Friday, 30 March 2012

THIS WEEK'S VISITORS (1,651)


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 1,025
  2. United States 358
  3. India 85
  4. Russia 43
  5. Germany 39
  6. France 28
  7. Latvia 23
  8. Australia 22
  9. Japan 17
  10. Canada 11

This week's total: 1,651 (last week: 2,009). 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" (which seems to mean the last 12 months). They're updated each time I look at them.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

POUNDING THE PAVEMENT FOR CHOICE UNLIMITED


Out in the West End today, distributing fliers and posters for REDP's forthcoming Choice Unlimited event. I lived in this part of town for four years (2006-10) and it strikes me as probably being the best area of the city for getting our colourful publicity material in front of people. I'm glad to say that most of those who accept a poster for their shop window actually put it up. The chap in Tin Drum Books (photo above) asks for additional copies, as he's the curator of the Bede Park community noticeboard. The owner of the shop below handed me a roll of sellotape and asked me to stick up the poster where I thought it would look best. I like those kinds of responses!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

IT'S A SIGN!


New signage has been installed throughout Highcross, including signs for the "Faith Room" (as it has now been named).


I like the new appelation and I like the symbol, of a person kneeling to pray. Directions to the Faith Room are now clearly indicated throughout Highcross.

Monday, 26 March 2012

HITTING THE BRICKS FOR CHOICE UNLIMITED


This morning I'm scheduled for a diabetic retinopathy eye screening at St Peter's Health Centre, Sparkenhoe Street. That's at the edge of Highfields so I take with me a bag of fliers and posters for REDP's forthcoming Choice Unlimited event so I can distribute them round the area.

What has slipped my mind is the fact that for a while after the screening, it's quite hard to see. The nurse puts drops in your eyes that dilate the pupils, making everything bright, glary and indistinct. That wasn't so noticeable inside the health centre, but outside it's a sunny day. I don't know why I didn't think this would impact on my ability to do this task. I mean, it's not as if it's the first time I've had this test done - I've only had diabetes for, like, 16 years.

Still, I can tell well enough, at a distance, the right places to ask if they'll put up a poster and/or take some fliers, such as the Ark World Arts Centre, incorporating Sparkenhoe Theatre (photo above). I spend a few minutes talking with a nice, receptive lady in there called Mel, who's keen to promote Choice Unlimited to their Saturday morning theatre group for young people with learning disabilities and their families. They should be exhibiting at the event, I tell her.

Towards the end of my walk through Highfields (and the end of the contents of my bag), I get as far as Wesley Hall Community Project, at the top of Hartington Road. I used to teach basic literacy here to two groups (one of staff members, the other of service users at their day centre) when I was an Adult Ed tutor years ago. By this point, you're leaving Highfields and heading into Spinney Hills. My legs are sore now - and so are my eyes - so I head back down the hill and who do I see but my friend and colleague Suleman Nagdi walking up it in my direction. Despite my fuzzy vision, Suleman's perfectly recognisable from a distance. When I tell him what I've been doing and show him what's left in my bag, he takes me back round the corner into Melbourne Road and opens up the office of the Federation of Muslim Organisations so I can leave a bunch of fliers there and put up a poster in the window (photo below). This was one of my goals for today - since I believe it lends credibility to the event for local residents to see the poster here. A bit of luck, bumping into him like that!

FLASHMOB DANCERS PUT ON A SHOW IN LEICESTER CITY CENTRE

This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:


Flashmob dancers put on a show in Leicester city centre
Young dancers and designers took their art onto the streets of Leicester city centre yesterday.
A group of eight entertained shoppers in Leicester with surprise "flash mob" dance performances inspired by a forthcoming exhibition at the city's New Walk Museum.
The youngsters, aged between 13 and 15, have been participating in a series of free dance and costume design workshops at the museum, taking inspiration from Suits and Saris, which opens at the museum on Saturday.
The group performed its synchronised street performances at the Clock Tower, and in Gallowtree Gate and Market Street in the afternoon as part of their workshop studies.
Hannah Stretton, manager of the project, funded by Arts Council England, said: "It's fantastic to see a group of young people so invested in and excited by this museum's project."
The entertainment was provided by the Dohl Enforcement Agency - the D-E-A Band with costumes by Ali Pretty of Kinetika and the choreography was by Balbir Singh.

NEW STATESMAN: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE


In this week's Cover Story, the Archbishop of Canterbury's former press secretary George Pitcher - ousted in the fallout from his New Statesman guest edit - reports on Rowan Williams's struggle against the Church of England traditionalists who run his office.

Friday, 23 March 2012

THIS WEEK'S VISITORS (2,009)


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 709
  2. United States 683
  3. Germany 350
  4. India 70
  5. Denmark 59
  6. Russia 53
  7. France 39
  8. Latvia 3
  9. Canada 32
  10. China 18

This week's total: 2,009 (last week: 1,773). 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" (which seems to mean the last 12 months). They're updated each time I look at them.

HINDU WOMEN VIE FOR SPORTS TROPHIES

This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Hindu women vie for sports trophies
Women from the Hindu community will be gathering for an annual cultural sports day this weekend.
Hindu Sevika Samiti UK, a Leicester voluntary organisation that encourages girls and women to practice and preserve Hindu values, is staging the event at Soar Valley College, in Rushey Mead, on Sunday.Representatives from the city's four branches will compete in South Asian games such as kabaddi, kho-kho and ring, against counterparts from 25 other branches across the country.
Spokeswoman Kirti Vekriya said: "This year, being the host country for the Olympics, we feel that promoting sports through our annual competition is a great opportunity to get everyone into the spirit of the games."
Ms Vekriya said: "More than 100 girls and ladies will be taking part. All the teams have been training really hard."
Members of the public are welcome to cheer on participants, between 9am and 5pm.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

DISABLED MISSED OUT

This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Disabled missed out
Now that all the excitement of the royal visit is but a happy memory to many, I would like to say I experienced my own disappointment about the lack of access to the cathedral.
Though I was invited by the Bishop and the Dean of Leicester to represent my congregation at the multi-faith service and celebration of the Diamond Jubilee, I was unable to attend, due to my having walking disabilities, and access to get to the venue, without immense difficulty, was not available.
Car parking near enough was not allowed and dropping off was also forbidden in "the immediate environs of the cathedral".
Nor could I take a carer in with me to push me in my wheelchair if I parked further away at the multi-storey car park.
Even the arrangements for refreshments afterwards were held at an upstairs venue.
Due notice of this was given in a letter to me.
There may no doubt have been very valid reasons, but it does not reflect well on our city when equality of opportunity for all was not properly considered and planned for.
The same applies to the many city streets which are now totally pedestrianised and more are planned in the future.
At one time, disabled drivers could drive and park in Market Street at restricted times and this facility was highly appreciated. Can we have this back, please, or do we have to go out of town for our shopping?
Name and address supplied

CITY'S SYRIAN FAMILIES IN BID TO HELP OUT REFUGEES

This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
City's Syrian families in bid to help out refugees
Syrian families living in Leicester are helping to raise thousands of pounds for refugees fleeing the Assad regime.
The small community in the city is supporting the charity Hand in Hand for Syria, which is sending much-needed medical and food supplies to refugees in camps in Lebanon and Turkey.
Three of the four charity trustees live in Leicester and they are holding a fund-raising meal on Sunday at the University of Leicester.
The country has been rocked by violence since the uprising against President Bashar Assad started one year ago.
The UN says more than 8,000 people have been killed, many of them unarmed protesters.
Charity trustee Fadi Al-Dairi said: "We all have relatives who live in Syria or who have fled their homes and are living in refugee camps.
"I have family who have fled Homs so I have to be very careful what I say. But, they are in desperate need of help. They need medical equipment, medicines and first aid materials, food and equipment to keep them warm."
He said: "We are strictly humanitarian and want to protect and save life."
The charity was formed last year and has so far raised nearly £70,000.
It has also managed to smuggle food and medical equipment into Syria.
He added: "We desperately need money and the local community has been very generous.
"But fund-raising is not the principle aim of the event. We want to raise the plight of the refugees and the civilians suffering in Syria."
One of the charity's supporters, a doctor from Leicester, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, said: "There are about 10 families from Syria in the Leicester area and they have been active in supporting our humanitarian efforts.
"We have been helped by the wider community including people from Libya, because they know what we are going through. We have been successful in getting essential life-saving supplies through. But we need to do more.
"We hope the meal will encourage more people from the wider community to contact us and help us in our work."
The event on Sunday will be addressed by one of the charity's trustees, Omar Abdul Gubbar, who is an orthopaedic consultant for the University of Leicester Hospitals Trust.
It will be held at the O2 Academy, in University Road, on the University of Leicester campus, beginning at 2pm.
Entry, which includes the price of the meal, costs £15 for adults and £10 for children.
For more information and to buy tickets, visit: www.handinhandforsyria.org

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

CREATIVECOFFEE CLUB, 21 MARCH 2012


At Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre this morning for CreativeCoffee Club. Between one thing and another, I haven’t been for some time: since 25 January to be precise. That’s three in a row … I don’t think I’ve missed that many consecutively before in what's been almost five years of attending CreativeCoffee Club.

This is a good day to come back and make a fresh start as it's Naw-Rúz - Bahá'í New Year - today.

Not so many here today as the last time I came. There are a dozen or so, but that includes a couple of new faces, as is always the case. The cafe bar is busy in is own right, with several small knots of people working on laptops in twos and threes. There are also (what I assume are) auditions or rehearsals for something called Under the Influence with How Bizarre Productions - a student performing arts company based at De Montfort University. A large group of young people are gathereD there; after a while they're ushered into one of the screening rooms.

There have been a few changes to CreativeCoffee Club since I was last here. Since funding and support from De Montfort University ended last year, CreativeCoffee Club has been stop-start. No one has really taken it on and run it with the same kind of devoted attention. From now on it will be overseen by Leicester Creative Business (LCB) Depot. From April 2012, a new dedicated website will be launched for CreativeCoffee Club (Thanks to Cheryl Gill, Enterprise Support Officer, LCB Depot & Phoenix Square Workspaces for providing more info.)

On the way to CreativeCoffee Club this morning, I bump into someone who was a mainstay of the event for a while. While chatting, I hear for the first time about Business Biscotti, which meets in another city centre venue, same day same time. My first reaction is to make a joke about the two groups getting together, since it sounds like they're made for each other (biscotti, coffee - get it?). On further online investigation though, it looks like there would a reversal of the natural order and they'd swallow up CreativeCoffee Club! There are Business Biscotti groups in Cambridge, Dundee, Liverpool, Slough, South West London, Wentworth, Weybridge, Windsor - and Leicester, of course.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

SIX FIGURES


At the risk of triggering a recursive occlusion of Castrovalvan proportions: pageviews on the blog just passed the 100,000 mark. I was hoping to be able to catch the before-and-after moments of transition, but that just shows how many folk can be reading this at any one time, that clicking refresh can make the number of pageviews jump by as much as 20 in one go! And, if you saw The Social Network, faithful reader, you may recall that the guys running Facebook couldn't capture that moment when they got their millionth user, so I'm in good dramatic company. Musical accompaniment for this significant moment: Stupidly Happy by XTC (although Clare advises against the dancing, at least until we get new curtains!)

UNKINDEST CUTS OF ALL FOR THE BIG SOCIETY

Jeremy Prescott has written the First Person column  in today's Leicester Mercury:
Unkindest cuts of all for the Big Society
Jeremy Prescott thinks councils cutting funding for charities is self-defeating
A year ago I wrote in this column that Big Society was in danger of failing through the funding cuts that the voluntary sector were facing. 
A recently leaked national report conducted by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo) validates my fears. It states that the charitable sector is facing local authority and national government funding cuts of between £1 billion and £5.5 billion in this current financial year.
At a local level we have recently had news of Voluntary Action Melton facing closure at the end of March with many other charities such as Cruse Bereavement Service also on a survival knife edge.
Even closer to home the Rural Community Council (RCC), the charity which I lead, is facing funding cuts of 34 per cent from Leicestershire County Council, 62 per cent from Rutland County Council and 100 per cent cuts from Harborough and Melton District Councils. We are only managing to maintain our services by delving into our reserves which can only be sustained for a short time.
A recent questionnaire on the Big Society conducted by the RCC showed an alarmingly degree of negativity towards this government initiative. Many felt that it was a ploy of seeking volunteers to provide services, normally paid for by council taxes, on the cheap.
To give credit to Leicestershire County Council, they have allocated over £340,000 into a Big Society Grant Scheme to help small community groups turns their ideas into reality. I have always advocated that such funding is just part of an important jigsaw but what is equally important is that charities who provide the essential support to those small groups are funded to do just that.
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a meal; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" (Chinese Proverb).
For this reason I believe the balance of funding being provided to this grant scheme is wrong and this view is supported by 75 per cent of those surveyed in the Big Society questionnaire, advocating that charities should receive more funding from this Big Society pot.
These funding cuts are making it extremely difficult for us to provide support to those who need it.
It is accepted that local authorities are having to making huge savings themselves but I strongly feel that a way of helping them make such savings is actually to increase the amount of funding they provide to charities.
With the low running costs of charities (salaries and pensions) compared with the public sector, and the fact that we rely on the enormous goodwill of an army of volunteers who selflessly give up their time, this is certainly not the time to be cutting the voluntary sector.

Jeremy Prescott is Chief Executive of the RCC, a local charity supporting rural communities.

Friday, 16 March 2012

THIS WEEK'S VISITORS (1,773)


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 744
  2. Germany 435
  3. United States 291
  4. Russia 53
  5. France 47
  6. India 47
  7. Netherlands 35
  8. Ireland 28
  9. Philippines 17
  10. Latvia 16

This week's total: 1,773 (last week: 2,463). 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" (which seems to mean the last 12 months). They're updated each time I look at them.

FAITH SCHOOLS: CLAIMS WRONG

This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Faith schools: Claims wrong
John Catt (Mailbox, March 7) is quite wrong to single out, as he and his secular colleagues often do, faith schools by saying that bus subsidies for children attending them should be withdrawn.
His statement that these subsidies "are not available to those outside the favoured denominations" is quite simply wrong.
On average, Catholic schools take between 25-35 per cent of their pupils from outside the Church. There is no evidence that such pupils are discriminated against on transport matters. It would probably be illegal anyway, under anti-discrimination legislation.
These schools offer their pupils a real choice which non-religious schools simply don't. They offer their pupils a chance to see the spiritual side of life, as opposed to the rampant materialism and Godlessness all around them when they leave the school gates.
Also, many children have to travel quite long distances to get to these schools, which would put a severe strain on the budget of the average families concerned if they had to pay full bus fares or parents had to take their children to school every day as a result.
Terry Kirby, Barwell

Thursday, 15 March 2012

SACRE AT SOAR VALLEY COLLEGE


At Soar Valley College, Gleneagles Avenue, this afternoon for the regular scheduled meeting of Leicester SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education).

We hear Sandfield Close Primary School's petition for determination, presented by Head Teacher Amanda Dhillon.

We have the third presentation in our ongoing series, Faith Focus, in which one of the members of SACRE is given the opportunity to introduce the group to their religion or belief. Today it’s a presentation on Humanism by Allan Hayes.

We’re brought up to speed with the latest developments in our series of electronic booklets of guidance for schools staff, Engaging with Leicester’s Faith Communities.

We’re presented with the SACRE Annual Report and with the SACRE development plan, January 2011 – January 2013. This plan describes the following five key priorities:
  1. To monitor the impact of the Leicester Agreed Syllabus on raising standards of RE in schools
  2. To raise the profile of SACRE and the positive contribution it can make to community cohesion
  3. To support the work of the Youth SACRE
  4. To provide guidance and support for schools of effective provision for Collective Worship and support for determinations
  5. To develop links between Leicester SACRE and schools as well as local / national bodies

PROGRESS REPORT AT HIGHCROSS

A meeting early this afternoon with Jo Tallack, General Manager of Highcross Leicester. Canon Barry Naylor and Julie-Ann Heath are involved in the meeting too. Two topics for discussion:
  • Inter Faith Week (2001 and 2012)
  • Multi-Faith Prayer Room

The Multi-Faith Prayer Room has been in active public use for just over a quarter of a year now (it opened at the end of the last Inter Faith Week, in the last days of November 2011. There's been an overwhelmingly positive response: Highcross hasn't received a single negative comment about it, either from users criticising its location or the fact that it's been converted from its previous use as a disabled toilet or from anyone opposed to it in principle. It has proved popular with customers and is virtually in constant use. At certain times on certain days, people have even been prepared to queue to use it.

A number of prayer mats have been left in the room, which have been collected in Lost Property. No one has claimed any of them. It may be the case that users of the room have left these deliberately, as Highcross decided from the start not to provide prayer mats in the room.


Some users have taken it upon themselves to mark on the wall the direction of Mecca (someone keeps writing Qibla (Arabic for "Point of Adoration", the direction to be faced when offering the Muslim salat, or Obligatory Prayer). Highcross staff have been cleaning this off, only for it to be done again. They'll be putting on some permanent, professional-looking mark to indicate this direction shortly.

Signage throughout Highcross will be upgraded soon and this room will be included, making it accessible and visible from all over the site.

Hammersons has looked upon this as a test case and they're very pleased with how it's gone so far. They'll now ensure that all new-build properties have a similar facility provided from the get-go and that suitable space is provided in existing sites.

On the topic of Inter Faith Week 2012, some tentative ideas were floated regarding making the display even more attractive and interactive. possibly involving live music and dance, as well as planning visits by school parties. There's a constant stream of schoolchildren coming to the site every week as part of the ongoing "Learn Highcross" project; during Inter Faith Week this could include a planned visit to our display. Watch this space for further developments!

I'm grateful to Jo for accepting posters and fliers for REDP's forthcoming Choice Unlimited event, that she'll ensure are put on display around Highcross.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

CEMETERY EXTENSION AS BURIAL PLOTS RUNNING OUT

This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Cemetery extension as burial plots running out
A cemetery will be extended to help prevent a burial crisis in the city.Some 1,000 new plots will be created at Saffron Hill Cemetery by Leicester City Council as part of a £450,000 extension.
The city is rapidly running out of burial space and the move will create enough space at the cemetery for the next 10 years.
Adrian Russell, the council's director of environmental services, backed the extension.
He said: "As everyone knows, our cemeteries are quickly filling up and we're running out of burial space in the city.
"This extension, on land already owned by the council, will allow the cemetery to continue operating for another decade.
"It's a relatively short-term solution, but, later in the year, we'll be examining the options open to us to deal with the issue in the much longer term."
Councillors have previously floated the idea of creating a new graveyard outside the city boundary, because of the lack of suitable land within the city boundaries.
Tony Donovan, executive director of Age UK in Leicestershire, said: "The extension is good news because so many people who were born and raised in Leicester want to be buried here in the city and not outside in the county somewhere.
"Having burial sites within the city makes it easier for local people to visit the graves of loved ones.
"If new sites were created out in the county, it would mean longer journeys by public transport for many visitors, who are often older people."
Saffron Hill cemetery is Leicester's second-largest burial site and serves the south of the city.
It has a general burial area for traditional lawn graves, a small Polish burial area, a children's section and a Muslim cemetery with prayer house.
The cost of the extension includes landscaping, roads, drainage and paving.
Kenny Hill, 62, from New Parks, said: "When you've grown-up in a city you want to be buried there when you die, but if the space runs out then I'd have to get buried somewhere else and I don't think I'd like that idea.
"I think it's good news the cemetery is being extended."
Margaret Sinton, 70, from Spinney Hills, said: "It's great that they're extending the cemetery but there are more old people around than ever before so what is a problem now will eventually become a crisis."
The city's main burial site – Gilroes Cemetery – was recently extended across eight acres of farmland.
The other two sites in the city are Belgrave Cemetery and Welford Road cemetery.
The work at Saffron Hill will be completed within two years.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

OPEN MEETING: GOD IN MY FAITH


This evening we have the second in our new series of open meetings, which are taking Leicester Council of Faiths out into different parts of the city, so we can offering speakers and topics that we hope will be of interest to the wider community and open ourselves up to comments, contributions and questions from the general public.

This evening's meeting has been organised by Minou Cortazzi, who represents the local Bahá'ís on the Council of Faiths and who was Chair, 2007-09. Since the Bahá'ís don't have a community premises to call their own, the meeting takes place in the Parish Hall of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Mere Road, Highfields (which gives it more of an inter-faith allure - and it's fitting for us to have such an event in a Catholic church in the week that St Patrick's Day is celebrated).

Our first meeting of this kind, six weeks ago at Gurth Panth Parkash Gurdwara, Ashford Road (see blog, Tuesday 31 January) was a leap in the dark for the Council of Faiths. However, we were glad that it attracted a higher turnout than we anticipated. I stopped counting at 75, although people were still arriving after that. A reliable source told me that there had been 84 attendees at that meeting; the Leicester Mercury stated, a few days later, that 100 people had shown up. Special guest at that meeting was Sir Peter Soulsby, Mayor of Leicester, and it was held only a few days prior to the second visit to our city by the English Defence League. For those reasons, we thought we got a larger turnout expected turnout (and the media only really seemed interested in what might be said at the meeting about the EDL). 

I'm delighted to say that there are more than 60 people here this evening - although one wily way to boost your numbers is to arrange for a panel, rather than a single speaker!

Following refreshments, the meeting gets underway with words of welcome from Father John Lally, Parish Priest at Sacred Heart, long-serving member (and former Secretary) of Leicester Council of Faiths (photo above). He can't imagine that those who founded Sacred Heart in 1883 would ever have conceived that an event like this would have taken place here. Indeed, it might have been inconceivable just a few decades ago. Father Lally closes his welcome by quoting Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90) "To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often" - appropriate to the area which Sacred Heart serves.

Father Lally is followed by Cllr Manjula Sood, Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths. She introduces our special guest, Dr Nabil Mustpaha, Founder and current Chair of Elmbridge Multi-Faith Forum, Surrey, who will be facilitating the panel this evening. Here are a few interesting facts about him:

  • Retired Consultant in Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, with the following qualifications: M.B. B.Ch (Cairo), MRCS,LRCP (London), FRCS (London)
  • Egyptian born, British subject since 1968, having lived in UK since 1963
  • Chairman of the Elmbridge Multi-Faith Forum, which he initiated in 2003 with the help of a group of Bahá'ís to start with, and now with a very active membership and Executive Committee
  • Member of the Independent Advisory Group for Surrey Police, advising on faith and ethnic issues, and participating in other avenues of cooperation
  • Trustee of Voluntary Action Elmbridge, the umbrella Voluntary Agency acting as an arm to Elmbridge Borough Council, and Surrey County Council
  • Member of Elmbridge Community Partnership of Elmbridge Borough Council
  • Chairman of Elmbridge Equality & Diversity Forum, part of Elmbridge Borough Council Community Services Service
  • Member of the Surrey Council for Youth Services
  • He has published “Economics, the Historical, Religious & Contemporary Perspective”, and translated several books from English to Arabic, the larger one being “Psychology of Spirituality”, by Prof. Hussein Danesh, and had many of poems published in peer reviewed poetry books, edited by Wordpress Poetry

Minou has been interested in bringing Dr Mustapha to Leicester ever since she heard him speak on the BBC Radio 4 programme, Something Understood, a year or so ago, then bumping into him at a conference of the Persian Society for Arts and Letters a few months later. And I should say that from the first time I heard the title for this evening's presentation, I liked the sound of it. It's a neat little twist on a somewhat tired little phrase ("My faith in God"), giving it a nice little kick.


After his own brief introductory remarks, Dr Mustapha (photo above, standing) introduces each speaker in what he described as historical order, giving each of them a maximum of seven minutes for their respective contributions - and he says he'll be tough on any who overrun. While I might not concur with his order (which I've followed in the list below), I have to commend him on his fine chairmanship, since no one overruns their allotted time.
  • Leon Chariker, President of Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation, gives a Jewish perspective
  • Vinod Chadusama, who works at The Race Equality Centre (TREC) has been drafted in at the last moment to give a Hindu perspective.
  • Shane Bordoli, Buddhist representative on Leicester Council of Faiths on Leicester SACRE, gives a Buddhist perspective
  • Revd Sonia Brown, Curate at St Philip's Parish Church, Evington, gives a Christian perspective
  • Rumena Choudhury and Sumaiya Mulla, from Strive (photo below), combine to give a Muslim perspective
  • Kartar Singh, who has become a regular presence at events such as this over the past year or so, gives a Sikh perspective
  • In the absence of a Jain speaker, Dr Mustaphaha read an extract on the Jain life from a booklet which Elmbridge Multi-Faith Forum has published
  • Finally, Leila Fananapazir, who is studying biochemistry at the University of Leicester, gives a Bahá'í perspective. I've been tweeting some text and a photo for each panellist as the evening progresses, but unfortunately the battery on my iPhone dies just as Leila gets to her feet.


Dr Mustapha offers his own summing up of the main points made by each speaker before inviting comments and questions from the floor. Here are some of those contributions:
"Secularists don't follow any God, but they defend the right of people to worship as they choose. People of good will, no matter what path they may follow, must work together to help those who are not affiliated to any religion understand what it is to to be a good human being."
Our two Muslim panellists were asked to say more about their activities with women in the community, particularly in connection with domestic violence, female genital mutilation, mental health. Rumena and Sumaiya faced up to the claim that it's often said that Islam condones or justifices these practices and the isolation of women. Strive works to differentiate culture from religion and appeals to scriptural authority in changing the lives of Muslim women.
"When you see the current climate of conflict around the world, does your own spirituality help you deal with the injustice in today's world?"
"Do people of faith bring competition into the world rather than cooperation? At bottom, can we really get away from saying that our faith is the only true one?" Usually I only put the questions in here, so that you, faithful reader, can think of your own answers rather than taking issue with the answers given at the event (and because its easier to write down the comparatively shorter questions compared to the comparatively longer answers). However, I can't resist recording the response Leon gave to this question: "I like the football analogy here: each one of us supports our own team, but we all love football." Nuff said!

At the end of the evening, Dr Mustapha thanks Leicester Council of Faiths for the opportunity to come here and join in this meeting; and on behalf of the Council of Faiths, Cllr Sood in turn thanks Dr Mustapha (and all the speakers) for their contributions. She leaves us with some poignant reflections on her own visits to the Bahá'í House of Worship in New Delhi, popularly known as the Lotus Temple.

A footnote: I share the short bus ride into the city centre with Ian Vernon, from Leicester Pagan Alliance. Ian has attended both our open meetings and made positive contributions on each occasion. We chat briefly about how to spread more accurate information about Paganism and Wicca, as this community has become concerned that certain misconceptions about who they are and what they do may be influencing public opinion about them. I advise him to post updates that he thinks would be helpful on the Council of Faiths Facebook page. I'm glad to see that before the evening's out, he's done just that.

VCS CEO LEADERSHIP NETWORK

A breakfast meeting this morning of Chief Executive Officers from ten Voluntary and community Sector organisations in the city and county, at Giving World Online.

Leicester Council of Faiths doesn't have a CEO, what with there being just 1.5 full time equivalent (FTE) staff. However, not all the organisations involved have someone with that actual job title, so I'm not the only one in this position. Plus I’ve obtained the consent of our Chair to attend these meetings.

There are ten VCS organisations (including ourselves) represented here this morning:


Two big items for discussion this morning are a report on the meeting at Leicester University about the Information Portal (that I was supposed to attend but couldn’t in the end) and City Council’s review of its support for VCS organisations. I’m able to speak for a few minutes about REDP’s forthcoming Choice Unlimited event and to hand out copies of the A4 poster and flier to attendees.

Monday, 12 March 2012

PARADE KICKS OFF ST PATRICK'S DAY CELEBRATIONS IN THE CITY

This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Parade kicks off St Patrick's Day Celebrations in the city
Hundreds of people proudly showed off their Irish heritage by parading through Leicester city centre.
Members of the city's 8,000-strong Irish community gathered on Saturday to launch a week of celebrations leading up to St Patrick's Day on March 17.
They marched through the city's busy shopping streets, from Guildhall Lane to Humberstone Gate, carrying the 32 flags of Ireland's 32 counties and following a band made up of scouts from Syston, Thurmaston and Wigston.
Parade organiser Jackie Duffy, from the Emerald Centre in Gypsy Lane, said: "We might have confused a few people because St Patrick's Day isn't until Saturday but on that day there will be masses and other events and we didn't want to have to make people choose between one thing and another.
"By doing it a week beforehand we got a really good turn out.
"People think St Patrick's Day is all about drinking loads and wearing silly hats but that's not what we're about at all – well perhaps there will be a bit of that but the people on the parade are young children, families and old folk.
"We really want to show off Irish culture and how proud we are to be Irish in our home city of Leicester."
Joining the parade were three large Irish Wolfhounds, called Eachan, Keavhe and Ava, as well as Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby who was given the flag of County Offaly to carry during the parade.
He said: "Today I'm an adopted son of Offaly and proud to be so.
"The Irish community is one of the longest established in Leicester dating back to the 16th century and has contributed so much to the life of the city. It is great to see so many people enjoying a celebration of their roots."
Mary Considine, 74, who came to Leicester from Offaly 57 years ago and volunteers at The Emerald Centre, was given the honour of leading the parade with her son Evan, 11.
She said: "Days like this are brilliant. It makes me proud to be Irish and proud to be living in Leicester." Helen Taylor, 54, from Saffron Lane, came to Leicester from Waterford when she was a girl.
She bought her three-year-old granddaughter Laila to see the celebration and said: "We like to remember our Irish roots so the parade has been wonderful.
"On Saturday I'll be decorating my house for St Patrick's Day and having friends around for a proper celebration."
When the parade ended in Humberstone Gate, shoppers were given a performance of Irish dancing by youngsters which was broadcast on the city centre's giant television screen.
Earlier in the day, a peace service had been held at Leicester Cathedral for St Patrick's Day.
Poet and essayist Padraig O'Tauma, from Belfast, who has worked to promote peace between communities in Ireland, spoke about his work.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

HOLI YATRA WALK 2012, STAGE 10: BAPS SHRI SWAMINARAYAN MANDIR


Tenth stage on the Holi Yatra Sponsored Walk with Leicester Friends of Oxford Centre for Hindu StudiesBAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, at the corner of Catherine Street and Gipsy LaneThe goal is to visit 15 Hindu places of worship in Leicester on foot today.

Holi (Hindi: होली) is a religious spring festival celebrated by Hindus, also known as the Festival of Colours. It is primarily observed in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal and in countries with large populations from India or of Indian descent who follow Hinduism.

Yatra (Sanskrit: यात्रा, "journey", "procession"), in Hinduism and other Indian religions, means pilgrimage to holy places and is generally undertaken in groups. One who goes on a yatra is known as a yatri. It is desirable, but not obligatory, for a Hindu to go on a yatra. One can go on a yatra for a variety of reasons, including festivals, to perform rituals for one's ancestors, or to obtain good karma. To traditional Hindus, the journey itself is as important as the destination, and the hardships of travel serve as an act of devotion in themselves. Visiting a sacred place is believed by the pilgrim to purify the self and bring one closer to the divine. (Thanks to Wikipedia for these definitions.)


While we're here my iPhone battery gives up the ghost - and so do I. There are still five stages of the Holi Yatra Walk to go and it's already past 1700. Early promotion for this event said it would last from 1100-1700, which was later changed to 0900-1700, then while we've been on it, the end has been moved back again to 1900. At this point I think that's a bit optimistic - especially for me.

As my fellow yatris head off along Gipsy Lane toward the next stage, I make my way in the opposite direction uphill toward the 53 bus back to the city centre. I’m alone but for a matter paneer in nan with salad and chilli sauce, from the Blue Chippy across the road from the mandir. To the casual observer, at certain moments it would be hard to tell whether I'm trying to eat it or it's trying to eat me.

Here are the final five mandirs I don't get to visit today. I don’t know the order in which the Holi Yatra Walk is stopping at them, so don’t take this as a route.