Thursday, 31 May 2012


I'm attending an Open Day at Krishna-Avanti Primary School, Spencefield Lane, Evington this morning. The school is coming toward the end of its first teaching year. They're celebrating that milestone today, along with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee weekend (for which reason, the event begins and ends with the singing of the National Anthem and Headmaster Christopher Spall is sporting a vivid Union Flag bow-tie).

There are demonstrations of devotional dancing, of yoga and of Maypole Dancing, and recitation in unison of verses from the Bhagavad Gita (in the original Sanskrit, then the English translation). One way or another, these activities allow all the school's pupils and teaching staff to do something in front of the gathering.

Mr Spall calls Cllr Manjula Sood to the microphone to speak. As well as currently being Assistant Mayor and Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths, Manjula was the first Asian woman to be Lord Mayor of an English city and - of more interest and relevance today - the first Asian primary school teacher in Leicester.

Other members of Leicester Council of Faiths are in attendance: Cllr Rashmikant Joshi, Suleman Nagdi and Tony Nelson. Cllr Vi Dempster, Assistant Mayor and Cabinet Lead for Children, Young People and Schools is also here today.

I have a brief chat with Fiona Dryden, who is here covering the event for the Leicester Mercury. I point out to her that there a number of members of Leicester Council of Faiths at this event and that we've helped provide occasional visiting speakers to meet pupils and staff. I give Fiona my card: we'll have to wait and see if any of this finds its way into the paper. 

By the time Pradip Gajjar, the school's Director, is offering his thanks and closing remarks, we have the first serious rain for several days. Time to move inside the marquees for a nice vegetarian lunch.

This is a very friendly, happy occasion and shows off the Krishna Avanti School in a very positive light. I'm glad that we're able to show our support for the school today and we wish staff and pupils the very best as the school progresses.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


It’s the other Wednesday, so I’m at Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre for the fortnightly meeting of CreativeCoffee Club. That’s two meetings in a row I’ve made – a feat I haven’t achieved since I don’t know when.

In a subtle innovation this morning, we have a couple of “table experts”, whom attendees can meet one-to-one for a quarter of an hour of free advice.

As you’ll see form the picture above, faithful reader, I still find it hard to get a photo inside Phoenix Square that makes it look like there's a decent number of people here. Is it because I’m taking pics on my iPhone? We must have 20-odd attending CreativeCoffee Club this morning – I’ve tried to squeeze in as many of them as I could.

The regular session is followed at noon by the first meeting of a new committee formed to take stock of the past and present of CreativeCoffee Club and to chart its possible future. The meeting is convened by Cheryl Gill, Enterprise Support Officer at LCB Depot and Phoenix Square. Cheryl took charge of CreativeCoffee Club in April and will hold the reins till March next year. Emma Moore, Jed Spittle and I were on the short-lived committee that met only once eight months ago and which (despite our best intentions) managed to lead CreativeCoffee Club down a bit of a dead end. Steve Bowes, Russ Pacey and Ben Ravilious are also in this new committee today.

I’ve been having a bit of trouble with my hearing over the past few weeks. Every so often, my right ear switches off, which leads to some unusual effects (and to me looking a bit rude sometimes, I imagine). In this meeting, I hear Ben saying that he’s acting as “Neville’s Advocate” quite a lot.

We oldies provide a little bit of historical context, especially for those relatively new to CreativeCoffee Club. When CreativeCoffee Club relocated to Phoenix Square from its first home in the Graduate Bar at De Montfort University, it continued its pattern of meeting on alternate Wednesday mornings. One of the other Wednesday mornings would be occupied by a monthly public meeting of Amplified Leicester (same time, same venue, if a different room). Those sessions of Amplified Leicester featured innovative speakers (some of them from other parts of the country, a few from other parts of the world), more formal presentations, more structured participation. Amplified Leicester was the filling in the sandwich then, with a slice of CreativeCoffee Club on either side. That allowed reasonable differentiation between the two kinds of meetings and allowed each to develop its own character – even though, more often than not, it was the same crowd attending both (and one Wednesday morning out of four free). If someone didn’t take to the more relaxed nature of CreativeCoffee Club, they could come to Amplified Leicester – and vice versa. In the last phase of Amplified Leicester these public meetings moved to Wednesday evenings. Once Amplified Leicester came to an end in summer 2011, we were left with two slices of bread but no filling – nice bread, but all the same … Two floppy slices of bread, flapping around in search of a decent filling isn’t the most attractive prospect.

In terms of charting the future, we begin by discussing ways to refresh the brand. An immediate decision is made regarding the name. From now on, it’s going to be Creative Coffee Leicester (CC Leic for short, which matches up nicely with the Twitter feed: @CCLeic). I never got “CreativeCoffee Club”. I couldn’t understand why those first two words were run together like that, with the initial C in “Coffee” set upper case. I could see no logic or sense in it, no benefit or good effect arising from it – and no one I asked about it could explain it to me. I couldn’t find one person, involved in the network or outside it, who could understand it themselves or explain it to me. Why not run all three words together and make all three initial Cs upper case? Being different for its own sake is just annoying. It’s juvenile. A punch in the face is memorable, but I wouldn’t want another one. I don’t need or want funny spelling to make something memorable. The experience should be memorable for the right reasons to those who have had it and desirable to those who haven’t had it yet.

Well, that’s been one of my biggest moans for years and now it’s been dealt with. Mind you, I find people saying “Creative Coffee” annoying in the same way as when you hear people saying “Thomas the Tank”. What’s that? Just leave it, you say?  Hmmm …

Actually, that won’t matter now, as we’ve also agreed to drop the word Club from the title. We don’t want to make it sound cliquish or exclusive, that you have to apply for membership, or that some people are in and some are out.

A straw poll was conducted at the meeting on 4 April, asking attendees to answer the following questions (among others):
  • Should we should from fortnightly meetings to monthly meetings?
  • Should we introduce ourselves at the beginning of each session?
  • Should we wear badges / labels?
  • Should we have speakers?

We say yes to occasional speakers. We can encourage potential speakers by offering this as a networking opportunity which will be to their for the benefit as much as it is to their listeners. More “table experts” too – although there’s no reason why they shouldn’t always be brought in from outside the regular attendees.

At the start of a meeting, we could have a kind of “Open Mic”, giving newbies an opportunity to introduce themselves and for Committee Members to announce “Parish Notes”.

There’s a new website under construction, which is obviously the topic of much of our conversation today. We discuss its content and its style. The site could feature profiles of those who use Creative Coffee frequently and regularly (as used to be on Amplified Leicester’s ning). Each person’s profile could show their response to a small set of questions (e.g.):
  • “Why do I come to Creative Coffee?”
  • “What do I get out of Creative Coffee?”
  • “What do I bring to Creative Coffee?”
  • “Who do I hope to meet at Creative Coffee?”

There's more discussed than I've recorded here. Cheryl takes fuller and more professional notes of the meeting, which she’ll circulate soon. We’ll be meeting again immediately after the next Creative Coffee session on Wednesday 13 June.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012


This article is published in today's Leicester Mercury:

Memory cafe launched to help Alzheimer's patients
A "memory cafe" for dementia sufferers and their carers has been launched to mark national Dementia Awareness Week.
The cafe, at Eyres Monsell Community Centre, Leicester, provides a place for people to discuss dementia issues and get peer support and professional advice.
City mayor Peter Soulsby attended the launch.
The cafe will be held every fourth Friday of the month and is the first of seven planned across the city.
Future venues include the African Caribbean Centre, in Highfields, and New Parks Community Centre.
For more information, call 0116 231 1114, or e-mail: Joanne.Truscott@ 
In the photo: City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby with service user Julia Foster (left) and Dianne Smith, Locality Manager for the Alzheimer's Society.

Not trying to hitch a ride on someone else's coat tails, but the Council of Faiths was one of the city VCS organisations specifically asked to support this event. Our Chair, Assistant Mayor Cllr Manjula Sood (who holds the Cabinet portfolio for Adult Health and Social Care) attended. This launch event was on the afternoon of Friday 25 May - a busy day for us, as the Council of Faiths was also represented at Time to Shine at Leicester Racecourse and at the Child Poverty Conference at De Montfort Univsrsity.


This article is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Conference focuses on the need to tackle rise in child poverty
Business leaders, charity bosses and politicians have met to discuss ways of tackling Leicester's growing child poverty rates.
De Montfort University hosted the city's first Child Poverty Conference on Friday, which was attended by more than 200 delegates from across the country.
It was hosted by the Leicester Child Poverty Commission, which will launch a city-wide action plan on child poverty later this summer.
Deputy city mayor Rory Palmer said: "At the last count, there were about 27,000 children living in poverty and that number is probably closer to 30,000 now. It's something we urgently need to address.
"As a city council there are things we can do, such as ensure people are on the right energy tariffs and not paying too much on their bills.
"We can make sure children entitled to free school dinners are getting them, not paying when they should not be, and we can work with businesses to get them to increase wage levels.
"We had many constructive ideas which will help us put together an action plan."
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the national Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said: "We are very glad to be involved and we hope not just to bring our expertise to the table, but also to learn more ourselves as we help develop new ideas and good practice that can spread to other communities."

Not trying to hitch our wagon to someone else's star, but the Council of Faiths was asked to ensure that representatives of the city's diverse faith communities would be in attendance at this event. Several of our Board Members were able to attend, including our Chair, Assistant Mayor Cllr Manjula Sood, who holds the Cabinet portfolio for Adult Health and Social Care. This conference took place on Friday 25 May - a busy day for us, as the Council of Faiths was also represented at Time to Shine at Leicester Racecourse and at the launch of the Memory Cafe at Eyres Monsell Community Centre.

Monday, 28 May 2012


This afternoon I’m at the headquarters of Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. I’ve been asked to attend a briefing with Christina Marriott, Manager of the Integrated Equalities Unit at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, on potential impacts of the closure of the Children's Congenital Heart Unit at Glenfield Hospital. No such decision has been made yet and consultations on the impacts of closure have to be discussed before the decision can be taken.

Christian is having meetings with representatives from organisations standing for each of the relevant Protected Characteristics as defined in the Equality Act 2010, asking for their responses and collating their contributions.

This consultation is not on the subject of whether or not the Children's Congenital Heart Unit at Glenfield Hospital should be closed or should remain open. A long-running consultation on that topic has been held and is now closed. That decision will be made at national level and it is not possible now for us to make any contribution to the process.

What is going on now is the gathering of information about potential impacts of closing the unit at Glenfield - from our perspective, if this is done, how will it affect communities of religion or belief in the city (and in the county and Rutland)?

There are four options on the table and the final decision will favour one of them. In Option A, Glenfield stays open. In the other three options, Glenfield is closed and the nearest site for treatment is Birmingham Children's Hospital. Nothing more can be done at this stage to influence the eventual decision. Christina is very interested in seeing what we have to say in terms of foreseeable impacts of the closure - and, just as importantly, ways of mitigating those impacts.

The response from Leicester Council of Faiths to this part of the consultation process is shown below. This was circulated around our Board of Directors and their comments solicited before it was submitted.
"Safe and Sustainable – A New Vision for Children’s Congenital Heart Services"
Response from Leicester Council of Faiths, drafted following a meeting with Christina Marriott, Manager of the Integrated Equality Service at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust HQ, Lakeside House, 4 Smith Way, Grove Park, Enderby, Leics LE19 1SX, Monday 28 May 2012.
This response has been made as promptly as possible, but it should be noted that it is still a provisional one. There is a clear need to keep talking and keep thinking about the possible impacts of rationalising Children’s Congenital Heart Services nationally. If, as a result of decisions made at national level, Glenfield Hospital does not retain its surgical unit, then deeper consultation will be required, perhaps including direct engagement with representatives of different communities of Religion or Belief in the city, county and Rutland.
We appreciate the fact that the Joint Committee of the Primary Care Trust (JCPCT) is showing due regard to the groups it serves in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. We are aware that the conversation with Leicester Council of Faiths is part of a wider ongoing process of consultation, in which JCPCT is talking with other organisations representing people and groups identifying with Protected Characteristics as enumerated in the Equality Act 2010. We know that that these groups include, for example: Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Centre; Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL); and The Race Equality Centre (TREC). In the context of this knowledge, we hope that nothing in this response will come across as special pleading on behalf of those people and groups who identify with the Protected Characteristic of Religion or Belief. We welcome and support the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders and expertise in the consultation.
JCPCT has to demonstrate awareness of possible or likely impacts on families, groups and / or communities who identify with the Protected Characteristic of Religion or Belief – and to show that proportionate actions that may be taken in mitigation of those impacts have been discussed, recorded and forwarded to those involved in deciding the outcome of this review.
Given the nature of the Protected Characteristics enumerated in the Equality Act 2010, we are aware that many of them overlap, meaning that individuals, families and communities identifying with any Religion or Belief will most likely also identify with one or more of the other Protected Characteristics (i.e. age, disability, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex, sexual orientation, transgender). In keeping with the current understanding of equality, it is clear that communities, families and individuals no longer align themselves with just one characteristic, but tend more to see themselves as bundles of characteristics. Sometimes these bundles work in harmony with each other within the same community, family or individual, at other times they may compete with each other. At times, one of these Protected Characteristics may come to the fore and be of greater importance, or it may fade into the background and be superseded in importance by others. For example, it may be the case that sometimes individuals, families or groups who identify with the Protected Characteristic of Religion or Belief may speak out more strongly on an issue related to age or disability.
Anyone who identifies with any particular Religion or Belief wants to obtain the same level of service in hospital as any other person: adaptable, competent, sensitive and well-trained staff at all levels; clean and well-kept wards, free from risk of infection; speedy responses by staff members and by NHS institutions to changing needs and situations; the willingness and ability to treat patients, family and visitors as whole people.
People of Religion or Belief are, in the end, people after all. They do not necessarily bring special problems associated with Religion or Belief with them. However, there are particular needs associated with the Protected Characteristic of Religion or Belief, which we hope can be clarified here.
One issue that will surely be raised by all respondents is increased travel time between a unit in Birmingham and home in Leicester, Leicestershire or Rutland. Given that the patient is a child, it’s normal to have an adult family member with the patient at all times, if possible. Family members tend to work in shifts by the patient’s bedside (assuming that a sufficient number of family members are available to do this). This will normally bring about considerable disruption to the family’s routine – which is of special significance if that routine involves playing an active part in the community life of their place of worship. We would want to be assured of decent facilities for parents and/or other family members  to sleep when staying with the patient, and not be subjected to the ordeal of travelling longer distances (especially if they have to drive).
It’s fairly easy to come up with a wish-list that would appear to cover the bases in terms of the Protected Characteristic of Religion or Belief (e.g. family and visitors have access to a well-maintained prayer room or quiet room; appropriate washing facilities for ritual ablutions; a range of sacred scriptures and other appropriate texts in a variety of languages; a display of artifacts and/or symbols for devotional use; food and drink that fits in with Halal, Kosher and vegetarian and vegan dietary regimes). Such a list is important, of course – but in this day and age, these things may be said to be the minimum that would be expected under any circumstances. In relation to these requirements, we would be concerned that, if the unit at Glenfield were to be closed, one impact would be a squeeze on existing facilities, an increase in demand, that could not be coped with comfortably. To mitigate this impact, there would need to be, at the very least, an expansion of such facilities existing at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, in close proximity to the site of Congenital Heart Services.
Over and above all this, however, there is another kind or level of response from the perspective of the Protected characteristic of Religion or Belief, a more nuanced and subtle one, which we would like to see taken into account.
The city of Leicester is known for its distinctive religious profile. If the surgical unit at Glenfield Hospital is to close as a result of this national review, then the religious profile of potential service users from Leicester has to be taken into account for effective functioning of the site to which Leicester-based patients will be referred.
In terms of this religious profile, can we be sure that appropriate training has been or will be given to staff on those other sites, that suitable resources have been or will be made available (to service users and staff), that a relevant multi-faith chaplaincy service is currently or will be accessible (to all who may need it)?
What is the religious infrastructure locally? Even if another city is known for diversity in its own right (e.g. Birmingham) it should not be assumed that this will match up with the sort of diversity found in Leicester. While it is important to be able to demonstrate that Religion or Belief has been taken as seriously as the other Protected Characteristics, it is also important to be able to show that the issue of diversity has been considered to the same degree. There is no generic, universal, “one size fits all” solution to issues that arise in relation to Religion or Belief. There will be variation, perhaps tension (if not actual conflict) between the needs or wishes of different communities of Religion or Belief. There may be competing demands on resources, space or funding that means if one thing is done, another cannot. This may be the case not only between distinct communities, but also within those communities themselves.  When it comes down to it, it may be said that no two families who identify with a particular Religion or Belief may be expected to respond in the same way.
In the midst of all this discussion of equality and diversity, care should be taken not to make it look as though nominal affiliation to the Church of England is “normal”, even for families with no particular religious affiliation.
Issues related to end of life care assume the greatest importance for families who identify with a particular Religion or Belief. Under such circumstances, the stakes are obviously raised. A religious person will probably want to pray more, preferably at their chosen place of worship, for the recovery and well-being of the child. If they are unable to attend their normal religious services or observances, this will put an extra strain on family members.
This potential impact would be mitigated if relevant staff know the location of places of worship (with proper awareness of differences between denominations, sects, etc.). This kind of knowledge can be captured in a multi-lingual resource, but should also be part of the family and patient’s initial care plan. This sort of conversation should be triggered when a child is scheduled for surgery. It would mitigate all kinds of impacts to be able to “front-load” the service in this way, rather than end up trying to take remedial action.
This response submitted by George M Ballentyne, Equality & Diversity Officer, Leicester Council of Faiths, 28 May 2012


This week's issue is a special on the British Jewish experience, with a signature essay by David Cesarani. Also in the issue:
  • Ed Miliband on his family's refugee history
  • Linda Grant on the Jewish novel
  • David Baddiel on identity
  • Michael Rosen on his communist childhood
  • Will Self on other people's obsession with his Jewishness
  • Anthony Julius and David J Goldberg debate anti-Semitism
  • Jemima Khan interviews Anne Frank's step-sister, Eva Schloss
  • Rachel Shabi and Mehdi Hasan on Muslim-Jewish understanding
  • Daniel Trilling on Britain's last anti-Jewish riots
  • Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner on Judaism and women's rights
  • Bella Freud interviewed
  • A short story by Naomi Alderman

All this, plus columns from Nina Caplan, Felicity Cloake, Anthony Clavane, Will Self, Rachel Lichtenstein and Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Friday, 25 May 2012


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 794
  2. United States 616
  3. Russia 333
  4. Germany 104
  5. India 62
  6. France 51
  7. Malaysia 18
  8. Philippines 12
  9. Spain 9
  10. Netherlands 9

This week's total: 2,006 (last week: 2,035). 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". They're updated each time I look at them.


At Leicester Racecourse, Oadby, today for "Time to Shine: Sharing Good Practice", a community cohesion pupil conference organised by Learning South Leicestershire Partnership.

I've been invited by Rita Pancholi, Community Cohesion Co-ordinator at Bushloe High School (where I led a session with the school's Community Club just two days ago). I'm taking three workshops and have brought along the Council of Faiths full set of banners.

There are students and staff from eleven schools here today:

An earlier event with the same title was held at the same venue in November 2010, involving many of the same schools (with a different cohort of students, of course).

My workshop is based on a variety of images, each one of which should allow us to talk about different ways the students might have seen diversity in the world around them, or have experienced it in their own lives. This is an amended version of the workshop I did with Bushloe High's Community Club earlier this week.

Other workshops are presented by Karl Brown (Basketball), Shuki Chani (Media and Community Cohesion) and Gaynor Nash (Legacy of 2012 Olympics). On the programme I'm listed as "Multi-Faith Leader". I'd like to see that on my next business card!

I take the first workshop is before lunch, the second and third after it. By the end of the day, I've seen all students and staff. The first two sessions could hardly go better, but by the time of the third one either the attendees or I (or both) are a bit tired, so the final session is a bit tougher than the other two. Nothing I can’t handle, of course, it just feels a wee bit more of a slog. It's been a hot day, we've all just had lunch and so on.

There's a very good atmosphere today, our presence here generates positive interest and the students make a variety of excellent contributions, both in the workshops and in the plenary sessions. I'm glad I was asked to take part in this enjoyable and worthwhile event. I hope I can do so again.

Thursday, 24 May 2012


At Taylor Road Primary School this evening for a dinner in honour of Hashim Duale. Or at least, that's what it said on the invitation ...

Hashim (in the centre of the photo above) has worked selflessly and tirelessly on behalf of the Somalian community in Leicester (and beyond) for more than a decade. He was a member of Leicester Council of Faiths when I took up my post in 2007 (although he resigned a couple of years later). He was awarded the MBE earlier this year for his services to the cause of community cohesion. You can hear Hashim speak about his early life experiences on BBC Radio Leicester's Leicester Voices archive (this is from 2003 but is still definitely worth listening to). This evening's event has been promoted as Hashim's "leaving do", but there turns out to be more to it than that ...

There's a generous spread of Somalian food. I was at first concerned that there may not be that much on offer for vegetarians, but I end up with a fuller belly than I've had in weeks. I'm even tempted back for seconds, a practice I'm conscientiously trying to give up.

After the food and the chance to mingle for a while, we take our seats in the school's main hall. We're formally welcomed by Jamal Ibar, Chair of Horn Concern, a Leicester-based charity which is hosting this occasion. This is where we realise that there's more to this evening's gathering than meets the eye. Jamal announces that we're actually attending the presentation of the Horn Concern Achievement Awards for 2012: celebrating outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to the life of the Somalian community in Leicester. This has been kept under wraps so as to ensure it remains a surprise to at least two of the recipients of the three awards being presented here.

The first award goes to Chief Supt Rob Nixon, Leicestershire Constabulary BCU City Centre Commander. Rob has helped maintain close relations between Leicestershire Police and the Somalian community, overcoming barriers of culture, language, race and religion. The award is made with particular reference to his role in establishing and maintaining confidence and security on St Matthew's estate at the time of the most recent visit by the English Defence League in February this year. He's plainly taken aback at the presentation and emphasises how this is an award for his whole team. It's a good opening that the first of these awards goes to someone who is not himself a member of the Somalian community, but has worked with it and for it in such a beneficial way.

The second award goes to Idil Abdi Osman, a print and broadcast journalist who has worked for the BBC World Service and for Voice of America. When she gets up on stage to accept the award, she says it's the first time in her life that she's been lost for words!

It comes as no surprise when the third and final award is made to Hashim Duale. The presentation is followed by various people offering their own praise to the main man this evening. Many of them can barely finish their paeans without choking back tears, including (more than once) Hashim himself.

Hashim also receives the Chief Superintendent's Commendation, which has been given to only five members of the public in almost three years. This is presented on stage by Rob Nixon (who is clearly more at home giving awards than receiving them!)

There's also a brief presentation to Hashim from the Federation of Muslim Organisations.

At the end of the evening, one question remains: if this is Hashim's leaving do, where's he actually going? I and many others ask him this but he remains tight-lipped. Who can blame him though? The man deserves a break.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012


I'm at Bushloe High School, Wigston Magna, this morning, to meet members of the school's Community Club. I've been invited by Rita Pancholi (Bushloe's Community Cohesion Co-ordinator) to take them for a session on the topic of Diversity.

My son Harry is a Year 7 student at Bushloe. While he's not involved in Community Club, he's the first person I see when I arrive, just after 1030, during morning break. (And a bunch of his friends gather by the fence to wave me off when I'm finished.)

I've brought a variety of pictures on a flash drive that we can look at and discuss. I've picked images which I hope the students will find accessible and relevant, from dance, movies, music, nature, news and current affairs, school, sport, TV drama and so on. Each picture should allow us to talk about different ways the students might have seen diversity in the world around them, or have experienced it in their own lives. Hopefully, we'll all be able to challenge old thinking and move toward new thinking together.

There are 20 students attending Community Club today. They're bright and positive, all of them speak at least once and they make several good contributions. So much so, I only get about two thirds of the way through my presentation. In fact, the students get right into this.

The most spirited part of the conversation is an unexpected discussion of which is a better example of diversity: cybermen or daleks. One of the students makes a convincing argument that it's cybermen (which I wouldn't have picked) on the basis that each one of them has an individual human brain transplanted into their metal skulls. When suppressive measures are switched off, we've seen that a human personality can reappear from that brain. While the daleks might show different colours and have different functions (especially clear in the case of the newest, "Teletubby", models, as shown below), these differences are superficial. Once you get to the creatures inside the Mark IV Travel Machine (as their creator, Davros, originally called them in the 1975 Tom Baker story, Genesis of the Daleks) they're all the same, in their shrill and murderous xenophobia. Nicely put! Well, I'm paraphrasing there of course ...

I'll be using similar material for three workshops that Rita has asked me to run at a community cohesion pupil conference at Oadby Racecourse on Friday. Those three sessions are only 25 minutes long, so I'll be deleting a few of the pictures I've used (or intended to use) today.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


At South Leicestershire College (South Wigston Campus), this afternoon for the East Midlands Regional Forum of the National Council of Faiths and Beliefs in Further Education. There are 14 attendees at this relatively short meeting, representing a range of institutions and services:

I've been invited to attend this meeting by Kevin Commons and Ian Grayling of the Leicester Serene Reflection Meditation Group, who have organised the spring term courses for Christians Aware's Faith Awareness Programme, which have been a staple of this blog over the years (see blog entries passim). Kevin and Ian are, respectively, giving two of the three presentations in this afternoon's programme:
  • "Mindfulness, Morality and Wisdom": A programme for adult education and chaplaincy presented by Kevin Commons (EMCETT Associate)
  • "It's the Curriculum, Stupid": A joint SMSC paper produced by EMCETT and fbfe presented by Ian Grayling (Executive Director, EMCETT)
  • "Handling Controversial Issues with Students": Curriculum development initiatives from fbfe presented by John Wise (Chief Executive, fbfe)

Today's meeting is held in the college's Multi-Faith Centre. The Centre serves as the home of South Wigston United Reform Church - part of the South Leicestershire Group of the URC, formed in 1986. The group consists of six churches three former Congregational and three former Churches of Christ  working together, sharing resources and ministry, although each of the six churches retains its individual identity. 

Relocation of South Leicestershire College required the demolition of older properties on the site of what would become the new campus. The congregation of the United Reform Church (originally founded on this site in 1886) accepted the challenges and the opportunities offered by moving into the college and sharing the Multi-Faith Centre with students and staff and worshippers from other background, faiths and traditions. It is now known as the Church in the College (or, as Rev. Richard Eastman put it today, "The Church in the Cupboard").

This is the first time I've been in the new premises of South Leicestershire College. The college (and its predecessor, Wigston College) used to be located across the road from where I lived further up the hill on Station Road. That campus was sold and the site razed to the ground a couple of years ago. The site stands empty today, despite having been announced at one time that it was to be a site for multi-bedroom executive homes, at another for a new health centre. I took my Professional Certificate in Education there back in 2005. Ian Grayling was my mentor on that course.

Monday, 21 May 2012


At Christchurch, Clarendon Park, for the second session in the course, "Introduction to Ayurveda", offered by Christians Aware as part of their Faith Awareness programme.

This evening, course leader Neena Joshi is joined by Dr Dave (photo above), who presents most of the session. Dr Dave worked within the NHS as a gynaecologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary for ten years, then as a GP with a practice off the Narborough Road. Now retired, he's following in the footsteps of his father, who was an Ayurvedic practitioner. Dr Dave's lengthy professional experience and deep knowledge allow him to make meaningful comparisons between allopathic and Ayurvedic medicine.

The goal of Ayurveda is to establish and maintain internal equilibrium. There are three ways in which this desired equilibrium may be disturbed: of external physical origin; of internal physical origin; and of mental origin. In Ayurveda, the mind is the root, seat and origin of all conditions, good and bad. Therefore, control of the mind is the first and most effective step in controlling the body. The mind cannot be controlled by the mind itself, but it can be influenced by control of the breath. At the end of the session, Neena leads us through a short exercise of alternate nostril breathing to demonstrate this effect on the mind. She also gives us homework: a sheet listing characteristics, internal and external, which would help each of us determine our own dosha - our mind-body type. We should all have a go at this before we meet up again for the next session.

As we're breaking up, I make an appeal for volunteers to take part in our Faith Communities Health Champions project with Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. I'd like to have a few people who have a lively personal interest in non-conventional medical treatment. It seems like I might have a few willing participants from this evening's group.


Today is World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. Another one of these special annual occasions that I don’t know about till it happens. Even then, I only find out about this one from a single, solitary tweet. And this is another one of those special annual occasions that is relevant to the city and people of Leicester, to Leicester Council of Faiths and to my post. It would have been nice to mark it in some way here, if only by a letter in the Mercury.

Honestly, I simply can’t keep up with all this! I'll have no reason not to see it coming next year, I guess ...

World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is annually held on May 21 to help people learn about the importance of cultural diversity and harmony.

Various events are organized to increase the understanding of issues around cultural diversity and development among governments, non-governmental organizations and the public. Many of these include presentations on the progress of implementing the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. Events include:
  • Seminars for professionals.
  • Educational programmes for children and young adolescents.
  • The launch of collaborations between official agencies and ethnic groups.
  • Exhibitions to help people understand the history of various cultural groups and the influence on their own identities.
  • Celebrations to create greater awareness of cultural values and the need to preserve them.

The World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development tends to be marked in countries that embraced their varied cultural history and acknowledged the importance of embracing it.

The World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is an observance and not a public holiday.

The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in Paris, France, on November 2, 2001. Although the declaration was the culmination of years of work, it was adopted in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. This reaffirmed the need for intercultural dialogue to prevent segregation and fundamentalism.

The year 2002 was the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage. At the end of that year, on December 20, 2002, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared May 21 to be the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. The General Assembly emphasized links between the protection of cultural diversity and the importance of dialogue between civilizations in the modern world. The World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development was first observed in 2003.

Friday, 18 May 2012


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 779
  2. United States 669
  3. Russia 257
  4. India 100
  5. France 82
  6. Netherlands 52
  7. Germany 48
  8. Ukraine 18
  9. China 16
  10. Colombia 14

This week's total: 2,035 (last week: 1,813). 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". They're updated each time I look at them.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Leicester's first Muslim Mayor sworn in
The city's first Muslim Lord Mayor was sworn in at a ceremony held at the Town Hall last night.
In a traditional inauguration, Councillor Abdul Osman was officially made Lord Mayor of Leicester at Leicester City Council's annual meeting, held in the Town Hall's chambers.
Coun Osman, who joined the city council in 1996, takes over from Councillor Rob Wann.
Coun Osman said: "It's an important year, with the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, so it's a privilege for me to hold office with everything that's going on.
"I want to focus on visiting the communities and raising the profile of the office of Lord Mayor. I'm proud to be the first Muslim councillor to hold the position – we've had Christian, Hindu, Sikh and now I'm able to bring the Islamic faith to the office which is a great honour."
Each year, the new mayor nominates a charity which he will raise money for.
Coun Osman has chosen the stroke unit at the Leicester Royal Infirmary and is aiming to raise £60,000 for the cause.
He said: "I feel as if it's quite a symbolic issue because it affects everyone regardless of their age, colour or background – and our city is one of the most diverse communities in the country."

Thursday, 17 May 2012


Today is Idaho Day: International Day Against Homophobia, an occasion given the imprimatur of the United Nations. I'm at Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre with a display for the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP) in a "marketplace" style exhibition to mark the occasion. 

Other organisations taking part today here:

It's a small scale, low key affair and is all over in three hours. But it brings this important day to the attention of regular and occasional users of Phoenix Square's cafe bar and it contributes to the considerable cumulative online coverage of Idaho Day. John Coster of Citizens' Eye filmed an interview with me about REDP's participation in Idaho Day. You can see this on YouTube. John also submitted this video interview to CNN iReport.

There can never be enough opportunities or occasions to highlight an issue like this. Most of the people on the stalls are weil-kent faces, but a few are new to me - and I always think that's a good thing in itself.

More than once today I heard voices lamenting the small turnout, both in terms of organisations displaying and of visitors. And more than once I heard John Coster respond with an apposite Chinese proverb: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now." I might be well advised to apply that to a few other things going on in my life these days!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


At the University of Leicester's Chaplaincy Centre (The Gatehouse, University Road) for a meeting of the World Faiths Advisory Group (WFAG). Present today are Rev Canon Dr Stephen Forster (Coordinating Chaplain), Ian Snaith (Chair, WFAG), Shaykh Ibrahim Moghra and Resham Singh Sandhu.
A regular topic for discussion at these meetings is how to engage more effectively with faith-based student societies on campus. There's a list of religious [sic] societies on the University of Leicester Students' Union website. If we were to judge by these pages alone, it would be hard to say which ones are currently active on campus. Anyhoo, from this list, those societies who currently receive the minutes of WAFG as well as an invitation to its meetings include:

From this list, faith-based student societies which currently don't receive minutes of WAFG or an invitation to its meetings but which will, from now on, if active contacts can be identified:

One of the ways discussed by which these societies could be coaxed into responding to WAFG would be by circulating a questionnaire / survey (at the start of the next academic year) enquiring if they've experienced any difficulties in hiring meeting rooms or any other facilities on campus. It could be asked at the same time what uses the various societies would have for such facilities. (And if you're bothered by inconsistencies in the names above, faithful reader, I've represented each of the societies here by the same names which are shown on the Students' Union website.)

One of the proposals that's been bubbling under WAFG's meetings has been the desirability of having an event that will  go some way to engaging faith-based student societies on campus and showcase the facilities available to them at the Gatehouse. Well, here it is: Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills (photo above), Assistant Priest at St Peter's Church, Oadby, will speak on "Feminist Issues in a Contemporary Multi-Faith Culture" at the Gatehouse, Tuesday 26 June, 1200. This will be a followed by a light lunch at 1245 and it'll all be over by 1400. The Octagon meeting room will hold up to 50 people. Hopefully, this will be the first in a series of WAFG lectures, which (hopefully) should take place twice a year.