Harrry Shukla MBE has been credited for great community cohesion work in the Newcastle Gateshead area. He attended the UPF Peace Council last year to talk about his work. He commented on the occasion 'When I went to London to Lancaster Gate I met all kinds of lovely people from all kinds of backgrounds. They were doing the work in different ways but all for the same objective which is to create peace and harmony.'I started this work in 1974 when I was given the post of the Director of the Racial Equality Council. I was given the post of the Director of Racial Equality Council in 1974. There was very little understanding at that time of traditions, customs and characteristics of different communities. The general feeling was that all communities were alike. Whatever is applicable to one community was thought to be applicable to other communities. This was a very big mistake.
Even in the Newcastle area we have cultures within cultures. If you talk about the Asian community there are all kind of differences between Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists etc. He realized he working with mostly poor people. They had all made Newcastle their home.
'There were a number of obstacles to creating peace. Quite a few people who came from India wanted to live next to others from the same background. The English did the same in Kenya. Once a person develops confidence and understand how things work then they move out and go to more affluent areas. Traditionally India people moved to Gosforth.'
'We need to give people confidence. I would tell people that they are citizens and therefore you are a part of the community and that they are important. They are valued. They give me suggestions. We need to create a sense of ownership and involvement among the people who get involved in community work. Each person can do something. Someone can put out a few chairs and another can do reception etc This allows them all to feel a sense of ownership and pride in the accomplishment of our activities.'
He was the first Magistrate from the Asian community in Newcastle. He realised that there should be more from the BME community who could be Magistrates. I got 20 people to sign up as Magistrates from the Asian community. This was unheard of at the time. They all had concerns that I had to allay. I told all of them they should be professional. There were 39 Magistrates from the BME community when he retired.
'The Mayor said he needed more people from the BME community to be School Governors. I approached some parents and encouraged them to be Governors but they felt they had to be highly educated. I told them that was not true and that the decisions they made would affect their children.'
'I believe in cooperation not confrontation. Confrontation does not get you anywhere. Cooperation can make progress. In our area there are seven communities.' I said, 'I need your help’ and they offered to help. If we all work together then all needs could be met. My door is always open. Everyone who comes to my door gets help.'