[WAIFs originally stood for Worcestershire Active Interfaith Forum, but in evaluations many people of faith and non-faith suggested that this be changed to ‘inclusive’ which we took on board as a group]
In Worcestershire the project grew out of the commitment of the Regional Facilitator, Dr Rosemin Najmudin, to use the opportunity to bring a group of people together to put on an event, and to launch themselves as a community group tackling diversity and global issues locally. The issues of concern were the changing nature of the society in Worcestershire with respect to where people have come from, why they have settled in Worcestershire and the contribution they make to the local economy and culture. The event, called ‘Altogether Now Worcestershire!’, was held in the Angel Centre in Worcester City on Thursday 26th October 2007. It stemmed from a desire to get people who offer services (statutory and commercial) to meet and have open dialogue with the diverse people in Worcester.
• A chance for people of different professions, backgrounds, faiths, concerns and opinions to meet in a safe environment.
• To have fun, be creative and have their say through informal and formal activities.
• To communicate through different channels and across boundaries.
• To start discussion about how to work together as a wide community.
• To look at the journeys of how people have ended up in Worcestershire from every area of the world and the UK and the contribution people have made to the local economy such as in agriculture, transport, factories and the health services.
• To keep the work sustained and long-term.
• To have a crèche so children could be present, in order that mothers, particularly BME (black and minority ethnic) stay-at-home-mums, could participate more easily.
• To build on the work already existing of the various charity and community-based organisations such as Ethnic Access Link, DanceFest, the Beacons Centre, Asha Centre, the local race equality and inter faith organisations and the local WEA office.
This event took as its starting point the OWW aim of building relationships of mutual respect that cross boundaries, recognizing that engaging respectfully with people of other faiths should be a first step towards striving for peace and justice everywhere. It also addressed the fact that, for people who are consistently marginalized within UK society, gaining the confidence to engage with service providers, and service providers gaining an understanding of their needs, is an important step to getting involved with initiatives outside of their immediate community. As with previous examples, the opportunity for people with different global experiences and interests to talk to each other about issues pertinent to them, challenge perceptions and find similarities of interest, is a step towards tackling global justice issues. It also recognized that prejudice, racism and exclusion locally is a facet of a wider global injustice or imbalance of power and that, in order to tackle that on a global level, it is appropriate to explore it at home. Worcestershire is classed as a mainly white, rural area with elements such as the BMP being rife in the neighbourhood.
There were two main activities. “Swapping Culture” is a communication tool/model based on creativity and dialogue. Many of us think we know the people around us but, actually, we usually only know people on the surface. This tool stimulates participants to learn to talk to each other more deeply, using simple, searching, difficult and controversial questions to get people to learn, listen, talk and trust. It starts with non-verbal communication.
Navtaj and Elizabeth (photo page 18-19) communicate through sight and sharing to demonstrate the concept of ‘conversation’ – ‘con’ means ‘with’ and ‘verse’ means ‘poetry’. So effective conversation/communication, if done well, should be like poetry!
The second activity involved a worksheet (You can see a copy in Appendix 4). In pairs or small groups, people work through the questions on the sheet. The questions are initially simple, non-threatening and they become searching and challenging, designed to really get people talking and thinking about things that are important to them, and sharing concerns and ideas.
The end-point of the session was to look at how we can work together to meet the needs of all in the services on offer in Worcester, thus making them more accessible and appropriate to all. It was also to look to issues further afield that impact locally and on which we impact globally, such as trade and food – global competition with local produce reducing food miles etc.
Twenty adults and about eight children attended the meeting. Also about twenty people from near-by offices either passed through or networked over lunch and shared the food. A further twenty people over a two day period looked at a poster exhibition. Our local development education centre, called Beacons, in Malvern, 10 miles from Worcester, supplied the exhibition. It consisted of poster-sized photographs of themes and images around international perspectives on gender, participation, communities and faith.
The Angel Centre is a former church in the city centre of Worcester, with a beautiful central training area and side rooms. It offers dance, music classes, counselling services, classes in English and IT as well as space for hire, and office space for various community organisations. An unexpected outcome was that most participants had never been to the Angel Centre and it was useful for them to know what happens there and meet the various charities hosted there. It was also, as most of the staff at the Angel Centre commented, good for them at the Angel Centre to see diverse people attend and use their ‘space.’
“All stated that they found the day useful. It was very good for non-white people to meet such diversity, be able to talk so openly and release the stress of often being the one/two black people who take on board all the issues like diversity and antiracism. As was expected many of the ‘white’ people who attended were the retired, they were not the ones often with powerful positions who had booked to attend the event, such as Service Providers, but who did not then bother to attend. We need to think how to change/access the people who need to be educated into diversity issues, especially in Worcestershire, where the BNP are rife and, as we know, the issues being discussed are not new, and yet the hatred and debates around oppression/exploitation of poorly paid workers persists and now spreads to the newly arrived Eastern Europeans especially the Polish communities. This will be a slow process, but one that we need to persevere with and without a start there will be no change. Already impact is being seen from the event: two more events around globalisation have been planned: a world music and awareness day in the central city Gheluvet park and a Police funded picnic with stalls and performances based on issues such as the abolition of the slave trade and the persisting modern slave trade as well as an open forum debate on issues affecting people in the area.
Beacons Centre is working with our members in planning an annual sixth form conference on global issues. In Worcester we believe in working both with the affluent and the marginalized, if we do not change the minds and attitudes of those in power, change will be slow and short-lived.”
Mind set or prejudice – thinking that certain groups won’t want to be involved in looking at global issues and the links with the local. Be open minded – you don’t know until you try! And don’t tell them what you are doing – ask them what they are doing. If they are not explicitly involved or keen to be involved in activity around global issues, it is up to you to make the links between their concerns and global justice and explore it with them. Whatever their concern or activities, the links will be there if you are creative enough!
Transport – hold your event or planning meetings somewhere accessible, offer lifts, encourage car sharing, send people bus timetables and maps.
Choose a venue that those you want to involve already use and feel comfortable in.
Timings – time of day is important, as people will be available at different times. Ask potential participants what times would suit them, rather than assuming. WAIFS members in Worcester found Sunday afternoons and evenings a good time to hold meetings or events.
Timings – days and dates: Be aware of important days and dates for different faith communities. Planning meetings always on Friday may exclude many Muslims, while most practicing Christians would object to Sunday mornings, for example. Events during Ramadan or around Diwali or Easter, for example, may clash with other family or faith commitments.
The Usual Suspects. It is often difficult to get beyond the people who always come to meetings, and have been coming for years, and are likely to come until they die or move away. If you are failing to attract new people, it may be necessary to re-think your publicity mechanisms. Word of mouth is great, but will often fail to break out of the ‘usual suspects’ social circles. Try approaching the groups suggested in relation to case study one above and pushing out emails, flyers, posters and conversations through those networks.
Another suggestion for avoiding the `usual suspects scenario’ is to use existing events, forums, meetings to publicise what you are trying to do. Beg for five minutes on the agenda of local committees, or a slot at a local youth event; take along some information to distribute.
You can’t please all of the people all of the time. It will be impossible to arrange events that will get everyone excited. The most important lesson here is not to assume that you know what people want, but consult them. Talk to people and ask them what kind of thing they would get involved with. Then encourage them to help organise it, remembering to make the links with global justice at every level!
Training the right people. Training does not have to be formal – it just means passing on and sharing skills and confidence. Make sure that as you draw in new people, you involve them at all levels and help to prepare them for taking leading roles.
Don’t give up! It takes time to build relationships and there is no quick fix. Persevere, share the load and enjoy.
Don’t just have food and music at food and music events. Make sure you have varied refreshments at all events; asking people to bring a contribution to share is a good way of ensuring there will be something everyone can eat.