Thursday, 26 July 2012


The Grand Hall in St Martins House is the venue for this conference, concluding the first phase of the University of Leicester's Mapping Faith and Place project. I haven't been in the Grand Hall before, but it's a setting that lives up to its name, one fit for a queen. Literally, in this case, as HM Queen Elizabeth II was served lunch here on her recent visit to Leicester which kicked off her Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. Some of those attending today were guests on that occasion.

Deirdre O'Sullivan (Lecturer in Medieaval Archaeology at the University of Leicester) welcomes attendees and introduces the project. The rest of the day is taken up with a number of presentations:
Heritage and Multi-Faith in Leicester, Canon Dr John Hall, Director, St Philip's Centre for Study andEngagement in a Multi-Faith Society
English Heritage Policy on Faith Buildings, Dr Lind Monckton, English Heritage
History and Interpretation, Surinderpal Rai, Chair, Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurdwara
Leicester Perspective, CllrManjula Sood, Assistant Mayor (and Chair, Leicester Council of Faiths)
Jain Heritage in Leicester, Dr Atul Shah, CEO, Diverse Ethics
The Church of St Mary de Castro: a Document in our Midst, David Lamb, St Mary de Castro
An Archaelogical Approach to Understanding Religious Buildings, Neil Finn, Archaeological Consultant
The Story of Leicester, Sarah Levitt, Leicester City Council Arts and Museums Service

An interesting variety of presentations, to be sure, but it wouldn't be unfair to say that they're something of a mixed bag. Although the conference is sponsored by the University of Leicester, it's not, strictly speaking, an academic occasion, so it would be wrong to hold all the contributions to the kind of rigorous standard. Let's just say that the standards of preparation and delivery vary today.

Mapping Faith and Place in Leicester has been funded by the Art and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) within their funding stream, "Care for the Future: Thinking Forward Through the Past". After the end of this initial period of funding, the project moves into a new phase, focusing on the past, present and future uses of one faith-related site in particular: Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurdwara on East Park Road.

The Council of Faiths has lent a hand at various stages of the Mapping Faith and Place in Leicester project (although if we'd grasped how significant it is, we'd surely have done more to help). I've posted entries about the launch event in October 2011 and the first, second and third seminars for the project in this blog. We borrowed the project's pop-up banners for our display at Highcross during Inter Faith Week 2011, when we also distributed many copies of the Leicester Faith Trail booklet (the second, updated edition of which is published today). Members of staff Deirdre O'Sullivan and Dr Ruth Young (Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Director of Distance Learning Strategy) and students from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History took part in that exhibition. There are several members of the Council of Faiths here today and, of course, our Chair, Cllr Manjula Sood, is one of the platform speakers. But I can't help wishing we'd been able to make a more formal presentation. There were some questions from the floor about inter-faith issues in Leicester that some of the platform speakers were unable to answer, that would have surely been part of a proper presentation by the Council of Faiths (regarding consultation with the city's decision-making bodies, for example).

I've enjoyed being involved in this project. It's opened some doors for me and introduced me to some good people I might otherwise never have met. I hope that I (and Leicester Council of Faiths) can play an active part in the project's future development and even find new ways to contribute and collaborate.

As I do at the end of all my blog posts referring to St Martins House, I refer any reader wondering about the omission of the possessive apostrophe from the building's name to a letter from Rev. Peter Hobson, Director of St Martins House, published in the Leicester Mercury, 29 March 2011.

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