Tuesday, 30 April 2013


Cherie and Ashley at their stall in Gallowtree Gate today
It's not uncommon to find street preachers in Gallowtree Gate any day of the week, but today I'm pleasantly surprised to see something a bit different. I stop and chat with two Jehovah's Witnesses who are offering the Good News via British Sign Language. Ashley is a deaf user of BSL, Cherie is a hearing user.

They're promoting meetings in British Sign Language which feature Bible lectures and Watchtower Study (discussion about the Bible and how to use it in our lives) and Congregational Bible Study, Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting (discussion of Bible subjects and a class about how to teach the Bible). These are held on Sundays, 1530 and Wednesdays 1915 at Kingdom Hall of Jehavah's Witnesses, Knowles Road, Glenfield LE3 6LU.


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Small steps to peaceful world
A few days ago, I saw a little girl go out of her way to put her empty plastic drink bottle into a rubbish bin in Bell Street, Wigston.
Two weeks previously, I had seen a grown woman throw an empty bottle into the perimeter hedge of Aylestone leisure centre.
I was reminded of this contrast by Bruce Kent, the veteran peace campaigner, who visited the city to talk inspiringly about the lunacy of renewing Trident.
Bruce eloquently outlined the causes of war on a number of levels, including the breakdown of relationships between individuals and its mirroring at community and national levels.
He suggested there are many ways we can all contribute to the promotion of peace at home and in the wider world. It seems to me that, by showing respect for her environment and other citizens, the young girl in Wigston was doing her bit.
This is one of countless examples of how we can build up harmony between people, whether at family, local, national or international level. So let us look more creatively at what can be done. There may be other kinds of active engagement that can help to preserve the planet and use its limited resources to promote peace and harmony rather than hasten its obliteration by war.
Kevin Commons, Wigston


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Power corrupts, even in Church
Upon retiring several years ago, I became a regular church attendee. During this time I have tried to understand why some churches, not all, are seeing a decline in attendance.
The typical secular view is that religion is losing support. Let me offer another probable earthly cause.
Committed Christians have a keen sense of justice. Where there appears to be an injustice or behaviour deemed less than acceptable, church members will speak out.
This is fine and as it should be, providing their voices are heard and their views considered.
But what happens when the root of their concern is the style of those who are managing their church? When I say "style", I mean those elders driven by hubris, self importance, self interest. It is said power corrupts – maybe even in the church.
If the dominant elders or minister of the local church occasionally behaves in a manner leaving some to wonder whether total honesty was optional, there is no mechanism of appeal.
Having recently raised a question of this kind at regional level, it would appear that in my church, even the highest of offices at national level has no constitutional authority over local decisions.
I wonder whether the low-level but insidious machinations of a minority in authority in local churches and the absence of an meaningful appeal system may be contributing to a membership decline?
Am I a frustrated wannabe leader turned whistle blower? No, I do not seek to be anything more than a dedicated pew-level church member.
I, like so many others, am a concerned Christian who, seeing so much good work being done through God's word, is left wondering where the hubris and negativity of a minority in our churches will lead us.
Name and address supplied


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Richard Attenborough's blessing for culture city bid
by Dan Martin
The city's best-loved thespian, Richard Attenborough, is backing Leicester's drive to be crowned 2017 UK City of Culture.
Lord Attenborough has been unveiled by the team behind the city's bid for the title as its most high-profile supporter.
The respected actor and director grew up in Leicester with his brother, David, the renowned naturalist, and made his stage debut as a boy at the city's Little Theatre.
He has been a life-long supporter of the city's arts scene ever since.
The 89-year-old is in a frail state following a stroke in 2008, but is well enough to lend his support to Leicester's campaign to land the title.
The city is hoping to be chosen to succeed Londonderry in Northern Ireland in the competition, which is being run by the Government.
Today, Leicester and its 11 rivals submitted details of their bid in the hope of being shortlisted in June, before the winner is selected in November.
Lord Attenborough said: "I am delighted to offer my unconditional endorsement and support to Leicester's bid.
"In recent years, as the city has evolved into a huge multi-cultural centre, I have been thrilled to witness Leicester embrace and celebrate this in such an enlightened, inspired and visionary manner."
The celebrity, who has opened a Centre for Disability and the Arts here and loaned his collection of rare Picasso ceramics to be displayed in the city, said: "My experience and knowledge of Leicester's rich vein of cultural and, in particular, theatrical activity goes back over 80 years, from my first stumbling steps on the stage of the Little Theatre, through to the Phoenix, the Haymarket and now Curve."
City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, who is chairman of the consortium behind the bid, said Lord Attenborough's support had given it considerable weight.
"We have been touched by Lord Attenborough's heartfelt support," said Sir Peter.
"He is indeed a product of this city and very proud of his association with it.
"I am confident we have a very strong bid to put in."
The consortium revealed details of some of the events and activities it would stage in 2017 if the bid is successful. They include a "Festival of Light" based on the city's existing Diwali and bonfire night celebrations, as well as a large scale re-enactment of the Richard III story to mark the discovery of the king's bones.
Geoff Rowe, Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival founder and a member of Leicester's bidding board, said a key feature of the programme would be a portable light installation which would project images onto buildings around the city, such as the National Space Centre.
Curve chief executive Fiona Allan, also on the bidding board, said the Richard III re-enactment would involve both professional actors and thousands of members of the public, and would take place over several days at a number of venues.
The bidding team has been told by the Government that it should expect to spend £10 million on a programme of events if it is successful in being named 2017 UK City of Culture.
Sir Peter said the council was prepared to underwrite the cost but said that a large amount of the funding would come from organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council.
He said any public funds put in would be paid back "10 or 100-fold" from the tourism boost.

Sunday, 28 April 2013


This morning I'm on BBC Radio Leicester, speaking with Monica Winfield (photo above) by phone about Leicester's faith communities and the bid to become UK City of Culture 2017. Here's a transcript of the interview.
MW: Now then, let’s have a look at Leicester’s bid to become the UK City of Culture for 2017. Next week the bid will be submitted to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Going up against ten other areas (including Chester, Hull and the combined forces of Portsmouth and Southampton), Leicester’s bidding team hopes that the city’s arts, ethnic diversity and of course archaeological assets (I think you know what I’m alluding to) will help us win the title. But how much might religion play a part and tip the odds in our favour? George Ballentyne is from the Leicester Council of Faiths and he joins me on the line now. George, good morning.
GMB: Good morning Monica.
MW: This is an incredible opportunity for Leicester but I just wonder, how big a part are we allowing the faith culture of Leicester to play in our kind of cultural culture – if you see what I mean.
GMB: Well it’s quite interesting you say how big a part are we allowing – I’d like to see what could be done to keep the faith communities and organisations out of the process, because it is something that Leicester is very well known for. There’s an upside and a downside to that and I hope that we get the chance to speak briefly about both of them. But I would also say that, you know, there’s more than one meaning of the word “culture” and sometimes people can get the wrong end of the stick about what culture would mean and what the City of Culture might mean. You know, there’s the kind of high culture aspect, which is about, you know, art and opera and exhibitions and the like and there’s a kind of pop culture version of it too. But you also think that, you know, people can use the word “culture” to mean a kind of messy laboratory set-up in which experimental things happen and unpredictable things and interesting, organic, lively things can be generated out of that. So I hope that all three of those meanings of the word are going to come up when we‘re talking about this over the next few weeks and months
MW: Absolutely. And I take it that the faith communities are absolutely on board with this and backing it to the hilt?
GMB: Well, we’d never presume to speak for absolutely every faith community and organisation in the city, but we really do feel confident that there’s a strong, solid backing for the bid.
MW: Now in what way will the backing – you know, are they kind of quietly backing it, or is it going to be part of the bid?
GMB: Well, I don’t need to tell you that Leicester has become well-known, or famous even, for its faith festivals, you know, we make such a big play of having the biggest Diwali event outside of India, there’s a huge Vaiskahi event that happened just last week and we have Christ in the Centre at Easter time. Per head of population, Leicester has more – and more varied – places of worship than any other city in Britain and these are facts about Leicester that would surely be used in support of the bid. But on the other hand – and I’m sure that you’ll know that I speak about this often enough, whenever I get the chance– there aren’t that many occasions when the people of Leicester see the faith communities in all their diversity standing together, out in public. So we’v e got things about the faith communities as individual groups and then we’re going to have to do some stuff about getting them together to do a kind of collective response to it and a collective presence.
MW: That will be a really exciting thing to do and a real purpose behind it, it’s not something you’re just doing for the sake of it, there’s a real aim behind it, isn’t there?
GMB: Yes, well all these festivals and these events will go on, whether we’re granted this City of Culture status or not but they’re part of the organic, regular life of the city, they really do have to feature quite prominently in any kind of attempt to get us into that position.
MW: Absolutely – and earlier on, when you were describing the different meanings of the word culture, I just think the religious aspect takes our bid to a deeper level, I think.
GMB: Yes, I think so. I don’t think that any of the other cities that are bidding have actually got this string to their bow like we have.
MW: Absolutely not. So, are you like me, are you holding out high hopes for Leicester to win the bid?
GMB: Well I should say that, you know, Glasgow was made European Capital of Culture (which is a different thing altogether, the Leicester bid is for UK City of Culture). But back in 1984, Glasgow was made the European Capital of Culture, which – that came to a city which was really on its last legs I think – and completely transformed its fortunes and it’s become a proper, European cultural city. I know that some of your listeners might find that hard to believe and I always fly the flag for Glasgow, but it really did make an incredible difference, not just to how other people saw the city but to how the people of Glasgow saw themselves. It just coincided with the year I left Glasgow [MW laughs] so I didn’t get all the benefit of all that, but t I’ve seen, first hand, what this kind of thing can do to a city. There’s some scepticism and cynicism about why are we doing this and why now, when there’s such pressure on funding, but if we get this I really think it will make a huge impact and 99% positive
MW: Absolutely. It’s interesting what you say about Glasgow because I don’t see it in the light of being run down any more. I see it as a very vibrant place, somewhere I would like to visit, so it’s almost like a vote of confidence isn’t it?
GMB: Yes it is, but what you’re talking about there is the impact of more than 20-odd years ago that that happened and it’s almost – well, 30 years ago actually – and it’s really had a fantastic positive effect on the people and the place - and we can get that.
MW: Absolutely - not that we haven’t got it already, [indeed] but it would take us up a notch won’t it? Have you been part of the bid at all? Has the Council of Faiths been involved?
GMB: Well, our Chair – Councillor Manjula Sood – she’s Assistant Mayor with responsibility for communities, cohesion and equalities so she’s very closely involved in the bid and some of our members (I always stress that I am an employee of the Council of Faiths, not a member) [right] we’ve taken part in the stakeholder bud events which the Mayor hosted at Curve about ten days ago and made contributions to them, and we’re soliciting suggestions  and ideas from our member communities and from prominent individuals in the Faith or religion sector (as it were) in the city. So yes, we are playing, I think,  a strong and positive role in what’s going on right now and we would like to, you know, If we get on the shortlist then we hope that that will increase and there will be more momentum from the faith communities behind the bid.
MW: Absolutely. It’s an exciting time to be in Leicester and it’s nice to know that so many people are on board and backing our bid. George, great to talk to you this morning
GMB: Okay, thanks Monica.
MW: Thank you [okay] George Ballentyne, from Leicester Council of Faiths. Next week it is, when Leicester will submit its initial bid to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in a bud to become UK City of Culture for 2017 competing against ten other bidding areas for that title, which could bring massive benefits to the city not least of which economically – huge economic benefits  as well. So watch this space and you’ll hear more about that I’m sure, here on BBC Radio Leicester.

Follow Monica Winfield on Twitter: @MonWRL

Saturday, 27 April 2013


George Wilson (far left) of Christians Aware, introducing some of the Karen friends on the stage at the Worship Centre in ChristChurch
At ChristChurch, Clarendon Park this afternoon, for Burma Day, organised by Christians AwareThere are 50 or so attendees, about two-thirds of whom appear to be Burmese.

The event starts with a bring-and-share lunch, which establishes a congenial and lively atmosphere - or "happy, jolly chaos" as one friend describes it, with lots of young people running around, changing into costume. 

Gracie and I take our places at the back of the Worship Centre amidst the tables loaded with DVDs, books, giveaway literature - most featuring pictures and text about Aung San Suu Kyi. We wait for Harry to join us, after he has raided the Loros charity shop on Queens Road, bearing with him as many issues of Impulse as his pocket money will get him, from the shop's treasure trove of DC comics.

Centrepiece of the day's programme is a talk from Benedict Rogers, entitled "Burma: A Nations at the Crossroads", which is the name of his most recent book, published last year.

Benedict is a writer and advocate, working for Christian Solidarity Worldwide - an organisation promoting the right of individuals in every country to choose,  follow and practise their own religion. Specialising in Asia, Benedict is a regular contributor to major international media including The Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, The Australian, The Asahi Shimbun, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Telegraph, as well as for the BBC, ITN and Sky. He has been invited to give briefings and speeches round the world, in venues such as the White House, European Parliament, the Japanese Parliament, and Oxford University. Currently living in London, his focus has been on Burma for much of the past 15 years, travelling more than 40 times to that country and visiting all of its borders. Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads is the latest of three books he has written on that country.

Barbara Butler, Executive Secretary of Christians Aware, with Benedict Rogers
During the Q&A following his talk, Benedict "clarifies" whether we should call the country "Burma" or "Myanmar". Apparently, Aung San Suu Kyi and other figures aligned with the opposition would prefer the word to call it Burma, as they assert that the regime did not have a mandate to change the name of the country. This is in context of their assertions that the regime has no mandate, period.

After Benedict's talk and the Q&A session that follows it, we enjoy half an hour or so of uplifting performances by two choirs and a young peoples dance troupe from the Karen community of Sheffield (the biggest of its kind in the UK - the next biggest is Blackburn, we're informed).

Jon Ashworth MP puts in an impromptu appearance near the end of the event. Jon has nailed his colours to the mast regarding persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, having secured a debate on the Rohingya in the House of Commons (11 September 2012) and expressed solidarity with the Federation of Muslim Organisations in Leicester at a public meeting at St Philip's Church Hall, Evington (7 September 2012) and which, in typically Leicester mashup style, you can see reported on Jon's blog and on the website of the Leicestershire Sikh Alliance. Jon has also had two pieces on this topic published by The Huffington Post: "Why the UK government Must Take a Firm Stance on the Rights of the Rohingya" (12 September 2012) and "We Can't Keep Ignoring Burma's Rohingya People" (1 November 2012).

Jon Ashworth MP (left) with Benedict Rogers
Jon hadn't been formally notified of the meeting but saw it on my twitterfeed, happened to be in the area (ChristChurch is in his Leicester South constituency and he was doing a surgery earlier today) so he popped in to show his interest and support. There's evidence of the power of social media for you, faithful reader - if ever you needed it. Mind you, I was tweeting about this event from just about every Twitter account at my disposal: @GMBallentyne; @counciloffaiths; @FaithAwareness; @leicesterspeaks. Nothing like targetted marketing, eh?


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Red carpet day for young filmmakers
A group of youngsters have been given the red carpet treatment at a film screening in the city.
The Disabled Children's Service and the Big Mouth Forum organised the event at the Phoenix Cinema.
The guests were shown an hour-long film about advocacy for disabled young people, which featured youngsters taking part in their favourite activities such as tae kwon do, swimming and gardening.
They arrived by limousine and watched the special showing before enjoying a buffet.
The film was created by many of the disabled youngsters at the screening.
Organiser Keith Allott, from Badshoes Film, was on hand to supervise and instruct the filmmakers during the shoot.
He said: "There were about 20 who took part and they covered all aspects of filmmaking, from being on camera and also being behind the camera."
The film was shot as a documentary-style programme and featured many of the youngsters in their daily lives.
"They wanted to do something positive," said Keith.
"They wanted to show people what they did outside of school, things such as sports and awareness campaigning.
"It was also about showing other youngsters with disabilities that they can do a lot more than people think."


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Half of Catholics don't share view
"If I did not believe in what the Catholic Church teaches, I would not call myself a Catholic" writes Francisca Martinez ("Secularism part of birth rate fall", Mailbox April 6).
This is an extreme view and would mean that more than half the Catholics in England should stop calling themselves Catholic.
(The Catholic publication The Tablet summarises its 2008 survey on the response of Catholics to the Church's teaching on birth control as follows: "Today most practicing Catholics ignore its teaching on birth control and more than half think it should be revised.")
Happily, with the new Pope, we can hope that a change is coming and that the teachings of scholastic theology, with its ideas on sex, will get less emphasis and the teachings of Jesus will be given more prominence.
Pope Francis, talking to journalists, expresses this hope like this: "Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor".
When Pope Francis sees the terrible distress in those countries where populations repeatedly double – mainly in Africa and the Middle East to Pakistan – the change will surely come, and I hope then that Ms Martinez and I will be on the same side.
Gerald Danaher, Ravenstone


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Vaz hopeful of a mango extravaganza
City MP Keith Vaz remains confident of staging the country's first mango festival in Leicester – with just 10 days left to get it organised.
The Leicester East MP wants Belgrave's Golden Mile to stage an extravaganza in tribute to the national fruit of India over the early May bank holiday weekend, mimicking the famous International Mango Festival held, in Delhi, every June.
A meeting involving the police, the city council officials and business representatives was held yesterday to discuss plans for the event.
Mr Vaz said afterwards: "I am extremely grateful to the city mayor for the support given to the proposal to have the first mango festival in Leicester.
"If it's going to go ahead, a lot of hard work needs to be done in the next few days. I am optimistic we will meet the deadline. We're not staging the Olympics, it's only a mango festival."
Mr Vaz has arranged the delivery of six giant wooden elephants to Leicester, which would form a key part of the festival.
An appeal was issued in the Mercury on Wednesday for people to look after the elephants in the run-up to the event.
Mr Vaz said: "I am delighted so many organisations have contacted my office and offered to look after one of the elephants.
"We will be having an X-factor style contest, the E-factor, if you like, to consider exactly where to put them, as we have more offers than elephants.
"The collective view is that we have everything we need to make this happen."
Dharmesh Lakhani, chairman of Belgrave Business Association, attended the meeting.
He said: "It is a very exciting opportunity for Leicester. I believe the costs will be met by the mango growers of Maharashtra. The elephants will be something different for the city.
"I think it is a good idea, but there isn't much time to get it organised, just 10 days."


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

Anarchy: Court hears of horrific attack on curry house
by Suzy Gibson, Court Correspondent
The actions of seven men involved in the ransacking of a Leicester curry house, in which several people were seriously injured, was "lawless anarchy", a judge has said.
Jailing each of the men for two years, Judge Simon Hammond said: "This was mob rule."
The owner and two members of staff suffered stab wounds, and customers were also attacked, when a group of 40 to 50 people burst into Moghul Durbar, in East Park Road, Spinney Hills, Leicester, at 9pm on January 14.
Leicester Crown Court was told the group had earlier met at a Sikh temple in Gipsy Lane, Northfields, in response to a text message claiming a member of their community was the victim of abuse.
They wrongly assumed the police were not taking action and, after being incorrectly informed that one or more of the suspected culprits would be at the restaurant, decided to take the law into their own hands.
"The owner and two members of staff were going about their lawful business and several members of the public, occupying four or five tables, including women and children, were eating there and enjoying themselves," said Gordon Aspden, prosecuting.
"The attack happened without warning, when the group began smashing the front windows of the restaurant.
"Armed men entered, from the front and rear. Many had their faces covered with scarves and hoods. Some were carrying ceremonial knives, metal bars, nunchucks and bricks.
"The sheer terror caused can't be over-emphasised. The premises were completely trashed, with furniture, glasses and plates smashed and carpets fouled with food and blood. It was wanton destruction.
"The owner was hit on the head by flying glass and forced into the kitchen, where he was stabbed in the chest and right arm and punched repeatedly.
"The waiter had hot water and chilli sauce thrown over him before suffering a life-threatening stab wound to his liver, while repeatedly being punched and kicked. The chef was stabbed in the back and hit over the head."
A husband and wife with their three children were finishing their ice creams when the mayhem broke out.
The husband was punched and retreated to the kitchen where a pan of hot curry was poured over him.
Mr Aspden said: "Two of his children followed him and saw what happened, and one was injured by a flying glass."
The man was the only witness willing to make a statement, as everyone else was too fearful.
People were seen fleeing in terror and covered in blood.The emergency services were called and who arrived quickly, moments after the mob fled. Mr Aspden said Pc Jennifer Collins's actions at the scene were "exemplary".
He said: "Her uniform was covered in so much blood, through helping the injured, it was used as an exhibit."
Two witnesses gave the police a registration number of one of the vehicles at the scene, a VW Golf, which was stopped northbound on the M1.
Masking tape had been used to alter its registration number, to try to evade the police.
Six of the defendants, all from Derby, were in the car: Surjit Pandher (28), a former prison warden, of Northfield, who owned the car; Gurmukh Singh Cheema (25), of Harrington Street; Ranjit Singh (21), of Harrington Street; Sundeep Singh Sangha (25), a gas heating engineer, of Wordsworth Avenue; Rajveer Singh Sangha (24), a college student, of Wordsworth Avenue; and Ranvir Singh (21), of Harrington Street.
Mr Aspden said blood-stained gloves were found in the car.
The seventh defendant, Kahan Khalsa (26), of Oldbury, Birmingham, was later arrested in the West Midlands.
All seven men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit violent disorder, on the basis they played no part in the stabbings or beatings.
Mr Aspden said: "It's quite impossible, on the evidence, to say who did what."
In a moving statement read out in court, the restaurant owner's wife said her husband survived a near-fatal car crash in 2008, after which he suffered from depression.
When they bought the restaurant in 2012, she said it gave him and the whole family "a new lease of life".
Mr Aspden said: "They were proud to have built the restaurant up from nothing ."
The owner's wife said she received a phone call after the attack and went to the restaurant to see her husband, covered in blood, being put in an ambulance.
She stated: "Since the attack, he's back to how he was before the restaurant.
"We've lost over £45,000 and we now want to want to move from here."
Judge Simon Hammond said: "No-one at the restaurant, either staff or customers, had anything do to with any allegations and were totally innocent."
He added: "It was carefully orchestrated. This was mob rule and the restaurant was trashed. It was lawless anarchy."
The judge said it was "as bad a case of violent disorder as is possible to imagine".
"I accept all seven defendants are decent men of previous good character. It gives me great sadness to see them in the dock.
"They come from good homes and they've let themselves and their families down."
He said the dozens of testimonials handed into the court spoke highly of the defendants.
In mitigation, the court heard the defendants, including two sets of brothers, genuinely regretted their involvement.
Francis Laird QC, mitigating for Ranjit Singh, said that at the meeting in the temple emotions were "whipped into a frenzy".
He said: "They set off, many not knowing what would happen, unaware weapons other than ceremonial kirpans were involved. The men responsible for serious violence were never caught.
"These defendants were the minnows, who went along out of misguided support."
Other defence counsel said some of them were only expecting "a protest" at the restaurant and did not anticipate violence.

Friday, 26 April 2013


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United States 756
  2. United Kingdom 494
  3. Russia 316
  4. France 179
  5. Germany 76
  6. Ukraine 66
  7. Turkey 62
  8. India 39
  9. Poland 35
  10. China 19

This week's total: 2,042 (last week: 1,993). 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:

Homelessness campaigners camp out at Leicester Town Hall 
Campaigners are sleeping out overnight in a protest at cuts to a council's homelessness budget.
Members of Streetlife Action Group are bedding down outside Leicester Town Hall to object to the city council's plan to cut £2.2 million from its £6.6 million homelessness budget.
The group planned to spend a third night in a tent tonight.
Spokesman Andrew Parsons said: "We are here to maintain our awareness campaign about the cuts in the homelessness budget.
"We are here to serve notice to the councillors that if they don't get it right this is a glimpse of the future.
"We hope the cuts do not take us back to the dark days in the 1980s, when we had up to 60 people sleeping out in shop doorways throughout the city."
The council announced this month it was to save £938,000 by reducing the number of hostel beds for families from 129 to 70.
It is yet to announce the second phase of cuts, affecting beds for single homeless people.
Mr Parsons said: "We fear the cuts could leave us in a situation where do not have enough beds for people who need them.
"Our aim is to make the council think and think again."


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Islamic school plan rejected
by Dan Martin, Politics Correspondent
Plans to convert part of a derelict factory into a Islamic school have been rejected.
The Imam Ghazali Learning Academy had wanted to turn part of a former knitwear building in Smith Dorrien Road, North Evington, into a educational building for up to 150 children.
However, the academy's plans failed to be approved by Leicester City Council's planning committee after officials warned the property was at risk of flooding.
Nearby residents had raised concerns about the scheme, fearing it would create intolerable parking problems.
Iqbal Patel, who lives in Smith Dorrien Road, told the committee meeting at the town hall on Wednesday: "Parking is the issue. I have no issues with the applicants' motives but the residents are going to suffer big time."
He said his street already had problems with parking overspill from a nearby temple, church and mosque.
He said: "Some people have tried to open scrap yards inside. The owner is desperate to do something with it." Ward councillor Mian Myat, who sits on the planning committee, said: "This building has been empty for 10 to 12 years. It is an eyesore and something needs to be done with the building."
He said he had received phone calls from residents saying the area had been "flooded by rats and mice" believed to come from the building.
A representative from the academy attended the meeting and told the Leicester Mercury he had hoped to speak to the councillors but had not been called to do so.
He said it was unfair he should not be able to speak.
The fee-paying academy, for children aged three to 16, is based at the Melbourne Centre, in Highfields, and has about 50 pupils but said it needed to expand due to demand for places.
A petition with 45 signatures was collected in support of the scheme, while counter petitions with 38 signatures were also submitted to planners.
The academy's plans show it wanted 10 classrooms.
It said relocation from Melbourne Road to the new site would bring a derelict building back into community use, bringing 13 jobs to the area.
The council did approve a plan for a madrasah in Beaumont Road, Spinney Hills. Planners received 16 objections about the retrospective application to use a cafe and social club for education.
The concerns were there was already a similar school and a mosque in the area and the development would lead to more traffic.
The head of the academy was not available to comment.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Inspector Mark Parish, head of Leicestershire Police's domestic violence investigation unit
Report gay domestic abuse
by Ciaran Fagan
Police have launched a campaign to encourage gay people to come forward if they are being abused by their partners.
The drive was launched yesterday as police believe the crime is particularly under-reported.
Posters which bear the message "Domestic abuse doesn't discriminate – and nor do we" are being distributed across Leicestershire.
In 2011-12, the force investigated 81 reports of domestic crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – a small fraction of the 17,000-plus offences reported to the force in the past year.
Also, a survey carried out at Leicester Pride two years ago found that 46 per cent of those questioned had experienced some form of domestic violence.
Detective Inspector Mark Parish, who leads the force's domestic abuse investigation unit, said: "When you compare surveys of people's experience with recorded crime, it is clear members of the LGBT communities are under-reporting domestic abuse.
"There are likely to be two main reasons for this.
"The first is they may not recognise the signs of abuse, and what help there is available.
"The second is that, historically, there has been distrust between police and LGBT communities. However, things have changed. You can have confidence Leicestershire Police will listen to your issues and carry out a professional investigation without discrimination."
The campaign is being supported by domestic violence organisations and Leicester's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Centre in Wellington Street, in the city centre. It was launched yesterday at the Rainbow and Dove pub, a gay venue.
Paula Harris, co-chairman for the LGBT Community Safety Forum, said: "It is great to see police are taking this matter seriously.
"Hopefully, these posters will raise people's awareness that domestic abuse can and does happen in any type of relationship and it is not just about physical violence. I would urge anyone living in an abusive relationship to report it."
Meena Kumari, manager of domestic violence support service Safe Leicester, said: "Safe takes domestic abuse seriously.
"This is a real under-reported crime and would like to help the community gain the level of support they are entitled to."


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Lords Spiritual make Government toe the moral line
Jobee asks for the Lords Spiritual to be disbanded as they are not politicians ("Never nothing", Mailbox, April 20). Politics is the science of government to get party policies into law.
The Church has always been engaged in humanitarian work so it would be difficult to divorce social service work from social action.
During the last war, one of my heroes was Bomber Harris. My attitude was to give the Germans a taste of what they had done to us.
The day after the carpet bombing of Dresden in February 1945, Bishop George Bell, of Chichester, stood up in the House of Lords to condemn the raid.
Many thought it treacherous, if not treasonable, but the speech was, and still is, the function of the bishops in the Lords.
They make the Government toe the moral line. I would agree to a reduction in the number of Lords Spiritual, with them being a mix of all the faiths in the country.
Patrick Trigg, Oadby


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Keith's big problem
by David Owen
Keith Vaz faces an elephant-sized headache as he tries to organise the country's first ever Mango festival – in two weeks' time.
The Leicester East MP wants Belgrave's Golden Mile to stage an extravaganza in tribute to the national fruit of India over the early May bank holiday weekend, mimicking the famous International Mango Festival held in Delhi every June.
So far he has not finalised any of the details of the festival, such as what events would take place as part of it.
However, he has arranged the delivery of six giant wooden elephants to Leicester, which would form a key part of the festival.
Now he has just days to find somewhere suitable to display and store the ornately-decorated beasts, which are on their way to the UK from the Indian subcontinent.
Mr Vaz said: "I was approached by people working for the regional government of Maharashtra, in Mumbai, who said they wanted to organise a Mango festival in the UK.
"They have organised a festival in Trafalgar Square and I said 'if you're coming to England you've got to come to Leicester!' They said it was a great idea.
"It would be wonderful to have the focus of the festival in Belgrave and a way of promoting all the fantastic green-grocers in the area.
"These festivals are a celebration of Indian culture and food – and what a coup it would be for us in Leicester to host the country's first mango festival – and before London!"
Mr Vaz now has to finalise the arrangements – including temporary homes for the wooden elephants, which are up to 24ft by 12ft in size.
The Mercury was the first organisation in the city to know of the palns.
Mr Vaz has already approached the Mercury about having one of the elephants outside our offices in George Street and is now contacting Leicester City FC, Leicester Tigers and large city colleges, such as Rushey Mead School and Soar Valley College.
"This is a bit of an SOS," he said. "I am delighted that the organisers of the first Mango Festival have decided to come to Leicester.
"The elephants are an essential part of the festival but we need to find locations where they can be displayed – and where they will be looked after.
"We are looking for groups, businesses or even individuals who would house and look after the giant elephants for a three-month period.
"I know time is short but it would be such a shame if we missed out on this great opportunity," he said.
Councillor Manjula Sood, assistant city mayor for community involvement and equality, said: "If the festival can go ahead it would be wonderful – much better here than in London!"
The council is organising a "multi-agency" planning meeting to discuss the proposals with Mr Vaz for Friday.
Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: "It sounds like an interesting proposal and I have asked our festivals and events team to provide advice and support to Keith to help him with its delivery."

Tuesday, 23 April 2013


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Bruce Kent, left, with supporters Rama Gupta, of Loughborough, and Liz Brandon, right
CND's Bruce visits city
Anti-nuclear weapons campaigner Bruce Kent called for Britain to ditch its submarine-based deterrent as part of a "scrap Trident missile tour".
Mr Kent said it was immoral to consider embarking on replacing the missiles when so many people across Britain were being hit by savage cuts in social welfare.
Speaking after a prayer meeting at the Bishop Street Methodist church, Mr Kent, who is vice-president of national CND, said: "It seems to me that we, as a country, are moving towards replacing, at vast expense, our Trident submarines and their murderous missiles and warheads.
"The total cost of this would be over £100 billion."
He said the crisis with North Korea demonstrated the futility of nuclear weapons.
He said: "It's hypocrisy to say we can have them but they can't."
Mr Kent is visiting 22 towns and cities in England.
He arrived in the city at the Gandhi statue, near the flyover in Belgrave Road, and was later greeted by city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, at the Town Hall.
He also attended a lecture at De Montfort University, and a public meeting at St Phillip's church hall in Evington Road and gave a talk to students at Countesthorpe College.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Why we all take pride in this nation
Today, We celebrate national patron, George, and all things English. to mark the occasion, some well-known citizens tell Natalie Derham and Tom Mack why they are proud to be English.
Sir Peter Soulsby, Mayor of Leicester
"I'm very proud of England's wonderful history and particularly its democracy."
Suleman Nagdi, spokesman for the Federation of Muslim Organisations
"We have a great history of acceptance and tolerance and I'm proud of our liberal society and its multiculturalism."
Carl Gunns, owner of boxing club in Birstall
"I love the history of England and the great kings and queens we've had, such as Charles I and Henry VIII. I'm also proud of the film industry, particularly in the 50s."
Tom Joule owner of Joules Ltd Market Harborough
"What makes me proud to be English is the Grand National, the sound of an ice cream van in the summer and the beer garden at the pub."
Rosemary Conley, fitness guru
"I'm proud of England for its heritage, its people, its beauty as a country and for its diversity. I would never want to live anywhere else."
Canon Barry Naylor, urban dean
"The Church of England reflects some of the very best of what it means to be English.
"It values diversity yet acknowledges the essential realities that bind us all together."

Monday, 22 April 2013


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Mohammed Elhadad, left, Leicester project leader for the UK Arabic Society, with other ambulance convoy volunteers
Pleas as more ambulances head for strife-torn Syria
by Tom Mack
Charities providing ambulances and medical equipment to war-torn Syria are hoping to get more support from Leicestershire.
UK charities have been working with the Red Crescent to deliver supplies to Syria since the civil war started there two years ago.
Next month, volunteers from Leicester will be joining a convoy delivering 15 more ambulances, bought with money raised by the UK Arabic Society and the Al Fatiha charity.
On Saturday, the charities will also be holding a fund-raising fun day in Highfields, Leicester, followed by a bucket collection at Pak Foods, in Chesterfield Road, Evington, on the following weekend.
Mohamed Elhaddad, Leicester project leader for the UK Arabic Society, will be leading the convoy.
He said: "It's a long, 3,000-mile trip through France, Italy, Greece and Turkey and it takes about seven days to get there.
"We sleep and cook in our vehicles to save money and along the way people sometimes open up community centres and other places for us to stay.
"There is a growing need for ambulances in Syria. We know that two parties are killing each other and our duty is to help the innocent people caught up in the middle of it.
"A lot of children are being hurt."
The UK Arabic Society first got involved with the Red Crescent in August last year and the first convoy took two ambulances.
Each ambulance costs about £5,000 second-hand from NHS trusts, plus about £3,000 more for equipment and the journey itself.
About £10,000 has been raised in Leicestershire since then, but the charities are planning to make much more in the coming months.The fund-raising day will be held on Saturday, between 11am and 4pm, at Uplands Primary School, in Melbourne Road.
Abdul Majid, 24, of Highfields, a volunteer for the Al Fatiha charity, will be joining the convoy in May.
He said: "I've done convoys to Gaza in the past as well and experienced living in that war zone, but this will be my first trip to Syria.
"We need to do whatever we can because what's happening to ordinary people there is unimaginable.
"A lot of people want to help us and it's non-Muslims as well as Muslims who support us."
Leicester's Lord Mayor, Councillor Abdul Osman, will be attending Saturday's event.
He said: "I think it's a very worthy cause. They've done a lot of work nationally and sent a lot of ambulances over to Syria and I understand they want to raise more money in Leicester.
"I wish them well and I'm sure there will be a lot of support from the generous people in this city."
To make a donation to the UK Arabic Society transfer money to the "UK Arabic Society", sort code 30-92-13, account number 0355 3576.
For more information, e-mail: info@ukarabicsociety.org.uk