Saturday, 29 September 2012


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
I still say project is waste of £3 million
As the dissident who put forward his views on the Cathedral Gardens 'Focus on the social issues, not gardens' (Mercury, September 22), I wish to respond to Peter Hobson, director of the Cathedral Gardens project (Mercury, September 25), as my letter, clearly, has hit a raw nerve within the Diocese of Leicester.
To begin with, Peter Hobson was disappointed that I wrote under "name and address supplied", particularly as I am apparently so well-informed. All too often, whistle-blowers seek anonymity, but he may need to ask himself how it is I am so well-informed.
I am all too aware of the good work that goes on within the diocese, on a number of levels, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to do more.
While Peter Hobson claims the Diocese Mission for Social Responsibility has been restructured, it is difficult to know in what way.
What I do know is for the past year, the diocese has, sadly, been without a director of social responsibility.
With reference to whether to invest in capital projects, I understand the need to maintain existing Church properties, but there is a budget of about £8 million per annum set aside for this, through the Diocese of Leicester Board of Finance.
I fail to see how the Cathedral Gardens is a capital investment, as I am unsure in what way this £3 million project would achieve a financial return.
I would not have a problem with public funding being used towards the much-needed repair of the spire of St Mary De Castro Church, as this is part of Leicester's proud heritage.
I take objection to Peter Hobson's repeated references to "the poor", which in my mind demonstrates, as a minister of religion, his "poor" awareness of social issues to simply pigeonhole people in difficult circumstances as "poor".
I simply pointed out that financial resources from public funds would be better directed to projects working with those affected by homelessness, substance abuse, poverty and suffering.
Surely, most people would rather see some money directed to worthy causes rather than the Cathedral Gardens – by way of, for example, organisations such as Macmillan Nurses, which does great work with those in suffering and often placed in abject poverty – rather than see another fountain built in the Cathedral Gardens, at great expense, only for it to end up like the existing fountain in the gardens, which, as I passed it last Sunday, shortly before evensong, contained a green sludge and is little more than a receptacle for discarded drinks cans, beer bottles and used prophylactics.
I think it is time for the diocese to review its plan for the Cathedral Gardens, which is clearly an extravagant gesture in the present economic situation, and for the debate to continue in the community.
As for my anonymity, should Peter Hobson wish to contact me via the editor, he may do so.
Who knows, I might even challenge him to a live debate on local radio.
Name and address supplied

Friday, 28 September 2012


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 926
  2. United States 716
  3. Russia 331
  4. France 151
  5. Poland 97
  6. Germany 45
  7. Ukraine 31
  8. India 24
  9. Australia 10
  10. Canada 8
This week's total: 2,362 (last week: 1,905). These are aggregates of figures from the top ten countries only. Blogger's analytics doesn't show the numbers of pageviews below the tenth-ranking country and they don’t show the cumulative total including those additional countries, which is undoubtedly larger than the number shown above.

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.

Thursday, 27 September 2012


Today we're taking part in the "Street market" Community Fair for Freshers Week at De Montfort University Students Union. This is the second year that the Council of Faiths has been asked to be involved in this event. Last year's fair was considerably smaller - and quieter.

Just a couple of days ago, we were helping out our colleagues in the International Chaplaincy at the University of Leicester's International Students Services Fair. That was strangely quiet, compared to previous years, while this  event today appears to be going from strength to strength. There are many more exhibitors covering a much wider range of activities and services, occupying a much bigger and busier space and many more students visiting.

The Council of Faiths shares a table with Christians Aware (thanks to Amanda Fitton for being the other half of our dynamic duo today). In the photo above, three ladies from the Leicestershire Education Business Association (who were exhibiting across the way from us) check out our wares.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Scout hut row petition is handed in to council
Scores of campaigners gathered at the city council offices to submit a petition opposing the handover of a former Scout hut to an Islamic charity.
The group, calling itself the Committee for the Forgotten Estates of Thurnby Lodge and Netherhall, passed the document to City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby yesterday.
They are asking the council not to allow the As-Salaam Trust to take control of a disused scout building located in the heart of the estate.
The charity, whose members have been meeting on the estate for two-and-a-half years, are asking to take over the disused building.
More than 250 Thurnby Lodge residents gathered outside the Leicester City Council headquarters in New Walk last night to witness the handover.
Residents have collected more than 1,500 signatures, which automatically entitle the issue for discussion at a full council meeting.
A spokesman for the group said: "The Scout hut building in Nursery Road is in the heart of the community and much of the community's heart is in it.
"It was built with the youth of the community in mind and it should remain as such."
Campaigner Patrick McShane, 58, said: "We want Peter Soulsby to look at this and see it from our point of view. We want to the building as a facility for the whole community."
Carol Davies, 50, who signed the petition, said: "We've tried to contact our councillors but they're not interested, so we had to take matters into our own hands.
"We're a close community and we'll pull together when we need to."There's nothing here for the children to do and taking away a meeting place like the Scout building would leave even less."
Bridget Massey, 73, said: "Traffic is a big issue. There will be nowhere for all the cars – and this building is meant to be for all of us, not just one section of the community."
Sir Peter Soulsby stood at the steps to the council offices yesterday as he was passed the large list of names.
He said: "The community has quite clearly given this a lot of thought and we will of course listen to any ideas they have about alternative sites.
"It's my job to try and find ways to meet the needs of both groups involved."
Protesters have been holding regular meetings outside the Scout hut.
However, some residents said they would prefer the site to be developed for the wider community.
Up to 400 people at a time have gathered at the building to oppose plans to turn the building into a community centre.
The Mercury was unable to contact the As-Salaam Trust yesterday.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Plans for bank include Hare Krishna temple
Hare Krishna devotees have submitted plans to transform a landmark building into a place of worship.
Members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) are hoping to set up a restaurant, heritage room and an informal library at the former HSBC bank, in Granby Street, Leicester.
The group was left without a place of worship when an explosion tore through its temple in North Evington two years ago.
A planning application for the former bank has been submitted to Leicester City Council.
ISKCON president Pradyumna Dasa said: "We want a spiritual place and to make it available to the public.
"We want to include things such as yoga, meditation and elements of worshipping Krishna.
"Most people don't know the building was by architect Joseph Goddard, who also designed the Clock Tower.
"We want to build a heritage room, telling the story of Goddard."Mr Dasa said a restaurant would serve "wholesome vegetarian cuisine in support of health and wellbeing".
There would also be a library.
"There are 165 language spoken in the city and we want books and literature dedicated to all of them," Mr Dasa said.
"It would be like a very informal library where people could come and read in peace."
He said the temple would also be usable as a venue by community groups and for meetings and banquets.
An official opening date has not yet been set.
"We'll have the odd function here and there as we phase in the work, but we're still going through various planning stages so we can't get an exact opening date until that's done," Mr Dasa said.
He said he could not say how much the project would cost.
Members of the group have been worshipping in rented spaces since the explosion.
They said they were looking forward to moving into the 1870s-built, grade II-listed property.
The building has stood empty since HSBC left in 2008 and was recently added to English Heritage's list of significant buildings at risk of falling into disrepair.
Stuart Bailey, chairman of the Leicester Civic society, said it was "great news" to see the building being made use of.
He said: "This is the building which allegedly made Sir John Betjeman say 'wow', so it's one of our jewels and needs to be treated as such."

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Historians later
In his response to my last letter requesting proof of Christ's existence, via the supporting evidence of contemporary historians who lived at the time of Christ but were independent of any biblical connection, Keith Coleman (Mailbox, September 12) points out that Christ is mentioned by the first century historians Josephus and Tacitus.
However, what Mr Coleman fails to mention is that neither of these writers had been born at the time that Christ is said to have lived (c. 7BC or 5BC— circa 30AD or 33AD).
Josephus was born in AD37, and Tacitus in AD55.
Consequently, their accounts about the life of Christ were written quite a few decades after the events were supposed to have taken place and neither of them was in a position to confirm Christ's existence from direct experience.
If the only material available to them were accounts given by the four Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, whose attestations would eventually form the first four books of the New Testament with descriptions of the life of Christ – all so varied, they sound as if they were played out in four parallel universes – then the reliability of Josephus and Tacitus' writings as factual historical documents is very questionable.
That is unless they had access to the writings of contemporary and reliable independent historians who lived at the time of Christ and could confirm his existence. If that is the case, who were they?
Alan Pendragon South Knighton


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Doubts sowed in use by Satan
There have been many letters to Mailbox about the existence of God. Some people demand proof of God's existence, although the nature of the required proof is not clear.
Perhaps the only acceptable proof for them is when they meet God face to face.
Doubting Thomas was only convinced when he could thrust his hand into Christ's side.
Satan knows full well that God exists, but chooses to go his own evil way. He does his best to sow doubts into the minds of all people.
He even offered the world to Jesus. He said: "It's mine, but I will give it all to you if you will only bow down and worship me." Christ declined the offer.
This suggests that each of us may be under attack from evil forces at some time or other and we may do our best to make the right choice.
One reason for our doubts is that we all live in an essentially physical world, yet man is both a physical and a spiritual being.
Living in a physical world means most people have little experience of their spiritual side during their lifetimes.
This may hinder our understanding of what is going on. We may be unaware that considerable struggles are going on in Heaven.
God is Love, but Satan works against everything that is good in the world and persuades the people that God is to blame for bad things that happen.
Although we will all endure the death of our physical bodies, our spiritual lives may continue.
The purpose of Christ coming to Earth was to preach the good news that through his sacrifice, people may be saved from their sins.
As for proof of all this, well, I have never seen Antarctica. I am sure it exists... yet can I be absolutely sure because no one has proved it to me?
Nigel Mutimer, Coalville

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


This afternoon I’m helping out at the University of Leicester’s International Students Services Fair, which is being held at the O2 Academy in the Percy Gee Building (aka Students' Union). The Council of Faiths is supporting the International Chaplaincy with their display, mainly though the loan of our pop-up banners.

We took part in this fair in 2010 and 2011; both of those were very busy events. The O2 Academy was rammed with students on both occasions and there was a great variety of exhibitors from the university itself and the wider community in the city. This time, there's hardly a quarter of the exhibitors compared that there were in previous years (most of them promoting internal services provided by the university itself) and even fewer students. It’s still worthwhile being here; we help several students with enquiries about the International Chaplaincy and local faith communities, but compared to the last two years, it’s very quiet indeed.

Next to our display (or overlapping it, as you can see from the presence of our banners in the photo above) is Amarjit Sanghera, currently operating as @CampusCops on Twitter. Between us we seem to be the busiest corner all day - as you can see in the photo below (we're top right).

During a brief break in the Student Union Starbucks, I pick up an email inviting John Coster and I to attend a meeting on Friday, in advance of the Big Launch of Leicester Speaks (scheduled for Monday 8 October). John and I were Co-Chairs of Leicester Speaks in its first and second years but we both agreed at the end of the 2011 event that we wouldn't be doing it this year. Somehow or other, that hasn't got through to whoever it should have gotten through to and we're still signed on!

After having lugged the exhibition the short distance down to the Gatehouse (home of the International Chaplaincy) a the end of the day, I get to sit a spell with Akua and Wahida, of GBMag, who were exhibiting at the Fair. GBMag describes itself on its Twitter profile (@GreatBritishMag) as "the ultimate lifestyle guide for international students in the UK, with information and advice on living in the UK, British events and cool free giveaways". I like their tops!

The International Chaplaincy is holding on to our exhibition for use in other Freshers Week events over the next few days. So our banners are sleeping in the Gatehouse for a little while. I've kept one "generic" banner back to use in the Street market Community Fair at De Montfort University Students Union on Thursday.


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Church plan not at expense of others
As the person responsible for delivering the exciting new Cathedral Gardens project, I can't let the letter headed 'Focus on the social issues, not gardens' (Leicester Mercury, Saturday, September 22) pass without response.
So I'm particularly disappointed that the writer didn't feel able to put their name to their views – not least because they clearly know quite a bit about the operations of the Diocese of Leicester, and their point of view deserves a more thorough response than simply another letter. But in the circumstances, that's all I can do.If I had the person in front of me, I'd want to ask them – "why do you think we have to choose?"
Surely this person will be aware of the wide range of work already going on which focuses on social issues, in parishes up and down the city and county, and through centrally-resourced projects.
That includes work with asylum seekers, separated families, young people and those on very low incomes.
It's true that one particular way of working, with a whole lot of associated administration and infrastructure, has been wound up.
That doesn't mean the work stops – it may even free up more resources to do it, not least through the outreach work going on in St Martin's House – which contains far more than the "opulent conferencing and banqueting facilities" your correspondent mentions, though it's kind of him/her to remind people we do also have that resource to offer, and to earn money for our other work in addressing social issues!
But to address the issue head on – is it never right to invest money in capital projects?
If so, then all our churches and community buildings – not to mention our homes and gardens – will eventually fall down, never to be replaced.
And is it never right for the Church to partner with people of goodwill and secular authorities for the greater good, as in this case? In which case we'd better not only abandon all our cathedrals, but also very many of our social projects, which rely on just those sorts of partnerships.
That's why I think criticism of Cathedral Gardens based on the argument "the money could be spent better on the poor" is fundamentally mistaken.
This is in part because the money is not being given for that purpose, but more importantly because sometimes it's important to do something more than spend all our money on the poor.
Jesus himself rebuked Judas when he complained that money was apparently "wasted" on an extravagant gesture.
The principle is the same: the poor will always be with us, and we will always be active in meeting their needs.
Sometimes other things are equally worth doing as well. Cathedral Gardens is definitely one of them.
Pete Hobson, director, St Martin's House, Leicester


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury (but not on the website):
Druids mark equinox with hill ceremony
Druids have marked the changing of the seasons with a ceremony celebrating the autumn equinox at Beacon Hill.
More than 30 people formed a ring at the ancient Bronze Age site, near Loughborough, to mark the lengthening of the dark and the receding of the light, just after noon on Sunday.
As part of the celebrations - one of eight which punctuate the Pagan year - bread and mead were passed among the gatherers; the mead "so none should thirst" and the bread "so none should hunger".
Songs of peace were sung to north, east, west and south and the four elements of wind, fire, earth and water were venerated.
Mark Graham, of the Charnwood Grove of [sic] druids, said that Beacon Hill and locations across Charnwood Forest had a long history as druid meeting places.
We call this  place Caer Ban (Beacon Hill). It means lofty fortress. "This is where sky and earth meet, making it a special place, and the views are stunning.
"People gather here at this time to mark the equinox, the tipping points of the year, the changing of the seasons."
He said the sudden change from warm sunshine to autumn wind and rain had affected attendance numbers.
"At the summer solstice we had 200 people." he said.
"Today's turnout reflects the weather."
Charnwood Groves's celebration of the equinox was also filmed by a crew for The Hairy Bikers cookery programme, to be shown on the BBC in tha autumn.

Monday, 24 September 2012


Cllr Ted Cassidy and Suleman Nagdi, chatting inside the main display space of the exhibition
This evening I'm at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery for a reception to mark the successful conclusion of From Kampala to Leicester, the popular exhibition which tells the story of Leicester's Ugandan Asian community, 1972-2012.

From Kampala to Leicester (the exhibition itself and associated events) has run at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery (and a number of other venues around the city) from 14 July and was to conclude this Sunday, 30 September. Due to popular demand, it has been extended by one week.

There are a number of distinguished guests among the 60 or so attendees this evening, including Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby; Deputy Mayor, Cllr Rory Palmer; Lord Mayor of Leicester, Cllr Abdul Osman; Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Suleman Nagdi; two Assistant Mayors and half a dozen City Councillors. Director of Leicester City Council's Museums and Arts Service, Sarah Levitt, presides over the formal part of the reception. Sir Peter gives a speech, as does Cllr Sundip Meghani. Cllr Meghani is the son and grandson of refugees from Uganda who came to this country with little more than the clothes on their back. He now enjoys the distinction of being the youngest City Councillor currently serving in Leicester. He proposed a motion to the City Council on 13 September, recognising the contribution that Ugandan Asians have made to Leicester over the past 40 years. You can read all about this in more detail on Cllr Meghani's blog (including a video recording of his speech to Council). We also hear written testimonies of four people from diverse backgrounds, not natives of the city but who have come to call Leicester home (two of them having come here from Uganda in 1972).

There's even a period feel in the catering tonight. Among the delicacies on offer, we have that 70s classic, cheese and pineapple on a cocktail stick, but with an Asian twist: the cheese is paneer. That's so Leicester!

Sunday, 23 September 2012


Today Leicester Council of Faiths is hosting a visit to the city by our counterparts from Peterborough. Their party of 31 (including seven children) arrives an hour late due to circumstances beyond their control, as their coach has broken down not long after setting off, and they've had to wait for a replacement one to turn up.

In the photo above, Rosemarie Fitton and Narendra Waghela (both members of Leicester Council of Faiths) await the arrival of our visitors at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Gipsy Lane. Narendra represents the local Swaminarayan community on our Council of Faiths and often acts as guide to visitors here at the Mandir. Rosemarie is Senior Lecturer in Interior Design at De Montfort University, her specialism being sacred spaces in public places (that's not what it's called officially, but I made up that diescriptionand I'm going to keep using it). Rosemarie's company, Heterarchy, designed the interior of the Mandir. She's on hand to speak to our visitors today about the work Heterarchy has done in this site - and both she and I will be accompanying the Peterborough group on the other stages of their visit.

Stage 1: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

As the Peterborough group arrive an hour late, it's more of a speedy dash through the Mandir than we would have liked. Still there's time to take in some of its many pleasures and treasures and to whet the appetite for a return visit.

Stage 2: Masjid Umar, Evington Lane

Despite having lived in the area for a couple of years, I've never set foot inside Masjid Umar before today. We arrive just in time to observe worshippers taking part in afternoon prayer. By a happy coincidence, Fayyaz Suleman, Vice-Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths, is among the congregation today. He joins us for a Q&A session, responding to comments and questions from some of the visitors.

Stage 3: Jain Centre

Our final stop is the Jain Centre on Oxford Street. We arrive just at the end of a major event in the Centre, as the community has come together to celebrate the end of Paryushana, an eight-day period of fasting and one of the two most sacred periods in the Jain calendar. Smita Shah, past President of Jain Samaj Europe and a Director of Leicester Council of Faiths, shepherds the group round the centre (see photo above). I'm glad of the chance to meet some members of the Institute of Jainology, who are demonstrating their online resource, Jainipedia - and we're all glad to end the day by sharing in a vegetarian meal here, provided through the generosity of the Jain community. In the photo below, Smita Shah is talking with Jaspal Singh, Chair of Peterborough Inter-faith Council.

It would be remiss of me to end this blog post without mentioning a few things I noticed about this Peterborough group that distinguish it from ours here in Leicester.

Firstly, the size of the group: 31 is an impressive number, but even then their Chair, Jaspal Singh, informs me that there were would have been even more of them, if it were not for the fact that their local Buddhist and Jewish communities are involved in events of their own today, so have been unable to come along. A fortnight ago, we struggled to fill a minibus with less than half that number on our annual Peace Visit to three places of worship: and only three actual members of Leicester Council of Faiths were amongst that number.

Secondly, the composition of the visiting group: this was certainly different from any lineup that we could have drummed up from our membership. There were children present - seven of them. The only kids that show up at anything organised by Leicester Council of Faiths are mine! Once you subtract the children from the total number of visitors (leaving 24), a third or so of the adult members of the group were young people, of typical student age. Leicester Council of Faiths has long experienced difficulty in engaging young people in our activities (so much so, that we've recently been toying with the idea of appointing a volunteer position of Young People's Champion to try and get some movement on this issue). The Peterborough group had five Nepalese people, none of whom could speak English (one of the main group translated into Urdu, and one of the Nepalese women translated for their group from that).

Thirdly, membership and structure: Peterborough Inter-faith Council seems a looser and less formal entity than Leicester Council of Faiths - even, it might be said, less hierarchical and rigid. As far as I can see from today's visit and from the contacts leading up to it, the Peterborough group doesn't seem to have issues about who is there to represent local faith communities. The group appears to be made up of a diverse membership of people, brought together by their interest in finding out more about what other religions stand for and how their followers live. However, it might be fairer and more accurate to compare Peterborough Inter-faith Council with something like Dr Russell's Interfaith group in Leicester. Our more formal, more representative nature may be the key to opening doors for engagement with local authorities, service providers, schools, colleges and universities. Although it often gives cause for complaint, it may be the very thing that elevates Leicester Council of Faiths to the position where it can actually do some good for the city as a whole. It's horses for courses, innit?


On the way from BBC Radio Leicester to the Welcome Centre early this morning, I come across some friends and colleagues setting up marquees, tables and tents in Town Hall Square. Its all for the benefit of the Leicester Masaya Link Group (whose Claire Plumb is holding the flag of Nicaragua in the photo above). Amigos Bike Rides is holding sponsored cycle events to raise money to help relieve poverty in Masaya, Leicester's twin town.


On BBC Radio Leicester this morning, 0800-0830, with Monica Winfield. Our topic is "Faith and Film". No prizes for guessing that the reason for choosing this subject is the current furore over the video posted on YouTube, "Innocence of Muslims".

This is my third appearance on Monica's show this year. The first, discussing forgiveness in February; the second in July, discussing reconciliation. (You can read the blog entries for those occasions by clicking on the each of the topics respectively). Both those times, I was part of a panel of three contributors, to whom Monica would speak in turn. This time, it's been decided to have just two interviewees. I'm booked to appear alongside Dr Halla Diyab, a Muslim film-maker based in Leicester. Her company, Liberty Media Productions, has made a documentary entitled "Breaking the Fast", which follows Jon Ashworth MP (Labour: South Leicester) as he fasted for one day during Ramadan earlier this year. At the end of that day, there was an Open Community Iftar in St Philip's Church, Evington. I was there, along with people from several other communities of religion or belief in Leicester, while a crew from Liberty Media Productions filmed it (though I can't see myself in any of the trailers for the documentary that have been posted on YouTube).

Dr Diyab's credentials for taking part in this feature are impeccable and I'm sure she would have made interesting and thought-provoking contributions to the discussion. But by the time we go on air shortly after 0800, she hasn't arrived at the studio. Monica starts with only me on the other side of the desk and we end up managing the whole thing between the two of us.

When I was booked for this slot, I was asked if I'd seen Innocence of Muslims. At that point, I hadn't, but I wouldn't be happy discussing it if I hadn't seen it, so I watched it in preparation for the programme, along with related material available online, such as US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's speech responding to the film and to the violent reaction around the world. In my head, I was hoping that Dr Diyab would speak more directly to the topic this morning from her dual position as both a Muslim and a film-maker, while I would contribute more generally on the basis of "the Leicester way" of responding to this kind of thing, with some reference to the Faiths Film Festival that Phoenix Square ran last year during Inter Faith Week (as well as marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Leicester Council of Faiths). In the end, I get to do both parts - and probably say more about Monty Python's Life of Brian than anything else!

I also get to speak about Interfaith Focus, a charity of which I'm a Trustee. The purpose of Interfaith Focus is to encourage film-makers to produce content which recognises the kinds of inter-faith encounter that are taking place in a variety of settings (formal and informal) all over the world. To record and celebrate what is being done and to encourage more of it. Interfaith Focus is still in its early days, but we hope it will make a positive contribution to relations between faith communities and that there are many positive ways in which people of different beliefs and practices can live and work together.

Saturday, 22 September 2012


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Alice's cycle quest on grandma's bike
A teenager will be cycling thousands of miles on her grandma's homemade bike to raise money for charity.
Alice Hall, 16, from Thurmaston, will be pedalling 5,350 miles in memory of her grandma, Valerie, who loved cycling, with proceeds going to the Leicester Masaya Link Group (LMLG).
The group was created to help relieve poverty in Leicester's twin city Masaya, in Nicaragua.
Alice is planning to cycle the equivalent distance from Leicester to Masaya over the next 12 months.
Alice said: "I wanted to do a challenge that was achievable, but which needed effort as well.
"I have been into cycling for quite a long time – my bike is my main source of transport.
"The bike was hand-built for my grandma about 30 years ago. It is a touring bike and is irreplaceable. I love the bike and named it Valerie in her memory.
"I'm thinking of doing a spring cycle tour around Britain, maybe taking in the Peak District to get some more miles done."
After Alice's grandma Valerie Brewer was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she moved into the Hall family home. She died in 2010.
Alice said: "My grandma came to live with us when I was five, and, as I was home educated, I helped to look after her.
"It didn't affect me much and I didn't mind doing it.
"She was a friend to everyone and an inspiration to me."
Valerie believed strongly in the work of the link group and educated people in Leicester about life in Masaya.
Members of the Hall family, who are keen cyclists, visited the Central American city in the 1980s.
Alice will kick-start her mileage on a series of rides for the group called Amigos Bike Rides tomorrow.
There are three routes – a six-mile cycle along the Great Central Way starting at 11am, a 25-mile route to Brooksby from 10am-11am, and a 50-mile country lane cycle started between 9am-10am around the city going through Watermead Country Park.
It costs £10 per person to take part, £20 for a family and £30 for a team of five.
"I think it will bring really good awareness of the group," said Alice.
To sign up for the challenge, donate to the charity and for more information, e-mail:


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Peaceful protesters make their point
Peace campaigners handed out white peace poppies at Leicester's Clock Tower yesterday to mark the United Nations Day of Peace.
Members of Leicester Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament gathered at the Clock Tower with banners and leaflets to spread their messages.
The group is campaigning against wars throughout the world, as well as nuclear weapons and the use of unmanned aircraft by the military. Committee member Anna Cheetham said the campaigners gave out hundreds of white poppies and leaflets during the day.
She said: "We do this each year and, as usual, some people take the leaflets and others don't. It was a cold and wet afternoon, so I wouldn't say it was a good response, but we were there and we had some people coming up to us to talk about the issues.
"We spoke about the wars going on and the other problems and how fighting isn't going to make any of it any better."


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Hundreds in US film protest
Hundreds of Muslims took to the streets of Leicester yesterday to protest at a controversial American film.
Roads were closed off as the protestors congregated outside the Central Mosque, in Conduit Street, at 2.30pm, to complain about the amateur film Innocence of Muslims.
The 400 protestors, many carrying placards, listened to imams from mosques throughout the city condemn the film at the peaceful 30-minute outdoor meeting.
The film denigrating the Prophet Mohammed has sparked unrest in many parts of the Muslim world over the past 10 days, and the deaths of at least 33 people, including the US ambassador to Libya, have been linked to the violence.
Much of the anger has been directed at the US government, even though the film was privately produced in the US and American officials have criticised it for insulting Muslims.
At yesterday's Leicester protest, Mahommed Machar, 24, of Evington, said: "I felt it was important for me to be here.
"I have come down to register my protest against this film and its message. The film is abusing the freedom of speech, not upholding it."
Mohammed Ayub, 43, of Evington, said it was vital to get across the message about non-violence.
He said: "This is the way to protest, not to resort to violence. You can tell by the numbers of people here today, the strength of feeling about this film here in the city of Leicester."
Maulana Shahid Raza OBE, head imam of the Islamic Centre, said the film had caused global unrest in the Muslim world.
He said: "The film is the worst possible violation of freedom of expression.
"We firmly believe that Prophet Mohammed always taught and practiced peace and tolerance and throughout his life he always upheld universal human values.
"To depict him as a violent extremist is disgusting and reprehensible.
"Muslims consider it a gross insult to the Prophet and we call upon all faith leaders to condemn this unjustified action and show their solidarity with the Muslim world in respect of safeguarding the honour and sanctity of all faiths and their founders."
Malik M Salim MBE, chairman of the Islamic Centre, appealed to the Muslim community to remain calm.
He said: "We would like to record the protest and wish to communicate to those extremists that the hatred of Islam through such movies would not harm the great personality of the Prophet or any aspect of Islam, but would only backfire on the people who spread venomous ideas."
Inspector Chris Cockerill, responsible for policing the event, said the protest had passed off peacefully.
He said: "We work closely with the Central Mosque and have done so concerning this event.
"It is part of our duty to ensure that people can take part in a peaceful protest and that is what we had here in Leicester."
Once the meeting was over, the road blocks were lifted.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Mercy mission volunteers on road to war-torn Syria
A group of volunteers has set off on a 3,100-mile journey to deliver humanitarian aid to families in war-torn Syria.
A convoy of 16 vans and ambulances met at Leicester Forest East services on the M1 yesterday afternoon to begin the arduous journey to take clothing and supplies to the Middle Eastern country.
The vehicles, which have also been donated, include six ambulances.They have all been filled with supplies and medicines and equipment for field hospitals in the country.
Syria has been embroiled in civil war after a series of uprisings against President Bashar al-Assad.
Aid worker Fadi-Al-Dairi, a Leicester representative of the charity Hand-in-Hand for Syria, said: "All of the vans are in good condition and they will be used for transporting patients.
"Rather than send them over empty, we thought we'd fill them with clothes and supplies which can be distributed once we get out there."
Most of the vehicles and supplies have been donated by people from Leicestershire.
There are 45 volunteers, mainly from Leicestershire, accompanying the vehicles.
Each van will carry at least 30 bags of clothes and supplies, including medicines, medical equipment and baby milk.
All the donated items have been collected during the past six weeks by Hand-in-Hand for Syria volunteers.
Mr Al-Dairi said: "I want to say a big thank-you to everyone who took time out to buy and donate clothes. We have collected hundreds of items and they form a vital part of aid delivery."
The journey from Leicester to Syria will take four days and cross Europe, through France and Italy, before a ferry takes the convoy to Greece and Turkey.
When they reach the Syrian border they will hand over the supplies to members of the Libyan Red Crescent – part of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The project has been organised by Hand-in-Hand for Syria, in partnership with charity Save Life, Save the World. Hanabi Alkhder, press officer for Hand-in-Hand for Syria, said: "We're hoping to get the humanitarian aid and medical equipment to people in Syria and to field hospitals.
"There are a lot of organisations involved here, but we're all working together to get vital supplies to those who need it the most."
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Friday, 21 September 2012


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 803
  2. United States 557
  3. Russia 214
  4. France 135
  5. Germany 54
  6. India 45
  7. Poland 30
  8. Sweden 30
  9. China 25
  10. Japan 12
This week's total: 1,905 (last week: 2,385). These are aggregates of figures from the top ten countries only. Blogger's analytics doesn't show the numbers of pageviews below the tenth-ranking country and they don’t show the cumulative total including those additional countries, which is undoubtedly larger than the number shown above.

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.


I'm surprised to be contacted today by Voluntary Action LeicesterShire, asking if I'd accept a nomination to be one of their Trustees. I'm sent an election acceptance form with my details and asked if I can verify this so that it can be included amongst ballot papers before VAL's forthcoming Annual General Meeting. This is the first I've heard of it and when I ask who has nominated me, it turns out to be someone I don't believe I know, from an organisation with which I haven't worked with. I'm flattered (assuming, of course, that it's not simply a mistake on the part of the person who did the nominating) but in all good conscience I can't accept this, so I turn it down.


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Proof of God is all around us
R. Dunkley writes of his surprise that letters express belief in God "despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary" (Mailbox, September 8).
I should like to turn his statement on its head and wonder why a very few (only) writers express disbelief in Him.
The existence of God is to be deduced from everything around us: the natural beauty of the world, but above all the gift of life.
These things cannot just arise with no origin or creator; neither do you need to be especially religious to be quite certain of God's existence.
There is, of course, the question about why dreadful things happen, which I tried to address in a recent letter to Mailbox.
It is a most legitimate and pertinent question, but in no way does it deny the existence of God. Two truths cannot contradict one another and can be reconciled.
Mark W. Jacques OP, Quorn


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Cathedral will be room for dossers
I have looked on the web site at the artist's impression of the cathedral gardens proposal, but cannot see any benches.
I do hope that the new gardens will include some benches so that people can sit and congregate and have a cigarette and a few cans of beer and bottles of cider, as they do at the moment inside the present cathedral entrance.
Perhaps the planners of Soulsby Square (oops, sorry, Freudian slip, I mean Jubilee Square) will note this requirement.
They can also save a little money, as no litter bins will be necessary as cans and bottles will be left on or near the seats for collection.
Cigarette ends can also be swept up from the surrounding area.
John Startin, Leicester

Thursday, 20 September 2012


At St Martins House, Peacock Lane, this afternoon for the regular scheduled meeting of Leicester SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education). This is the first meeting since Jill Carr, who was Secretary of SACRE, left Leicester City Council to take up her appointment as Head of RE at Leicester Grammar School. Her role is being filled by Fiona Moss (of RE Today Services) at least until Christmas this year and probably beyond. Fiona was doing this role with SACRE when I first became involved, so seeing her back here feels like having come full circle. We worked together on the early drafts of Engaging with Faith Communities in Leicester.

I'm able to flag up the forthcoming Philosophy Panel I've been asked to convene for St Paul's Catholic School next month. A handful of people at this meeting volunteer their services. Catholic schools, of course, exist outside of SACRE's sphere of influence. I thought that of some members of Leicester SACRE could take part in the event at St Paul's, then that would provide a nice crossover experience.

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.