Thursday, 31 January 2013


Today South Leicestershire College is hosting its Diversity Fair - the climax of the college's Diversity Week. Leicester Council of Faiths was involved earlier in the week, when we offered a Faiths Panel for staff and students, Tuesday lunchtime. Today we put on display our full range of pop-up banners in an airy, bright and colourful alcove - just the kind of space I had in mind for the exhibition when it was created more than four years ago, though we've never been able to show it off in such a setting till today. We also have the two banners that we seem to have inherited from the University of Leicester: Mapping Faith and Place in Leicester and the Leicester Faith Trail.

In the photos above, Tony Nelson (Leicester Hebrew Congregation and Treasurer of Leicester Council of Faiths) is sitting with Humera Aziz (Learner Welfare Adviser, Brooksby Melton College). Humera and her colleague Nicola Welbourne were behind the Interfaith Events Day at Brooksby Melton College during Inter Faith Week last November, which we supported (see my blog entry for that event). I'd invited Humera to pop over and have a look at what was being done here today. Thanks to Zulqar Muhammad for showing Humera round the college during her brief visit this morning.

In the photo above, I'm with Ravinder Kaur from Leicestershire County Council's LWA: Living Without Abuse project. Ravinder did a stint on our exhibition in Highcross during Inter Faith Week 2012. LWA has its own display but Ravinder is good enough to sit a spell on our exhibition, late in the day.

Exhibiting downstairs:

Exhibiting upstairs in The Eating Place:

There's a Diversity Tucker Trail, allowing visitors to sample foods of different cultural origins. All nice and tasty - not to be confused with any other kind of "tucker trail" of which you may have heard!

Students can complete a Diversity Week Quiz as they make their way round the exhibits, with the chance to win high street shopping vouchers. Here are the multiple choice questions:
1. What does LGBT stand for?
  • Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transexual
  • Leicestershire Genital Bereavement Team
  • Lesbian Gay Boxing Team
2. How many faiths are included in the Council of Faiths Leicester?
  • 6
  • 8
  • 9
3. How many Eids do Muslims celebrate each year?
  • 2
  • 1
  • 5
4. How many people do you think are effected [sic] by mental ill health?
  • 1 in 10
  • 1 in 6
  • 1 in 4
5. What percentage of disabled people are born with their disability?
  • 17%
  • 56%
  • 70%
6. What do these three celebrities have in common: Orlando Bloom; Keira Knightley; Mohammed Ali?
  • Fear of spiders
  • Dyslexia
  • Asthma
7. Ramadan is?
  • The first day of the Chinese New Year
  • A month of fasting for Muslims
  • The Hindu Festival of Lights
8. Which of the following is NOT protected by anti-discrimination law?
  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Transgenderism
9. Diversity means?
  • Celebrating and valuing difference
  • Treating everyone the same
  • Targeting help at individual groups
10. What minimum font size does the National Institute for the Blind recommend for user in printed public documents?
  • 8-10 points [sic]
  • 12-14 points
  • 24+ points

Around 12 noon, Free lunches are distributed to everyone on the stalls. This leads to a classic diversity moment, when a Muslim hands a Jew their lunch bag containing a packet of Smoky Bacon crisps. There's nothing derived from a pig in these crisps of course; there's no meat content whatsoever since they are labelled as suitable for vegetarians. But it's the thought that counts - how we did laugh!

Now, if I had an award of my own to give for the best single part of the whole exhibition, I'd give it to The Conservation Volunteers, for their pop-up banner shown in the photo below.

On a personal note, walking the 20 minutes or so from my flat to the college this morning, I felt in need of a morale booster. By the time I was only a few minutes from my endpoint, I thought I'd hit Shuffle Songs on my iPod Classic, just to see which tune it might give me to set me up for the day. Of all the things it could have chosen, it offered up Eple by Royksopp, from their 2001 album Melody A.M. How lovely! I couldn't have chosen better myself - that tune always brings a smile to my face and puts a spring in my step. I've included the link to the video on the band's official website. The song itself is wonderfully bouncy and upbeat but the video is the most startlingly mind-bending experience. I've watched the video dozens of times over several years and will never get my head round it. It's unique - and it's probably my favourite music video ever. The more people watch it, the happier we shall be - click on the song title a few lines above, faithful reader, and feel the benefit.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013


It's Diversity Week at South Leicestershire College. Leicester Council of Faiths has been asked to make two contributions. On Thursday we'll be displaying our full range of pop-up banners for the whole day. Today, we're providing a "Faith Panel" to chat with staff and students.

Our panel is scheduled for lunchtime (1200-1400) so where better to set up than in the college cafeteria, which goes under the name of The Eating Place. This turns out to be an informal, easy-going couple of hours during which we get the chance to talk to a good number of interested (and interesting) people about our beliefs - and theirs.

I hope you can see our visit went well from the photo above: (at back) Helen Saunderson (Humanist); Kym Moore (staff member of SLC Equality & Diversity Group); Jan McDonald (Bahá'í); Sheila Markham (Leicester Hebrew Congregation); (in front) Brendan Grimley (Vocational Mentor, SLC staff); Zulqarnain Muhammad (staff member of SLC Equality & Diversity Group).

Monday, 28 January 2013


First session in a new course entitled "Going On Beyond: Meditation and Mysticism in the World Faiths" at Christchurch, Clarendon Park. This nine-week course is presented as part of Christians Aware's Faith Awareness programme. It was originally intended as a ten-week course that should have started last Monday, but sub-zero temperature and slippery pavements led to a week's postponement.

The course has been devised - and is facilitated - by Ian Grayling and Kevin Commons (photo above) of the Leicester Serene Reflection Meditation Group, although a few of us met one afternoon last summer to set the course's outline and general aims. It's the latest course in a series that has so far covered "Mindfulness Through the Senses" (2010), "Mindfulness and Morality" (2011) and "Mindfulness and Wisdom" (2012) - all of which are covered in this blog.
There are 15 people attending this evening (including our facilitators). This programme has been designed as a means of helping those attending to explore the process of looking within as a means of deepening their understanding of their own faith as well as looking at mysticism within a range of different traditions. More specifically, the programme seeks to enable people to:
  • Recognise ways of knowing through personal experience that goes beyond rational understanding;
  • Deepen (or initiate) their won meditation or contemplative practice;
  • Be mindful of similarity and difference in contemplative practice from different faith perspectives;
  • Consider the practice of "meditation" as a means of underpinning daily living.

This opening session provides a "faith-neutral" introduction to the whole programme. The remaining sessions look at meditation or contemplative prayer and mysticism through the life of a well known practitioner from a sample of different faiths. Each of these sessions will comprise an introduction from a named speaker and explanation of the particular practice  of the chosen practitioner. The presenters will then lead a short period of meditation or contemplative prayer and the session will conclude with questions from the audience.

The programme, which employs a range of delivery techniques, including practical experience of a contemplative technique, aims to promote active and reflective learning in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.

This evening, Ian and Kevin renew our acquaintance with authorities and commentators whose names and insights we've come to know through these courses: James W. Fowler and his definitions of stages of faith; Alister Hardy and his research on religious experience; Zohar and Marshall and their work on spiritual intelligence. We do some pairs work discussing how Hardy's findings relate to our own lives - an exercise in active listening.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Holocaust victims remembered at county memorials
The atrocities of the Nazi Holocaust were remembered during memorial events in the city and county.
A service was held in Queen's Park, Loughborough, yesterday lunchtime to mark Holocaust Memorial Day – held each year to coincide with the day Auschwitz was liberated in 1945.
Councillor Diane Wise, mayor of Charnwood, led the town's 13th Holocaust Memorial Service at the bandstand, commemorating Jewish lives lost during the Second World War.
"As Mayor of Charnwood, I was honoured to be invited to lead this memorial service," she said. "Although Auschwitz camp was liberated nearly 70 years ago, the effects of what occurred are still felt by many.
"I am proud Loughborough continues to host this service, a poignant reminder of the human costs of war."
The day was also marked by an exhibition in Charnwood Museum, which will run until Sunday. Victims were also due to be remembered at an event at the University of Leicester last night. Communities Together: Build a Bridge was due to be held at the Fraser Noble Hall, on University Road, and was to include displays of work by schoolchildren, on tackling hatred.
Organised by Leicester City Council, Leicester Council of Faiths, the School Development Support Agency and the university's Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust Studies, the evening's programme included presentations by young people who spoke about visiting Auschwitz.
Assistant city mayor Councillor Manjula Sood said: "It is inspiring to see the creativity of young people and the importance of tackling all kinds of discrimination."


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Gathering celebrates India independence
More than 100 people gathered to celebrate the 63rd anniversary of India Republic Day.
People gave speeches about topical issues affecting the Indian community at a celebration at Belgrave Neighbourhood Centre, Rothley Street, Leicester, on Saturday night.
Jashvant Chauhan, vice-president of the Gujarat Hindu Association in Leicester, said: "It was very well-attended and the programme went very well.
"Lots of people spoke about different issues – the UN in India, the rape in Delhi, the protection that exists because of the constitution and how it has stood the test of time, and the contribution Indians have had in the past, and hopes for the future."
City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby also attended, alongside assistant mayors Manjula Sood and Piara Singh Clair.
India gained independence from Britain in August 1947, but a new constitution was not adopted until January 26, 1950 and it is celebrated on that day.

Sunday, 27 January 2013


This morning I'm on BBC Radio Leicester, speaking with Monica Winfield (photo above) by phone about the new Christians Aware / Faith Awareness course, "Going On Beyond: Meditation and Mysticism in the World Faiths". Here's the transcript of the interview.
MW: You’re listening to BBC Radio Leicester. It’s eleven minutes to eight. And it’s a little while since we heard from the local organisation, Christians Aware. This is a network of individuals and groups of various denominations dedicated to working for justice and peace. They’ve just started a series of talks with the title, “Going On Beyond (Meditation and Mysticism in the World Faiths)”. Some very distinguished speakers from various faiths and denominations will be appearing, including George Ballentyne, who works for Christians Aware and I’m delighted to say he joins us now. George, good morning.
GMB: Good morning Monica.
MW: Now the last thing I want to do is ask you to give the game away of what you’ll actually be talking about, but you’re looking at this from a Baha’i perspective, aren’t you?
GMB: Yes, I’m one of the speakers. We’re going to have a nine-week course, it starts tomorrow evening at 7:30 and it’s based in Christchurch which is in Clarendon Park. And these courses have been running for quite some time now and, really, the purpose of this set is to not just talk about meditation and mysticism in the different faiths of the world but to actually give a little taster of how it’s practised in each of these faiths and religions and beliefs. So there’s quite a wide variety of speakers. I usually do one session out of the course, but we’ve also got a Muslim speaker, we have a Jewish speaker, we have a Sikh speaker and, for the first time, we have a Pagan speaker as well and we’ll have a Hindu and at least one Christian tradition represented.
MW: That sounds absolutely fantastic. And the title is “Going on Beyond” and I assume each of your speakers will have a different idea of what that means.
GMB: I do hope so, or else it’s going to be very dull [MW laughs] to be honest if they all say exactly the same thing. But it really is part of the interest of the course that they are so different. And when you experience this not just in, you know, the one evening, but over the whole length of the course, it’s amazing both the variety but then again the similarity between them and that’s the purpose of it – you know, it’s like going into a beautiful garden: the flowers are all lovely but they’re all different.
MW: Do you know that’s one of the main things that’s come home to me presenting this programme on a Sunday morning? That there’s a lot of similarities but, as you say, a lot of differences as well. Who do you think would get the most out of this series?
GMB: Well it’s for people really, who are interested in finding out some – it’s a basic level introduction to how the different faiths approach this. It’s not academic and no one would have to feel that oh, you know, because they’ve missed previous courses that they can’t join in this one. It’s a very entry-level one for people who are really interested in getting that experience from the different faiths, learning something about different faiths, meeting people from different faiths, sharing some kind of inter-faith fellowship. Well, you’ve had me on the show so many times before, you know that’s the dimension that interests me so much. So we’re always talking about the diversity in Leicester but there are actually very few opportunities for people to experience it, especially for people who are not professionally involved in the religious life of the city. So this one will work for – you know, we’ve had students, retired people, people, you know, who’ll pop in after work. It’s a very straightforward but really quite interesting and stimulating kind of course.
MW: And is there a bit of audience participation required?
GMB: Well there will be, because we’re going to be getting a little taster, ten minutes or so of how, you know, how does this brand of Hinduism meditate or how does a Jewish person experience that kind of mystical dimension. Now, nobody is going to be enlightened in ten minutes on a Monday evening in Clarendon Park, but it will just – it’s a way of showing that there’s nothing alien, nothing strange, nothing threatening about the way people do these things. And everybody can find one out of these little pieces of practice that will that work for them and that they might want to take further – they might want to go on beyond with, as it were.
MW: Absolutely. And do we need to sign up for all of them all in one go or can we come and go?
GMB: No, it’s very variable. The biggest number of people I‘ve seen turn up for one of these sessions on a Monday evening was 52 – we had to find another room to be in the church – and the smallest number was three. I should say that, that evening I was the speaker [MW: Oh George! You –] It coincided with Half Term, that was the thing – but no, people are just able to – if folk want to make contact with the Christians Aware office or they can even do it through me, it’s very easy to find my contact details on the net – but there’s no pressure to do that. People really can just turn up for one or skip a few or pick the ones that interest them most.
MW: It sounds fascinating, it really does. Just tell me a little bit more about Christians Aware; what do you do the rest of the time?
GMB: Well, Christians Aware is an organisation that really works to present a united front of Christians from different denominations, who are looking particularly at social issues. One of the big ones on their calendar this year is food security. So there’s a number of – there’s a talk coming up at the end of February (you might want someone to come into the studio and talk about that) that Christians Aware is hosting, from the World Development Movement on that issue. And then there’s a summer school that they’re sponsoring later in the year which will take a whole week to look at it. It’s very practical, very down to earth, very grounded. There’s nothing airy-fairy about what they’re discussing. It’s not about theological niceties or the structure of the church, it’s about how do people of faith – and that’s people of different faiths – work with the issues and the problems of the world to make life better for all.
MW: What higher aim can there be [GMB laughs], to be quite honest with you? You know, I think you’ve got to aim high because that way you’ll achieve what you want to. Just give us the rundown again on the course we’re talking about here, these Going On Beyond talks.
GMB: Right so it’s “Going On Beyond (Meditation and Mysticism in the World’s Faiths)”. It’s going to start tomorrow evening and it’s every Monday for nine weeks at Christchurch, Clarendon Park, And that will start at 7:30 and it finishes at 9. And if anyone would like more details, contact Christians Aware on 254 0770.
MW: Lovely, 0116 [GMB: Yes] 254 0770.
GMB: Yeah.
MW: Brilliant. George, great to talk to you today, enjoy the rest of your Sunday.
GMB: Thank you.
MW: Thanks for being with us.
GMB: Thanks, bye.
MW: Take care, bye bye. That’s George Ballentyne there, from Christians Aware. Sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? If you go along and you go to that first one and you want to let me know what it was like and what went on, I would love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me next week here at BBC Radio Leicester.

Follow Monica Winfield on Twitter: @MonWRL

Saturday, 26 January 2013


This afternoon I'm on BBC Radio Leicester as a guest of Ed Stagg. Ed (photo above) hosts a weekly panel show, broadcast live from 1200-1400, discussing news stories from the past seven days. Rather like "The News Quiz", but without the benefit of a studio audience.

The other guests are Kaitlynn Mendes (Senior Lecturer in Journalism at De Montfort University) and Elaine Pantling (comedienne, actress and writer who performs as the one-woman Laurie Lorry Theatre Company). None of us know who'll be in the studio until we turn up ten minutes before the show goes on air. I've met Elaine before, but don't know Kaitlynn. In the photo below, Ed is flanked by Kaitlynn (left) and Elaine (right).

I've been on Radio Leicester's Saturday afternoon show twice before (see blog entries for 14 July and 3 November 2012), when the show was hosted by Damien St John. It's interesting to see how Ed has put his own spin on the format - what he's kept and what he's changed. Ed hopes "to create the atmosphere of a relaxed and fun 'coffee-table' chat."

A couple of days before the show we each receive an email and phone call from Ed, briefing us on the forthcoming show. We each have a question to which he'd like us to respond, then encourage us all to discuss - and for listeners to email, text or tweet about. Our questions are as follows:

  • "Are some people more equal than others?" (for me)
  • "Should we encourage our children to watch the news?" (for Kaitlynn)
  • "When is it too late to change?" (for Elaine)
  • "What should you never leave the house without?" (for everyone)

Each of us gets to choose a piece of music. Under the previous regime, we each got to nominate a song and Damien would pick one of them. Ed asks us to keep it "radio-friendly" and preferably something that relates to our specialism, our question or something that fits the week. Mine is The Loving by XTC. I hope hearing that song brightens up someone's Saturday afternoon as much as it brightened mine to pick it.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Faiths focus on their ties
A Muslim group is holding an inter-faith afternoon focusing on similarities in Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.
The Momentous Sacrifice of Hussain, son of Fatema and Jesus, son of Mary, was due to be run today by Shias from Masjid Al Husayn community mosque, in North Evington, Leicester, at Beaumont Leys School hall, off Anstey Lane, from 3pm to 5.30pm.
A spokesman said: "This event is open to people all ages, to gents and ladies, with no entrance fee and with the sole purpose of community cohesion and mutual understanding."
The afternoon was to include music, theatrical performances, films and dinner.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Leicestershire Police: "No tolerance for discrimination"
Police have warned that there is no tolerance in Leicester for discrimination.
They spoke after Liam Ferrar (24) admitted religiously-aggravated harassment aimed at the Muslim community.
The force said Ferrar was arrested and charged within three days of the incident, in which he left a pig's head outside a community centre in Thurnby Lodge, in the city, where a Muslim group held prayers.
Superintendent Mark Newcombe said: "This was clearly a religiously- motivated offence which was directed at those using the community centre as a Muslim place of worship, who found the incident extremely upsetting and shocking.
"We have no tolerance for discrimination in Leicester, of any kind, and the majority of people in the area were left very upset by the incident."
He said he hoped that Thursday's hearing at Leicester Magistrates' Court would "send a clear message to people like Ferrar, that all those in the criminal justice system will do all they can to bring you to justice".
Judith Walker, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "Everyone has the right to practice their faith without fear of harassment.
"There is no place in our community for this kind of action that deliberately targets people on the grounds of their religion and the Crown Prosecution Service takes this kind of offending extremely seriously.
"Liam Ferrar admitted that he had left the head at the community centre and, in charging the offence, we were satisfied that his actions were motivated by hostility to cause shock and distress.
"Pigs hold a particular significance in the Muslim faith and this action was highly offensive to his victims."
The court was told that on the evening of December 25 last year, Ferrar went to Thurnby Lodge Community Centre, in Thurncourt Road, and placed the pig's head by the locked doors.
The head was facing outwards, towards the worshippers from Muslim group As Salaam, who arrived at the centre the following morning, Boxing Day.
The community centre has been the scene of regular protests since the summer over a former Scout hut nearby, which Leicester City Council was going to allow As Salaam members to use for prayers instead of the community centre.
The protesters wanted the Scout hut to be kept for use by the wider community.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

"Feed the world" plea to governments
A group of charities has launched a campaign calling for governments to help hungry people in poor countries.
The Enough Food for Everyone If campaign, being run by Christian Aid, Oxfam and Tearfund, was launched at Leicester Cathedral yesterday.
Dozens of people, including Bishop of Leicester the Rt Rev Tim Stevens and assistant city mayor Manjula Sood, attended.
The campaign is based around four "ifs'' it wants members of the world's richest eight countries to agree to when they meet in Northern Ireland in June.
The four "ifs'' involve cracking down on legal loopholes which let multi-national companies operate in developing countries without paying fair taxes, ensuring land is used for food instead of biofuels, having more transparency over business deals in poor countries and pressuring the UK and other governments into sticking to their pledges about combating world hunger.
Judi Perry, of Christian Aid, said: "The campaign is about bringing an end to hunger.
"We produce enough food for everyone and yet one in eight people go to bed hungry each day.
"The G8 leaders are coming to Northern Ireland this year and we want people to bring their voices together to demand more openness and fairness in dealing with poor countries." 
The campaign will involve lobbying members of Parliament, a march in London and a demonstration in Northern Ireland in June.

Friday, 25 January 2013


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United States 1,024
  2. United Kingdom 903
  3. Russia 176
  4. France 98
  5. Ukraine 55
  6. India 50
  7. Taiwan 40
  8. Spain 39
  9. Germany 37
  10. Romania 25
This week's total: 2,447 (last week: 1,810). 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.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury (but not on its website). It's the regular Sketchbook piece by Olwen Hughes (whose illustration is shown below).

Building by Gimson is now used as synagogue
This eye-catching single-storey building on the southern side of Avenue Road in Clarendon Park, Leicester, is quite important.
It was designed by Ernest Gimson for the Goddard family as a meeting house of some sort in the early 1900s.
The Gimson family was a very important Leicester one, with Ernest's father, Josiah, being the owner of the Vulcan Iron Foundry in northern Highfields.
Ernest became an architect and, among other things, designed the very individual White House, in North Avenue, Clarendon Park.
The Goddards in Leicester were also architects and would have known the Gimsons well, but one of their claims to fame is that they were the inventors of a liquid silver polish still much in use today.
I remember having a pleasant walk around the area about 20 years ago when the building was unoccupied and for sale.
There was a solitary swing in the grounds and I was told it had been used as a private nursery school.
The open land to the rear was a playground.
In 1995, it was bought by Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation for its synagogue and meeting place and it is now called Neve Shalom - oasis of peace.
Inside, as it was to begin with, the walls are all wooden panelled and at the rear is a much more modern window representing the tree of life. This is by the Leicestershire artist Ruth Schewiening.
The Progressive Jewish Congregation is of the view that men and women should participate in religious and other activities on an equal footing and holds parts of its religious services in both Hebrew and English.
A range of cultural, educational and social activities is organised at the centre and also operate from it.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
City in tribute to genocide victims
The atrocities of the Holocaust will be remembered at an event in Leicester this weekend.
Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday will be marked with an event at the University of Leicester, which will pay tribute to victims of genocide and showcase work by schoolchildren on tackling hatred.
Entitled Communities Together: Build a Bridge, it takes place at the Fraser Noble Hall, in University Road, at 7.30pm.
It will include an address by Professor Aubrey Newman, former director of the university's Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and will highlight the Auschwitz Project with a number of young people giving their thoughts on either having visited Auschwitz or preparing to go.
There will be readings from the winners of an essay competition and from an anthology of poems written by pupils from five city schools.
Musicians from English Martyrs Catholic School will perform during the event.
It has been organised by the city council, Leicester Council of Faiths, the School Development Support Agency and the Stanley Burton Centre.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Pupils learn from mum's anti-bullying campaign
A mother whose daughter was murdered simply because she was dressed as a goth brought her campaign for an end to bullying to Leicestershire yesterday.
Sylvia Lancaster told a group of young people in Loughborough how her daughter, Sophie, was beaten unconscious in a park in Lancashire in August 2007.
Sophie later died of her injuries.
It later emerged the 20-year-old and her boyfriend had been picked out because they were dressed as goths.
Mrs Lancaster's charity, the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, visits schools, youth centres and prisons to tackle the problem of bullying and intolerance among young people.
The campaign, called Sophie – Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred and Intolerance, Everywhere – came to Loughborough's Limehurst Academy yesterday.
It is the first school in Leicestershire to use an educational pack produced by the charity.
Speaking after she had spent the afternoon with students at the Bridge Street school, Mrs Lancaster said: "After my daughter died I wanted to do something to help prevent anything like this ever happening again.
"The kids at Limehurst were fabulous. They didn't know who I was or what had happened to my daughter until I told them.
"I find young people respond to her story because they know it might have been them, their sister or the girl next door."
All secondary schools in the city and county now have packs, which include a film about Sophie's death and a game which encourages students to examine their preconceptions and prejudices about people who are different to them because of fashion, race, faith, sexuality or disability.
Darren Goddard, Leicestershire Police's hate crime officer, said: "Limehurst Academy does not have a problem with bullying, but I have said to schools that they don't have to have that problem to get involved in a campaign like this.
"It's a very simple message – just because someone doesn't look exactly like you, behave the same or even be able to do things you can do, it doesn't mean they are not a human being.
"It's a message the children can take with them away from school and out into the community."
Sheila Fisher, deputy head of the academy, said: "The message Sylvia brought to the school is very much one we teach every day, but for the students to hear it from someone who has had such a personal experience gave it more resonance."
Teachers from about 40 of city and county schoools attended Leicestershire Police headquarters in Enderby on Tuesday to meet Mrs Lancaster, who still lives in Lancashire, and to learn how to use the pack in their schools.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury (but not on its website):
Three deny charge over hut protest
Three men have appeared in court over offences alleged to have taken place during protests against Muslim group As Salaam using a former scout hut in Thurnby Lodge.for prayers.
Since the summer, people have been holding regular demonstrations outside Thurnby Lodge Community Centre in Thurncourt Road, Leicester, opposing plans to let Muslim group As Salaam take over the nearby hut.
The demonstrations were heavily policed, and protesters were kept 100 metres away from the community centre, where As Salaam members held prayers.
On December 14, three men who all live on the Thurnby Lodge Estate - James Ellliott, Jeffrey Copeland and Lee Murren - were allged to have breached the order.
They appeared in Leicester Magistrates' Court yesterday, where all three pleaded not guilty to knowingly failing to comply with a condition imposed by a senior police officer under section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986.
The case was adjourned until April, when a two-day trial is due to take place.
Elliott (20) of Rona Gardens, Copeland (37), of Thurncourt Road, and Murren (47), of Lyminton Road, were released, were released on conditional bail.


This article appears on the front pages of today's Leicester Mercury:

Pig's head man told he could go to jail
A man who placed a pig’s head outside a community centre used for prayers by Muslims has been warned he faces a possible jail sentence for the offence.
Liam Ferrar (24) appeared at Leicester Magistrates’ Court today to admit religiously aggravated harassment aimed at the Muslim community.
The court heard that Ferrar had acquired the pig’s head at a wedding the previous summer, and kept it in a freezer at his home in Brook Road, Thurnby Lodge, Leicester.
On Christmas night last year, December 25, he went to Thurnby Lodge Community Centre, in Thurncourt Road, and placed the head by the locked doors.
The head was facing out, towards the worshippers from Muslim group As Salaam who arrived at the centre the following morning, Boxing Day.
Louise Cox, prosecuting, said: “He was drunk and had been to a party and decided to get it out of his freezer and leave it outside the community centre.
“He did know the impact it would have.”
The community centre has been the scene of regular protests since the summer over a former Scout hut nearby, which Leicester City Council was going to allow As Salaam members to use for prayers instead of the community centre.
The protesters wanted the Scout hut to be kept for use by the wider community.
Miss Cox said the community centre keyholder, who was the first member of As Salaam on the scene on Boxing Day, later told police he was upset by the sight of what he at first had thought was a cat.
“He said he was sickened and disgusted and quickly returned to his vehicle,” she said.
Miss Cox added that the keyholder “said the protest had led to people congregating outside at prayer time and shouting racist comments”, and that “he has heard a number of those racist comments.”
She said Ferrar was a member of the Forgotten Estates campaign group “that has been involved in the protests about the use of the Scout hut”.
“There’s intelligence about this defendant playing a fundamental role in the protest group,” she said.
Ferrar, who at times acted as a liaison between the protest group and the police, was recognised by officers viewing CCTV footage, the hearing was told.
After being arrested on December 28, Ferrar “became tearful” and confessed, the court heard.
After the worshippers found the pig’s head, As Salaam imam Moulana Mohammed Lockhat decided to call the police, who removed it.
Miss Cox told the court Mr Lockhat said in his statement that the incident was “extremely distressing” for the worshippers, “The pig is a creature Muslims are forbidden from using any part of,” she said.Miss Cox added Mr Lockhat had said that “prior to the pig’s head incident, he received malicious communications in relation to pig’s heads and blood”.
There was no suggestion in court of who might have sent the “malicious communications”, nor by what means they were sent.The case was adjourned for a probation report.
District judge John Temperley told Ferrar it was an “extremely serious case”, and that “all options, including custody” were being considered.
Ferrar has been required by a court order to live outside the Thurnby Lodge area, and has been staying with a relative in West End, Leicester.
Steve Morris, representing Ferrar, made an application for his client to be allowed back onto the Thurnby Lodge estate, but the application was declined.
Ferrar is due back at Leicester Magistrates’ Court next month for sentencing.
After the hearing, Maxine Williams, licensee of the estate’s Stirrup Cup pub, and a founding member of the Forgotten Estates group, said: “When it happened I was so saddened by the whole affair and it was very sad and distressing for the Muslims, no doubt.
“I think it’s very sad that it’s so out of character for Liam to do anything like this at all.
“He’s a lovely boy and I still can’t believe it was him.”
She added: “It’s so sad he’s done it and the consequences are so harsh.”

Thursday, 24 January 2013


At Phoenix this afternoon for the first meeting of a steering group working toward this year's celebration of An Indian Summer, Thursday 27 to Sunday 30 June.

Bipin Anand (in photo above, standing) presents a short video to kick off the meeting, recalling some of the highlights of the 2012 event.

The Council of Faiths had a strong presence in the first celebration of An Indian Summer, offering an informal seminar entitled How Diverse is Leicester? We didn't really get the chance to do anything last year. I'm looking forward to us playing a fuller role in the upcoming event.

An Indian Summer is one of just two annual events that take place across the Cultural Quarter (the other being Oxjam). An ambitious and extensive programme of activities will make this third celebration of An Indian Summer the most memorable yet. The absence of Summer Sundae Weekender this year should allow An Indian Summer to make an even bigger impact.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
MP pledges to combat intolerance
An MP has pledged his commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and to help combat prejudice and racism.
Sunday marks the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
In the weeks leading up to it, the Holocaust Educational Trust has placed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons.
Jon Ashworth, Labour MP for Leicester South, who has signed the book, said: "Holocaust Memorial Day is an important opportunity to remember the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.
"Having visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, I saw for myself the full extent of the industrialised nature of the Holocaust.
"I encourage all constituents to mark the day and to join the fight against prejudice and intolerance."