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.

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