Friday, 29 June 2012


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 702
  2. Russia 313
  3. United States 270
  4. India 89
  5. France 47
  6. Ukraine 40
  7. Canada 17
  8. China 15
  9. Australia 13
  10. Germany 13
This week's total: 1,517 (last week: 1,863). 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.


Today I'm attending the quarterly meeting of West Lindsey Voluntary Sector Forum (incorporating Learning Communities) at Park Springs Community Centre (photo above) in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire on behalf of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP).

To be more accurate, for most of the day I'm going to or returning from Gainsborough. It's a three-hour train trip there and three hours back. The whole meeting lasts two hours and I have a quarter of an hour for my presentation.

There are 40 attendees, representing Voluntary and Community Sector (and a few public sector) organisations in the area. There are four formal presentations, each lasting roughly fifteen minutes:

At the start of my presentation, I ask how many attendees have attended an REDP event: none. I ask how many people have heard of REDP before this presentation: none. While I'm here to promote our Equality Standard, I have to take the first five minutes or so to introduce REDP, say who we are and describe what we do. I also show off some of the free literature which I've brought with me.

After the four presentations, we go round the room, giving everyone else the opportunity to introduce themselves and their organisations, updating everyone on activities, needs and news. There's an impressive range of projects and a heartening variety of responses to the pressures they are enduring in these austere times. Before the end of the meeting there's a chance to chat, to mingle and to pick up literature from the various groups attending. Several people express their interest in getting their organisations involved with REDP. We exchange contact details and make promises to follow up. More than one person tells me that they could have done with knowing about us three years ago and they ask where we’ve been hiding! While my purpose here today is to encourage these VCS organisations to take up our Equality Standard, which is one of our ways of ensuring REDP's continuity and sustainability, those who have had no information or involvement before are more interested in more general aspects of our work.

REDP’s three-year period of funding by the Big Lottery ends tomorrow: 30 June. This is the last working day that we’re funded. Today's experience goes to show that even if we'd had another three years we still wouldn't have reached every part of the East Midlands or drawn in every VCS organisation in the region.

This may well be my last paid gig for REDP. After all this time building and promoting partnership, it’s ironic that I’m here doing this on my own today. We core partners are sure that REDP will continue. It’s entering a period of transition and it’s not yet clear what will emerge to carry on the work or who will be doing it. I hope I don’t fall off the back of the truck as it progresses along this bumpy road.

Thursday, 28 June 2012


This morning I'm at Weavers Close Church of England Primary, Earl Shilton, taking part in the school's community cohesion programme. "Planet Leicester" is a week-long series of activities organised by the Leicestershire Education Business Company (LEBC).

I was invited at short notice (Monday lunchtime) to take part in Planet Leicester. I was supposed to be with these children on Tuesday morning at Belgrave Neighbourhood Centre, but I had to cry off as Grace was too poorly to go to school and I was obliged to stay home with her.

Jon from LEBC picks me up (along with a Chinese chap called Li) at Leicester University and drives the half hour or so to Earl Shilton. We're joined at the school by James, from Leicestershire County Council.

Mrs Herbert's Year 3 class is split into four groups of seven or eight. We have 25 minutes with each group in turn. To the children, Scotland seems just as distant and exotic as China! Each pupil has a workbook, with one page to complete for each person whom they see. Each of us answers the same set of questions and we have to do one distinctive thing with our groups, that they can show at a display on Friday morning.
  • What's your name? George
  • Which country do you come from? Scotland
  • Which continent do you come from? Europe
  • Why did you come to Leicester? Someone offered me a job here
  • How did you get to Leicester? Train
  • How do you say "hello" in your country? Hello
  • What's your national dish? Irn Bru (yes, I know it's not a "dish", but I wasn't going to let anyone say deep fried Mars bar - or haggis for that matter. And the pupils know what it is - many of them have had it and like it!)
  • What's your religion? Bahá'í (I have to make it clear that  Bahá'í is not the national religion of Scotland though!)

As for the distinctive part we do with each of our groups: Li is showing them how to write their names in Chinese characters. James is helping them make friends with a potato (he should be wrting his own blog!). I teach my groups some useful Scots phrases, such as:
"Keep the heid an ah'll buy ye a bunnet"
"Dinnae day yer dinger!"
"Many a mickle maks a muckle"
"Gie it laldy hen"

I give each group one of these phrases each. I write them on the board, one word at a time, getting the pupils to pronounce them together as we go along. I explain what each phrase means and ask them to think of circumstances in which they could use their phrase. I also coach them how to say their phrase in the style of an old man at a bus stop on a rainy Saturday night. I tell the children that when it comes to the display on Friday morning, they can say the phrase together as a group or they can choose one from amongst them to say it on behalf of the group.

When we all get together for 20 minutes at the end of the group sessions, Mrs Herbert asks me to say a bit more about being a Bahá'í, since the name is new to her and to her pupils. Nice to be given that opportunity.

Nice to be given the opportunity to take part in this event as a whole. I look forward to something similar comes my way again.

Monday, 25 June 2012


At lunchtime today there's a meeting at the offices of Christians Aware in Saxby Street, to progress plans for “Going on Beyond: Meditation and Mysticism in the World Faiths”, the Faith Awareness course to be held at Christchurch, Clarendon Park, January to March 2013.

We agree a draft timetable for the ten meetings, which will include an introductory session led by Ian Grayling and Kevin Commons; a session on "Mysticism Across the Centuries", led by Beate Dehnen; perspectives on the topic from, respectively, a Cistercian Monk; a Bahá'í (me, speaking about 'Abdu'l-Bahá); a Hindu (speaking about Ramakrishna); a Sikh; A Buddhist; a Jew; and a Pagan. The closing session will take an overview of the whole course and will invite attendees to participate in the interfaith meditation meetings hosted by the Buddhist group at Leicester University.

It's my responsibility to secure the involvement of the Pagan and Sikh speakers before we have our next planning meeting in September.

Friday, 22 June 2012


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 777
  2. Russia 385
  3. United States 309
  4. France 132
  5. India 98
  6. Germany 64
  7. Ukraine 41
  8. Latvia 28
  9. Taiwan 17
  10. Hong Kong 12

This week's total: 1,863 (last week: 1,935). 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.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


We're exhibiting at the University of Leicester today, where a conference is taking place for Refugee Week (16-24 June): Hope and Resilience for Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

The purpose of the conference is to explore how hope and resilience can be fostered in the current climate through an emphasis on human rights, approaches to justice in psychological therapy and through building solidarity in the voluntary and statutory sectors.

The conference is being held in the South Wing of the Fielding Johnson Building, the second time in four days that I've attended an event here (see Building Shared Heritages: Cultural Diversity in Leicester on Equality & Diversity Officer). There are several organisations exhibiting today, in quite cramped space. Those on display cheek by jowl include:

I'm looking after both the REDP display as well as that of Leicester Council of Faiths, just across from it in a shared space with Refugee Action. The photo below shows Gail Pringle, Independent Project Manager and Voluntary Sector Consultant with Refugee Action.

The conference is opened by David Sallah (Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust), Cllr Mohammed Dawood (Assistant Mayor, Leicester City Council) and Bob Burgess (Vice Chancellor, University of Leicester).

Keynote speaker is Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty. Her name has been attached to the event since it was first advertised several weeks ago. Shami is a big draw and I know from my conversations this morning that many people are here just to hear her. I speak with a couple of the conference organisers about that, and about having heard Shami speak at REDP's human rights event in Derby in March. I mention what an excellent contribution she'd made to that day and how I'm looking forward to hearing her speak again. I also say how I know that she tends to be on a tight schedule, that more often than not, she'll beam in, deliver her piece then beam out. I get a few blank looks in response. I wonder if I'm coming across as a bit of a name-dropper. At 1140 sharp, we're summoned back into the Peter Williams Lecture Theatre, where the plenary sessions are taking place. The person chairing this session bigs her up, using that well-worn phrase, "Our keynote speaker needs no introduction" before giving her one (at length and in detail) ending with a triumphant, "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Shami Chakrabati!" Since I can't see her anywhere in the room, I expect her to enter at that point, perhaps just having arrived at the last minute. There's vigorous applause, as if most everyone else expects the same thing. At that point, however, someone comes forward with a DVD, inserts it into the multimedia centre at the lectern and goes through the menu to cue it up. Now I don't know if I've took my eye off the ball, my attention has been wandering (more than usual, that is) but I've somehow managed to miss the fact that Shami has recorded her speech and it's to be delivered via DVD. Seems like I'm not the only one, as a handful of people huffily pack their bags, get up and leave. Can't fault Shami for not being here. She's obliged to stay in London today to play her significant and influential part in focusing attention on the second reading in the House of Lords of the Justice and Security Bill. The talk itself is as impassioned, informed and inspirational as you'd expect from her. Liberty's mission statement is visible on a poster behind her throughout:

We believe in fundamental rights and freedoms - shared values that protect every member of the human family and the society that we seek to build together.

On reflection, I should have twigged that Shami wasn't going to be here in person because Chino isn't here.

I can't let my post on this event end without mentioning the Zimbabwean Choir, who perform several times during the day.

Saturday, 16 June 2012


At the University of Leicester (Fielding Johnson Building) this morning for an open day: Building Shared Heritages: Cultural Diversity in Leicester.

Building Shared Heritages is a co-sponsored project at the University of Leicester. Along with the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the University of Leicester is assisting local groups to apply for grants of up to £10,000 to explore their local heritage.

The University of Leicester has a wide range of expertise and resources relating to local and community history in Leicester and Leicestershire. It is looking to widen access to these resources. The key areas that it is interested in developing with community groups are as follows:
  • Trading heritage in Leicester
  • Sport, music and social heritage in Leicester
  • Civic and public heritage in Leicester
  • Open spaces and the built environment in Leicester
  • Memory of community, home, and local area heritage in Leicester

It’s the last of these five categories that offers potential for the Council of Faiths to get involved.

Deirdre O’Sullivan (Lecturer in Medieval Archaeology) gives a half-hour presentation to the audience of 80 or so about the Mapping Faith and Place project and the Leicester Faith Trail. She made several complimentary references to Leicester Council of Faiths during her presentation. she also described the next stage of the project, which is going to change tack from the general and historical to the particular and contemporary. They'll be focusing on one particular place of worship, Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurdwara on East Park Road. They'll keep updating  the Faith Trail, of course, which will include publishing a new version of the booklet.


I'm on BBC Radio Leicester with Tony Wadsworth this morning, doing Something for the Weekend. This is a feature where local people are invited into the studio for a live interview about what they usually do on the weekend, what they're doing this weekend and to pick a song that sums up the weekend for them.

I've been on Radio Leicester many times, but always in connection with my post at Leicester Council of Faiths. Tony asks me about my work today and I get to speak about it at some length (especially as I'm doing two things later today related to it: the Building Shared Heritages open day at the University of Leicester and An Indian Summer in the city's Cultural Quarter). But I also get to talk about shared parenting, about being an older dad (and about my kids), about how I became a Bahá'í in 1979 (and why I've stuck with it for 33 years since) - and how bus drivers and cake shop assistants still don't seem to understand my accent, despite the fact I've lived in Leicester half my life! I also give a shoutout to the people who loom largest in my life.

And I get to choose a song to be played on air, something that sums up the weekend for me. There was never any other candidate but XTC's Life Begins at the Hop (1979). Watch one of the worst pop videos ever made for one of the best three-minute pop songs ever made on YouTube. I never met any women like those in the video, in 1979 or since. I can't imagine XTC did either!


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Roadshow teaches pupils about faith
Youngsters at a school have been learning about different faiths this week thanks to a visit by a charity.
Pupils from Mount Grace High School in Hinckley tried out different food, clothing and entertainment, and had conversations with faith volunteers from St Philip's Centre about the Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Humanist, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths, as part of a roadshow.
The day also had a royal theme as children were given the chance to put their name to a pledge board acknowledging the Queen's 60 years of service as being a benchmark for stronger interfaith relations.
Pupil Kirsty Allan said: "The day was amazing. Learning about the food, clothes, and culture was fantastic."
Tom Dunne, assistant head teacher at Mount Grace, said: "We want our children to have the broadest range of knowledge and understanding to enable them to become the active citizens of tomorrow.
"They all had a really enjoyable and exciting day."
Riaz Ravat, from the St Philip's Centre in Leicester, said: "In just one day, our religion and belief roadshow makes such an impact upon children that they remember their experiences for a long time after."

Friday, 15 June 2012


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 927
  2. United States 434
  3. Russia 227
  4. France 128
  5. Germany 84
  6. India 78
  7. Canada 21
  8. Brazil 14
  9. China 11
  10. Malaysia 11

This week's total: 1,935 (last week: 1,713). 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 De Montfort University this evening for the Art and Design Degree Show. I've been invited by Rosemarie Fitton, Senior Lecturer in Interior Design (and member of Leicester Council of Faiths). She introduces me to Evadine Okoye, one of the students whose work is on show here. That's Evadine in the photo above, in front of the display of her work (Rosemarie is on her left).

Evadine has worked on a project that combines spirituality and mental well-being: Restore, a Spiritual Healing Facility. This is a theme that's been a thread running through my post and through this blog.

Here's Evadine's page in the Interior Design catalogue (in which she lists her likes as Afrobeats, Jesus and mango juice; and her dislikes as rainy days, yam, public transport)
When considering an interior, I view it as a very important aspect especially when it comes to an individual and how they connect with a building and its spatial attributes. I believe that the interior space has a significant influence and also plays a vital role in determining a person's feelings as well as the environment they are in. While studying at De Montfort University I have gained a key interest in Theatrical/Set Design and recently, the ideology of Holy and Spiritual Places. My passion for both of these areas stems from the desire to understand the connection users have with the space and how they interact with the environment they are placed in.
Restore: A Spiritual Healing Facility 
Civilisation today offers various facilities and services such as Retreats, Rehab centres and Mental Institutions. These facilities require their own unique system, methods and schemes that are available to patients who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia; offering them the help and support they need. However a question that generally arises is how can we find another unconventional mechanism to assist, aid and support those who have been discharged from institutional units and are still desperate for a solution?
"For many living with schizophrenia, religion and spirituality have an important and positive role ... religion plays a central role in the processes of reconstructing a sense of self and recovery." (Dr D. Cornah, on behalf of the Mental Health Foundation, 2006)
Restore as a spiritual intervention within mainstream health care is a concept that has been designed to help aid the restoration of discharged schizophrenic patients who are still on the road to recovery. By using the practices of Christianity as a catalyst, it becomes an inspiration for the design that reinforces and penetrates a purity of hope and healing through the facility. With the concept relying on the sun path as the main source of lighting, the facility is emphasised as a place to seek a positive future for all sufferers.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012


At Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre for the fortnightly meeting of Creative Coffee. That’s two separate words and no "Club" from now on - or, to give it its full name now, Creative Coffee Leicester. We have a speaker this morning: Rav Kaur (with backup from Sean Clark) for Cuttlefish Media, on the Leicester Events Guide. Their website is currently in beta testing. You can follow Leicester Events Guide on FacebookWe follow the regular session with another brief meeting of the committee. There are some good ideas put forward for advancing Creative Coffee Leicester; I look forward to helping put them into action.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Anger at centre Ramadan plans
Neighbours are opposing plans by a community centre to extend its opening hours during a religious festival.
Knighton Community and Education Centre, in Leicester, wants to open its doors to patrons until midnight – and for a second, 20-minute period between 1am to 4am – during the month of Ramadhan.
The Islamic centre, which opened on the corner of Welford Road and Keble Road two years ago, is only allowed to open from 6am to 11pm.
Its leaders have applied to Leicester City Council to vary these times between July 17 and August 22 to accommodate the festival, during which devout followers are expected to fast during daylight hours.
Some residents are against the proposals, citing problems last year when the centre flouted its opening time restrictions without authorisation from the council.
Neighbours complained about noise as late as 3.30am.
Maria Moran, 49, of Keble Road, who kept a log of incidents last year, said: "It's the noise we object to – and the fact the centre ignored planning regulations. There were speakers blaring out from the centre and groups standing in the street outside talking well into the early hours.
"There are about 30 homes in the street and a number of families and elderly people residents.
"With all the noise, including traffic coming and going from the centre, it was impossible to sleep.
"If the centre ignored regulations last year, what guarantee is there that they will abide by these varied opening hours?"
Welford Road resident Elvina Tiar, 56, who lives opposite, said: "Neighbours have a right to peace and quiet, especially at night time."
In a letter supporting the planning application, Fayyaz Suleman, agent for the centre [and Vice-Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths], said the issues of last year would not be repeated.
He said: "There is a clear commitment from the centre management to maintain a peaceful, disturbance-free use of the centre at all times."
He said he hoped that no disturbance will be caused to the residents.
Councillors Elly Cutkelvin and Bill Shelton have organised meetings in the past 12 months to build bridges between residents and the centre. The council is set to make a decision in the next few weeks.


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Secular belief masks a steely intolerance
I am sure I am not the only person who found the letter from Michael Gerard, president of Leicester Secular Society, with its anti-Catholic diatribe, particularly offensive ("Speech stirs up hatred of secularists, Mailbox, June 7).
It shows, as we have seen many times before, that beneath a facade of tolerance, there lurks a steely intolerance of any religious belief far exceeding that shown to secularists by people of faith.
I was not fortunate enough to be present when Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor gave his recent speech in Leicester, but if he stated that "secular values" are permeating insidiously every aspect of western life, he was absolutely correct.
The letter quotes him as stating that "no-one should be forced to live according to the new secular religion as if it alone were definitive and obligatory for all mankind".
We see evidence of this around us when we read of intolerance of people wearing crosses to work, or councils stating that there should be no prayers before meetings.
Michael criticises Franco in Spain, no doubt with some justification, but his regime also had merits. Remember that Christians are not perfect, and are in need of salvation.
It is simply not true to say that the Catholic Church connived with the Nazis regarding Jewish slaughter. Pope Pius XII did much behind the scenes to protect Jews, although some of it was not visible at the time for obvious reasons.
The so-called intransigent attitude of the Church to birth control and abortion are not there to annoy people: they are simply stating God's moral law.
The former denies the act of creation its natural outcome, the latter is murder, pure and simple.
Michael, please do not talk about stirring up hatred against secularists, (which nobody sensible wants to see) for that is exactly what you are trying to do against Christians.
Mark W Jacques OP, Quorn


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
The Bishop of Leicester expresses concerns about same-sex marriage
The Bishop of Leicester has expressed concern about proposals to allow same-sex marriage.
The Government has suggested changes to the law which would allow gay people to get married – something currently prohibited – in a civil ceremony.
The Rt Rev Tim Stevens said the Church of England wanted to see gay people further included in society but did not think this should mean redefining marriage.
The bishop also said he thought the Government's three-month consultation on the move was far too short.
He said: "The Government is seeking to meet what it perceives to be the needs of the gay community.
"I would say that the Church of England is sympathetic to those needs. 
"We want to see a society in which gay people are fully included and their needs are fully provided for.
"But this does not amount to a basis for introducing a complete redefinition of the concept of marriage based on a consultation process which is at the very least rapid."
Under the Government's proposal same-sex couples would not be allowed to be married in a religious service.
However, some in the Church of England said they expected a challenge to the ban could succeed at the European Court of Human Rights.
This, they fear, could lead to clergy being forced to conduct same-sex marriages.
If that happened, they warned, there would be an unprecedented clash between the Church's canon law – that marriage is between a man and a woman – and the state.
The outcome of this could be that it was impossible for the Church to continue as the official religious establishment of the state.
Canon Barry Naylor, the bishop's adviser on urban issues, said: "I think the fear comes from the idea that a Church of England minister could be approached by a same-sex couple asking to be married, that minister may object because it goes against their conscience and then legal action could ensue."
Canon Naylor said he was in favour of gay marriage in principle.He said: "I think the most important thing is that it is about two people who want to live in a committed relationship to each other."
Bernard Greaves, a representative of Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre, said he thought the Church of England was "overreacting".
He said the adoption of gay marriage would not lead to the disestablishment of the Church, nor "undermine the notion of marriage itself".
"The traditional view of Christian view of marriage is that it is a lifelong union between one man and one woman for the procreation of children," said Mr Greaves.
"In society that view of marriage has already substantially changed."We accept divorce, we accept remarriage and we accept that people get married with no intention of having children.
"None of that has undermined marriage at all.
"Allowing a man to marry a man or a woman to marry a woman is a change to the law that does not impinge on the Christian view of marriage."
He said he was not in favour of religious organisations such as the Church of England being forced to conduct same-sex marriages against their will.
"It would be absolutely wrong that any religious organisation should be forced to conduct same-sex marriages," he said.
"What is important is that people are given the maximum choice and equality."


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Cultural Quarter set for second Indian Summer
The sights, sounds and tastes of India will be spicing up Leicester's Cultural Quarter this weekend.
The second annual Indian Summer will be transforming Orton Square into a Mumbai bazaar.
Last year, the two-day festival took place in Phoenix Square, but the event has expanded, with organisers showcasing cookery classes, films and dance performances across seven venues.
Organiser Bipin Anand said: "It is going to be really colourful, exciting, vibrant and fun, with loads going on.
"If anyone has been to a Mumbai bazaar they will know it is all about the hustle and bustle, with so many sounds and smells. We are hoping to recreate that.
"This year is a big expansion, with loads of events, and while we are having short moments of panic and nerves, we are soon reminded of how brilliant and exciting it is going to be."
Run by Leicester social enterprise Inspirate, the event is expected to attract thousands of visitors.
The Exchange bar, in Rutland Street, is hosting sitar players, henna artists and Indian music workshops.
"We saw what they did last year and thought it was fantastic, so we're really pleased to get involved," said manager Anna Webb.
Indian films will be shown at Phoenix Square, while Curve will host a Carrom competition, giving visitors the chance to compete at an Indian game.
The theatre will also showcase classical Indian dance clothes, worn by performers.
At the LCB Depot, in Rutland Street, speedy cooks will be challenged to take part in a competition to see who can cook the fastest chapati.
Retro Indian music videos will be projected in Manhattan 34 bar, also in Rutland Street, and there will be food on offer at Chutney Ivy, in Halford Street.
Meanwhile, the Ramada Encore hotel, in Charles Street, is hosting talks on topics including the Ugandan migration and sex before marriage.
Bipin said: "It is a great chance for a big mishmash of people – all ages and Indian and non-Indian people – to come along and sample the culture.
"It is a mix of traditional and modern aspects, which I think helps keep the culture alive."
Events are taking place across the venues from noon on both days, until 11pm on Saturday, and 9pm on Sunday.
For more information about the programme, visit:

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Campaigners accuse police over handling of EDL march in Leicester
Police have defended their handling of the English Defence League's march in Leicester earlier this year.
A national campaign group, the Network for Police Monitoring – Netpol – yesterday criticised officers' conduct toward people opposed to the EDL's presence in the city centre on Saturday, February 4.
The EDL marched through the city surrounded by police officers while their opponents, Leicester Unite Against Fascism, staged a march in a different area of the centre. No arrests were made.
However, Netpol – which trained a number of local people to monitor events on the ground – accused police of:
  • Using unnecessary force against groups of predominantly Asian youths who arrived in the city centre after the two demonstrations had finished.
  • Using stop and search powers only against black or Asian people. Official police figures show 15 people, all Asian, were stopped and searched.
  • Surrounding groups of young people and escorting them out of the city – known as kettling.
  • Allowing a small number of EDL supporters to stray off the march route they had been ordered to stick to.
The city council was criticised for urging young people to stay away from the city centre, stressing that unaccompanied youths could be detained and escorted home.
Both city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and the officer in charge of the police operation have defended their handling of the event.
They stressed they spent several weeks before it took place speaking to community leaders.
Sir Peter said allowing the EDL to march prevented a repeat of the violence which marked the protest of October 2010, when people inside the EDL cordon pelted police with missiles and several hundred broke through police lines.
He said: "I don't know who Netpol is, but they don't speak for any local people I know."
Chief Superintendent Rob Nixon said other independent monitors, including the Bishop of Leicester and the Leicestershire Federation of Muslim Organisations, had endorsed his officers' handling of the event.
"There were no arrests made as a direct result of the marches and no damage to property," Mr Nixon said.
"This was in no small way due to the professional manner in which officers and staff from Leicestershire Police and Leicester City Council planned and managed the events and thanks to the co-operation of local communities and businesses."
The Netpol report was published at a public meeting at the Highfields Centre, Leicester, last night.
Its author, Leicester youth worker Saqib Deshmukh, said: "There was not the same level of disorder as we saw on the previous occasion and this could reasonably be seen as a success for the police and the city council.
"But this came at a cost for young people, particularly young Muslims, for whom the city centre was a no-go zone, while there is a perception that the EDL came and went as they pleased."


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Bishop of Leicester voices concern over gay marriage proposals
The Bishop of Leicester has expressed concern over gay marriage while saying the Church of England wants an increase in support for the gay community.
The Rt Rev Tim Stevens said the Church of England had been supportive of civil partnerships when the legislation was introduced eight years ago.
In a highly critical response to the Government's consultation on gay marriage which closes on Thursday, the Church of England said several “major elements”' of the proposals had not been thought through properly and were not legally “sound”.
“We continue to be supportive of the gay community and want to see that inclusion in our society increased and developed,” said the bishop.
“I think the difficulty we have here is the substitution of equality for uniformity, that is to say that there can be no distinction at all between men and women.”
He added: “The Government is seeking to meet what it perceives to be the needs of the gay community. I would say that the Church of England is sympathetic to those needs, we want to see a society in which gay people are fully included and their needs are fully provided for.
“But this does not amount to a basis for introducing a complete redefinition of the concept of marriage based on a consultation process which is at the very least rapid.
“From a standing start within three months to arrive at a fully considered, weighed and articulated redefinition of a fundamental social institution which has been thought about in one particular way for centuries and which is broadly accepted as a social institution in the same way internationally - to change all that on the basis of a consultation like this seems to be at the very least unwise and ill considered.”
Gay marriage threatens the establishment of the Church of England and could lead to it being forced out of its role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state, it has claimed.
The Church of England said introducing same-sex marriage would lead to an unprecedented clash between its own canon law - that marriage is between a man and a woman - and that of Parliament.

Sunday, 10 June 2012


This is a two-day family festival of music and fun on the banks of the River Soar. The annual Riverside Festival has grown into one of the city’s biggest free events, bringing live music, family activities and workshops and all the fun of the waterways to the heart of the city. The festival takes place on the mile straight of the river, Western Boulevard and in Bede Park. It's run by Leicester City Council and sponsored by local social landlord Riverside and ECHG.

I really like this event, not least because it all happens just around the corner from where I used to live for four years (2006-10). It's great for the kids of course - though I reserve the second day for myself - and the lovely food on offer.

Brightly decorated narrowboats take pride of place along the river (we can vote for our favourite). Decorated boats parade along the river and there are also activities involving boats ranging from coracles and canoes to a floating tea shop.

There's live music throughout the weekend. The photo above shows the WaterAid Choir. I know a few people who sing in that (though I couldn't point them out in the photo).

At the end of the second day, I have an interesting chat with two women from Ride Leicester (a Leicester City Council initiative): Fiona tells me about an occasion in her native Sydney, where members of faith communities had a Ride to Worship day, when community members swapped their cars for bikes; and Janet, who is nursing an idea for an organised bike ride round a variety of places of worship in Leicester. I give both of them my card and urge them to contact me so we can follow up on these ideas.

Saturday, 9 June 2012


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Help us find the good neighbour of the year
We all know someone who is a jewel in the community, whether they are visiting the lonely, doing shopping for the housebound or working tirelessly for volunteer groups.
They are the people, often unsung, who bring caring and kindness to where we live.
Today, the Mercury launches a search for the Good Neighbour of the Year.
We have teamed up with the East Midlands Housing Group (EMHG) to find that special someone.
Launching the search today, Chan Kataria, chief executive of EMHG, said: "We want to hear about those neighbours who go the extra mile for others, whether that's keeping an eye on the area through Neighbourhood Watch groups or helping to organise community events, activities and services."
One person who fits the good neighbour category is Sarah Clarke, 69, a former actress and holistic practitioner, who lives in Little Bowden, near Market Harborough.
According to friends, she is always there to lend a helping hand and is active in a number of community groups.
She said: "We all need to try to do our bit to help others.
"I fully support the Good Neighbour of the Year award and would encourage people to nominate those who deserve a bit of recognition for what they do in their communities.
"I am a volunteer at the local credit union which provides people with an opportunity to save and borrow money who are not normally considered by banks."
Sarah is also a member of her church council and regularly takes an elderly parishioner to services on a Sunday.
She is active in a number of organisations dedicated to the improvement of the environment and the quality of life in the town.
"I believe that for society to flourish we need people who put other people's interests above their own and are willing to volunteer and help those who need support," Sarah said.
Mr Kataria said: "We are proud to be sponsoring these awards, which are an opportunity to promote the type of community spirit that clearly exists in areas across Leicester and Leicestershire.
"I'm in no doubt that without these neighbourhood heroes, the health of our communities would be a lot poorer and, instead of prospering, face the difficult symptoms of isolation and social exclusion."
EMHG owns and manages more than 1,700 homes across the region.
Mr Kataria added: "We are a not-for-profit social investment agency and are sponsoring this event because communities are only sustainable when you have lots of people coming together to contribute to that community in some way.
"That way, people want to live there, move into them and actively care about their wellbeing.
"Our evidence suggests that when this happens residents are made to feel they have stake in the people and place they live and the communities are more likely to be successful, stable and prosperous.
"Our philosophy is to recognise and celebrate those individuals who do make an important contribution."
The judges for the competition are the Leicester Mercury's publisher, David Simms, representatives from East Midlands Housing Group Chan Kataria, chief executive, Louise Riley and Jerry Sykes. They will be joined by Capital FM DJs Dino and Pete. The awards will be presented at a ceremony hosted by Dino and Pete at St Martin's House, Leicester, on August 2.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Forced marriage law "is welcome"
Campaigners have welcomed a Government plan to outlaw forced marriages – but warned the laws could deter victims from coming forward.
The proposed new laws mean parents who force their children to marry could be brought before the courts and possibly jailed.
Meena Kumari, who runs Safe, which helps protect young people from being forced to marry welcomed the proposal and said a growing number of victims were coming forward to seek help.
However, she urged ministers to proceed with the new laws with caution.
Ms Kumari said: "Some of the people we have supported might not have come forward if they thought their parents could end up in prison.
"So, while we are really grateful that the Government is taking this issue so seriously, they have to proceed with caution.
"Some of the people who we work with would simply walk away if they thought they were going to have to face their families in court."
Safe works with police, social services, schools and colleges to identify victims and help them flee abusive homes and rebuild their lives, sometimes under new identities.
It is hearing from one person every month – some as young as 14 – who fear they are being pushed into a marriage against their will.When it launched two and a half years ago, new cases were coming to light every three months, Ms Kumari said.
Detective Inspector Mark Parish, who runs Leicestershire Police's domestic violence team, said: "We are seeing a gradual increase in cases, but it is still under-reported.
"It is a big step for people to contact us but they can be assured we will do everything we can to help them get through this difficult period in their lives."
Police have the option of seeking court orders to prevent families forcing a relative to marry. Officers also put victims in touch with welfare organisations such as Safe or local authorities for help with re-housing and ongoing support.
Leicester East MP Keith Vaz is chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which has previously urged the Government to outlaw the practice.
Mr Vaz said: "The Government must not only prosecute those who commit this appalling crime, but prevent it from happening in the first place. There should be zero tolerance of this harmful activity that ruins the lives of so many."
Announcing the plan, the Prime Minister said local authorities and voluntary groups would be given a share of a £500,000 fund to help combat the problem, including helping teachers to spot children at risk.
A Home Office spokesman said the Government would publish further details of the proposals later. Contact Safe on 0800 022 3353 or visit: