East Midlands Pagan Federation
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Serving Pagans in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Rutland

Pagan Federation News Growing Communities Together Seminar Back

Report on the “Growing Communities Together: the role of faith communities in building cohesion/strengthening neighbourhoods” Seminar.
Held at the Riverside Centre, Pride Park, Derby on Thursday 22nd September 2011 and hosted by The Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Derby, The Bishop of Derby and the City and Neighbourhood Partnerships of the Derby City Council.
The event was publicised as a method to raise awareness of the current city agenda, with regard to community growth and the existing relationship between various faith communities. The further objective was to explore the work carried out in Derby and to examine ways of increasing communication and coordination
Morning sessions
The day began with a welcome speech by the Lord Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Dr Alistair Redfern. The Bishop covered many areas, not necessarily due to the provision of time, in the detail I feel he would have liked. He passed comment on the reduced funding for community action projects, the role of Faith Groups in community support and the possible conflict in society between secularisation and faith.
Here the Bishop also touched upon the Big Society. The Bishop made comment on the difficulty of trying to identify the role of faith in the so-called Big Society. Noting that many remain unsure as to what Mr Cameron means when he talks of this Big Society. Indeed, I am like many unsure if Mr Cameron really knows what he means by this phrase and later the Bishop did express privately some scepticism on the success of the government initiative, based I felt on this lack of clear direction.
A further point, mentioned in his opening speech and one that I was also later able to discuss with him was the influence of faith groups in society. The Bishop is of the opinion that faith groups have underestimated their influence both within society generally and politics. Whether this is because Mr Cameron is seeking ways for the charitable sector to provide community services or more simply, reflects the rejection of politicians by society is difficult to ascertain. One is left wondering if society now has such a deep mistrust of politicians, that society is seeking other voices as a form of representation. These new voices coming from the faith environment are deemed as less selfish, “sleazy” and more principled than politicians in recent decades.
The question asked very pertinently by the Bishop but left unanswered was, does the Big Society have a spiritual aspiration?
After the welcome by the Lord Bishop of Derby, the first part of the day began with a presentation by representatives of the Derby City Council, City and Neighbourhood Partnerships Department. Here the threat of the reduction of funding was once again mentioned, as the council look more and more towards the charitable sector to provide services that they themselves can no longer provide.
Based on various local government initiatives, a new action plan for community growth was revealed, focusing on a six-point vision for Derby. These six points being; a strong community, achieving learning potential, an active cultural life, being safe and feeling safe, a thriving sustainable economy and good health and well-being.”
If became quite clear that the policies, although well presented, consisted of the usual political emptiness that is common in government, national and local. Indeed, from a Pagan perspective, the lack of clear environmental policy linked to housing provision was disappointing.
A far more interesting but politically less important talk by Imam Abdul Mateen of the Jamia Mosque followed. The Imam spoke about our common humanity and the need to live by example. He attempted to explore the definition of a community and link community aspirations to the wider need for social justice.
The morning session finished with a talk by Dr Phil Henry, who I know from the Derby Forum of Faiths and the Multifaith Centre. Dr Henry spoke today as a representative of the Multifaith Centre.
Dr Henry covered and very much summarised the subjects raised so far but perhaps in greater academic detail. He emphasised the role of Community Action Organisations, their value to society and the likelihood that the need for such organisations will increase.
He touched upon the overlap of many community action groups, their provision of services and the possible lack of efficiency due to the duplication of those services, a subject close to my own heart.
Dr Henry ended his speech by expressing an hierarchical triad of fellowship, community and society, stating that diversity is a strength not a weakness. On this last point, with close to one hundred delegates from a variety of faith and cultural backgrounds, he was on rather safe ground and preaching to the already converted.
Afternoon sessions
Following a break for lunch there followed three workshops, mapping, aspirations and action planning. The delegates were divided into three groups and worked their way through each workshop in turn.
I am not going to dwell too much on the workshops, what is important is that after a morning of lectures, the delegates were now given the opportunity to feed back. This feed-back was not necessarily what the facilitators of the groups wanted to hear or were expecting.
For example, the Derby City Council in its wish to kick-start the local economy is considering the provision of further smaller shopping centres. Scepticism for the need when many shops in existing centres are empty were expressed, as were our environmental concerns with regard the preference of building on brown field sites as opposed to greenbelt.
I felt that both these concerns were rather glossed over by the group facilitators. There was also a difference of opinion regarding the media, the facilitators recommending the use of the local newspaper and more than one delegate (myself included), expressing a deep mistrust of the media. The “use them when necessary but don’t trust them” philosophy of many delegates being somewhat alien to those outside of minority faith groups, such as the DCC representatives.
The day ended with a closing address from the Bishop, best expressed by reproducing the two points of note:
1.    In order to open up dialogue between all concerned, it is suggested that we begin an e-mail chain in order to familiarise each-other with contact details and institutional positions etc.
2.    There is a need, and desire, to develop a process through which faith communities can internally communicate and externally represent themselves. This raises the questions: how should this look, and what form should it take?
Although the proposed aim of the seminar was to build better communications between faith and cultural groups and increase their effectiveness in serving the community, with a particular focus on influencing local policy. The underlying message although not expressed openly, was one of the Derby City Council seeking to do less and one of looking to community action groups to shoulder the burden of what they can no longer do.
It was also quite clear and no surprise, that the priorities and aspirations of faith, cultural and community groups within the city are not necessarily in agreement with those of the Derby City Council.
The meeting also served to illustrate that although the Pagan Community shares many aspirations and principles with other faith groups, there are also major differences and our priorities are always the same.
All of the talks during the morning session where clearly orchestrated to get over the political message of the Derby City Council. It was not a day for the Derby City Council to listen to faith and community groups. It was a day for the Derby City Council to attempt to tell such groups what it wanted from them.

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