (Paradise).

We share devotional readings from the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, many on the significance of his historic declaration and of the importance of this period in the Bahá'í year. In these writings, Bahá'u'lláh often refers to himself symbolically as a nightingale, his stream of revelation compared to the bird's song. During this devotional section, a recording of the nightingale's song is played in the background. Strange that no one has thought to have done that at any Bahá'í devotional gathering I've attended over more than 30 years!

At the same time, the Leicester Lodge of the Theosophical Society is holding its regular monthly meeting in the Library of the Quaker Meeting House. There's a friendly historical association between Bahá'ís and the Theosophical Society. When 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921) visited western countries a hundred years ago, the Theosophical Society hosted many of his public talks and published them in its journals. The motto of the Theosophical Society - "There is no religion higher than truth" - is of obvious appeal to Bahá'ís. Our two groups mix in the kitchen that we're both using this afternoon. I chat with a few of their members and give one of them my card so that I can be kept informed of future activities.

As evidence of how the Bahá'í Faith embraces the many cultures from which its followers are drawn, after the devotional part of the meeting we have a go at some Scottish country dancing! Rarely have the Military Two-Step and the Gay Gordons been subjected to such indignities! But we have a good laugh trying - or at least, trying not to injure oursleves and each other!

One of the friends reminds me that Vera Long, the first person in Leicester to accept the Bahá'í Faith, passed away during this Ridván period 20 years ago. I knew Vera and her husband John during the time I lived in Oakham, from 1987. They moved to Oakham from Leicester in 1963, to become the first Bahá'ís there. John outlived Vera by a year. They both did an enormous amont for the Bahá'í Faith throughout the world and it's fitting that they be remembered here.

We're pleased to welcome Cllr Manjula Sood, former Lord Mayor of Leicester, current Asssistant City Mayor and chair of Leicester Council of Faiths as our special guest in this meeting. Manjula is in the photo above, with a few of the friends who came today (the rest were in the tranquil garden of the Quaker Meeting House, enjoying tea and sunshine).

Friday, 20 April 2012


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 885
  2. United States 456
  3. Russia 302
  4. India 81
  5. France 66
  6. Germany 30
  7. Japan 30
  8. Ukraine 28
  9. Thailand 21
  10. Australia 18

This week's total: 1,917 (last week: 1,753). 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.


This evening I'm taking part in the election of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Leicester. A local Spiritual Assembly is formed in every locality with nine or more registered Bahá'ís in good standing over the age of 21. All such Bahá'ís are eligible to vote for the local Spiritual Assembly and eligible for election to it, by plurality voting in a secret ballot. The election takes place on the first day of Ridván, the most sacred period in the Bahá'í year (21 April to 2 May inclusive). As the Bahá'í day begins at sunset, the election can be held any time between sunset on 20 April and sunset the next day. The election of the Spiritual Assembly and the celebration of the First Day of Ridván are usually observed separately, so as to distinguish the administrative and social nature of the two events.

The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Leicester was established in 1957, incorporated in 1963 and has functioned continuously since then.

There are no priests or ministers in the Bahá'í Faith, no clergy of any kind. There are no sacramental duties to perform, so no need of anyone to perform them. There are no positions in the Bahá'í community akin to that of the Imam in the Muslim community or the Granthi in the Sikh. It's an incontrovertible principle of the Bahá'í system that power and authority reside not in individuals, but in the elected institutions. Those people elected as members of these institutions have no rank, power or authority as individuals. Although the media, government and so on may describe individuals such as the chairperson of the local or National Spiritual Assembly "Bahá'í leaders", as a parallel with what is to be found in other religious communities, this is incorrect. The institution is the leader, not any of the individuals who comprise its membership.

One of the clearest description of the duties and functions of the Spiritual Assembly is to be found in this extract from a letter written in 1972 by the Universal House of Justice (the central authority for the worldwide Bahá'í community) to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Bolivia. Although this letter is 40 years old, the guidance is just as relevant today. I've set this below in bullet points for ease of reading here.
Local Spiritual Assemblies are at the present newly born institutions, struggling for the most part to establish themselves both in the Bahá'í community and in the world. They are as yet only embryos of the majestic institutions ordained by Bahá'u'lláh in His Writings.... What we find expounded in the writings of our Faith is the lofty station Local Spiritual Assemblies must attain in their gradual and at times painful development.... Among the more salient objectives to be attained by the Local Spiritual Assembly in its process of development to full maturity are to
  • act as a loving shepherd to the Bahá'í flock,
  • promote unity and concord among the friends,
  • direct the teaching work,
  • protect the Cause of God,
  • arrange for Feasts, Anniversaries and regular meetings of the community,
  • familiarize the Bahá'ís with its plans,
  • invite the community to offer its recommendations,
  • promote the welfare of youth and children,
  • and participate, as circumstances permit, in humanitarian activities.
In its relationship to the individual believer, the Assembly should continuously invite and encourage him [or her]
  • to study the Faith,
  • to deliver its glorious message,
  • to live in accordance with its teachings,
  • to contribute freely and regularly to the Fund,
  • to participate in community activities,
  • and to seek refuge in the Assembly for advice and help, when needed.
In its own meetings it must endeavour to develop skill in the difficult but highly rewarding art of Bahá'í consultation, a process which will require great self-discipline on the part of all members and complete reliance on the power of Bahá'u'lláh. It should hold regular meetings and ensure that all its members are currently informed of the activities of the Assembly, that its Secretary carries out his [or her] duties, and its Treasurer holds and disburses the funds of the Faith to its satisfaction, keeping proper accounts and issuing receipts for all contributions.

At the meeting this evening, we read a few prayers before and after the election, as is customary. We remember our fellow Bahá'ís in Iran, suffering persecution for their beliefs, and our fellows closer to home who are ill or in need of comfort or support. In a little innovation, I read a prayer of Bahá'u'lláh off my iPhone on which I have an app featuring an extensive collection of Bahá'í prayers.


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury (though not on its website).

Coverage of event was disappointing
Catching up with back issues of the Mercury after the Easter break, I was looking forward to reading some good coverage of the recent Choice Unlimited event at Leicester Tigers on Thursday 5 April.
Imagine my disappointment, then, to see the short article, “Ex-tigers hero roars approval for fair” (Mercury, April 7). There are several aspects of the piece that are disappointing: it was unclear what it was all about, but mostly credit was not given where it’s due.
It was reported that Choice Unlimited had the support of Leicester City Council, Leicestershire County Council and Voluntary Action LeicesterShire.
That’s true and they all contributed to preparations and to the success on the day itself, helping showcase products, services, information and guidance available to disabled people and their carers. But Choice Unlimited didn’t spring fully-formed out of thin air.
Someone had to come up with the idea, get it off the ground, enlist support, gather momentum and bring it all to a successful conclusion. And that “someone” was the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP).
REDP is a collective of Voluntary and Community Sector organisations working together to promote equality and celebrate diversity.
At its core are four Leicester organisations with a track record of collaborating across different equalities for as long as ten years now. Our influence and engagement has extended in the past few years to embrace the whole East Midlands . The four city-based founder members of REDP are Leicester Council of Faiths; Leicester and Leicestershire Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre; The Race Equality Centre and Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (which took the lead role in Choice Unlimited).
The coverage failed to mention the ground-breaking nature of Choice Unlimited (it was the first of its kind anywhere in the East Midlands) nor was there any indication of the tremendous success of the event. More than 160 exhibitors participated and an estimated 2,500-3,000 service users came through the door – every one of them a potential customer in this new era of personal budgets for care services and products.
REDP is already in advanced discussions to present Choice Unlimited in other parts of the East Midlands. We’d still like it to be known that Leicester was the birthplace of this trail-blazing first presentation.
You might wonder why this matters, two weeks after the event and ten days after the Mercury’s coverage. Choice Unlimited signalled the birth of a new way of doing things for disabled people in the city, county and Rutland – kicking off a new era of choice and control. And at REDP our phone lines and inboxes are still red hot with those keen for information and asking when we’ll be doing it again. And they show no sign of cooling down!
George M Ballentyne