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Case Study 1: OWW activities in the South West

Regional Facilitator, Alistair Beattie, drew together individuals from groups putting on OWW events in the Bath, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and West Wiltshire area and co-ordinated a planning meeting to share experiences of people engaging and involving people of many faiths. Participants discussed their plans and their previous experiences. The events then took place, with the Regional Facilitator attending many of them – see below. After the events, Alistair drew together the organisers from the groups to discuss what could be learned from the events and to evaluate both the process and the events.

Bath International Evening: this event took place at the Guildhall, Bath on 27 October. There were samples of food from a number of different communities, with the opportunity to meet the people from these communities who produced the food. The event was attended by around 200 people and had support from the Lord Mayor of Bath. While this event did not have key messages about taking action for global justice (an aim of OWW events) it did provide the opportunity for people with different international interests and experiences to get together socially and celebrate, sharing information and forging relationships.

Somerset Faith Forum launch: the Forum was launched on 24 September. There were presentations from members of different faith communities, outlining their faith’s response to working together and living in harmony. The Forum is working on the production of a mobile exhibition which will go around schools and other public places, illustrating the contributions that diverse faith groups make both to our local society and understanding and acting upon global issues.

South Gloucestershire Faith Forum – ‘What can we all do about teenage pregnancy’, held on 31 October, was an event bringing together members of faith groups, professionals working on teenage pregnancy issues and members of the local community to discuss the contribution faith groups can make to raising awareness and providing resources on this issue. This was one of an ongoing series of events, some of which were tackling more local issues and some more global. Bringing together people of many faiths to discuss local issues of concern can be a valuable step in the process of bringing people together around global issues.

West Wiltshire Inter Faith Group: ‘Understanding Diverse Communities in West Wiltshire’ took place in Trowbridge on 21 October. It included presentations by two speakers giving their perspective of living in the south west of England having moved from their home culture. The speakers were: Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, better known as ‘the Black Farmer’, and prospective parliamentary candidate for Chippenham, Imam Rashad Azami, Director of the Bath Islamic Society. This event encouraged participants to consider similarities and differences across national and cultural boundaries. It challenged perceptions and stereotypes, an important element of global education and a good basis for establishing the respectful relationships necessary for tackling global issues effectively.

Thornbury and District Make Poverty History Group – ‘All together now’: faithnetsouthwest supported an ecumenical OWW event, held on 9 October, to discuss issues for faith groups concerned about how best to support developing countries. It was organised by the Thornbury and District Make Poverty History Group, which has representatives from all Thornbury Churches and was supported by Christian Aid, CAFOD, Jubilee Debt Campaign and Oxfam amongst other agencies. Bishop Mike Hill, Anglican Bishop of Bristol, made a presentation, drawing on his experiences in African conflict zones.

These activities were all different, but had one thing in common. They brought people together around specific issues or celebrations. OWW experience tells us that people do come together around issues and that this may be a catalyst for further development of relationships. The range of events shows us that there are different focuses for faith groups getting together. One World Week events are not just about groups getting together, but about them doing so in the process of planning and delivering and participating in events that raise awareness and facilitate action on global issues. It may be that some OWW groups are in a position to tackle global issues with people of many faiths at this point – while some need to find ways of engaging with faith groups first – getting people talking and sharing and understanding – as a building block for future joint action on global issues.

What we learned about… reaching out to involve:

The process of doing things together from the beginning is as important in developing relationships and breaking down barriers as is the event itself, so try and involve potential participants or attendees from many faiths in the planning as well as the participating. The following suggestions of who to get in touch with might help you to reach out to those individuals and networks:

local or regional organisations that have links with different faith communities e.g. inter faith groups, multi-faith fora.

Infrastructure organisations – organisations bringing together the voluntary and community sector - will also be useful contacts, as they are likely to have organisations working directly with diverse communities within their membership e.g. councils of voluntary service, racial equality councils and rural community councils.

Community organisations looking to bring together diverse groups from within their own locality will also be useful contacts. For instance, the South Gloucestershire Faith Forum supported a social event organised by the Southern Brooks Community Partnership – which brought together people from the different communities living in their area. Likewise two Community Associations in two different areas of Portsmouth supported separate OWW events with venues and grants.

Community groups working with specific communities are also good contacts even if they do not have a specific role with faith communities – as they are bound to work with people of faith e.g. the Bristol Muslim Cultural Association.

Groups supporting newly arrived communities will certainly be supporting people of faith from these communities e.g. groups working with asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants.

Local authority equality officers and those from public or statutory services, such as the Police or National Health Service and Primary Care Trusts, have to engage more with faith communities, as faith is now officially recognised as part of the equality and diversity agenda. They should be keen to work with you, and it may be a very mutually beneficial relationship – they can show they are working with diverse communities and they may be able to provide venues, other services in kind and, possibly, even money.

Don’t forget the business community as some of the larger employers will have a number of people from different faith communities within their ranks – many may have chaplains who would be able to put you in touch with key contacts.

You need active people! Much can be done even with limited resources if you have at least one person dedicated to the task – but it is better with a group of people sharing the load. For instance, the West Wiltshire Faith Forum benefits enormously from a very active and imaginative secretary supported by a small group of committed volunteers.

Identify people who are influential and active within their communities as they are the most likely to be able to involve others. Spiritual leaders may not have the inclination or expertise to participate in the organisation of an event, although their support would be invaluable. Even if they are supportive, they are often just too busy to take an active role.

Getting spiritual leaders involved: getting spiritual leaders to an event and giving it their blessing would be highly desirable. However, they will usually need a long period of notice to give you any chance of getting them to your event. The Thornbury and District Anti-Poverty group’s event succeeded in getting the Bishop of Bristol as their main presenter, but they needed to give him a year’s notice to ensure his attendance.

What we learned about… successful events:

Social events are a great way of bringing people from different cultures together. Food and music go a long way to attract more people and enable more members of the community to experience the richness of other cultures. For instance, Bath International Week, although not aimed specifically at faith groups, brought together members of a number of different communities by offering food and entertainment. While the event itself did not address global issues, it brought people together to learn about each other and to build the relationships that might enable that to happen in the future.

Support from influential people in the community helps. The Bath International Week has benefited from the support from the Mayor of Bath for most if not every year since its inception and this has made possible the use of a prestigious location like Bath Guildhall.

Use the student population: it helps to have a student population in the vicinity; they are likely to have students from diverse communities, who could be a source of potential voluntary support and contact within their own communities.

Look for areas of common concern: having a pressing issue, which is a common concern of all faith communities, may be a way of attracting interest e.g. teenage pregnancy, environmental issues – both the subject of events organised by the South Gloucestershire Faith Group. As a One World Week organiser, you would want to deliver events which had a clear message about global or environmental justice. It is worth remembering, however, that many successful community development initiatives and campaigns grow out of people getting together over an issue they care about or are angry about at a given time, often very local, and the group then sticks together, attracts more people and campaigns on other issues.

Tying in global concerns to match those of local faith communities may help participation. For instance, concerns about global climate change would match the needs of the Bangladeshi Community, who will probably have family members they are worried about and who would benefit from flood relief operations co-ordinated internationally. The Thornbury and District Anti-Poverty group event was an example of this

Challenges and pitfalls

“There are difficulties of getting some faith groups involved. They may either want to go their own way and stick to events only for their own community, or they do not feel secure enough or confident about taking a more prominent role in the community. This would particularly apply to faith groups who are not numerically well represented in the community, or who are more recently arrived and therefore less well established in the region e.g. asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants.” South West Regional Facilitator reflects.