Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Leicester Council of Faiths holds its Annual General Meeting this evening at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Gipsy Lane. These aren't the minutes of the AGM (which I record) but I've reproduced a few things here that are of relevance to me and (I hope) of interest to you, faithful reader.

Before the meeting proper begins, attendees are given a guided tour of the Mandir by Narendra Waghela (which I miss, because I'm laying out the room for the meeting) followed by refreshments (which I don't).

The meeting proper is opened by the Chair, Cllr Manjula Sood, who welcomes attendees, particularly our Patron, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester and his wife Wendy. The Chair asks Bishop Tim to offer an opening prayer.

The Chair singles out former Chairs and honorary life members attending this evening: Fayyaz Ahmad, TV Majoria and Dr Attaullah Siddiqui. She reminds attendees that this is Leicester Council of Faiths' 25th anniversary year and describes some of the events and activities in Leicester over the past year in which the Council of Faiths has played a part or which have impacted on the organisation and our role in the city. These include changes in the funding landscape; higher profile of far right groups; the visit by HM The Queen to start her Diamond Jubilee in Leicester; the Olympics and Paralympics; public celebration of various faith festivals; active participation in the third national Inter Faith Week.

Bishop Tim gives his keynote speech on the topic, “The Recession and its Effects on Inter-Faith Relations”. His main points are listed below:
  • Massive increase in dependence on food banks as practical indicator of effect of recession
  • Ever-increasing pressure on those who are dependent on the State
  • Poverty is a moral issue, a religious issue, particularly poverty affecting children
  • Personal realisation of impact of Welfare Reform Bill in debate in House of Lords
  • Media response focuses on why unelected, unrepresentative, privileged bishops should be speaking out on behalf of poor people; questioning the right of the bishops to speak out on this (or any other) issue
  • Recession is being used to create conflict and suspicion among and between communities
  • Ongoing tension at Thurnby Lodge estate is stoked by connection to national narratives
  • “Marketization” of our lives gathering pace (e.g. in services such as education healthcare, and – in more extreme forms – in examples such as paid adoption and fostering, sale of body parts)
  • Growing opposition in the public sphere to moral and  spiritual values
  • The “floppiness” of our “spiritual muscle” because people of faith have not had to fight for the right, or contend with the prevailing orthodoxy like we have to do today.
  • Three points to go on our agenda for attention in the immediate future:
  • What are the practical expressions of our shared responsibilities?
  • What are our educational responses in terms of creating civic character?
  • What is our political (with a small “p”) positioning in relation to local governance? How does Leicester City Council experience Leicester Council of Faiths as a partner, a creative interlocutor in helping our city flourish in these difficult times?

The Chair thanks Bishop Tim for his presentation. He's able to respond to a few questions from the floor before he and Wendy give their apologies and take their leave of the meeting.

David Batchelor, Trustee of Citizen’s Advice Bureaux in Leicester, is given the floor. He has come to the AGM to encourage members of faith communities to assist Citizens’ Advice Bureaux by helping them tap into our networks, so that CABs can more fully reflect the make-up of Leicester today. The Chair thanks David for his presentation. He takes questions from the floor, then gives his apologies and leaves the meeting.

I briefly present my report of activities over the past year, which was included in the AGM papers. I refer members to a fuller version of this report to be found on his blog (where individual entries about most of the activities contained in the report are also posted).

I support the Secretary’s appeal that more members of the Council of Faiths make greater effort to attend meetings, many of which are routine and scheduled well in advance and would benefit from involvement of members from a variety of faith communities. This would free me to do the equality and diversity work, which has not decreased in its demands, despite my post being reduced to part-time from the beginning of October.

This leads to discussion of how to encourage the spirit of participation and sense of collective responsibility among members, to carry on existing work and extend it into new areas. There's a recognised tension of representation versus participation, “faith leaders” versus community workers, the role of paid staff in relation to volunteer members. As increasing opportunities have arisen for members of faith communities to take part in public activities (e.g. the exhibition in Highcross during Inter Faith Week, occasional schools visits, events held by our partners and funders) our members have more often than not been unavailable and representatives of faith communities have had to be recruited from outside our membership. Organisations and agencies with whom we work are often unclear about whether our members are representing the interests of their own faith communities or representing Leicester Council of Faiths itself. It's acknowledged that many of our members themselves may be unclear about this dichotomy. This has implications for our ability to justify continued funding from City Council and applications for future funding from other sources. It was agreed that the Board should make particular efforts to rectify this situation in the year ahead.

Funding has been reduced so that the only source of income is our support from Leicester City Council. This has impacted on the Council of Faiths' ability to retain staff, with both members of staff currently working on reduced hours (and reduced hourly rates). We have been assured that funding from Leicester City Council will continue until the end of 2012. This gives the opportunity to seek alternate and new sources of funding . In the meantime, there are two areas in which fundraising can be consolidated: payment of individual member subscriptions and asking members to approach their own communities (and the organisations within some of them) to ask for donations of at least £100 for the year.

Under Any Other Business, the meeting is reminded of the upcoming Faith in Family seminar (Tuesday 20 November 2012 at Leicester Police HQ, Enderby). This is our latest Open Meeting as well as part of our activity for Inter Faith Week.

Alex Keller informed the meeting of his retirement as representative of Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation. Chair thanked him for his long-standing involvement and valued contributions to the Council of Faiths.

In closing the AGM, the Chair thanks those who have given particular service to the Council of Faiths in the past year, including Officers (Fayyaz Suleman, Vice Chair; Inderjit Gugnani, Secretary; Kehar Singh, Assistant Secretary; Tony Nelson, Treasurer) and staff (Ajay Aggarwal, Co-ordinator;  Your's Truly). She proposes a special vote of thanks to our friends at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir for their hospitality this evening. The meeting thanked the Chair for her services over the past year.

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