Written by Margaret Ali
Sunday, 02 November 2008 00:00
The Community Cohesion Focus Group was lucky to have two MPs:  Tom Brake MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Andrew Pelling MP, Independent for Croydon Central.

Tom Brake MP was an excellent first speaker.  He delivered a most comprehensive talk about the responsibility of Parliamentarians and the Government in putting in place Community Cohesion Policies which will benefit communities.  He made a special reference to immigration and how it should be handled.  He said that, although the role of the police is crucial in dealing with some situations, it is even more important that community and faith leaders take an active role in bringing this about.

Our second speaker, Andrew Pelling MP for Croydon Central , was introduced to us by Cllr. Liaquat Ali on the previous evening  at the International Leadership Conference.   He spontaneously offered to speak at our Community Cohesion Focus Group.  He spoke about some of the tough situations in Croydon, both in terms of soaring crime figures (Croydon has the highest knife crime in London), and also the isolation issues experienced by some members of the immigrant communities.   Despite the problems, he testified to the amazing harmony amongst many of the ethnic minorities in Croydon.

Community Cohesion work over the previous year

Saleha Jaffer, Joint Chair of Community Cohesion Working Group, gave a report of the work carried out during the past year.  She asked everyone to help by filling in a special questionnaire which will be the basis of the data the Working Group would like to present to the Communities Department, policy makers and others in due course.

German Perspective

Mr Inan Bayram, District Parliamentarian from Hamburg, Germany, who is of Turkish origin, spoke passionately about the developments in Hamburg and Germany as a whole, and of bringing better levels of community cohesion.  He was very glad to be in London and he had the opportunity of meeting some British Parliamentarians. 

Youth Service Projects

Elisa Brann and Chigo Ahunany spoke about the Youth Service Projects they organised during Global Peace Festival, giving short reports on how each of their projects brought youth together from different parts of Europe to interact with youth in London, through service and sport.  Chigo spoke of football and sport in general as a great medium to bring youth together.  Elisa emphasised the importance of youth involvement to guarantee improvement in communication.

Italian Perspective

Mauro Sarasso and Mario Falani spoke about their work in Italy.   Mauro took a group of Italian youth to do service projects in Israel and Palestine.  Then he brought twelve Israeli and twelve Palestinian youths from the Middle East to Bergamo in Italy to have their youth service experience.  Mario spoke of his excellent work with youth through his 4000 strong youth organisation of CITY ANGELS.   The youth models were really inspiring and were very well received by all.

Work in Birmingham

Mrs Shibion Gorman and Mrs Swaran Talwar both spoke passionately about their women’s interfaith work in Birmingham, which has created great projects in bringing communities together. The Intercultural Women’s Friendship Conferences were mentioned:  these encourage friendships and sisterhoods between women of different cultures, by crossing the symbolic Bridge of Peace and by working together thereafter for the sake of all the communities in their localities. This was a most wonderful model of women creating cohesion between various ethnic groups.

Work in Newham

Canon Ann Easter spoke about an excellent model of faith leaders working for community cohesion in Newham, London, when several  members of the clergy came together to tackle ‘Paki Bashing’ [as it was called in the early 1980s] in Newham.  They created the first intercultural multi-faith Youth Club. Their efforts have now developed into the many different programmes of the Renewal Programme of Newham, of which Cannon Easter is the CEO.  It helps various groups within the community to meet their needs through joint activities.  Her very interesting and humorous speech revealed great depth, commitment and seriousness of purpose.

Before bringing the meeting to a close, Councillor Liaquat Ali  invited the audience to ask the guest MPs, and other members of the panel, any pertinent questions.  He then thanked everyone for their enthusiastic support, and extended a very special thank you to the guest speakers.

Overall, it was a very informative and stimulating afternoon.  Everyone felt we should repeat the conference in the near future.
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